A highly orchestrated, secretly foreign-funded group of Australian environmental activists opposing the $16 billion Adani coalmine in Queensland has “dampened” Indian investment interest in Australia and received heated criticism from the federal Coalition and Queensland Labor governments.
Indian Power Minister Piyush Goyal told The Australian yesterday the years of legal challenges to the vast Carmichael coal project, now revealed to have been funded by multi-million-dollar foundations in the US, “will certainly dampen future investments” from India.
Federal ministers and the Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, have warned of the danger posed by activists to jobs and investment, and questioned the links between the Australian groups, through their US funders, to the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s Democratic election campaign, John Podesta.
After meeting Mr Goyal, federal Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who has previously criticised the campaign to block the Indian project, said: “We need to be able to take advantage of the demand for coal in Asia.”
Ms Palaszczuk, who was in Prosperine yesterday to talk about the benefit of Adani’s project, for which the company began seeking approval seven years ago, said the US groups should look after their “own backyard”.
“US-based and funded organisations worried about political decisions anywhere in the world should be working to keep Donald Trump out of the White House,’’ the Premier said.
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“Decisions about major projects here in Queensland are subject to full scrutiny by stakeholders and must get approval under state and federal laws.
“The Carmichael coal project has more than 200 environmental conditions applied to it.”
Federal Environment and Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said he was “concerned by reports that activists both here and overseas are seeking to frustrate” projects with “vexatious litigation”.
Last night Tony Abbott, who was prime minister when Adani lost a court battle last year over a skink and accused environmentalists of green sabotage, said “there has been a campaign to use environmental laws to sabotage this project and the whole coal industry in Australia”.
“This is significant for our country and it is wrong these misguided groups are funded from abroad,’’ he said. “This is a most pernicious case of foreign influence in our investments.”
Mr Goyal said the success of large Indian projects in Australia would help expand investment here but warned that India’s growing demand for coal could be met from other markets, such as Indonesia and South Africa.
“So it is not as if coal is not available; coal is available from other parts of the world. It is up to Australia to decide whether they want to expand their economy, whether they want to create jobs in their states, or whether they want to forgo that business altogether,” he said.
It is estimated the Adani project would create up to 10,000 jobs in its construction phase.
Writing in The Australian today, Minerals Council of Australia executive director Brendan Pearson says foreign funds have been used “to initiate vexatious legal challenges and cynically induce objections from indigenous groups while using every ruse to avoid disclosure of the source of the funds”. He raises questions about the knowledge of these strategies “by one of Washington DC’s ultimate political insiders”.
Last night, John Hepburn, the executive director of the Sunrise Project, the US-funded, Australian-based campaign leader against Adani, said he did not know his emails were passed on to Mr Podesta and denied a “link” with the Democrats.
The Weekend Australian revealed that “progressive” US foundations were funding opposition to the Adani project and passing reports from Sunrise Australia, which was using legal challenges and advice to indigenous groups against the mine, to Mrs Clinton’s campaign chairman, Mr Podesta.
In August last year environmentalists won a court fight against Adani over the protection of a skink and a snake, but last month the Indian company won the latest round in the Federal Court. Mr Goyal said India had to develop its economy and provide cheap power to hundreds of millions of people, yet faced opposition from “environmentalists and so-called NGOs”.
“We are trying to tackle them. We are looking at their sources of funding seriously,’’ he said. “It is time other parts of the world get together and take this up as a challenge. I need to get electricity to those 200 million who don’t have electricity. I need to make sure that that electricity is affordable.”
Mr Goyal declined to comment on links between the Australian Sunrise Project, the Sandler Foundation and the US Democrats.
Senator Canavan said: “Asian countries want our resources and our coal. China and Japan already take a lot and India wants more. We need to be able to take advantage of that demand.”
On Saturday Mr Hepburn confirmed the revelations of the foreign-funded campaign against the Adani project which aimed to influence indigenous land owners and fund environmental legal challenges.
He said the revelations via WikiLeaks were a warning for the Turnbull government.
“That a major US philanthropist has been emailing the senior adviser to the likely next US president about the expansion of coalmining in Australia highlights a major diplomatic risk for the Turnbull government,” Mr Hepburn said, adding that the risk was “that a Clinton administration will hold a mirror to Australia’s climate inaction and pursuit of new coal reserves”.
“It is no surprise that the ongoing expansion of coalmining in Australia is on the radar of Clinton’s most senior adviser.
“While the world is ratifying the Paris climate agreement in record time, Australia is becoming a global embarrassment for being the first developed country to go backwards on climate policy.
“With the UN climate conference in Marrakesh only weeks away, this leak adds to the wider pattern of international concern over Australia’s failure to meet our international obligations and dogged commitment to give special treatment to the coal industry while the rest of the world rapidly shifts to clean energy. Of course we and other environmental groups are fighting tooth and nail to stop the Adani project.”
The Sunrise Project boasted in its secret briefings passed to Mr Podesta that it was trying to hide its funding sources from the Australian parliament.