Wikileaks email trail puts Adani at centre
SEARCH 'Mackay Conservation Group' on Wikileaks and an email forwarded to US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton's senior advisor John Podesta will appear. It celebrates a win in the push to derail Adani's Carmichael coal project.
While the Mackay-based group is mentioned only in passing, a handful of emails forwarded to Mr Podesta - current chairman of the 2016 Clinton presidential campaign - from Australia's Sunrise Project now have Federal Member for Dawson George Christensen calling for changes.
This is because, as well as revealing the high-level movement to stop Adani's mine, the emails also showed The Sunrise Project was reluctant about revealing the US-based Sandler Foundation had provided it with funding.
Australia's The Sunrise Project provides advice, counselling and analysis for not-for-profit groups, and aims to "grow social movements to drive the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as fast as possible".
The multi-million dollar Sandler Foundation is an American philanthropic group founded by former bankers.
In one email sent May 25, 2015 from The Sunrise Project executive director John Hepburn to the Sandler Foundation and forwarded on to Mr Podesta, Mr Hepburn outlines concerns about an Australian government parliamentary inquiry into the activities of environmental charities.
Mr Hepburn said there was "reasonable likelihood" The Sunrise Project may be forced to testify in the inquiry.
"As part of this we are seeking advice on steps we might take to avoid disclosure, challenge and limit disclosure, or to ensure that any disclosure is limited to the committee members and is not made public," he wrote.
"Hopefully I am just being paranoid but from experience I prefer to hope for the best while planning for the worst."
In another email, also from Mr Hepburn to the Sandler Foundation, dated August 6, 2015, he celebrated the Federal Court overturning the environmental approval of the Adani mine.
"... Tomorrow afternoon I am going to buy a few bottles of bubbly for a celebration with the EDO legal team, our colleagues at Getup, Greenpeace, 350.org, ECF, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Mackay Conservation Group, Market Forces and the brilliant and tireless Sunrise team," he wrote. "Without your support none of this would have happened and the mine might have been half built by now."
The emails suggest that the Sandler Foundation provided funding to The Sunrise Project. This has Mr Christensen questioning the motives of the US-based group and asking why the presidential advisor was updated about the movement against the mine.
"I find it concerning (The Sunrise Project) are getting funding from a foreign source. What are their motives? I just think something stinks about this," he said.
"We don't have to be friends with America any more. We can certainly realign with China if that's what they want."
Mr Christensen pointed out that America was a competitor when it came to coal.
He called for a raft of changes, including greater transparency into foreign donations to "clean up the environmental charity sector" and a review of environmental groups registering as charities.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday flagged the government would test the new Senate with legislation that would prevent legal challenges from parties not impacted by a project, which Mr Christensen whole-heartedly supported.
"We must, as a matter of urgency close the door on this abuse of the legal system to prevent project competitors or even national economic competitors from damaging our country's economic future," he said.
A spokesman for Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said government would continue to "examine means by which vexatious litigation can be minimised so it is not used as a tool to simply frustrate development and undermine confidence in our environmental laws".
However, when email author Mr Hepburn was asked why he was so reluctant to reveal who funded the group, he said it was because he was afraid mining companies would try to "bully environmental groups into silence".
He also believes Mr Podesta was informed about their work because Australia was becoming a "global embarrassment" for being the first developed country to go backwards on climate policy.
While Mackay Conservation Group co-ordinator Peter McCallum said it worked with other environmental groups when necessary, he said the group ran its own campaigns, employed its own staff and made its own decisions.
Adani Australia's chief executive Jeyakumar Janakaraj said the leaks showed "the anti-coal campagin is not about the merits of the approval process at all; it's about activists motivated to stop jobs and investment".