A very questionable investigation: The OCG, Adani and public sector ethics in Queensland

Context

In March I published a blog post about developments along the Adani rail corridor. I looked closely at the role of the Office of the Coordinator General (OCG) in providing accurate and timely information to the public regarding Adani’s rail proponent via media statements and approval milestone documents published at the direction of the premier.

Blog post link: https://wesuspectsilence.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/the-office-of-the-coordinator-general-and-adani-masking-the-rail-proponent/

In my March blog post I followed 2 lines of inquiry regarding the Adani proponent for rail, Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (CRN). The first line of enquiry related to the OCG taking an excessive amount of time to announce that Adani had achieved it’s last approval milestone. The OCG responded by posting an update on the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project (CCMR) “Project overview” web page, but did not provide an explanation for their tardiness. The second line of inquiry related to the OCG statements provided to regional media regarding the Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) & Environmental Justice Australia (EJA) complaint alleging environmental breaches by Adani contractors on the North Galilee Basin Rail Project (NGBR). It is this second line of inquiry that I’d like to return to here.

Confused communications

In the 6 weeks between the publication of my March blog post and the announcement that the OCG had completed it’s investigation, I spent my time contacting editors, chiefs of staff, and NGO staff to ask them to look closely at the details in the media reports and statements from the OCG. It is my firm belief that the OCG ought to publish statements and instruct investigators on the basis of its statutory responsibilities. By this I mean that the OCG should always make media statements that reflect the precise nature of the work they do, the projects they coordinate and the relevant proponents for those coordinated projects. My efforts to clarify communications were a complete failure. The Mackay Conservation Group, Environmental Justice Australia, The Courier Mail chief of staff, and ABC editors could have held the OCG to account or at least made specific assertions based on information published by the OCG at any time, but they did not.

My March blog post and my attempts to engage with media, NGOs and the OCG were focused around clarifying 2 facts; that the proponent for the project under investigation is Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd; and that the name of the project is the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. I made the assertion over the phone, via email and through social media that the OCG is an agency with powers to make statutory decisions (under statute, law or legislation) and it ought to use the names of the project and proponent for which they are responsible in all their communications.

The following statement was given to me by an OCG spokesperson on March 23, after they had initiated their investigation and presumably provided instructions to their investigators:

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

This statement alone does not confirm that the OCG were outright lying, but it does confirm what I expect should have taken place administratively under the State Development and Public Works Organisation Act (SDPWO Act).

Melanie Whiting’s March 19 article contains the quote for which I sought clarification from the OCG. A comparison of the statement sent to me and the one provided to Melanie Whiting shows that information was requested and received, according to the OCG, by both Bravus Mining and Resources (Bravus) and CRN.

Bravus staff answer the phones and do liaison from the same Brisbane office address they share with CRN. There is no separate contact point or spokesperson for CRN. This suggests to me that the OCG could offer as a defence, the argument that the information itself was passed on by Bravus staff, but relates to CRN:

“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.

“The Coordinator-General has independently engaged experts in sediment and erosion control and stormwater management to review the information.

https://wesuspectsilence.wordpress.com/2021/03/30/the-office-of-the-coordinator-general-and-adani-masking-the-rail-proponent/

The investigation concludes

On May 19, the day after Melanie Whiting again provided a quote from an OGC spokesperson which suggests that Bravus is responsible for alleged breaches along the NGBR corridor, I contacted the OCG to seek clarification:

I’m requesting a statement from a spokesperson for the CG’s office indicating the Adani proponent to which the Office of the Coordinator General ‘specified’ ‘improvements’.

The statement provided to Melanie Whiting by a spokesperson for the OCG suggests that the rail contractors associated with the alleged breaches are engaged by Bravus, but the public record does not indicate which Adani entity made the contracts with Martinus, Siemens and BMD. All we know is that their contracts are for the ‘Carmichael Rail Network’:

The Office of the Coordinator-General has specified the improvements which Bravus and their contractors need to put in place.

https://www.themorningbulletin.com.au/news/probe-into-alleged-rail-line-environmental-breach-/4260761/

I provided a question to an OCG Senior Communications Officer after reminding them of the previous statement they had provided to me indicating that they had been in contact with, and received information from CRN:

I’m requesting a statement from a spokesperson for the CG’s office indicating the Adani proponent to which the Office of the Coordinator General ‘specified’ ‘improvements’.

