The Gomeroi people have been battling Whitehaven’s coal expansions for years. In 2021, a group of Gomeroi elders released a statement calling for a stop to all new coal and gas projects, and expansions of existing projects, on Gomeroi country.
A Disregard for Major Shareholders
Whitehaven Coal is facing a significant investor backlash at their AGM for buying two BHP coal mines and proposing further coal expansion. Straight after the BHP deal was announced a significant shareholder in Whitehaven sold out $157M worth of shares.
Major Whitehaven shareholder Bell Rock Capital surveyed Whitehaven investors and found a huge majority wanted Whitehaven to pay dividends rather than invest in new coal mines. Shareholders have even launched a website and run ads opposing Whitehaven‘s plans and “unusual” exec bonuses ahead of Whitehaven‘s AGM.
One of the central issues at WHC's AGM is the company's plans to disregard the votes of a Bell Rock Capital, which a Media Release claims owns 11% of the company.
This decision is extremely unusual. Ignoring the votes of a major shareholder is a highly unusual move for any corporation, especially one that does not even know how many crimes it has committed .
Legal Battles Unleashed
To ensure the AGM vote doesn't go against them, WHC has opted for a drastic approach - they're setting their legal team loose on the major shareholder. The reasons for this legal battle remain unclear, but it underscores the lengths WHC is willing to continue their coal expansion plans and bonuses for their Managing Director.
The Fair Shareholder Returns website says, “the proposed incentives for the Managing Director are highly unusual and encourage acquisitions over optimising shareholder returns and the responsible management of capital. They are highly inappropriate and must be rejected along with the Remuneration Report.”
The Environmental Rap Sheet
The controversy doesn't stop at the AGM and legal battles. New freedom of information documents reveal Whitehaven needed to be reminded of some of the dozens of penalties it received for environmental breaches committed at its NSW coal mines as part of its federal application to expand its Narrabri Underground coal project.
Over 100 breaches are documented, spanning 24 pages, and even include violations by Whitehaven subsidiaries. Some of the offences include failure to rehabilitate disturbed areas, illegal clearing of access tracks, drilling boreholes without authorization, disturbing an Aboriginal heritage site, and exceeding noise limits. What's even more disturbing is that the Federal Department had to rely on information provided by NSW authorities for 74 of these breaches because WHC either failed to supply the necessary information or did so unclearly.
Implications for the Environment
The release of these environmental violation documents has cast a dark shadow over WHC just as they prepare for their AGM. This extensive criminal rap sheet should be enough to deny further approvals.
Opponents of the Narrabri coal mine expansion, which is due for decision by the Environment Minister soon, say the inclusion of Whitehaven’s criminal rap sheet in its assessment correspondence, indicates the company should not be granted further approvals, since it was repeatedly failing to meet environmental conditions.
Lock the Gate Alliance Head of Research and Investigations Georgina Woods said this highlighted the importance of the Albanese Government’s reforms to the EPBC Act.
“The list of Whitehaven’s environmental crimes is not just long, it's serious - the company has damaged Aboriginal artefacts, cleared bush without approval, polluted creeks, stolen water, failed to manage noise and air pollution, and dumped dangerous waste materials. It looks like there’s not a single environmental harm Whitehaven hasn’t committed,” she said.
“We’re very worried that the law isn’t strong enough to protect the forest and the water resources at risk from this huge mine expansion.”