16th August 2018
Early this month, Mackay Conservation Group successfully obtained documents under Freedom of Information laws that reveal the communication between Adani and the Queensland Environment Department on the day Cyclone Debbie hit in March 2017.
Documents reveal that on the morning of March 27, Adani realised that it was likely their storage pools would overflow into the neighbouring wetlands and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage site. Incredibly, the documents also show that while Adani applied for an extension to their temporary pollution licence, they knew and notified the government that the water overflow would be so contaminated that it would breach the new licence.
"We were quite curious as to why there had been two temporary emissions licences issued," said Mackay Conservation Group’s Peter McCallum.
"We were curious as to what the timing was and why subsequent to the cyclone crossing the coast, the licence was amended."
In emails between Adani and the Queensland Government, an Adani employee wrote that the water was likely to be 900 per cent more polluted than the permitted under the license they sought.
"What it shows is that both the Government and Adani were aware that there was very high chance of the breach of their licence during the cyclone, that could lead to the pollution of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area," said Mr McCallum.
"Adani is wilfully managing its site in a way that could damage the environment and the Government is letting them get away with it."
The Queensland Environmental Defenders Office lawyers revealed the significance of this breach.
"Under Queensland law, a wilful breach of a temporary emissions licence can occur if it was reckless or as a result of gross negligence.
"Given the recently released RTI documents include an email from Adani staff demonstrating knowledge of the sump contaminant concentrations, and that it appears Adani did not treat the water prior to the discharge, wilfulness is likely to be a live issue for any prosecution decision."
Adani offered the ABC a statement in response to the release of the documents.
"We categorically deny any wrongdoing in this matter, we complied with the limits imposed by the Temporary Emissions Licence issued by the regulator and no breach occurred.
"We have elected to have the matter heard by a magistrate rather than pay a $12,000 fine, which should not have been issued in 2017 following Cyclone Debbie, and we look forward to resolution of the matter."