The Office of the Coordinator-General and Adani: Masking the rail proponent

I spent a good chunk of last week pestering the slow moving media officer at the Queensland Office of the Coordinator-General to explain why they were three months late updating the public on the final approval/milestone for the Adani Carmichael project, and why they recently gave NewsCorp a statement that I would describe as misleading in regard to the entity that is actually responsible for alleged breaches along the North Galilee Basin Rail Project (NGBR) corridor. In the end they provided me with a statement that indicated they received a February update from Adani, and a statement that correctly identifies the Adani entity responsible for the alleged breaches, Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (CRN).

Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd – Rolling Stock Operator accreditation

To my mind the reason the approvals/milestones updates provided by the Office of the Coordinator-General are significant and require timely publication is because the Carmichael mine, rail corridor, port and other associated infrastructure represent an unprecedented conglomeration of projects overseen by a coordinator-general (CG) with unprecedented powers under the State Development and Public Works Act 1971.

In May 2019 the Queensland premier directed the Office of the Coordinator-General to monitor and expedite approvals. Part of their response was to provide updates to approvals in the form of a PDF hosted at the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project (CCMR) webpage.

It is my reasonable contention that the general public would expect that updates are timely and accurate, and include all the relevant details such as the Adani proponent responsible for any particular approval. I have been unable to get clarification from the CG’s office as to why Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd are not mentioned in any of the update PDFs.

Here’s how the ABC reported the premier’s directive to the coordinator-general in 2019:

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has asked the Coordinator-General to oversee the approvals process for the Adani coal project saying both she and the community were “fed up” with waiting for the department to approve the Indian mining company’s environmental management plans.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-22/adani-approvals-removal-environment-department/11138140

Approvals/milestones updates relate to both projects CCMR and NGBR but are only listed on the CCMR webpage and CRN are not mentioned in the updates.

The statement provided by the CG’s office in the October 2020 update document in association with rail approvals could have indicated which Adani entity was applying for rolling stock operator accreditation. The CG’s office would have been aware the mine proponent Adani Mining Pty Ltd (Bravus) had surrendered their rail accreditation in 2017 before rail safety accreditation was passed over by the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Transport (DTMR) to the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator (ONRSR) in 2017/18.

Here’s the statement made by the CG’s office in association with the final rail accreditations in their October 2020 update:

Adani will continue to work with the Commonwealth Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator to obtain necessary approvals. This approval not on the critical path and the Coordinator-General will continue to monitor.


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https://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0021/22656/adani-outstanding-approvals-milestones-reached-01-10-2020.pdf

Here’s a statement made to me by a rail safety policy officer at DTMR in October 2018:

I can advise that the Adani rail transport operator accreditation was surrendered by Adani Mining Pty Ltd when the CRN entity was granted accreditation.

The CG’s office undertook to monitor developments around RSO approval. The RSO accreditation was granted on December 22, 2020, but the CG’s update was not published until March 26, 2021.

https://www.onrsr.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/4975/National-Rail-Safety-Register-Accreditation-1-February-2021.pdf?fbclid=IwAR0jmsQt3jiIw5LiNFgsfjYN9Nfq86-f6wWjgnXccj_5VEyE0mkdb8pBFbQ

The CG’s office clearly did not monitor for RSO accreditation. If they had been monitoring the process they would have developed a relationship with the ONRSR to receive timely notice of new Queensland based accreditations. Instead the CG’s office relied on Adani to update them, it seems, in their own time.

Here’s the statement provided to me by a spokesperson for the Office of the Coordinator-General on March 26, 2021:

In a February 2021 monthly report, Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd provided advice to the Office of the Coordinator-General that “CRN has all ONRSR accreditations necessary to support the current construction activity”. The project webpage has been updated with this project information.

Adani updated the CG’s office some time in February 2021, but the CG’s office did not act on that information until pressured by me. If we assume the ONRSR published their accreditations register document on the date listed, February 1, 2021, then we can reasonably surmise that the monitoring responsibilities of the CG’s office did not extend to monitoring publications from the national rail safety regulator.

Here’s a link to the March 26, 2021 update document from the CG’s office:

Did the CG’s office deliberately avoid/delay providing an update on CRN RSO accreditation? That’s the question I would like to answer. We can say for certain that the CG’s office allowed Adani to set the timeline by waiting for them to report before taking action. It can also be deduced that the CG’s office had knowledge of Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd receiving the final approval/milestone at least 4 weeks before they published an update. We can be confident that if the CG’s office were actually monitoring the approvals process diligently they would have known about the RSO accreditation at least 8 weeks before they published their update. And if the CG’s office had a relationship with the ONRSR then they could have acquired knowledge of the final approval/milestone 3 months before they provided their update. We can be confident that Adani have known since December 22, 2020 that they had successfully received RSO accreditation.

Environmental Breaches on the North Galilee Basin Rail Project and the Mackay Conservation Group/Environmental Justice Australia complaint

The way language is used in law and under the legislation that governs the work of the Office of the Coordinator-General determines the need for a high level of specificity. The same is not always required for the media or NGOs. The media and NGOs can get away with using general terminology or avoiding specific language altogether. When the coordinator-general’s office are less than specific with the language they provide to the media and NGOs they can feed into the misrepresentation of facts.

