Activists hold jamboree to organise beyond coal and gas

Participants at the 2018 Beyond Coal and Gas Jamboree
Participants at the 2018 Beyond Coal and Gas Jamboree. Photo: beyondcoalandgas / flickr

The burgeoning movements against coal and gas projects, to defend the Great Barrier Reef and to conserve precious water resources were boosted by the Beyond Coal and Gas Jamboree held on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland over May 31 to June 3.

More than 350 activists from around Australia joined international guests from the Pacific, the US and India at the fourth Beyond Coal and Gas gathering.

Participants included Indigenous campaigners against fracking in the Kimberley, Western Australia; the Northern Territory; and against coal mining on traditional lands in the Galilee Basin, in Queensland. Also present were activists from grassroots campaigns in Port Augusta in South Australia; Gippsland in Victoria; Central and North Queensland; the Hunter and South Coast New South Wales; as well as from metropolitan areas like Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide.

All age groups were present but youth, particularly Indigenous people and women, were well represented, demonstrating a healthy future with an emerging leadership in the environment movement.

The program was packed with morning and evening plenary sessions and more than 75 workshops. Workshop themes included protecting country; movement solidarity and justice; stop Adani; a just transition beyond coal; repower; movement resilience; gas and fracking; and civil resistance.

Indigenous campaigns

The opening session, “Indigenous rising: protecting country and organising our people”, heard how Indigenous communities are heading up the fight to defend their lands from coal and coal seam gas mining.

Adrian Burragubba from the Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council (W&J) spoke of their opposition since 2012 of the Adani Carmichael coal project in the Galilee Basin, and the court challenges they have faced. The current challenge is against Adani’s bogus Indigenous Land Use Agreement. The mine cannot go ahead until this issue is resolved. If the Federal Court rules in Adani’s favour, the W&J will call for a judicial review and have pledged to take it all the way to the High Court.

"We have a vision for our people that is sustainable,” Burragubba said. “We want economic independence, and to make a future on our Country that is respectful of the land and uplifting for our people. We want to invest in solar energy and other new clean enterprises.

"We don’t want scraps from a corrupt corporation looking to profit from the permanent destruction of our Country and culture, or meagre handouts and low paid dirty jobs that require us to give up our human rights."

Micklo Corpus a Traditional owner from Yaruru people in Broome, Western Australia,  has been campaigning since 2014 against gas company Buru Energy, where many of the gas wells are located in wetlands. The government is claiming veto over land to which his people have exclusive rights.

“The gas mining company’s offer is only for 40 years financial benefit,” Corpus said. “I say ‘put the money back in your pockets’, we have 40,000 years to safeguard.”

The opening session also included speakers from the Indigenous youth climate network SEED, who work with remote communities facing extractive industries. Yorta Yorta woman Karrina Nolan spoke of communities having to choose between safeguarding country and meeting basic needs. “Communities in poverty shouldn’t have to give into mining to get services which should be provided by government anyway,” she said.

Victories

A feature of the Jamboree was reports of victorious campaigns that were led by local groups, such as the Bentley Blockade and against AGL Gloucester, which were then taken up by nationally based non-government organisations (NGOs) and campaign groups such as GetUp!, Stop Adani, 350.org, Lock the Gate, Galilee Blockade and Frontline Action Against Coal.

Current campaigns against gas, such as against the proposed Santos gas wells in Narrabri, NSW, and coal were a focus for workshops that discussed mining companies’ plans and how to develop campaign strategies to defeat them. There was an opportunity to develop a coordinated national approach and for local groups to plan activities in line with national strategies put forward by NGOs. Upcoming state and federal elections are seen as an immediate focus.

The need for an immediate transition to renewable energy is key. Australia has the potential to be an energy superpower as renewables prove cheaper than coal fired power. Repower workshops shared information on a number of community based responses, such as the Port Augusta project where wind and solar is replacing a closed coal-fired power station.

In Mackay, QLD, community groups successfully lobbied their council to shift to 100% renewables. In the Townsville area, there are a number of proposed commercial projects using integrated wind, solar and hydro. This includes the Kidston Renewable Energy Hub, the first phase of which the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has provided $8.9 million for. Up to $9 million of ARENA funding is on offer for the second stage.

The Queensland Government is also supporting renewable energy, which has been designated “critical infrastructure”. The state will provide a 20-year revenue support deed for Kidston Solar Stage 1 Project (KS1) through the Solar 150 Program. Another project is for a battery factory which will provide 1000 direct jobs.

View from India

International guests included Dr Vaishali Patil, a climate activist from India. She told Green Left Weekly: “The scenario in India is different from Australia. In India, coal companies have been successful — from the companies’ and government’s point of view — for some years, but what happens to Adani workers when its power station closes down. They are all contract workers with no rights. Adani is known for banning unions.

“Adani is known to be damaging the environment in India... when a new project is proposed the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is sponsored by the company. So even if it uses low-grade coal from Australia the EIS of future projects will not matter because Adani sanctions it.

“The Adani mine [in QLD] will see low grade coal produced and exported: coal is dirty, low grade is worse. Thousands of fisherfolk will lose their livelihood, agricultural land will be damaged and there will be severe health impacts.

"Indian communities have a stake in the success of Australia’s Stop Adani campaign. It is amazing that there are 160 Stop Adani groups here, now, since I was in Australia for the road show last year.

“There has been a growing community response to coal, nuclear power, hydro exploitation which has involved local farmers, fishers and workers. Ultimately it needs to go beyond Adani and coal or non-coal, nuclear or not nuclear, big dam or no big dam to assert communities’ right to access of natural resources. Now so much of our action is to coordinate different movements, which increases the potential for success.

“However we are seeing political restrictions on NGOs [in India]. There is a growing fundamentalism coming from governments as feudal forces reassert themselves. As a result we are seeing much gender violation. So it is time to bring a transformation in the system, in political decision making, whereby there is more of a transference of power and people can say what they want.

"This needs to emerge from the social movements. Women are coming into leadership in the movement and there is more space for women in decision making.”

Discussion

One of the evening sessions took the form of a Q&A. One question which resulted in much discussion was: what happens if we achieve 100% renewables but power is still generated and retailed for profit — is this a just transition?

Some thought nationalisation was not feasible but many argued the just transition to renewables has to be localised and community controlled.

Participants left the Jamboree reminded of recent wins, inspired for the campaigns ahead, reflecting on the growing strength and diversity of movement and confident that working together makes the impossible become possible.

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