Last week billionaire businessman Gautam Adani paid a visit to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking him to enact a special law to stop anyone challenging big coal and gas projects once they have been approved by government. This meeting raises questions about the relationship between government and big polluting companies.

The Prime Minister is entitled to meet with anyone he likes, you may very well say, but there are two issues here – one is the fossil fuel industry's direct access to power and the other is the implications of that on Australia's democracy.

This meeting raises questions about the relationship between government and big polluting companies.

Turnbull's back room meeting with international billionaire businessman Adani is an example of the warm reception the fossil fuel industry enjoys in Australia. This direct access to the highest office in our country is an unfortunate feature of our democracy, and speaks of the pernicious dynamic where money enables access to power. Just by the way, according to data released by the AEC, Adani donated $49,500 to the Liberal Party of Australia in the 2013-2014 financial year.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is Australia's largest environment group, almost entirely funded by community members. Not government money, not corporate funding. And we have never given political donations.

In contrast to the companies like Adani, it is extremely difficult for community groups or not-for-profit organisations to get face-to-face meetings with the Prime Minister.

ACF recently filed a case against the government over the Adani Carmichael approval. This is a last resort move, and something we have never done on a project at this scale. We are doing it because this proposal is so enormous and we believe the climate change impacts of the project have not been properly considered through the approval processes. We are concerned about the impact on the Great Barrier Reef and the global climate of digging one of the world's largest coal mines in Queensland's Galilee Basin.

If enacted, the special law Adani has requested would stop people who are concerned about the environmental and social impact of these massive mining projects from using the federal courts to ensure our laws are applied correctly. Community groups would no longer be able to hold big fossil fuel companies to account in the federal courts.

It could also set a precedent of companies blocking challenges at a state level, locking out those who will be affected by the projects – the broader Australian community – from being able to oppose them.

There are plenty of examples of community members taking their concerns to our state courts.

Wendy Bowman is a farmer in Camberwell in the Hunter region of NSW. She has been farming in the area since 1957. Ashton Coal, a subsidiary of Yancoal, is trying to extend its open-cut coal mine over Wendy's home. If it goes ahead the project would have massive health impacts on the community and significantly damage the Glennies Creek. The importance of Glennies Creek for the health of the Hunter River, and in particular its importance for irrigation of the nearby Pokolbin and Broke-Fordwich wine regions, led the NSW Office of Water to initially oppose the new mine.

The mine has since been approved however, with no acknowledgement of the value of the environmental and health impacts included in the cost benefit analysis provided in the Environmental Assessment. Concerned about the impacts of the projects, and not wanting to give up her home, Bowman has refused to sell or lease her property to the coal miners. Left with little choice, she had to go to the NSW Land and Environment Court for the right to stay on her own farm. She won the case, and the following appeal, only because she was able to exercise her democratic right to challenge such projects in court.

The special laws requested by Adani, if taken on by other companies, would stop people like Wendy, and thousands of others like her, having their say on the impacts of big fossil fuel projects in the court of law.

It would also set a dangerous precedent. If Turnbull agrees to do Adani's bidding on this project, what will stop the flood of international fossil fuel companies to Canberra demanding special treatment for their projects?

If the government waters down Australia's long-held democratic traditions at the behest of mining magnates our fragile democracy would be seriously weakened.

If the government waters down Australia's long-held democratic traditions at the behest of mining magnates our fragile democracy would be seriously weakened.


Hannah Aulby

Clean Energy Campaigner with the Australian Conservation Foundation.