On February 5, 2021 the Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) and Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) issued a media release alleging environmental breaches to conditions imposed by the coordinator-general (CG). These breaches are alleged to have taken place on the North Galilee Basin Rail Project (NGBR).

The original media release from MCG-EJA made no mention of Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (CRN) nor does it assert that Bravus is the responsible entity. The media release does mention that the NGBR is the project in question. It’s not hard to do a quick search and discover that the proponent for the NGBR is CRN. Journalists could have easily obtained the correct information by clicking through to the letter sent by the EJA lawyer on February 3, 2021 to the Queensland Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, Meaghan Scanlon in which the proponent is clearly specified.

From the media release:

MCG believes that conditions imposed by the Queensland Coordinator General (QCG) on Adani’s North Galilee Basin Rail Project to protect nearby waterways from contamination may have been breached. The conditions require the development and implementation of erosion and sediment control measures.

https://www.mackayconservationgroup.org.au/another_adani_environmental_breach_causes_pollution_to_queensland_waterways_says_local_community_group

Interestingly Adani’s response to the MCG/EJA media release and supporting documentation makes no mention of Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd or the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. No effort is made to make it clear Bravus is not the responsible proponent.

Today, anti-coal activist organisations Environmental Justice Australia and Mackay Conservation Group released a statement containing false allegations regarding sediment controls on Bravus’ Carmichael mine and rail project sites.

And

Bravus Mining and Resources is constructing the Carmichael Mine and Rail Project, which comprises a 10 million tonne per annum thermal coal mine, located more than 300km inland from the Great Barrier Reef. It also includes a 200km narrow gauge rail line to connect the Carmichael Mine to the North Queensland Export Terminal via existing rail infrastructure.

The original letter sent by Ariane Wilkinson (EJA) on February 3, 2021 did specify that CRN are the NGBR proponent. The letter was linked in the February 5 media release.

We note that the failure to properly implement erosion and sediment controls on the NGBRP is part of a pattern of behaviour on the part of the Adani Group, including Adani Mining Pty Ltd, a related entity of the NGRP proponent, Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd.

When ABC North Queensland journalist Myles Houlbrook-Walk reported on the MCG/EJA complaint he erroneously suggested Bravus were responsible. Neither the media release nor the EJA lawyer’s letter contain the assertion that Bravus were the responsible proponent.

Environmentalists have alleged Bravus (formerly known as Adani) failed to properly manage erosion at its inland rail project, potentially contaminating waterways, according to a complaint made to Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-02-05/bravus-formerly-adani-accused-of-environmental-breaches-erosion/13120172

Melanie Whiting (NewsCorp) picked up the story on March 19, 2021. In her reporting Whiting, like Houlbrook-Walk erroneously asserted that Bravus was responsible.

The group alleged this was because Bravus had failed to properly prepare construction sites on the rail corridor for the wet season.

The Whiting story included a quote from the CG’s office saying Bravus provided them the information:

“Bravus has supplied information requested by the Coordinator-General, including details of the alleged event,” a spokesman for the Office of the Coordinator-General said.

On March 23, 2021 the CG’s office provided me with a statement that says that CRN are responsible:

Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd was requested to, and did, provide information in relation to the alleged breach of conditions.

Did the CG’s office lie? I would contend that the CG’s office should communicate the name of the specific proponent of the project that is the subject of the complaint in question when providing statements to the media. I certainly think the CG’s office should make every effort to provide factual information to the media and the general public. Just because someone from the Bravus office communicated with the CG’s office in the provision of information, does not mean that Bravus provided information under the requirements imposed by the CG. Under the State Development and Public Works Act 1971 that governs the actions of the CG’s office, the legal entity and NGBR proponent that is listed on the NGBR project page which is hosted and maintained by the CG’s office is Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd. CRN are the entity from which the CG’s office sought and procured information and therefore the entity that the spokesperson for the CG’s office ought to have included in their statement to media reported on March 19, 2021.

Conclusions

Delaying the release of information and misrepresenting the source of information give advantage to Adani by masking the activities of the specific legal entity responsible for the extensive rail link that will cause damage along it’s entire length and open the Galilee Basin to decades of destruction. That legal entity was created for a reason that we don’t yet know and installed very quietly sometime before January 2017.

During my investigation into why alleged breaches by CRN were being reported as the responsibility of Bravus I discovered that the EJA lawyer had quit to go and work for WWF. The lawyer did not want to discuss the issue. When I spoke to a media person for EJA I discovered that nobody had been briefed to continue dealing with the media following the complaint. This went part of the way to explaining why neither EJA nor MCG had responded in any way to the Melanie Whiting story on their social media channels. My conversation with Peter McCallum from MCG on March 25, 2021 was much more cordial than my conversations with EJA staff, but I didn’t find an answer to the lack of attention paid to media reporting. It seems that between Adani, the media, the NGOs and the Queensland government there is no desire to report/communicate in a timely, accurate and diligent fashion. This advantages Adani’s interests against all others.

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