The statement that was emailed to me in response left me perplexed:

The Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (CRN) is the proponent for the Carmichael Rail Network project. As CRN is a Bravus entity, the Office of the Coordinator-General (OCG) has made reference to Bravus in the OCG’s media response regarding the investigation into erosion and sediment management.

On May 20 I again contacted the OCG Senior Communications Officer to confirm that my understanding of the facts and the functioning of the OCG were correct. I also requested clarification of the reasoning/basis behind the assignation of CRN as a “Bravus entity” along with links/references to any value documents and/or sections in the SDPWO Act that guide the staff of the OCG on the need for accuracy in their communications with the media and the public.

In reply I received a flat refusal to respond to any of my ongoing concerns including those regarding values around accuracy:

We appreciate your ongoing interest but have nothing further to add.

Please refer to our multiple responses since the start of the year.

I immediately followed up the flat refusal with a complaint to the Director of Ethics at People and Performance – Department of State Development, Infrastructure, Local Government and Planning. I asked them to consider the ‘Accountability and Transparency’ section of the Code of Conduct for the Queensland public service which quotes Section 9(c) of the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 which reads:

are committed to managing information as openly as practicable within the legal framework; and

https://www.forgov.qld.gov.au/accountability-and-transparency-code-conduct

I also reiterated my concerns about the responsibility of the OCG to communicate the actual functions it performs under the SDPWO Act. I highlighted that the Water Technology (WT) report produced under instruction by the OCG was of particular concern:

I would ask that you be mindful of the project names for projects for which the OCG is responsible for coordinating under the SDPWO Act. I would ask that you consider how the OCG may have framed their instructions to Water Technology for their investigation and the impact those instructions may have had on the naming and identification of relevant proponents under the SDPWO Act.

On May 27 I received correspondence from the Assistant Coordinator-General in response to some of my unanswered questions. They were able to confirm that I had my facts right about the relevant proponents and provided me with links to code of conduct documents. I was also provided with a perplexing explanation for the erroneous and misleading title of the WT report:

The report was prepared in response to a review of parts of both the North Galilee Basin Rail project and the Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail project. The title of the report reflects the name of the joint proponents.

The reason this explanation perplexes me is that the title of the report contains the name of the mine proponent, not the rail proponent. The assistant CG does not even attend to that issue in their response. Bravus and CRN are joint proponents for the CCMR. CRN were enjoined as a proponent to deliver the rail component of the mine project which connects with the NGBR.

To make things absolutely clear in regard to the OCG’s published statements regarding Bravus and CRN as “joint proponents”; here is a quote from the CCMR *Project overview page that is published under the direction of the OCG:

Proponent

Adani Mining Pty Ltd and Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (joint proponents), both wholly owned subsidiaries of Adani Australia, part of the Adani Group.

https://www.statedevelopment.qld.gov.au/coordinator-general/assessments-and-approvals/coordinated-projects/completed-projects/carmichael-coal-mine-and-rail-project

Bravus and CRN are not joint proponents of the ‘Carmichael Rail Network’. CRN are the sole proponent for the NGBR and joint proponent of the CCMR for the purposes of rail.

Here is a succinct description from a reliable source; a Supreme Court of Queensland document from proceedings brought against Ben Pennings, co-founder of Galilee Blockade:

Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd (“Carmichael Rail”) is the proponent and developer of a railway, approximately 200 kilometres long, which would connect the mine with the existing rail network in Central Queensland.

https://archive.sclqld.org.au/qjudgment/2020/QSC20-275.pdf

The Water Technology investigation

It needs to be understood that the WT investigation was primarily concerned with the allegations of environmental breaches along the NGBR corridor made by the Mackay Conservation Group who also urged that “other similar sites” be investigated:

WT have investigated the sites identified by the Mackay Conservation Group and other sites identified in the desktop review.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m_O9MmITyEXb7brkZoPd1b0-_ekZgw2U/view

*The Mackay Conservation Group put out a media release on May 19. You can follow the links to all the important documents from here: https://www.mackayconservationgroup.org.au/calls_to_strengthen_environmental_protection_adani

In the WT report the responsibility for adherence to environmental conditions imposed by the OCG was repeatedly attributed to “Bravus”. The introductory paragraph of the report titled ‘Erosion and Sediment Management Investigation: Carmichael Rail Network – Bravus Mining and Resources’ asserts that the OCG engaged WT to investigate alleged breaches by “Bravus”:

Water Technology (WT) were engaged by the Office of the Coordinator General (OCG) to investigate alleged breaches of legal obligations by Bravus at three locations on the Carmichael Rail Network Corridor to determine if a breach of conditions had occurred. This report details the nature of the alleged breaches and the results of our investigation.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m_O9MmITyEXb7brkZoPd1b0-_ekZgw2U/view

The MCG identified 3 locations within the NGBR corridor, therefore it is clear that the desktop review added the other locations. This would suggest that all or some of the locations identified in the desktop review were located on the CCMR – Separable Portion 1 (SP1) of the combined rail corridor, but the chainages listed that identify the additional locations for on site inspections are found along the NGBR corridor.

