Two journalists who travelled to meet Indigenous elders at the Carmichael mine site were surveilled, threatened with a police complaint and warned they would face legal action if they published any material obtained during their visit, documents tabled in parliament allege.
The award-winning photojournalist Matthew Abbott says he and a reporter from the Swiss-based NGO Public Eye last year travelled to meet with Wangan and Jagalingou cultural custodians to discuss their ceremonial reoccupation of the Carmichael mine site.
In a statement tabled in the Senate on Wednesday, Abbott said that within minutes of arriving, a security vehicle with a video camera mounted on the seat drove past and filmed them.
“Shortly afterwards they sent us a letter threatening us with legal action – with a warning to ‘leave immediately’,” he said. “I did not see this letter until well after my visit to the area.”
The letter said that Bravus, formerly known as Adani, had complained to Queensland police about their presence and that the company would seek damages if any material obtained during the trip was published.
“We request that you and Mr Abbott leave Bravus’ mining lease immediately and do not return, and that you or Public Eye do not publish any photographs, videos, or other material taken on or of our mining lease without our prior written consent,” the letter said, according to Abbott’s statement.
The Wangan and Jagalingou custodians began reoccupying the land in August 2021, establishing a Waddananggu or “talking camp”, inviting guests and holding ceremonies.
Abbott said the custodians, who are aggrieved by the damage posed to their land, are on the site lawfully.
“As journalists, my colleague Adria Budry Carbo and I were invited to visit the ceremony camp and learn about the concerns they share about the mine’s impact on their homeland, but also to witness their connection to that Country, the place they call home,” he said.
Abbott said Bravus had a history of using press council complaints and legal threats to intimidate journalists. He alleged that other journalists who had visited the site had received legal threats and subsequently not published.
Public Eye did publish a piece from its reporting trip, despite the threats.
“I believe we have a problem when media outlets are intimidated to a point where they are self-censoring their stories,” he said. “What does that say about our democracy, our culture of secrecy, that a litigious foreign-owned corporation can have so much influence in our press?”
The statement was tabled by Senator David Pocock on Wednesday.
“These stories need to be heard,” Pocock told the Senate. “When one of our best photojournalists speaks out, we should all listen.”
In response, Bravus issued a statement alleging the reporters trespassed despite clear directions not to enter the site.
It said it wholly rejected the claims aired by Pocock, describing them as “embellished and incorrect”.
The company said it was contacted by a European-based journalist in 2022 seeking access to the Carmichael site for a story on “thermal coal use in Switzerland”.
“The foreign journalist was advised, in writing, that Bravus did not provide its consent for him or for any other contractor engaged by him to visit or enter any part of the company’s mining or pastoral leases,” Bravus said in a statement. “The journalist and Mr Abbott chose to ignore that direction and instead chose to enter Bravus’ Mining Lease in October 2022 without the authorisation of the owner of the land.”
Bravus said it wrote to the journalist requesting that he and Abbott did not publish material taken on the site without consent, something it said was what “any other law-abiding business would do”.
“We welcome legitimate media and answer their questions almost daily, but we don’t welcome trespassers.”
The company rejected an allegation that it used facial recognition software to identify Abbott. It said the journalist had told the company that Abbott would be accompanying him on the reporting trip.