November 5th 2016

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY Hazelwood closure will push up power prices in Victoria

CANBERRA OBSERVED Out of the shadows of the backbench ...

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Obama Administration exacerbates Syria conflict

INDUSTRY AND ENVIRONMENT Wikileaks reveals U.S, funding behind anti-coal campaign

TAIWAN New president cautious, ambivalent towards Beijing

OPINION How to convert citizens into subjects and victims

FINANCE Untangling some knots of international tax

BRITISH AFFAIRS Brexit revisited: courts may come into play

LITERATURE The paradoxical idyll of Tolkien's Shire

HUMOUR Assembled and curated by Sebastian Gunlighter

MUSIC Unresolved melancholies

CINEMA Bittersweet Woody Allan: Cafe Society

BOOK REVIEW From von Ranke to van Gend

BOOK REVIEW More mystery than history

BOOK REVIEW An empire's collapse


NATIONAL AFFAIRS Cardinal rebuts commission's 'Get Pell' campaign

U.S. AFFAIRS First Brexit, now Trump: it's the economy, stupid!

ANALYSIS What is possible to a Trump Whitehouse

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Wikileaks reveals U.S, funding behind anti-coal campaign

by Patrick J. Byrne

News Weekly, November 5, 2016

Wikileaks has posted emails to Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, identifying the U.S. Sandler Foundation as a funder of the campaign to stop the huge Galilee Basin coalmine in Central Queensland.

The Sandler Foundation was formed in 1991 by Herbert and Marion Sandler. The fund received $US1.3 billion ($A1.7 billion) from the Sandlers in 2006. It funds many projects, including environmental organisations like Oceania, Earthjustice and Human Rights Watch.

The email to John Podesta was from John Hepburn, executive director of the Sunrise Project, an organisation formed in 2012. It followed the first Australian national Coal Convergence Conference, aimed at first blocking the expansion of Australia’s coal industry, and then shutting it down.

Screen shot of Herbert Sandler's email.

Sunrise is endorsed as a charity with the Australian Tax Office, registered with the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission and is on the National Register of Environmental Organisations.

The Coal Convergence Conference strategy was set out in a leaked document, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom.[1] This document was analysed in News Weekly (March 31, 2012).[2]

Hepburn, then from Greenpeace, was one of several people listed on the front page of the document.

Hepburn’s email, forwarded to Podesta – and available on Wikileaks – was to Sergio Knaebel of the Sandler Foundation in August 2015. It followed a court case against the $21 billion Adani company mine in the Galilee Basin, which has since gained the approval of the Queensland Government.

The email was also sent to Graeme Wood,[3] the Australian entrepreneur and philanthropist who founded the online travel business in 2000. The Graeme Wood Foundation was also listed on the front page of Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom. In 2012, Wood denied that he was either funding or supporting the campaign.[4]

Hepburn thanked Knaebel of the Sandler Foundations, saying: “Without your support none of this would have happened and the mine might have been half-built by now.

“… tomorrow afternoon I am going to buy a few bottles of bubbly for a celebration with the EDO [Environmental Defenders Office] legal team, our colleagues at Getup, Greenpeace,, ECF, Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Mackay Conservation Group, Market Forces and the brilliant and tireless Sunrise team.”

Most of these groups were involved in the original anti-coal campaign outlined in the 2012 Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom strategy document.

Hepburn said: “The coalition of groups that have been campaigning to get the banks to rule out financing the project have already pivoted today to escalate the campaign towards the other three big Australian banks who are all holding their AGMs at the same time as the Paris COP [UN Climate Change Conference]. And on Monday we have a meeting to thrash out the federal election strategy to build on the momentum from the Galilee/Reef campaign.”

Hepburn mocked the coal industry’s claim that “there is some kind of foreign-funded and tightly orchestrated conspiracy to systemically destroy the Australian coal industry”.

“I seriously don’t know where they get these wacky ideas from!” he said.[5]

In May 2015, Herb Sandler had raised concerns over the Abbott government inquiry into the activities of environmental charities, which included proposals for full disclosure of funding to Australian environmental groups and a proposal from the Minerals Council to have the Sunrise Project’s charitable status removed.

Sandler called it “astonishing and frightening”, adding: “We are a funder of the Sunrise project.”

