Mining company Adani secretly sought to raid the Brisbane home of an activist to seize evidence but failed twice, court documents have revealed.
Adani and its Carmichael Rail Network applied for a search order, known as an Anton Piller order, against Benjamin Pennings in June this year.
It claimed Mr Pennings had possession of “confidential information on a computer at his home” which was being used in a concerted campaign of “intimidation and conspiracy” against the Galilee Basin coal project.
As part of the application, Adani claimed Mr Pennings had information to which only company executives and other select staff and contractors had access.
Anton Piller orders are searches carried out without notice to the defendant to ensure that evidence cannot be destroyed and is preserved to be used in judicial proceedings.
Adani’s court application and subsequent appeal in July were also heard ex parte, meaning they were both heard without notice.
Adani has described Mr Pennings as the “principal” of a group of political activists called the “Galilee Blockade”, whose objective is to prevent the development of the mine and railway.
In rejecting Adani and Carmichael Rail Network’s appeal last week, the Court of Appeal ruled the evidence was “wholly inadequate to justify the order sought”.
“They have failed to establish the likelihood that the use of any confidential information has resulted in any loss.”
The Court of Appeal also raised concerns about the impact of a search order could have had on Mr Pennings’ partner and children.
“Surely, to permit a search of a defendant’s house, with the humiliation and family distress which that might involve, lies at the outer boundary of the discretion,” the Court of Appeal judges said.
“This is because, for reasons that anyone can understand, the ‘shock, anger, confusion’ and the ‘sense of violation and powerlessness’ will be much greater in such a case and may be suffered not only by someone who is proved in due course to be a wrongdoer, but by entirely innocent parties as well.”
Activist not intimidated by ‘attack dog’ strategy
In a statement, Mr Pennings said he would not be intimidated by “Adani’s ‘attack dog’ legal strategy.”
“My wife and I have three school-aged children living at home, one with a disability,” Mr Pennings said.
“Adani has failed in two recent Supreme Court applications to raid our family home for corporate secrets they believe I possess.
“I will not let a massive multinational company threaten or bankrupt my family.”
However, court documents showed Adani and Carmichael Rail Network were still pursuing Mr Pennings through civil damages action.
Its statement of claim accuses Mr Pennings of a “breach of confidence, inducing breach of contract, intimidation and conspiracy”.
The documents claim Mr Pennings was responsible for strikes and boycotts of Adani contractors and threats against them, as well as action designed to frustrate the project development.
Campaign is ‘intimidation and harassment’, says Adani
Kate Campbell, the head of communications for Adani in Australia, said Adani had a right to carry out its business, free from intimidation and harassment.
“Our case claims that Mr Pennings has been a key organiser of activities like threatening companies that if they work with us, they’ll be subject to campaigns of harassment,” Ms Campbell said.
“And that includes things like locking onto mining equipment, blockades, occupying their offices, harassing their people via text messages, phone calls and social media posts.
“Things that are really distressing for their employees.
“Things like locking onto the gates of businesses and then not letting their employees drive their cars out to pick up their kids.
“Or occupying their offices and filming and photographing their employees, who are just trying to earn an honest living, to intimidate them.”
As well as seeking damages, Adani wants to prevent Mr Pennings from promoting the “Dob in Adani” campaign, which targets contractors and affiliates.
In its statement of claim, Adani alleged the campaign had led to the withdrawal of agreements with Downer Mining, Greyhound Australia and AECOM.
“We really believe that everyone has the right to express their own opinion, we support that. It’s a core part of democracy.
“But we think it’s important that people express their opinions in a way that’s legal, that’s safe and that does not prevent others from going about their legal and legitimate business.
“Mr Pennings is preventing us from going about our business because of the campaign of intimidation and harassment.”