Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan is awaiting sentencing after Justice David Davies adjourned his decision at a Supreme Court hearing in Sydney on July 11. On the same day, more than 100 people gathered outside the court in a silent vigil to support Moylan.
Moylan pleaded guilty in May this year to one count of disseminating false information to the market, after being charged last year under the Corporations Act 2001 for making a “false or misleading” statement.
Last January, Moylan emailed a fake press release to media outlets, purportedly on behalf of ANZ bank. It claimed ANZ were withdrawing a $1.26 billion loan to Whitehaven Coal to build a coalmine at Maules Creek, saying the decision was made on "environmental and ethical grounds". It led to a temporary $314 million reduction in Whitehaven’s market value.
The judge described Moylan’s actions as an example of white-collar crime, but agreed that unlike other cases prosecuted under the Corporations Act, Moylan was not motivated by financial gain. His aim was to highlight the impacts that the coalmine will have on farms, forest, water and the community in north-west NSW.
Whitehaven’s share price was $3.52 on the morning of the hoax, fell to $3.21, then rose to $3.53 within an hour of trading after a trading halt. The proposed coalmine has experienced delays in a declining coal market and had a loss of $82 million in the 2012-13 financial year. It was listed as one of the worst performing stocks this year, down 37.6%.
The Australian Securities and Investment Commission initiated the investigation and Moylan is being prosecuted by the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
The maximum sentence is 10 years in jail or a fine of up to $750,000. But crown prosecutor David Staehli said he did not ask for a jail term but was seeking an Intensive Correction Order, such as home detention.
Moylan's barrister Robert Sutherland, surprised that so many journalists thought the release was real, said media outlets, rather than Moylan, should be held accountable for the impacts the hoax had on the share market and that they should have checked to see that the release was genuine.
In a letter presented as evidence, Moylan apologised to people who had lost money as a result of his actions.
Moylan’s character references were former Greens leader Bob Brown, NSW Greens MP John Kaye, and local farmer and Lock the Gate spokesperson Phil Laird.
The Whitehaven Maules Creek coal project is located in Leard State Forest near Narrabri in north-west NSW, along with the Idemitsu Boggabri mine which is an expansion of a current open-cut mine.
Whitehaven plans to transport 13 million tonnes of coal to Newcastle for export each year for 30 years. This coal will release 30 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
The mines will clear about 2000 hectares of land and about half the Leard State Forest, the largest remnant of bushland left on the Liverpool Plains and part of a national biodiversity hotspot. This would destroy and disrupt habitat for up to 396 plant and animal species and as many as 23 threatened species.
It is estimated that the mines will lead to a five to seven metre drop in the local groundwater level and dump up to 18,000 tonnes of dust on surrounding farms each year.
Since 2010, there has been concerted community opposition to both mines from all sections of the community including farmers, traditional owners and environmentalists. The Maules Creek Community Council was formed to address the concerns of residents regarding coalmining developments in the local area.
Construction of the mine has been blockaded by community group Frontline Action on Coal since 2012. Faith leaders have spoken out against the Maules Creek coal project and Gomeroi elders have walked off the job of conducting cultural heritage surveys for Whitehaven Coal in protest.
We Stand With Jono campaign coordinator Nicola Paris said: "Many thousands of people across the country support Jonathan. The people of Maules Creek are the ones with the most to lose from the expansion of the Whitehaven coalmine. It is testament to the respect many have for him that local farmers travelled so far to support Jono at court last week. They know coal is a bad investment for them and their future, as it is for all of us."
Maules Creek local Rick Laird, whose family has farmed in the district for more than 150 years, travelled to Sydney to support Moylan.
He said: “ANZ’s loan means Whitehaven Coal can turn Maules Creek from a farming village into an open-cut pit. We’ve been fighting this mine for years, and the stand that Jono took means that people now know what’s happening at Maules Creek. Jono stood with us, and now we’re here to stand with Jono.”