Australia

Protesters lock onto machinery in a bid to stop Adani’s mega coal mining project

Protester Darcy Poulton. Photo courtesy of Frontline Action on Coal.

As work starts on the railway line being built to transport coal from Adani’s planned Carmichael mine, protesters have been locking themselves onto construction machinery, and are vowing to do whatever it takes to peacefully stop the Indian conglomerate’s project going ahead.

Meanwhile, the Catholic and Anglican bishops of Townsville have spoken out against the Adani mine, issuing a statement criticising “projected mega-mining developments across Queensland, especially the Galilee Basin”, and accusing politicians and big business of being “slow to provide strong leadership or urgency for the common good”.

Adani’s Carmichael mine, which would be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the biggest in the world, would be sited on Wangan and Jagalingou traditional lands in the Galilee Basin. There would be six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines.

The coal would be transported more than three hundred kilometres from the Carmichael mine to the Adani-operated coal port at Abbot Point, and would then be shipped through the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and World Heritage Area for export to India.

The Wangan and Jagalingou people are taking legal action against the registration of documents signed by Adani and the Queensland government and the case is due to be heard in the Federal Court in March next year.

The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Family Council says key individuals in the Aboriginal community were paid thousands of dollars on a per head basis to recruit people to stack meetings and speak in favour of the mine.

There is also outrage over plans to give Adani a concessional loan of AU$900 million (about US$700 million) from public funds for the rail link. The loan would be given by the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF).

None of the four main banks in Australia will give the Adani project their backing. Earlier this year, Australia’s oldest and second-largest bank, Westpac, issued a statement indicating that it would not fund the mine.

The Adani Group is chaired by its founder Gautam Adani (pictured left), whose net worth is estimated by Forbes to total US$6.3 billion.

On Monday, work was shut down for the second time in less than a week at the railway line construction site near Belyando Crossing.

After other protesters locked themselves onto machinery on October 25, Darcy Poulton on Monday attached himself via a monopole to four construction machines. He was up on the monopole for ten hours before he was removed by crane, and was arrested.

“I’m here for my friends and family and everyone who is angry and frustrated that the Adani coal mine is being pushed by our government,” Poulton said.

“We are in a climate crisis, and the corrupt Adani company threatens the life we love. The line has been crossed and I’m standing up.”

Poulton says the coal industry is stuck in the past. “We need to start preparing for a future with the facts of the present. We are a growing movement, which is trying to create a safer future, and this means no new coal mines.”

On October 25, one person locked herself onto a front-end loader, another to an excavator, and a third person to a grader.

Two of the protesters spoke specifically about their concerns for future generations.

Gail Hamilton, an engineer and former council employee from Townsville, said: “I’m scared about my children’s future. I think our government is seriously underestimating the potentially devastating impacts of climate change.

“Now is the time to take a stand. I’m an ordinary person taking extraordinary action to stop this mine.”  

Protester Susanne Rix, from the Blue Mountains, said: “My granddaughter has just turned five, I’m here to Stop Adani and protect the environment and our water for her future.” 

The third protester, John Brinnand, a retired psychiatrist from the Sunshine Coast, said: “I could not sit idly by and let Adani begin work. This is the line in the sand for me and thousands of people from all walks of life who will take peaceful direct action to stop this mine.”

Three people who were arrested for their peaceful occupation of Adani’s Townsville headquarters on August 22 this year appeared in court on October 24 on a charge of failure to move on when told to by police.

They were not convicted, but the court issued an order directing them to enter into a two-month good behaviour bond.

The occupation of the Adani HQ in Townsville.

In a separate hearing in Bowen, seven other people were fined. Five of them had been charged with trespass for blockading the road into Adani’s Abbot Point coal port, and were each fined A$600, and two were charged with railway interference after they blocked the rail line into the port, and were each fined A$4,000.

Speaking about why he occupied Adani’s offices, former businessman Garry Kelly said: “I must do whatever I can to ensure my children and grandchildren aren’t forced to endure a future that has been wrecked by the corporate greed of the fossil fuel industry.”

Joel Rosenzveig, who also occupied the Adani headquarters, said: “The approval of, and taxpayer loan, to the Adani mine speaks to a corrupt, impotent, and irrelevant political class wholly compromised by the fossil fuel lobby.

“I stand by my actions in Townsville, but regret that they seem to be the only avenue left in helping to protect our national interest. I hope that history will reveal who are the real criminals in this struggle.”

Emma Briggs, who blocked the rail line into Abbot Point, said:Australia and the world cannot afford to allow Adani’s coal mine to go ahead and it has been left to the ordinary citizens of this country to show our leaders the way forward to a sustainable existence on this planet.”

Protester John Ross, a nurseryman from Coramba, near Coffs Harbour, said: “India and the world do not need or want Adani’s coal and the majority of Australians do not want this disastrous mine. I am taking peaceful direct action because for me, like so many others, this is the line in the sand.”

Lynn Benn from Mulbring says she has three grandchildren and is deeply concerned about their future. “I’ll do what it takes to put a stop to Adani’s terrible mine.”

The activist group Frontline Action Against Coal (FLAC), which is committed to community-led, non-violent direct action, says the Adani mine would release billions of tonnes of carbon pollution into the atmosphere “at a time when our climate is already undergoing unprecedented and rapid warming”.  It would, FLAC says, sign a death warrant for the Great Barrier Reef.

In a report published in July this year, Deloitte Access Economics puts the total “economic, social, and icon asset value” of the Great Barrier Reef at AU$56 billion and says it annually contributes AU$6.4 billion to Australia’s economy. And this doesn’t include the ecosystem services provided by coral reefs.

The reef, which is already seriously damaged by large-scale bleaching, supports 64,000 jobs in tourism.

After her announcement that there would be an election in Queensland on November 25, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk began campaigning.

In Airlie Beach, which is close to The Great Barrier Reef, locals who are against the Adani mining project confronted her to ask why the Labour party continued to push for the mine when it puts at risk the livelihoods of so many in Airlie and the surrounding area who depend on the reef.

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On October 7, thousands of Australians protested against Adani‘s plans. The #Stop Adani movement organised more than 45 demonstrations across the country. The day of action brought together families, farmers, faith communities, indigenous leaders, and environmentalists.

In many of the protests, including the one at Sydney’s Bondi Beach, which was attended by more than one thousand people, people created a human #Stop Adani sign.

 

People are increasingly willing to risk arrest, and even jail, to stop the ravages of the extractive industries in Australia.

The Wollar Three – Bev Smiles, Bruce Hughes, and Stephanie Luke – have been campaigning against mine expansion in the Hunter Valley and now face possible seven-year jail sentences under New South Wales’ new anti-protest legislation.

The three were in a group of about thirty demonstrators who picketed the entrance to the Wilpinjong mine near Mudgee and stopped incoming traffic during the shift change on April 12 this year.

They were protesting against the expansion of Wilpinjong, which would bring the mining operation to just 1.5 kilometres from Wollar.

‘A campaign to test a generation’

Commenting about the Adani project, the Greens leader Richard Di Natale told Sky News: “It will be stopped. You will see a campaign every bit as big as the campaign that stopped the damming of the Franklin.”

In a hard-hitting opinion piece for The Guardian, published in March, the former leader of the Australian Greens, Bob Brown, (pictured left) wrote: “When I rafted the Franklin in the 1970s, I knew the campaign to save that spectacular river, despite local support for damming it, would become one to test that generation. In 2017, stopping the Adani coal mine is a campaign to test this generation of Australians.”

Brown wrote that the Adani issue was “the environmental issue of our times”. The Great Barrier Reef was at stake, he said, and the Adani corporation’s “dirty coal mine” was an impending disaster with effects that would reach far beyond Australia.

He added that lending Adani a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money would be the political mistake of the decade.

Brown says Queenslanders are being kept in the dark about the environmental impact of the mega coal mine and the number of jobs it would create.

“An Adani expert under oath said there would be 1,500 jobs or less, but Prime Minister Turnbull and Premier Palaszczuk say it will create up to 10,000.”

Earlier this month, Brown won a landmark case in the high court. In 2016, he was arrested under the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014. In his legal action, he argued that the anti-protest law directly targeted political communication, which is protected by an implied freedom in the commonwealth constitution.

The high court ruled in favour of Brown and Jessica Hoyt, who were arrested while filming an anti-logging protest in the Lapoinya state forest in Tasmania.

Bob Brown and Jessica Hoyt (right) outside the High Court of Australia, Canberra.

Strong public opposition

Survey results released in early October indicate that there is strong public opposition to the Adani project and to the proposal that Adani should be given the NAIF loan.

About 2,200 people were questioned in the ReachTel survey. A total 55.6% percent said they were either opposed or strongly opposed to the mine project, while 26.1 per cent said they supported or strongly supported it and 18.4 per cent said they were undecided.

A separate survey of 1,547 people by Roy Morgan Research found that 77 percent of those interviewed, who had heard of the mine, thought it should not go ahead.

The Queensland government has said it wants no role in any federal loan to support the project.

Palaszczuk said that “consistent with our election commitments, cabinet has determined that any [Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility] loan needs to be between the federal government and Adani”.

Those against the Adani project point out that India is shifting away from coal-fired power.

Writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, Julien Vincent, who is the executive director of Market Forces, which is an affiliate project of Friends of the Earth Australia, said: “The initial market mooted for Adani’s coal was Indian power stations. But given that domestic solar is now significantly cheaper than imported coal, the economics have changed.”

India’s prediction, in a Draft National Electricity Plan published last December, is that 57 percent of the country’s total electricity capacity will come from non-fossil fuel sources by 2027.

The Adani mine would produce up to 60 million tonnes of coal every year and have an expected lifespan of up to sixty years. Initial approval is for production for thirty years.

The mine would impact 28,000 hectares of land. Of this, 20,200 hectares would be cleared. Most of the remaining area would be impacted by subsidence from the proposed underground mines.

More than half of the land that would be cleared is mature woodland and bushland. This is important habitat for many animals including threatened species such as koalas and echidnas and endangered birds.

Critical habitat for the largest (of just two) significant populations of the endangered southern black-throated finch would be destroyed.

Habitat for other endangered species such as the ornamental snake and the yakka skink, as well as migratory birds, would also be destroyed.

The Carmichael mine would suck up about 9.5 billion litres of groundwater and would require up to 12 billion litres of water a year from local rivers. 

It is estimated that the mining and burning of coal from the Adani project would generate 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

Allegations of corruption and environmental destruction

There have been numerous reports detailing allegations against Adani.

In February this year, Environmental Justice Australia published a 34-page report entitled The Adani Brief .

Environmental Justice Australia suggests in its briefing that governments and private stakeholders should give serious consideration to the Adani Group’s global legal compliance record, “which demonstrates numerous serious breaches with adverse consequences for the environment and local people” and “the possibility that if this track record continues in Australia, then supporting the Adani Group’s Carmichael Mine and the Abbot Point Port may expose governments and private stakeholders to reputational and financial risks”.

GetUp! Australia has also published a report about Adani entitled “The Adani Files“, which includes evidence from hundreds of court documents collated by Environmental Justice Australia and Earthjustice.

An ABC “Four Corners” documentary, broadcast on October 2, catalogues Adani’s alleged bribery and corruption, environmental destruction, tax dodging, money laundering, siphoning money into tax havens, and illegal mining.

Adani denies all the allegations.

Tim Buckley from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, based in the United States, told Four Corners that Adani had damaged the value of his port at Abbot Point in trying to free up port capacity for the Carmichael mine.

“So, if the mine does not go ahead, Abbot Point is actual collateral damage and the damage is very significant.”

In their statement about protecting the environment, The Right Reverend William Ray of the Anglican Diocese of North Queensland, and the Most Reverend Timothy Harris of the Catholic Diocese of Townsville said: “Politics and business have been slow to provide strong leadership or urgency for the common good: a leadership that incorporates environmental issues as much as the financial, social or political issues.

“We know from experience that the maximisation of profit, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of economy.”

Technological and economic development that did not leave in their wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life could not be considered progress, the bishops said.

The bishops cited Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, issued in June 2015, in which he said that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needed to be progressively replaced without delay.

“The earth, our home,” Pope Francis said, “is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

Update 3/11/2017

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced that she will veto the proposed  Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan for the Adani rail link.

Update 4/11/2017

According to a report in The Weekend Australian, the Integrity Commissioner, Nikola Stepanov, says only the Cabinet Budget Review Committee (CBRC) can veto the NAIF loans, in the end stages of NAIF’s deliberations. According to writers Sarah Elks and Charlie Peel, Stepanov said Palaszczuk should absent herself from all CBRC deliberations and decision-making about all NAIF loans, and this would include imposing a veto.

Palaszczuk’s partner, Shaun Drabsch, worked for the company PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) on Adani’s NAIF application.