Conference discusses future beyond coal and gas

November 7, 2014
Tara residents protesting against coal seam gas. Photo: Lock the Gate.

Almost 300 people gathered near Ipswich in Queensland for The Sunrise Project's Beyond Coal and Gas conference from October 24 to 27.

The event featured more than 100 workshops and drew people from all states and territories as well as international visitors. There was a huge diversity of people and organisations including campaigners, activists, researchers, traditional owners and youth.

One of the international guests was Debi Goenka, who has been a conservationist in India for 40 years and is the executive trustee of the Conservation Action Trust. He said claims by the coal industry that poor people in India need Australian coal to improve their lives is a lie.

About 300 million Indians live below the poverty line and cannot afford the electricity provided by Australian coal, nor is there infrastructure in place to provide it. About 60 million tonnes of coal-fired power go to factories, shopping centres and malls of India.

The health effects of coal-fired power stations on the poor communities living nearby is more concerning than whether they have access to the power. Solar photovoltaic energy would be better suited to power homes in India, but the Indian government spends only 1% of its budget on renewable energy.

Another speaker at the conference was Queensland landowner Brian Monk, who is known as the first landowner to lock his gate to coal seam gas companies. He addressed the audience with insight into the report Coal Seam Gas in the Tara region.

Queensland Health released the report last year and said there was no evidence of CSG attributed health issues in people of this area. But Monk said this is because people were not thoroughly assessed.

No rigorous health assessments were done on people living on nine farms handpicked by the Queensland Gas Company (QGC). A separate study has found all the children on the nine properties have polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in their systems, with possible carcinogenic effects on the body.

The New Hope Coal mine is only two kilometres from the farm of Tanya Plant and her family in Acland, Queensland. The state government denied there would be an expansion of New Hope Coal but backflipped after the 2012 election.

The site was extracting 1 million tonnes of coal a year and is forecast to mine 7.5 million tonnes of black coal. Rich orange blast clouds from New Hope operations contain noxious nitrous oxide. Dr Plant is concerned for the health of her family and especially a child with a persistent cough lasting for months.

Carol Prior from Abbot Point said representatives negotiating Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA), to allow land to be used for mining, are not required to report back to the people they represent.

Dr Anne Poelina from the Fitzroy River area in WA slammed Native Title as “the thin edge of the wedge used to divide Aboriginal people”. She emphasised that aside from Native Title not giving Aboriginal people appropriate land rights, every objection to Compulsory Acquisition of Native Title lands ever lodged in Australia has been lost.

With increasing government and industry collusion overrunning democracy, the conference was a valuable source of inspiration and collaboration. The effectiveness of the groundswell of people against polluting and damaging industries is evident, and all walks of life are coming together to stand up for our country.

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