Fed up with protests near its operations in north-west NSW, coal mining company Idemitsu has admitted to hiring spies who infiltrated activist camps in the area.
The coal company said it hired security firms to provide “security services and advice” as direct activism at its mine site intensified.
These firms then enlisted the help of spy agencies Centre for Intelligence and Risk Management who led the mission the infiltrate activist camps in the area.
While direct activism also targets the mine’s haul roads, trucks and other machinery as groups such a Leard Forest Alliance and Front Line Action Against Coal protest against the expansion of Idemitsu’s Boggabri coal mine and the development of others in the area, including Whitehaven Coal’s Maules Creek mine.
The extraordinary revelations of spying come after a Fairfax led investigation which saw the ousting of one of the spies, Tony Groves.
SMH reported Groves entered the protest camp five months ago declaring his love for the environment, but was soon suspected of espionage by protest leaders.
''He was just completely neurotic about being in a photograph,'' protester Ben Solity said.
It has been reported there were a number of spies with ex-military backgrounds that were tasked with finding out as much information about planned actions and strategies and reporting back to the miner.
Idemitsu’s chief operating officer Rod Bridges said questions weren’t asked about how the firms knew so much about the activist’s movements.
''How they found out all this information [about the protesters' activities] … Well we didn't ask questions,” Bridges said.
"Both contracts require that these firms will carry out their services pursuant to the law and all applicable regulations."
Protesters are outraged the coal company was spying and questioned whether the actions taken were legal.
''The protest at Maules Creek has been non-violent and open,'' Phil Laird, a local farmer and anti-coal activist said.
''If the coal industry wants to know our plans, then perhaps they could engage with the protectors rather than send in undercover security agents to ingratiate themselves around the campfires and attempt to lull the knitting nanas, students, farmers and other honest, passionate and trusting people into letting so-called secrets out of the bag.
“We are Australian citizens yet are being spied upon by an industry which has so much money it thinks it can do what it likes with our system of government, our people, and our right to speak up against a wrong.”
Barbara MacDonald, a law professor at Sydney University, told SMH the spying operation could be deemed illegal if “someone had acted on the deception to the material detriment” of those being spied on.
Whitehaven Coal, which is also facing continual protests and disruptions as it tries to construct its $767 million Maules Creek mine project, has denied any participation or knowledge of the spying operation.
Police are investigating potential breaches of the Act governing private investigators after it was revealed three of the known spies do not hold current commercial agent or private enquiry licences in NSW.