Clinton, Australian anti-coal activists, and Wikileaks

A series of emails made public by Wikileaks shows that activists opposing Adani Group’s $12 billion Carmichael coal mine and rail project in Queensland, Australia have been receiving funding from an American organization and were not keen to disclose who was financing their activities.

Although the electronic correspondence dates back to 2015, it was circulated this week as part of the electoral battle taking place in the United States. The logic behind the move was that a couple of the emails were forwarded, at the time, to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta.

Podesta received the emails from Herbert Sandler, founder of the Sandler Foundation. This U.S.-based charitable trust is one of the main funders for the Sunrise Project in Australia, which ran an intense campaign against the Carmichael mine.

Sunrise’s head and former Greenpeace activist John Hepburn told The Guardian that he didn’t want to disclose his donors because that could trigger attacks from the mining industry.

He also posted a statement on the NGOs website saying that “it is no surprise that the ongoing expansion of coal mining in Australia is on the radar of Clinton’s most senior advisor.”

Adani $12 billion Carmichael coal project clears latest hurdle

If built, Carmichael would be Australia's largest coal mine (Image from archives).

“What a week!”

The emails show the groups discussing their victory over Adani, after the project was temporarily halted due to some delays in approvals and legal challenges.

“Wow. What a huge week. The Adani Carmichael mine and the whole Galilee Basin fossil fuel industrial complex is in its death throes,” Hepburn wrote to funders and colleagues.

Hepburn went on to say that he was convinced the federal court’s decision to stop the project alleging that the environment minister, Greg Hunt, failed to consider all departmental advice on protecting two vulnerable species when approving it, was only going to spur the federal government's and the mining industry’s resolve to attack conservationists.

“The industry have also dusted off the old 2012 leaked coal strategy to try to claim that there is some kind of foreign funded and tightly orchestrated conspiracy to systematically destroy the Australian coal industry. (I seriously don't know where they get these whacky ideas from!),” he wrote.

Indeed, miners’ say

Coming back to the present, the Wikileaks revelations strengthened the aforementioned allegations cited by John Hepburn.

According to Business Insider, Adani Australia chief executive Jeyakumar Janakaraj said the leaked emails were “evidence that these are broader well-funded activist campaigns as part of a wider anti-coal campaign that is being financially backed and influenced a long way from workers in Australia and those suffering energy poverty in India.”

Government officials were also quick to react: “These groups appear to have misused their domestic tax-deductible status and green credentials to engage in a shameless political campaign designed to damage our national interest by shutting down the Adani coal mine,” conservative senator Cory Bernardi wrote in a newsletter to his supporters.  

But according to The Guardian, Hepburn says that these reactions are nothing less but hypocritical. “They’re saying that we need to guard our sovereignty from environmental organisations, when the mining in Australia is 80% foreign-owned (…) And international foreign-owned mining companies dropped $20m into a campaign to prevent a new tax on their industry and, in doing so, destabilised a prime minister. And that is the big issue in terms of national sovereignty,” he is quoted as saying.

Adani $12 billion Carmichael coal project clears latest hurdle

Galilee Basin coal export projects map. (Courtesy of GalileeBasin.org)

What’s at stake

After spending over $120 million in legal costs and cutting its way through environmental hurdles, Adani was able to get approval for its project subject to 36 conditions.

Carmichael is one of the world’s largest coal mines. It is expected to produce and transport about 60 million tonnes of coal a year for export, mostly to India.

However, it is also expected to impact the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. According to UNESCO, the area is already experiencing “a continuing decline in the quality of some parts” of the reef, and resource extraction would only worsen the situation.

More than 150 marine scientists from 33 institutions around the world agree with the UN agency. In a letter sent to the Australian government back in 2013, they warned that new coal ports and other industrial projects pose mounting threats to the reef’s habitat.

In the wake of these reports, the Deutsche Bank refused to fund Adani’s plans to expand the port, and later the Commonwealth Bank, Australia’s largest financial institution, decided to cut ties with the Indian miner.

The Wikileaks emails reveal the Sunrise Project’s leader congratulating the environmental movement over the banks’ decisions.