Hepburn said that the Sunrise people had engaged lawyers to plan how to avoid disclosures, adding: “I have no concerns whatsoever about our compliance with our charitable obligations but I do have concerns about the potential PR impact of disclosure of both our funding and grantees – should that eventuate. Obviously there are a lot of things we can do to manage these risks and this has a long way to run.”[6]

The Sunrise Project 2015 Review says the organisation’s revenue for the year was $5.2 million, with $5.1 million coming in grants and donations. Its expenses included grant funding and donation expenses ($3.1 million), program expenses ($1.1 million) and operational and administration expenses ($650,228).[7]

Key figures on the Sunrise Project board of direction were also listed as key figures in the 2012 Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom document. These include: John Hepburn, who had been with Friends of the Earth and later Greenpeace; Carmel Flint, formerly a spokeswoman for the Nature Conservation Council of NSW; and Mark Wakeham, from Environment Victoria, who is also director and co-chair of The Sunrise Project.

Other board figures include: director and co-chair Aviva Imhof, who is also deputy director of the International Energy Program at the European Climate Foundation and formerly Pacific Coal network coordinator with the Sunrise Project; Erna de Vries, a retired petroleum geologist and financial analyst who was also head of resources research with Westpac Corporate Banking before moving to a senior risk-management position with Commonwealth Bank; and Miranda Nagy, a Special Counsel at Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, Sydney.[8]

The Sunrise Project is heavily focused on stopping the expansion and then shutting down the Australian coalmining industry.

Mark Wakeham and Aviva Imhof said in their “Letter from Co-Chairs”, in the 2015 Review, that the Sunrise Project is part of a global disruption “to drive a transformation of the global energy system”. As part of the drive to complete reliance on renewable energy, “fossil fuel reserves must remain in the ground”.

“Finally, we’d like to pay our respects to the amazing communities and movements on the frontline of damaging fossil fuel projects, who are pushing back and saying ‘Enough’. Hats off to those getting on with the job of building our clean energy future. It is a privilege and an honour to work with you all.”[9]

The Sunrise Review says that Sunrise sees its role “as nurturing and supporting the nationwide social movement to protect our natural heritage and to hasten the transition beyond fossil fuels”.[10] This involves, reducing “greenhouse pollution by preventing the large-scale expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure”.[11]

The Review highlights Sunrise’s major projects, which include:

• Opposing coalmining on the Liverpool Plains in NSW.

• Supporting Environment Victoria’s campaign to shut down the Hazelwood power station (see this article in this edition of News Weekly).

Most notably, the Review boasted about Sunrise’s work against the Adani mine, coal rail lines and ports.

It said that Sunrise was raising “awareness of the role global banks play in financing the proposed Abbot Point coal port expansion. In Australia, this saw the National Australia Bank rule out involvement in the project, with a NAB spokesperson saying that the bank, ‘is not involved and has no plans to be involved in any financing’ of Adani’s destructive projects.

“Public campaigns focused on Australian banks saw the Commonwealth Bank cancel its advisory arrangement with Adani, while Westpac and ANZ also committed to strong climate policies, as well as to many billions of dollars of investment in renewable energy. Internationally our campaign partners persuaded Standard Chartered to cancel their arrangement with Adani.”

This story was accompanied by a reprint of a newspaper advertisement calling on Australia’s major banks not to fund the Abbot Point coal port. The ad was sponsored by Sum of Us, Birdlife, the Australian Conservation Foundation,, Greenpeace, Market Forces, GetUp and the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.[12]

The Sunrise Project’s public fund was granted tax deductibility status in mid-2013. It is one of 615 environmental groups listed as having such status on the Federal Government’s Register of Environment.[13]

Several others, like the Australian Conservation Foundation, are listed in the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997, as a charity with tax deductibility status.



[1] John Hepburn, Bob Burton and Sam Hardy, Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom: Funding proposal for the Australian anti-coal movement (November 2011).

[2] “Radical green strategy to sabotage Australian coal-mines, railways and ports”, News Weekly, March 31, 2012.

[3] The Graeme Wood email was <>. WildMob is an organisation engaging and placing volunteers on conservation projects. Wood is on the board of directors of WildMob.

[4] “Apology to Mr Graeme Wood AM”, Australian Financial Review, March 11-12, 2012, p.2: “On March 6 and 8 we published articles concerning a campaign by green groups to disrupt and delay new coalmines. Graeme Wood has informed us, and The Australian Financial Review accepts, that neither he nor his foundation has had any involvement in that campaign.”

[5] Fwd: Adani update - what a week!

[6] Fwd: IMPORTANT: Charity Inquiry

[7] The Sunrise Project, 2015 Review, p20.

[8] ibid., pp18-19.

[9] Ibid., p3.

[10] Ibid., p5.

[11] Ibid., p6.

[12] Ibid., p10.

[13] Deductible Gift Recipients; Organisations currently on the Register.

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