Liberty faces disciplinary action over its plans to build a polluting coal mine in Australia

A Central Queensland community’s fight against global insurance behemoth Liberty Mutual has reached the United Nations, with the company facing disciplinary action over its plans to build a polluting coal mine on the banks of the Dawson River. 

Liberty Mutual now faces expulsion from the prestigious $100-trillion dollar United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment over its plans to build the Baralaba South coal mine – plans that have been fiercely opposed by a coalition of Traditional Owners, farmers, and local community members.

A formal process is underway within the UNPRI to consider the expulsion of Liberty Mutual from the initiative following a formal complaint lodged last week by local community group Save the Dawson. The formal complaint outlines serious violations of the UNPRI’s Principles constituted by Liberty Mutual’s attempts to develop the proposed Baralaba South coal mine 10km from the rural town of Baralaba.

Yesterday the formal complaint was escalated by senior officials within the UNPRI, with official sanction for the matter to be elevated to the Board of the UNPRI, which will make a final decision on Liberty Mutual’s expulsion from the initiative.

The formal complaint from community group Save the Dawson calls for the UNPRI to engage with Liberty Mutual to ensure the immediate withdrawal and cancellation of the proposed Baralaba South coal mine, through withdrawal of its Environmental Impact Statement due April 30, and if Liberty Mutual refuse to do this, requests the company’s immediate expulsion from the initiative.

The Save the Dawson group has drawn attention to the severe negative impacts of the proposed coal mine, constituting serious violations of the Principles of the UNPRI initiative, which commit signatories to a high standard of consideration for ESG issues, human rights and climate change impacts in investment decisions.

The formal complaint outlines negative impacts of the proposed mine including:

  • Over 400 million tonnes of additional carbon dioxide emissions, flying in the face of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ announcement last month that all new coal projects must be cancelled, and U.S. Special Climate Envoy John Kerry’s statement on Wednesday that coal use must be immediately abandoned if the world is to have any chance of meeting Paris agreement targets.
  • Contamination and depletion of drinking water supplies for the town of Baralaba, population 300, and Woorabinda Aboriginal community, population 1000, potentially constituting violations of fundamental human rights and Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
  • Permanent destruction of thousands of hectares of prime agricultural land, designated as strategic cropping land.
  • Severe negative ecological and environmental impacts, including impacts on the World Heritage Listed Great Barrier Reef.

Save the Dawson group member Paul Stephenson said, “We have lodged a formal complaint. We are calling on the UNPRI to uphold it’s Serious Violations of the Principles policy, to review the signatory status of Liberty Mutual.

“We don’t believe it is appropriate for Liberty Mutual to remain a signatory to the UNPRI while it progresses the Baralaba South coal mine.

“Liberty Mutual’s actions cast doubt on its genuine commitment to the Principles of Responsible Investment. This opens up serious questions about signatories’ engagement in greenwashing via the PRI initiative.

Save the Dawson chairman and local grazier, Brett Coombe said, “We are opposed to this mine because it is proposed on prime agricultural land, on a floodplain, 500metres from the Dawson River.

“If this mine proceeds it would permanently destroy several thousand hectares of strategic cropping land, risk contamination and depletion of our drinking water supplies, and would leave a toxic final void on the floodplain permanently post-mining.

“We’d like to see the UNPRI uphold its Serious Violations of the Principles policy, and to engage with Liberty Mutual to ensure it abandons this irresponsible project. If Liberty refuses to respect the will of the local community and the Principles of the UNPRI, then we think it’s appropriate that they are removed from that initiative.”