Indigenous Australians call on Standard Chartered not to fund coal mine project

Date of publication: 
12 June 2015

Representatives from Wangan and Jagalingou people meet executives in London in push to persuade financiers to snub project on group’s ancestral land

A group of Indigenous Australians has urged Standard Chartered to rule out funding a massive coal mine on their ancestral lands in a meeting with executives in London.

Representatives of the Wangan and Jagalingou people travelled to the bank’s headquarters on Friday, as part of a 24,000-mile (39,000 km) round-the-world trip aimed at persuading some of the world’s most powerful financial institutions to steer clear of the controversial mining project.

The Wangan and Jagalingou argue that the A$16.5bn (£8.2bn) Carmichael mine, potentially one of the largest coal mines in the world, would devastate ancestral territory in Queensland’s nature-rich Galilee basin.

Standard Chartered, one of the UK’s largest banks with a business model that largely focuses on Africa and Asia, is advising Adani, the Indian conglomerate hoping to build the mine.

Adrian Burragubba, a Wangan and Jagalingou elder, called on the bank not to fund the project. “It is going to have a terrible impact on our people,” he said. “We are the original people and we say no. All of our people are saying ‘Leave that area alone’ because it is sacred and it is vital to the balance of the whole ecosystem.

“[The land] was given to us by our ancestors who have been there for over 100,000 years looking after that land. We are not about to give it up for Adani to destroy and decimate and totally obliterate and fracture the whole environment forever.”

Burragubba is on a whistlestop tour of some of the world’s biggest financial institutions. He has already taken his message to Wall Street at meetings with Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, followed by a stop in Washington to see the US Export Import Bank, the US government agency which is one of Adani’s biggest hopes for a loan. Next week, the group goes to UBS and Credit Suisse in Zurich.

A total of 11 banks have so far distanced themselves from the project, including the Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays.

Murrawah Johnson, 20, who is Burragubba’s niece, took time out from revising for her university finals to meet the bankers.

“As a young woman it is my duty to protect the land and our people and our children,” she said. “I am not going to give that up for a mining company to profit from the destruction and devastation of my land, leaving me with nothing to pass on to my children and future generations.”

The Wangan and Jagalingou people, who have a native title claim to over 30,000 sq km of central Queensland, recently lodged a legal bid to overturn a decision that clears the way for the Carmichael mine.

Adani argues that it has the support of the Wangan and Jagalingou people and claims that Burragubba does not represent them. Burragubba responded: “I come from there, I don’t come from anywhere else.”

He was one of three named applicants in the Wangan and Jagalingou case at Australia’s national native title tribunal.

Standard Chartered has promised to review its involvement in the Carmichael mine, amid concerns from green campaigners that the project would threaten the Great Barrier Reef and stymie efforts to keep global warming below the widely agreed “safe limit” of 2C.

The bank maintains that it is not funding the mine, despite court testimony from a senior executive at Adani’s Australian mining subsidiary that Standard Chartered had lent it $680m (£448m) for the project.

Julien Vincent, director of the fossil-fuel divestment group Market Forces, who also attended Friday’s meeting, described the Standard Chartered review as meaningless.

While stressing that the latest talks were constructive, he said Standard Chartered had failed to explain the $680m loan. “I am confused. Either what comes out of the Queensland land court is incorrect or there has been a huge failure of process.”

He hopes Standard Chartered’s new chief executive, Bill Winters, who started on Wednesday, will look again: “It has got to be treated as an opportunity to take a fresh approach.”

A Standard Chartered spokesman declined to discuss the meeting in detail: “It was a private meeting. We listened to Adrian Burragubba’s concerns and felt it was a constructive discussion.”

The bank’s head of corporate affairs, Stephen Atkinson, led the meeting for the bank. Burragubba said they were heard respectfully, adding that he felt comfortable the bank was going to do something.

At the meeting Burragubba played the didgeridoo, a performance he repeated outside the bank’s gleaming glass and steel headquarters in the City. “When I play this instrument, it is like playing the rhythm of the land of Australia, the animals, the birds and all those things that are unique to Australia.”


Traditional owners of Carmichael ‘optimistic’ banks will baulk at financing

Staff Reporter –

16 June 2015

The Wangan and Jagalingou (W&J) people, traditional owners of central Queensland’s Galilee Basin, today released an update on their international meetings with the world’s biggest investment banks, in which they urged them to rule out funding Adani’s $16.5 billion Carmichael coal mine.

The W&J have vowed to stop the mine because they say it threatens to permanently destroy their traditional lands and waters, and their ancestral connection to country. They also hold grave concerns for the impact of mining and burning coal on the climate and the world’s people.

“The banks – including Bank of America, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, the US Export Import Bank and Standard Chartered, UBS and Credit Suisse – recognised the authority of the W&J representatives, respectfully received us, and understood that our people have made a formal and final decision to reject a Land Use Agreement with Adani for the mine”, W&J spokesperson and senior traditional owner Adrian Burragubba said.

“The banks we met with said they would seriously consider the issue of human rights due diligence surrounding Adani’s proposal, and confirmed their commitment to the principle of free, prior and informed consent and respect for Indigenous people’s rights. They also understood the serious environmental and climate risks of investing in coal ”.

But the W&J said concerns persisted over UK-based bank Standard Chartered’s involvement in the project.

“We met with Standard Chartered, which according to sworn testimony by Adani’s chief financial officer in the Queensland Land Court has already loaned Adani $A680m to develop Carmichael mine. We are deeply concerned that the bank has extended corporate finance to Adani prior to any due diligence, including the application of the Equator Principles to which the bank is signatory,” Mr Burragubba said.

“These principles require that projects impacting indigenous owners have their consent. Dishing out $0.7bn to Adani for development of the mine before any scrutiny of its impacts – and given the mine does not have our consent – puts Standard Chartered in a very questionable position on the Equator Principles, as well as international law and UN Declaration on the Right of Indigenous Peoples.

Mr Burragubba said despite their concerns “we appreciated the opportunity to meet [with the bank’s representatives], entered the meeting in good faith, and confirmed our opposition to the mine.”

“We now welcome further dialogue with Standard Chartered”, he said adding: “We note that at Standard Chartered’s AGM in April this year chairman Sir John Peace stated that the bank would go no further with the Carmichael project until it is satisfied with the environmental aspects, and that the bank invites engagement from stakeholders. This approach was confirmed to us in our meeting, with an independent assessment based on the Equator Principles to be conducted before any further finance will be considered.”