The fightback against Adani and Aurizon steps up

A #StopAdani rally in Sydney in May. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Adani CEO Lucas Dow’s November 29 declaration that work on a scaled-down coalmine in Queensland's Galilee Basin would begin before Christmas was met with one of the most powerful nationwide protests against it so far as primary and high school students walking out of class the next day for the Student Strike 4 Climate Action.

A reported 20,000 students, many of them with their parents and grandparents in tow, took to the streets with a powerful message to Adani and policymakers: ignore us at your peril.

This was followed by a sit-in at Parliament House in Canberra on December 5.

Another round of #StopAdani rallies has been called in Brisbane, Cairns, Melbourne and Sydney on December 8.

Adani has been vocal in its claim that existing approvals are sufficient for it to start work. But there are outstanding approvals from the Queensland government, including the environmental plan for the protection of threatened species; a groundwater management plan; and the extinguishment of Native Title over the proposed site in the Galilee Basin.

Adani has jumped the gun and started work illegally. Its use of groundwater is also the subject of a federal investigation. An environmental group has alleged, using aerial footage, that the company has dug water bores without the necessary approvals.

Representatives of several environmental groups recently presented the Queensland environment minister Leeanne Enoch with a petition seeking an assurance that the Adani group will be investigated.

Environment Defenders Office Queensland (EDO Queensland) CEO Jo-Anne Bragg called for the laws to be applied equally to a multinational mining company or citizen. She said the documents from Land Services of Coast and Country “show persuasive evidence that illegal work has been undertaken by Adani”.

Ellen Roberts of GetUp told The Wire: “Dropping dewatering bores and clearing land is evidence that Adani has started work without waiting for necessary approvals".

“The minister stated that the investigation into Adani is continuing, but refused to disclose time frames. She confirmed that Adani does not have approval to commence work on the mine, as the department is still considering their Groundwater Dependent Ecosystem Management Plan,” Roberts said.

New legal challenges

On December 4, two new legal challenges were issued: one on behalf of the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) against Adani and another by Aurizon directed at activist groups.

EDO Qld, on behalf of ACF, is seeking a judicial review of the federal government’s decision to assess Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme without investigating its impact on Australia’s scarce water resources.

With Queensland in the midst of an extreme drought, it is more important than ever that any proposal that may affect water resources is properly examined.

In September, federal environment minister Melissa Price controversially allowed Adani’s North Galilee Water Scheme to proceed without applying the water trigger test, which is mandatory under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The scheme involves pumping up to 12 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor River to the Adani Carmichael mine site, where it would be used for a variety of purposes, including washing coal.

ACF’s call for a judicial review, if successful, would force the federal government to properly consider the impact of the company’s huge pipeline on precious water resources.

To date, coal haulage firm Aurizon has not agreed to Adani using its rail line to the Abbot Point Terminal, which is essential to the scaled-down Adani mine becoming operational.  

Activists from Frontline Action on Coal (FLAC) and the Galilee Blockade have organised a series of direct actions, successfully disrupting trains at Abbot Point and the Port of Brisbane in recent weeks.

Aurizon has now sought a Supreme Court injunction against FLAC. The case, which is expected to continue into 2019, aims to silence all community-led, peaceful direct actions on its rail line in the Galilee Basin. Aurizon has also taken interim orders out against FLAC. This includes prohibiting FLAC from “inciting” people “to enter rail corridors across Aurizon’s network or interfering with any of the company’s coal trains” on Facebook, its website and Twitter.

Activists are urging those concerned about the Adani mine and democracy to join the recently launched Stand Up to Aurizon campaign. “Big coal may be able to bully and buy politicians, but they need to understand that our broader community will not stop fighting for a safe climate future,” said one supporter on Facebook.

Aurizon’s attempt to silence its critics has implications for all activists organising for action on climate change. As Julie Mackin put it in New Matilda: “These are extraordinary times and the science tells us they will get even more extreme as the global political leadership fails to materialise to prevent it. It is in this context that Aurizon’s request to the Supreme Court to gag FLAC must be viewed.

“The Supreme Court must decide if Aurizon, an enormously powerful and well connected corporation, should have the power to deny a small community group the right to inform Australians how to help to prevent this climate crisis.

“Obviously the people who make up FLAC have a direct interest in the outcome, but should this corporation succeed in gagging free speech to this degree, we will all be the worse for it.

“Finally, Aurizon’s action is based on the assumption that if FLAC stops training concerned citizens on how to take non-violent, safe, direct action, people will stop taking action. Unfortunately what may well happen is that people continue to act to prevent a climate catastrophe, but do so without the training, discipline or principles of non-violence.”