The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, has defended Adani after revelations it tried to get the names of scientists reviewing a crucial plan for its Queensland mine, fearing they might be anti-coal activists.
The ABC has cited emails – obtained under freedom of information by the Lock The Gate environment group – showing Adani demanded the federal government reveal the names of the scientists.
“Adani simply wants to know who is involved in the review to provide it with peace of mind that it is being treated fairly and that the review will not be hijacked by activists with a political, as opposed to scientific, agenda,” Adani told the federal environment department on 25 January.
That was well before scientists from the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia reported back to government on their review of Adani’s plans to manage groundwater at its central Queensland mine site.
Adani was unable to proceed with building the mine until that plan was approved by both the state and federal governments.
The plan won federal ministerial approval on 8 April, two days before the 18 May election was called. The Queensland government gave it the nod in mid-June.
On Tuesday McCormack said he could understand the “frustration” of the proponents of the Carmichael mine.
“They were made to jump through more environmental hoops than perhaps any previous project in the nation,” he told ABC’s AM. “And no doubt they wanted to determine … that those arguing against their proposals were not just some quasi anti-development groups or individuals.”
McCormack said he “appreciated” Adani’s move could be seen as intimidating but defended the company by claiming there were “many, many people under lots and lots of banners saying things and suggesting things about Adani that … weren’t true”.
When pressed, McCormack accepted that the CSIRO was “independent”, adding that he respected its work “and always will”.
CSIRO staff association secretary Sam Popovski told the ABC the revelations were alarming, and that Adani also trawled through scientists’ social media accounts.
“We’re very concerned on behalf of our scientists at the CSIRO that a big company would go into looking at the personal lives of our members, including trawling their social media, in order to potentially discredit their work,” he said.
“It was clear that Adani seemed to be suggesting bias, or potential bias, way before any of the scientific evidence was actually presented to the department.”
The scientists’ names were not handed over, the federal environment department has said.
Adani said it had written to the department in January to request “assurance that individuals involved in any review processes were independent”.
This followed “concerning reports at the time that the state environmental regulator had commissioned a review which constituted individuals who had expressed anti-coal, anti-mining sentiments”, it said.