The site observations were completed on the 23rd and 24th March 2021 and included the three locations identified for investigation by MCG, and also two additional pre-selected locations by WT and one further location identified during the visit. Additional casual observations of the site works outside of the six specific locations were made during the course of the two-day site observations.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m_O9MmITyEXb7brkZoPd1b0-_ekZgw2U/view

It is likely that the scope of the investigation was widened to include locations along SP1 through the desktop review process. The green section in the map below, which was supplied by WT in their report, is the SP1 section of the CCMR. As you can see, no inspections by the WT team, OCG staff, Adani staff or contractors contractors were made outside of the blue and purple sections which represent the NGBR corridor.

*It’s important to note that the MCG incident report titled ‘Environmental Pollution Incident Report: Adani Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project, February 2021’ does not identify the proponent for the North Galilee Basin Rail Project. It identifies the wrong project name in the report title and uses the old name for Adani’s mine proponent in the text. Indeed the document is so inaccurate that, while preparing for my previous blog post, I mistook it for a document relating to alleged breaches from 2019.

The opening line in the MCG incident report wrongly identifies the project name:

This report by Mackay Conservation Group (MCG) aims to inform a formal complaint about

erosion and sediment controls failing at the site of the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail

Project in Central Queensland during December 2020.

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/dudgeonpointorg/pages/2311/attachments/original/1613606970/Environmental_Pollution_Incident_Report_-January_2021_-_Adani_%28Final%29.pdf?1613606970

This paragraph suggests that the author is not aware that the contiguous rail corridor, known since mid 2018 as ‘Carmichael Rail Network’, is a combination of the NGBR corridor and Separable Portion 1 of the Carmichael mine rail corridor after it was shortened by approximately 110 km some time in 2015-16:

These locations are in the Whitsunday Regional Council area, but sediment and erosion

control management failings may have occurred across the whole of the Adani Carmichael

Coal and Rail Project. Other similar sites should be investigated, including parts of the

project in the Isaac Regional Council area.

https://d3n8a8pro7vhmx.cloudfront.net/dudgeonpointorg/pages/2311/attachments/original/1613606970/Environmental_Pollution_Incident_Report_-January_2021_-_Adani_%28Final%29.pdf?1613606970

*

The WT report contains a summary of the Mackay Conservation Group incident report. As I mentioned, the MCG report wrongly identifies the relevant proponent, but instead of substituting the actual proponent for the NGBR (CRN) with the incorrectly alleged proponent (Adani Mining), the WT authors substituted the new name for the incorrectly reported proponent (Bravus). It’s hard to imagine how the OCG’s instructions and briefings lead to that substitution decision, but it had the effect of the WT report text not contradicting the media statements made by OCG spokespeople under the principle that “CRN is a Bravus entity”.

Here’s an exemplar of the inaccurate substitutions that WT authors may have been instructed/caused to make by the OCG:

Prosecute of Bravus for breaching their legal obligations in this case.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m_O9MmITyEXb7brkZoPd1b0-_ekZgw2U/view

It’s utterly clear to me that the intent of the MCG incident report and the accompanying letter from the EJA lawyer was that the Queensland government, through it’s relevant departments, conduct an investigation and make enforceable decisions under the relevant legislation to compel the relevant legal entities responsible for projects coordinated under the SDPWO Act to take the necessary measures to comply with existing or newly created environmental conditions. In light of that clear intent: would it not be in the interests of accountability and transparency that investigators are instructed to communicate the correct proponent even when the original incident report was in error?

The WT summary of the MCG incident report contained incorrect assertions of the responsibility of Bravus for alleged breaches. Contrast that against the summary of the EJA letter to Meaghan Scanlon. Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd is specified as the NGBR proponent the EJA letter, but this is not mentioned in the summary. The EJA summary also includes reference to the Riverine Protection Permit Exemption ‘approved entity’ number assigned to Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd in 2017, but without mentioning their name.

