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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Joe Hinchliffe

Queensland activist Ben Pennings ordered to hand over his files on Adani

Ben Pennings arriving at the supreme court in Brisbane in 2021.
Anti-Adani coalmine activist Ben Pennings (left) has been ordered to disclose information from his personal devices in a ruling by Queensland’s supreme court. Photograph: Darren England/AAP

A Brisbane activist whose family was secretly surveilled by Adani’s private investigators has agreed to hand his phone and computer over to the mining giant as it seeks to prove its claims he “misused’’ confidential information.

Following a court order, Ben Pennings told Guardian Australia he would “reluctantly allow” a forensic IT expert to trawl through his data, as he seeks to have Adani drop its multimillion-dollar damages claims against him over his campaigning against its Carmichael coalmine.

The case before Queensland’s supreme court has dragged on for two years. Pennings has previously said the legal fight had sent him “spiralling in and out of anxiety and depression” as he fears he will lose his family’s suburban home, which includes a dedicated space designed to accommodate the needs of his child with a disability.

“It’s tough fighting the third richest person in the world for years, but Adani rejected my recent attempt to settle the case,” Pennings said outside court on Friday.

“The quickest way I can progress the case is to reluctantly allow experts paid for by Adani to search my computer and phone. I hope once it’s complete that Adani will drop their outlandish claims against me and let my family live in peace.”

Adani maintains its case against Pennings has nothing to do with his freedom of speech or activism, but rather trespass, intimidation and breach of contract.

“Adani remains committed to protecting its right to lawfully carry on business and the rights of our workers and contractors to go about their work free from bullying, intimidation, or harassment,” an Adani Australia spokesperson said.

Construction of the Carmichael mine and its associated rail project began in June 2019 and both are now in operation.

But lawyers representing Adani told the supreme court this week that Pennings “orchestrated” a “campaign of various conspiracies” designed to “prevent or certainly impede” its central Queensland mine.

Adani is seeking financial compensation for Pennings’ activism, previously claiming it had cost it $600m in lost contracts as a leader in the Galilee Blockade. That figure dropped to $17m in June.

It is also seeking an injunction to prevent Pennings from attempts to further disrupt development of the Carmichael mine.

Adani’s lawyers have previously said they do not know what confidential information – “if any” – about the Carmichael coalmine “came into [Pennings’] possession” but have been demanding he hand over information he has on 18 contractors, including bus operators and drilling companies, so the company can prosecute its case.

Pennings’ legal team described such an “unduly broad” request as a “fishing exercise” and an unreasonable ask of an individual and was seeking to narrow the scope of information he would be required to disclose.

But in a bruising week in court for Pennings, Justice Elizabeth Wilson rejected those arguments on Friday, ordering the activist comply with the miners’ demands, deeming the information relevant to the case.

Pennings will now be required to compile and document information he has about the Adani project and various campaigns conducted by the Galilee Blockade against Adani contractors.

“Today the supreme court of Queensland dismissed an application filed by Mr Pennings and granted all of the relief sought by Adani in an application concerning the disclosure of documents in the proceedings relating to the alleged unlawful Stop Adani campaign headed by Mr Pennings for the better part of the last 10 years,” the Adani spokesperson said.

“Today’s ruling continues a trend in which Mr Pennings has either been wholly unsuccessful or largely unsuccessful in the proceedings to date.”

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