Environmentalist fears $420k Adani legal bill could bankrupt him

Environmental campaigner Ben Pennings says he fears he could be bankrupted after Adani claimed a single day in court cost them $800,000.

Adani — now rebranded Bravus — took Mr Pennings to court seeking compensation for business losses from his campaigns against contractors on its Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland with the protest group Galilee Blockade.

It accuses Mr Pennings of trespass, intimidation, conspiracy to injure and inducing company insiders to breach contracts by leaking sensitive information.

Mr Pennings was ordered by Queensland’s Supreme Court to pay 60 per cent of Adani’s costs in relation to a confidentiality application.

Adani’s lawyers said in letters that the one-day court application cost more than $800,000.

The bill totals $844,945.79 but with discounts applied reduces to $701,006.19, meaning Mr Pennings is being ordered to pay $420,603.72.

Mr Pennings has raised more than $366,000 from donations towards his legal fees.

Protesters in 2020 stand in front of construction equipment at an anti-Adani protest in central Queensland.(

Supplied: Frontline Action Coal


But he said he fears Adani could still end up bankrupting him as it has done with Indigenous activist Adrian Burragubba.

“If I have to pay Adani or anyone $420,000, we have to sell our house,” Mr Pennings said.

“My lawyers have written to Adani to say ‘can you justify this figure of 800,000?’ and they’re refusing to.”

Mr Pennings believed it is a scare tactic.

“I’m loath to admit it, but it is working.”

Indigenous elder Adrian Burragubba in Brisbane
Traditional owner Adrian Burragubba outside court in 2018.(

ABC News: Talissa Siganto


As part of its case, Adani sought orders to keep some of its evidence, which contained sensitive business information, secret from Mr Pennings.

He fought the application.

Last month Adani’s lawyers, Dowd and Co, issued a letter demanding Mr Pennings agree to pay $420,603 as his share of costs.

“The offer to fix these costs will remain open for seven days, after which time we will take steps to commence the preparation of our clients’ cost statement,” a letter from Dowd and Co Lawyers said.

‘Unreasonable’ costs demand

Mr Pennings’ solicitor, Marque Lawyers partner Kiera Peacock, wrote back saying Adani’s alleged total cost was “the extraordinary sum of $844,945”.

“We cannot understand how Adani could have reasonably incurred over $800,000 in respect of the application,” she said.

Kiera Peacock smiles as she stands in front of a brick wall.
Mr Pennings’ lawyer Kiera Peacock has asked Adani to provide the hourly rates for those involved in the case.(



“Adani had described its application as being for a ‘commonplace’ confidentiality regime.

Ms Peacock asked the firm to give a detailed breakdown of its work, including the “hourly rates of every person involved”, which was “the minimum we would have expected to be included in any offer”.

In a letter, she said Adani was “only entitled to costs which were ‘necessary or proper for the attainment of justice or enforcing or defending the rights of the party whose costs are being assessed'”.

A stop sign bearing Adani's name leaning against a fence in central Queensland
Adani and its lawyers from Dowd and Co have been contacted for comment.(

ABC News


ABC News asked Ms Peacock how Adani could have amassed costs of that amount so far.

“The amount of 800,000 for a single day application is extraordinary,” she said.

“Our clients certainly can’t understand how a party could incur, you know, that amount of costs on a one-day application,” she said.

In another letter, Adani’s lawyers responded but refused to detail any further how the single-day application could have cost more than $800,000.

Adani and its lawyers from Dowd and Co have been contacted for comment.

Mr Pennings can ask the court for an independent assessment of costs.

Man bankrupted by Adani says costs exorbitant

Wangan and Jagalingou traditional owner Adrian Burragubba was made bankrupt by Adani after losing his legal battles.

Mr Burragubba said he spent five years mounting five Federal Court cases against the Native Title process and government approvals.

“That amounted to $680,000, so what they are asking from Ben Pennings at this point is a little bit extreme, just for, you know, one day in court,” he said.

“It’s a bit astronomical to say the least.”

Headshot of Adrian Burragubba standing outside Federal Parliament in Canberra.
Adrian Burragubba said his legal costs over five years came in at $680,00.(

Supplied: Adrian Burragubba


Adani applied to have him made bankrupt after he lost and could not afford to pay a portion of Adani’s costs.

“Adani is using every means available to prosecute, persecute and criminalise those who oppose his mine,” Mr Burragubba said.

Last year Adani tried twice to get judges to approve its plan to raid Mr Pennings’s home to seize devices or documents.

For the applications, Adani hired a private investigator to do surveillance on the activist, photographing him walking one of his children to school.

The company said it did this because it was obliged to minimise the impact of any proposed raid on members of his family.

Both times the court refused to allow a raid.

However, Adani managed to get orders that Mr Pennings remove social media posts, not publish certain statements or seek to use confidential information on Adani.

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