Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow.
Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow. (Image: AAP/Dave Hunt)

After a tumultuous nine years of legal, environmental and political fights, Australia’s largest ever coal mine finally began construction in late June.

But far from being a done deal, Adani still has to win multiple fights on multiple fronts. This week, the company made headlines literally every single day — and never for the right reasons.

Crikey looks at the many hurdles Adani still has to clear in order to get its mine up and running.

The nine-year fight of the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council

Last Friday, the Federal Court dismissed yet another attempt by the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council to have Adani’s Indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) invalidated.

The crux of the W&J Family Council’s case comes down to allegations that Adani only received the ILUA, issued in 2015 after two unsuccessful attempts, by “stacking” a meeting with non W&J native title claimants, who in turn received free travel and accommodation. The group has been unsuccessful in all attempts thus far in overturning the agreement. In 2018, the Federal Court ruled that none of the grounds of the challenge had “any merit”.

However, it should be noted that ILUAs are overwhelmingly geared to favour companies over traditional owners, who are forced to either agree to something that at least offers Indigenous people a cut, or hold out, get overridden anyway for the “public interest”-minded Native Tribunal, and eventually get nothing.

Coincidentally, the Turnbull government would amend federal legislation in 2017 to overturn a separate but related Federal Court ruling that threatened Adani’s ILUA by specifying all registered Native Title claimants had to sign an ILUA, not simply a majority, for it to be valid. This came just two months after Turnbull personally assured Guatam Adani, “the issue needs to be fixed and will be fixed”.

Despite the multiple failures and attempts by Adani to actively bankrupt lead litigant Adrian Burragubba, the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council have announced they will not give up but instead consider a High Court appeal.

This apparently considers that Friday’s decision only hinged “on the question of whether the certification and registration of the Adani ILUA were handled according to the legal requirements of the Native Title Act [and not] the contested dealings leading up to and after the Adani meeting more than three years ago”.

The lawsuit and the ethics committee

While it won’t impact the construction of the mine, the Queensland government has launched proceedings against Adani for allegedly publishing false and misleading information about land clearing already undertaken at the site in its 2017/18 annual return.

The ABC reports that the charge under the Environmental Protection Act carries a maximum $3 million fine for a company. The company won’t, however, be prosecuted over land clearing and sinking of de-watering bores in 2018 or the construction of drill pads earlier this year, which environmental group Coast and Country earlier alleged constituted illegal “stage two” work.

Finally, state Greens MP Michael Berkman has referred Adani Mining CEO Lucas Dow to the Queensland parliamentary ethics committee over allegedly misleading parliament over job figures i.e. claiming over 1500 direct jobs, with 6750 indirect, despite estimates of between 800 and 1500, according to The Australian.

It’s the economy, stupid

A common criticism against the project is that in a world where market forces create an unofficial carbon price — where “general survival” does not — who the hell would want to buy coal in 2021 let alone for the 140 years hence?

Absolute rejection from Australian and global banks forced Adani to self-finance the $2 billion mine. With an estimated wealth of $7 billion, Gautam Adani can certainly afford this. But analysis from University of Queensland economist John Quiggin found that the mine could only profit by US$150-160 million a year; with seemingly every country but Australia outlining a road map out of coal, the prospect of a stranded asset only increases.

Quiggin also notes that Adani’s “scaled down” mine means the company needs to negotiate with Aurizon in order to secure access to their existing Goonyella line, as well as secure insurance from a “shrinking” pool of potential insurers.

People power

Finally, whether it’s W&J people, artists sending dead bird art to politicians, farmers concerned over the impact three surrounding megamines might have on groundwater, that convoy that caused so much stress earlier this year, or anyone even slightly concerned about the end of a liveable planet, odds are that Adani will face something that makes the Franklin protests look like that one dude in the CBD with a “Jesus Died 4 You” signed strapped to his bike.

Basically, watch this space.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey