By JOHN MOYLE
The largest coal mine in the southern hemisphere looks likely to proceed in the coming months if it gains final environmental approval from the Queensland government, but this has only strengthened the resolve of a small band of Stop Adani activists in Sydney’s inner east.
As a part of the national Stop Adani group, Stop Adani Inner East were formed after the school climate change strike in November last year and carried the fight for climate change into the division of Wentworth in the last federal election.
“Stop Adani is a general decentralised grassroots activist movement with no CEO, it is about local people and their ideas and the community,” Annalise H, Stop Adani Inner East said.
“We are called Stop Adani Inner East because there was already a Stop Adani Bondi, Stop Adani Coogee and Stop Adani Bra to Bay, which is around Maroubra.”
In what many see as the biggest environmental battle since the Franklin River in the 1980s, the mine’s progress has already been held up for eight years due to the efforts of activists and Adani’s struggle to secure funding.
“If there was no civil movement against Adani they would have been exporting coal for the last five years,” Greg Inglis, Stop Adani Inner East, said.
Low quality, high ash coal
The Adani mine, located in central Queensland’s Galilee Basin, was tipped to be a 60 million tonne a year mega mine with both open-cut and underground mines spread across nearly 30,000 hectares, with a planned operational life of 60 years.
Its’ product will be “low quality, high ash” coal destined for Adani-owned power stations in India via a 200km rail line linking to a 2.75km wharf at the Adani-owned Abbot Point Coal Terminal, located close to the Great Barrier Reef.
India’s Mundra Port signed a 99-year-lease on the terminal in 2011, costing Adani Group $1.83 billion. Mundra Ports is operated by Adani Ports and SEZ Limited which are owned by the Adani Group.
It was the actions of the Australian government and Adani over Abbot Point that brought a then teenager, Grace Liley, into the movement in 2013.
“I didn’t understand that the government was not always doing the right thing by Australians and I joined the AYCC (Australian Youth for Climate Change) on the “Don’t Risk the Reef” campaign,” Liley said. “The Stop Adani alliance really built after that, and when we got the banks not to fund the mines.”
When Kerry Phelps had an historic win at the 2018 Wentworth by-election, running a strong campaign with central themes of climate change and refugee action, the group felt that they would take the fight to the electorate in this year’s election.
“Polls suggested that climate change was one of the top two issues in the area, and a lot of people understood the role of stopping Adani,” Annalise said.
“We know that burning coal is the biggest contributor to climate change and in Wentworth people wanted climate action.”
Climate change among top 2 issues
For a couple of weeks into the campaign Phelps looked like she had climate change to herself, until Liberal candidate Dave Sharma suddenly adopted it as part of his campaign arsenal.
In the lead up to the election Dave Sharma said “We need to be serious and credible in addressing the risk posed by climate change, and for that we, and I mean the whole world, need to be lowering our emissions and reducing our carbon footprint.”
“The Liberal Party set quite low targets compared to the Labor Party, and the Greens and Kerryn Phelps were way ahead on targets,” Annalise said.
The election results were closer than many thought probable but ultimately saw Phelps concede.
Most weekends see Stop Adani members at local markets such as Kings Cross and Paddington, raising money to keep their campaign active.
“Each group does its own find raising and we sell T-shirts and keep cups,” Inglis said, “and if we have a big event such as the Climate Change Strike on September 20 we might start up a Go Fund Me page or do a screening of the movie 20/40.”
Stop Adani also work closely with the AYCC to raise climate change awareness amongst students.
Patrick Cain is a member of both AYCC and Stop Adani Inner East and has been running training programs for students to build networks and run campaigns in their schools.
“The students I worked with came from schools such as Rose Bay Public School, Reddam House and St Clare’s Catholic High School,” Cain said. “At present our major focus in terms of students is preparing for the September 20 global strike.”
For Greg Inglis and the Stop Adani movement, which is gaining 1,000 new signatures a week nationally, the other focus will be on targeting Adani’s suppliers such as multi-national engineering firm GHD.
“We can keep delaying Adani by affecting their contractors,” Inglis said.
Journalists arrested documenting protests
Meanwhile, protests against Adani have begun across Queensland, including Windsor, Brisbane, where environmentalists prevented contractors’ trucks leaving a concrete pumping station – allegedly run by the firm employed to clear the Galilee Basin area to build access roads to the mega mine.
On Monday July 22, in Abbot Point coal terminal near Bowen, two women locked their arms into a concrete-filled barrel and straddled the rail line into the port. It took police four hours to cut them out, but in the meantime they arrested a French TV crew for filming the stunt.
Reporter Hugo Clément and three others from France2 TV, who are in the midst of filming a documentary series on climate change and the world’s oceans, were snatched, reportedly without warning, and hauled off site in a police van and charged with trespassing.
Ordered to appear at Bowen Magistrates Court in September – despite having to return home to France in the interim to work – the stringent bail conditions include a ban from going within 20 kilometres of Adani’s Carmichael Mine and 100 metres of any other Adani site.
Insisting he would have moved away had the police requested, Clément told Reuters later “We were just doing our job. They say we were trespassing, but we were just filming in a public space. I was not blocking the railway.”
Clemént told ABC News that it suggested Adani had a lot of power if police were preventing journalists from documenting resistance to the mine.
“I think it could be a good example of the power of the big private company,” he said. “I still don’t understand why. We are not part of the action, we are not activists, just journalists.
“How can we do our job if we are forbidden to come close to their site? That is very strange. It’s like they have something to hide right? Because if you arrest a journalist and then you say to the journalist that he has to keep away from Adani’s sites, what’s happening on these sites?”
Additional reporting by Alec Smart