Fifty protesters, and a larger-than life Nemo, protested outside Westpac's Sydney office on November 9.
Organised by Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), the protesters handed more than 15,000 postcards to the bank calling on it not to fund the massive coalmining expansion at Galilee Basin, which would lead to the Great Barrier Reef being dredged to facilitate coal transport. The reef was put on the World Heritage List in 1981.
The campaign aims to stop the building of the world’s biggest coal port in Reef waters at Abbot Point, 50 kilometres from the Whitsunday islands, and to stop the dredging of 3 million cubic metres of sea floor within the marine park. The world's largest coal port is needed to export the millions of tons of coal from the new coalmine at Galilee Basin. This project would result in more annual carbon pollution than all of Canada.
The project has been approved by the Queensland and federal governments, even though the federal government's fact sheet on the reef says: “As the world's most extensive coral reef system, it is one of the best known marine protected areas.”
As AYCC’s riskingthereef.org.au says: “No one has the money to build this massive coal port themselves, and so coal companies are likely to need Australia’s biggest banks to offer them loans. This should be an easy decision: already big international banks have said they won’t be involved in Reef destruction.”
Westpac’s Head of Sustainability felt the pressure to come down and receive the 15,000 postcards. Westpac wants to keep its green image. It is ironic that in January last year Westpac was named the most sustainable company in the world.
AYCC representative Ella Weisbrot said: “We met Westpac branch managers in every one of its 300 branches in NSW. We met with them twice — up and down the east coast. We also met with 100 NAB managers in one week — asking them to speak to their members and called on CEOs to cancel funding for coal ports.”
Contingents of students from Wollongong and Canberra attended the protest. Vanessa Farrelly, a year 12 Canberra High School student, addressed the crowd: “We have helped gather thousands of signatures for the reef. I even talked to a coalminer who also signed it.”
Greenpeace, AYCC, Market Forces and GetUp! have been calling on Westpac and the other big Australian banks to join international banks Deutsche Bank, HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, which have already ruled out financing the Great Barrier Reef coal port expansion.
The protest was addressed by Kaleesha Morris, the SEED-National Indigenous Youth Climate Network spokesperson, who said: “This place we meet upon is ground zero for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. A place of first contact and impact. This part of Aboriginal Australia has been tremendously devastated by colonisation. Therefore it is with great humility that I am here today as an Aboriginal woman, standing up for the very same thing that the old people stood for, sacrificed themselves for, and died for: our lands, waters, our country and our community.
“I am a young person of the oldest continuous [culture] in the world. For tens of thousands of years, my people had lived in a harmonious balance with our environments. We took care of country and it, in turn, took care of us. It has been, and continues to be, our cultural obligation and responsibility to ensure that our Mother, our Earth, is healthy and respected. This responsibility lies at the very heart of our Aboriginality. And now, that cultural obligation must also become yours.
“It is time for us to ask the big questions when it comes to sustainability on this planet. It is time for us to re-visit and re-imagine our place on this Earth and how we choose to treat it for the sake of a dollar. And it is time for Australia to truly embrace the Aboriginal spirit of this country. If our environments are unhealthy, we are unhealthy. If our lands and waters are sick, we are sick. If our planet is dying, we are dying.
“If we don’t stand up against the expansion of this coal port at Abbot Point, we will witness the construction of the largest coal port in the world. And we will become the world’s second largest exporter of greenhouse gases. If we allow this expansion to go ahead, we will be risking and threatening the destruction of one of our world’s greatest natural wonders, endangering not only the Great Barrier Reef, but also our very own homes, through the consequent destruction of climate change impacts that this development will inevitably help to produce.
“I implore you all to stand up against the coal industry and this gross expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point. Be the agents of climate action that this Earth so desperately is in need of. SEED is standing with you. This movement is uniting people, regardless of race, colour, ethnicity or spirituality, because we all know that if we are going to have any chance whatsoever of ensuring our children are able to not just survive but thrive, then we must stand together.”