By Josh Robertson / ABC
Lawyers for mining firm Adani proposed waging "war" on opponents of its controversial Queensland mine by using the legal system to pressure government, silence critics and financially cripple activists, according to documents obtained by the ABC.
The draft copy of Adani's new law firm's aggressive strategy to bring the Carmichael mine to life is labelled "Taking the Gloves Off" and outlines a commercial proposal by AJ & Co to win a multi-million-dollar legal contract with the Indian mining giant. In the document, the Brisbane firm promised to be Adani's "trained attack dog".
The strategy recommended bankrupting individuals who unsuccessfully challenge Adani in court, using lawsuits to pressure the Queensland Government and social media "bias" as a tool to discredit decisionmakers.
In a section called "Play the Man", it recommended "where activists and commentators spread untruths, use the legal system to silence them". It also urged Adani to hire private investigators to target activists and work "with police and a criminal lawyer to ensure appropriate police action is taken against protesters".
"Like a well-trained police dog, our litigations know when to sit and shake, and when it is time to bite," the law firm promised. The AJ & Co plan pledged to "assess each battle as part of the overall war" and to "know when to negotiate and known when all out attack is required".
An Adani spokeswoman said "we won't apologise for pursuing our legal rights".
"Like many organisations, we have a panel of law firms that service our business on a wide range of matters to ensure we are complying with Australia's legal and regulatory frameworks," the Adani spokeswoman said.
The ABC can reveal AJ & Co's former head of commercial litigation, Alex Moriarty, quit after an internal falling out over strategy in the wake of the proposal. Mr Moriarty did not leak the planning document and now runs his own legal firm. He said he disavowed the "aggressive commentary" at the heart of the proposal, and that he believed it "tends to bring the legal profession into disrepute".
"Corporate lawyers who describe themselves as their client's 'trained attack dogs' and to use overtly aggressive terms like 'taking the gloves off' and 'playing the man' … can only harm their client's reputation," Mr Moriarty told the ABC. "Such comments tend to damage the professional independence and integrity of the legal profession as a whole."
Since it was engaged by Adani, AJ & Co has pushed to bankrupt a cash-strapped Indigenous opponent of the mine, threatened legal action against a community legal service and an environmental group, and applied to access an ABC journalist's expenses and documents.
Murrawah Johnson from the anti-Adani faction of the mine site's traditional owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J), told the ABC that in recent months "Adani's strategy has definitely changed ‒ it's become more aggressive". On Adani's behalf in December, AJ & Co launched bankruptcy proceedings against vocal W&J opponent Adrian Burragubba over unpaid legal costs.
"My uncle Adrian has been public enemy number one for Adani," Ms Johnson said. "Going after him, I think, has been their plan all along ‒ to essentially stamp out our resistance to the coal mine going ahead on our country."
A day after the ABC revealed Adani was under investigation for alleged unlawful site works, AJ & Co wrote to Queensland's Environmental Defenders Office (EDO). EDO chief executive Jo Bragg, who commented in the ABC story, said the letter was "clearly designed to intimidate us", although she declined to elaborate. "It appears Adani has built an entire, well-funded strategy around hiring lawyers to bully community groups into silence," she said. AJ & Co later applied under federal Freedom of Information laws to access ABC journalist Mark Willacy's expenses and documents relating to the story.
In November, AJ & Co demanded environmental campaigners Market Forces [an affiliate of Friends of the Earth Australia] abandon a trip to South Korea with W&J opponents to lobby banks not to invest in Adani. Market Forces executive director Julien Vincent said the law firm accused the campaigners of injurious falsehood, unlawful conspiracy to cause economic loss to Adani and threatened legal action.
"It was pretty aggressive," Mr Vincent said. "It came across with a tone that had little substance to back up the allegations it made, and was quite threatening in the steps that would be taken if we didn't comply with everything they wanted."
A barrister for Market Forces told AJ & Co its allegations were "doomed to fail" and no more was heard from the firm.
Abridged from the ABC, 19 Feb 2019, www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-19/adani-law-firm-put-forward-trained-attack-dog-strategy/10821470
Published in Chain Reaction #135, April 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
Whilst you are here, please make a tax deductible donation. Friends of the Earth relies on donations from people like you to keep running campaigns for social and environmental justice.