Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan hit the headlines after he distributed a fake media release in the name of ANZ bank on January 7. It claimed that the bank was withdrawing a $1.2 billion loan that would finance the proposed Maules Creek coalmine owned by Whitehaven Coal, due to its corporate responsibility policy.
It read: “We want our customers to be assured that we will not be investing in coal projects that cause significant dislocation of farmers, unacceptable damage to the environment, or social conflict.”
The stunt caused Whitehaven shares to temporarily drop by 9%. Moylan is now under investigation by Australian Securities and Investment Commission, and if charged, faces a maximum penalty of 10 years jail or a $495,000 fine.
Green Left Weekly’s Zane Alcorn spoke to Moylan about the campaign.
You have been at the Front Line Against Coal (FLAC) blockade for nearly six months now. What have you learned about the Leard State Forest in that time?
The Leard State Forest is the largest remnant of native vegetation in the Liverpool Plains. It is made up of critically endangered ecological communities of Whitebox, Bimblebox, Pilliga Box and Yellowbox and is habitat for 34 vulnerable species of birds, bats and lizards, including the Yellow-Bellied Sheath-Tailed Bat, the Masked Owl, the Spotted-Tailed Quoll and the Diamond Firetail.
It's the most bat-diverse forest in NSW and connects the Pilliga to Mount Kaputar. If it is cleared for mining, it would undermine the biodiversity of the entire north-west of NSW. The forest provides a scrub rain that is critical for local farmers. This kind of vegetation is not allowed to be cleared by anybody, including forestry, but mining companies are given free rein to clear-fell and blow up the ground.
I am assuming you would have gained a much richer understanding of the concerns that farmers have in your time at the blockade, and the extent to which the National Party is seen at selling out its traditional constituents?
Absolutely. This campaign is not a party-political issue, but everybody in Maules Creek, apart from one person, used to be staunch National party supporters. Before the last election the [Barry] O'Farrell government promised to protect certain agricultural lands, biodiversity hotspots and drinking water catchments from mining, and they have spectacularly broken that promise by allowing mining everywhere in NSW with no limits.
The local community had hopes that a conservative government would look after farmers, but their hopes have been dashed. This mine is a perfect example of politicians feathering their nests. In addition to Mark Vaile, former deputy prime minister and leader of the Nationals, being the chair of Whitehaven Coal, we also have the former secretary of the Nationals and former chief of staff to Barry O'Farrell, Liam Bathgate, doing the lobbying for the mine.
Protecting our farmlands and forests from coal mining is a no-brainer and something that appeals to people from all political persuasions, but politicians are letting us down so we have to do the heavy lifting.
Your protest hoax has acted as a catalyst to stimulate discussion of a range of issues. The destruction of the Leard State Forest and of prime farmland, the role that big banks like ANZ play in facilitating these dirty projects, the climate impact of the massive coal expansion in Australia and questions of ethics and democracy regarding where banks and super funds put their money are all being discussed. Do you think these issues get the amount of analysis and scrutiny they deserve in the mainstream media?
Not at all. People are now starting to realise that the money behind big coal projects is the same money as they have in their bank account or superannuation funds, and they do actually have the power to shift investment from coal to renewables just by changing banks or funds.
Unless people are proactive, fund managers will automatically assume that their customers want a maximum return regardless of the impact on current and future generations. We need to remember that as the world's largest exporter of coal, Australians have more influence than anybody else in the world to help prevent catastrophic climate change.
A lot of people are coming out in support of the campaign to stop ANZ and Whitehaven from fuelling climate change and trashing more precious forests and farmland. How can people get involved and really back this campaign?
Join the action on the front line. It's not as easy as clicking “Like” on Facebook or signing a petition, but that's what it's going to take if we're going to make a difference. We also need to send a loud message to [federal environment minister] Tony Burke that he is the final-decision-maker on the Maules Creek mine and the other two mine expansions [Boggabri and Tarrawonga] and will be held to account for whatever decision he makes.
Shifting banks and superannuation funds is also very important, and doing it publicly maximises the impact. A lot of people have written private letters to Tony Burke or ANZ but if they are public letters or public protests, it has a much greater impact and can inspire other people.
One final thing to remember is to constantly check the Department of Primary Industry's website for new coalmining lease applications. You don't have the right to be notified if a mining company is applying for a coalmining lease over your property, but if you find out and object within 21 days on the basis that your land has been agricultural land for more than 10 years, the mining lease application has to be rejected.