Why we blockaded the IMARC mining conference — and we'll do it again

Protesters blockade the IMARC mining conference in Melbourne on October 29.
Protesters blockade the IMARC mining conference in Melbourne on October 29. Photo: Zebedee Parkes

Australia’s largest annual mining event, the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC), was held in Melbourne over October 28-31. Its aim is to link up mining companies with investors.

About 400 mining companies attended to network and discuss how best to profit from extracting natural resources by exploiting workers, dispossessing indigenous people and violating human rights.

BHP, one of Australia’s largest climate criminals and whose global emissions are greater than all of Australia's domestic emissions, was present.

So was Rio Tinto, another Australian firm that is well-known for plundering resources, smashing unions, organising murder and backing authoritarian regimes. Rio Tinto has profited from its giant Grasberg copper and gold mine in West Papua, which discharges more than half a million tonnes of waste rock into local waterways each day.

OceanaGold, a lesser known Australian company, operates the Didipio gold mine in the Philippines. In July, it was forced to halt operations due to mass protests by local indigenous communities over its gross human rights violations.

These were just some of the corporate criminals at IMARC and just some of the many reasons why we organised a mass peaceful blockade of the conference.

Blockade IMARC Alliance was set up earlier this year with the explicit aim of shutting down the conference and disrupting business-as-usual for the corporate criminals in attendance. The alliance received the endorsement of 27 different activist groups, including Extinction Rebellion, and several local councils in inner-city Melbourne.

Protests had been organised outside IMARC each year since it started up 6 years ago, but this was the biggest one by far.

Over the course of the conference, hundreds of people locked arms to prevent delegates from entering while raising awareness of issues such as corporate greed, destructive extractivism, climate justice and Aboriginal sovereignty.

The blockade served as an opportunity to centre the voices of people whose communities are most impacted by mining.

The first day of the protest opened with a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony, during which Gunai/Mara campaigner Robbie Thorpe and Gooniyandi activist Viv Malo unwelcomed conference delegates due to destruction mining companies have caused to Aboriginal land.

Warlpiri Elder Uncle Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves spoke out about the dangers local First Nations communities are facing in the Northern Territory after the lifting of a moratorium on fracking for coal seam gas.

West Papuan activists spoke about their fight against BP and members of the Eritrean community addressed the impacts of mining back home, where companies have colluded with the country’s dictatorship and use slave labour.

Protesters also heard from the Philippines Australia Solidarity Association regarding the crimes of OceanaGold, and various current and former Greens parliamentarians spoke, including Victorian MLC Sam Ratnam, federal MP Adam Bandt, former Victorian MLC Lidia Thorpe and former NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon.

All of these voices where ignored by the corporate media, which instead prioritised the opinions of corporate mining executives inconvenienced by our protest.

The media also sought to downplay the violence of Victoria Police, who attacked protesters with batons, pepper spray and horses, instead laying the blame for the clashes on protesters, despite clear video evidence pointing to the contrary.

Police repression was so brutal that a couple of IMARC delegates joined the blockade in disgust at the violence, while two delegates from India spoke out, stating they believed protesters had a right to demonstrate.

While we did not shut down IMARC, we were able to disrupt it. We were also successful in raising public awareness about this annual gathering of corporate criminals and their complicity in creating the climate crisis that is threatening the world with extinction.

When the conference rolls around again next year, we will be back, in even bigger numbers, to ensure we shut them down for good.

[Jacob Andrewartha is a member of Socialist Alliance and was a Blockade IMARC organiser. A GoFundMe has been set up to raise funds to cover costs for those who were arrested at the blockade.]

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