Crunch time as movement to Stop Adani gears up

June 21, 2019
Stop Adani convoy in the Mullumbimby showground in April.

Following the Queensland government’s approval of Adani’s conservation plan for the endangered black-throated finch and its groundwater management plan, the company again announced it would start work on its Carmichael coalmine project “within weeks”.

But while its job advertisements may appear and equipment may be delivered to the site, Adani still faces several challenges before it can proceed with its coal mine, not least of which is the huge social movement gearing up for the next stage of its campaign.

The Traditional Owners, the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council, has said no to Adani five times and is now awaiting the Federal Court’s decision on its latest appeal on Adani’s sham Indigenous Land Use Agreement. A decision is expected by early September.

Adani also needs to: gain federal approval for its Great Artesian Basin Springs Research Plan and the Rewan Formation Connectivity Research Plan; provide a baseline groundwater data set to the Queensland government at least 90 days prior to beginning to mine; and submit a Groundwater Management and Monitoring Program.

Adani also has more work to do to bed down a key element to its plan — its rail line. It has not yet paid the Queensland government somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million for the land along the rail corridor, nor has it secured a deal with Aurizon to use its existing main rail line and it has yet to secure a rail contractor to build its local line.

The successful outcome of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Federal Court challenge to the federal government’s decision on the North Galilee Water Scheme sends that approval process back to the federal government. The court found the federal government admitted to ignoring public submissions about Adani’s pipeline, which it needs to transport billions of litres of water from the impermanent Suttor River.

Stop Adani groups are looking into other legal options, including the federal and Queensland governments’ rushed approvals of Adani’s groundwater plan.

While Adani has said it will fund the mine itself, it is only viable because of government subsidies, made more possible by the re-election of coal-supporting governments in Australia and India.

Next stage

The Stop Adani campaign is factoring this into its next stage.

The Mackay Conservation Group (MCG), one of the earliest opponents of the mine, condemned the Queensland government’s approval of the groundwater plan, accusing it of giving in to “bullying” by the “billionaire mining company” and ignoring the science.

MCG’s Emma Barrett said the decision “has ignored expert warnings that Adani’s mine could permanently damage Queensland’s groundwater.”

Leading water scientists have told the MCG that Adani’s modelling is “flawed” and the mine’s water usage “risks drying up” the ecologically important Doongmabulla Springs, home to four endangered plant and animal species.

“Adani is the first of many mining companies that want to dig up the Galilee Basin”, Barrett said. “All of those mines will need billions of litres of our surface and groundwater. We can’t afford to give away our precious water when two-thirds of Queensland is still suffering through drought.”

Barrett said the movement needs to demand answers from the Queensland government, such as why it approved a major new mine that could destroy groundwater-dependent ecosystems “at a time when water is so scarce”. 

The Queensland government “should be investigating and prosecuting Adani for ignoring our laws and undertaking illegal works”, Barrett said.

“This company thinks it is above the law,” Barrett said, adding that its water approval plan “will be just as heavily scrutinised as their pipeline was”.

Protests were organised in Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra within days of the groundwater management plan being approved.

Frontline Action on Coal spokesperson Charlie Mgee said protests are being organised to stop Adani’s construction in central Queensland, near Bowen.

“We will take whatever measures that are effective and necessary to stop the work,” Mgee said, adding supporters had streamed in from as far as Western Australia and far north Queensland.

The Galilee Blockade is also preparing for a mass protest in Brisbane in early August and is conducting non-violent protest training, along the lines of the Extinction Rebellion that recently shut down central London for days.

Stop Adani Assemblies are being held in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne in June to discuss new strategies to stop Adani and other mines proposed for the Galilee Basin.

Sunrise Project spokesperson John Hepburn said “There is a climate emergency and any new coal project is going to face sustained and increasing opposition.”

Galilee Blockade spokesperson Ben Pennings warned that “Adani will have to pay a premium to contractors because any sizeable company working with them will risk both reputational damage and costly protest activity.

“Whoever gets contracted to build the Adani mine is a brave company indeed.”

Trade unions

History shows that most successful environmental battles have had the support of the trade union movement. This was certainly the case with the campaign to block the export of uranium in the 1970s and ’80s.

Former Australian Council of Trade Unions president Sharan Burrow, now International Trade Union Federation general secretary, said that while workers in fossil fuel industries “have brought us prosperity” and “deserve respect”, Australian unions should join the international movement in making climate change a “priority”.

“There are no jobs on a dead planet”, she said, adding that the Paris Agreement contains the idea of a “just transition” for workers and communities relying on the fossil fuel industry for their livelihoods.

“We will work to see no one is left behind,” Burrows said. “We're working to see agreements with governments, with employers, to make sure that workers and their families are supported, but also so that their community have hope for the future.”

Adani claims to offer thousands of jobs, but after the construction phase has ended, the number of ongoing positions could be as low as 100.

The Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) in Queensland is supporting Adani but is concerned about the number of long-term jobs. CFMMEU national president Tony Maher wrote to Adani last month and is meeting Adani’s Australian CEO to discuss the issue.

Other unions have stated their opposition to Adani, including the National Union of Workers, the Electrical Trades Union (Queensland and Northern Territory), the Queensland branch of the Maritime Union of Australia (part of the CFMMEU) and several education and health unions.

The time is ripe for the Stop Adani movement to more actively involve unions in the mass actions and the development of an industrial strategy to win. Any bans on construction and mining would need to be backed up with bans on the export of coal.

Such an industrial campaign needs to be conducted alongside an education campaign directed at union members involved in the fossil fuel sector, alongside putting pressure on governments to come up with concrete plans for a jobs transition.

[Margaret Gleeson is an activist in the Stop Adani campaign and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]

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