Central Queensland locals have labelled American insurance giant Liberty Mutual a hypocrite for continuing with plans to build a polluting coal mine at Baralaba South, despite the company having just joined a United Nations-sponsored responsible investment program.
At the same time, locals have labelled a recent so-called round of community consultation by the company a "farce" because Liberty Mutual staff refused to meet with Save the Dawson members.
The Save the Dawson group, an alliance of farmers, Baralaba townspeople, and members of the Woorabinda Aboriginal community, oppose the Baralaba South coal mine because it threatens to pollute the Dawson River - thereby risking the communities’ drinking water supplies. The mine, if built, would also increase the risk of localised flooding and destroy strategic cropping land.
Save The Dawson Group member and Jiman (Yee-man) and Gooreng Gooreng man Douglas Graham said, “Water has always been sacred to us - for more than 60,000 years we have survived because we have always had water.
“What is happening with Liberty Mutual here is happening everywhere in this country.
“As First Nations people we never had to confront this issue before colonisation. It is impacting on our future and it is impacting on the future of all Australians. Liberty Mutual needs to go somewhere else.”
The recent moves by Liberty Mutual come after Baralaba residents voted overwhelmingly to reject the Baralaba South proposal, with a community survey showing 97.2 percent of respondents oppose the mine, and 99.6 percent favour reforms to better protect strategic cropping land in Queensland.
Save the Dawson group chairman and Baralaba grazier Brett Coombe said Liberty Mutual’s decision to join the United Nations-supported Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) was a classic example of greenwashing by a major corporation.
“Plans by Liberty Mutual to build this coal mine at Baralaba South directly contradict the environmental, social and governance principles the company says it is committed to upholding by joining this UN program,” he said.
“The company’s recent farcical attempts at community consultation further prove Liberty Mutual says one thing on the world stage, and does the complete opposite on the ground in small regional communities like ours.
“We are calling for a meeting with Liberty Mutual Insurance chief investment officer Neeti Bhalla Johnson so we can explain to her why locals are overwhelmingly opposed to this destructive coal mine plan.”
It’s not the first time Liberty Mutual has been labelled a hypocrite either.
In June this year, the company withdrew support for the Adani Carmichael mine after introducing a climate change policy, but has continued with plans for the greenfield Baralaba South coal mine.
Paul Stephenson, whose family has farmed next to the proposed mine’s coal dump near Moura for three generations, said Liberty Mutual’s behaviour was appalling.
“If Liberty Mutual genuinely accepts the UN Principles for Responsible Investment, it must cancel the proposed Baralaba South project immediately,” he said.
“We believe it is appropriate for the UN PRI to seriously consider expulsion of Liberty Mutual from its signatory list if the company continues to refuse to meet with impacted local communities, and if it continues to proceed with this destructive proposal to build a new coal mine.
"Moving ahead with this proposed coal mine would lead to potential human rights violations, the violation of rights of First Nations peoples, serious negative impacts on environmental, social and governance issues, and would drive worse climate change and global warming.
"All of these impacts would constitute potential violations of the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment, and we urge the UN PRI to seriously look at the behavior of this company and whether it meets the criteria to remain a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Investment."
If built, the Baralaba South greenfield, multi-seam, open-cut coal mine, would produce up to 5 million tonnes per annum (Mtpa) of run-of-mine coal for 30-40 years.
The mine’s location would be approximately 12km south of Baralaba, between Mt Ramsay and the Dawson River within a Mining Lease of 2 214 hectares which covers strategic cropping land. The mine is planned to be built 500m from the Dawson River on a floodplain where the river spreads to 11km wide during floods.
The proposed project requires 900 million litres of water per annum, for washing coal, dust suppression and other mine activities.