Adani does not know if Queensland activist it is suing obtained confidential
Lawyers for mining giant Adani told a Queensland court they do not know what confidential information – “if any” – about the Carmichael coalmine was obtained by the environmental activist Ben Pennings, who is being sued by the company for breach of confidence.
At the centre of Adani’s multimillion-dollar damages claim against Pennings is an allegation that he solicited confidential information about the construction process and used it to harass contractors.
At a Queensland supreme court hearing earlier this month, Adani’s barrister, Graham Gibson, said the miner had “pleaded that Pennings misused confidential information, but we don’t know what information he has misused”.
“We don’t know how he has – what documents, if any, that he has and how that information came into his hands. We’ve been quite frank about that.
“All of this knowledge is in his possession.”
Guardian Australia understands that prior to the March supreme court hearing, Adani made an open offer to settle the case, drop its damages claim and walk away.
Pennings rejected the offer, which was conditional on him agreeing not to seek court costs, and to be bound by a permanent injunction that would prevent him from undertaking future anti-Adani activism.
Pennings had earlier tried to settle the case on identical terms in order “to protect my family” after learning Adani had unsuccessfully applied to conduct a surprise search of his family home, and that the company surveilled his family members.
He now says he will not accept an injunction.
“Adani’s offer to settle was completely inadequate given the financial and emotional stress on my family and the weaknesses my lawyers have exposed in their case,” he said.
“Adani has dragged me through six months of harrowing litigation, knowing all along that they have no evidence I’ve accessed their secret information. Lawsuits against peaceful protesters are an affront to democracy.”
Pennings’ lawyer, Kiera Peacock, said the core of Adani’s case was a claim that information was given to him unlawfully.
“Yet Adani has said they don’t know what information was allegedly given to him. This makes it very difficult for Ben to defend his case.”
The court has reserved a decision about whether to impose a confidentiality order that would prevent Pennings from seeing sensitive elements of the case against him.
Adani has argued Pennings “cannot be trusted to maintain the confidentiality” of material relevant to the case.
In a statement, the company said it had made Pennings “what we consider to be a very reasonable offer, which requires him to do no more than act in a manner that is law abiding and respectful of the rights of those engaged in legitimate lawful business activity”.
“While the legal proceedings include a claim for damages caused by Mr Pennings’ conduct, we consider the safety and wellbeing of our employees and our right to subcontract without interference to be more important than the potential recovery of any money.
“The offer would have seen the legal proceedings concluded, provided Mr Pennings undertook, among other things, not to participate in, or incite, any further harassment and intimidation of our employees and contractors.
“Despite public claims made by Mr Pennings over recent months that he wants the proceedings to come to an end as they will cause him financial harm, he rejected this offer.
“We now have no option but to pursue Mr Pennings to the full extent of the law.”