The only reference to the actual proponent responsible for the allegations that prompted the investigation was made in the WT authors response section:

We note that the Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd were added as approved entity for the purposes of the exemption requirements for a Riverine Protection Permit (Version 1.03) on the 19th of September 2017.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1m_O9MmITyEXb7brkZoPd1b0-_ekZgw2U/view

The WT report authors made one reference to the body responsible for Adani’s rail corridor under coordination by the OCG while making dozens of references to the mine proponent Bravus in a report about breaches on a project for which the mine proponent are not responsible under the law. Something seems to be very wrong!

Some analysis

It looks to me that the OCG have consistently made every effort/taken the necessary steps to keep the name of the Adani rail proponent out of the frame to the extent that they are capable of causing the name to be published. I’ve been provided 2 perplexing statements for why the rail proponent name didn’t appear where statements and investigations regarding alleged environmental breaches related to the projects for which CRN are responsible under the SDPWO Act.

A clue to the OCG’s consistency could lie in the phrase “CRN is a Bravus entity”. It may be that the CG has nominated Bravus as the entity responsible for particular imposed environmental conditions under Section 54 of the SDPWO Act. I would direct the reader to section 54A ‘Application of div 8’. If section 54A can be satisfied and section 54B (3) is applied, then section 54V ‘Jurisdiction for conditions’ may allow the Coordinator-General to “nominate an entity that is to have jurisdiction for the condition[s]”.

My investigations thus far have revealed that Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd acquired significant Queensland government approvals and accreditations prior to the OCG changing the listed Adani proponent for the NGBR and rail component of the CCMR in June 2018. CRN made the AECOM contract, changed ultimate holding companies, and were mentioned in the North Galilee Water Scheme application documents as the Adani proponent for rail all while the NAIF controversy raged.

My working theory is that the Coordinator-General permitted Adani to install a new proponent without generating a public notice of any kind. I have checked my interpretation of the SDPWO Act with a staffer at the OCG and it is highly likely that with a single email to Adani Mining Pty Ltd the CG was able to facilitate ‘Change Request 1’ under sections 27AE and 35G of the SDPWO Act.

To put it in plain language: Under the act, if the CG decides that a request for a project change is unproblematic, they need not add anything to the public record. With a single email the CG was able to give Adani Mining Pty Ltd unlimited time operating with an unannounced proponent before causing information confirming a change of proponent to appear.

The working theory that I outlined in the last 2 paragraphs is based not only on research and right to information disclosures, but also on a conversation I had with senior project managers within the OCG. In September 2018 upon my discovering the change of listed proponent, I received a conference call from Karen Oakley and Heather Lopez; both project managers from the OCG. They asked me about my blog and mentioned that the CG had made a “statutory decision” giving Adani “unlimited time”.

Controversies and conclusions

With the recent federal court decision on the North Galilee Water Scheme (NGWS) there is likely to be a high level of scrutiny applied to the “water trigger”. Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd, as the mine rail proponent, are responsible for Separable Portion 1 which is also the NGWS ‘Stage B’ pipeline corridor. CRN are currently listed as a “prescribed entity” in the Queensland Water Amendment Regulation (No. 1) 2020 for the purposes of obtaining a water licence to add to their extensive accreditations and approvals. CRN are enmeshed into the scheme having been included in NGWS application documents and identified as the Adani rail proponent 18 months before their existence as the Adani rail proponent was ever acknowledged publicly.

The federal environment department is currently investigating a complaint regarding ‘Borrow Pit 7’ a quarry used to support the building of the rail corridor. No party involved in the making the complaint, conducting the investigation or reporting on it have been prepared to explicitly name the proponent responsible. As usual the media reports suggest Bravus is responsible with journalists like Ben Smee continuing to assert that Adani became ‘Bravus’ which is an inaccurate simplification of the re-branding of Adani Mining Pty Ltd after it had parcelled off it’s rail corridor to the former shell company, Carmichael Rail Network Pty Ltd.

As this giant coordinated project gets built and the environmental complaints roll in; agencies like the Office of the Coordinator-General will continue in their patterns of apparent prevarication; young journalists will obey their chiefs of staff and write what is expected and efficient; and NGO operatives will continue to labour under the capacity constraints and narratives that are assigned and reinforced by the philanthropically funded members of the StopAdani alliance. This is not the time to serve a narrative. It’s the time to speak the truth forcefully.

One thought on “A very questionable investigation: The OCG, Adani and public sector ethics in Queensland

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