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Inside the Adani blockade

Sep 10, 2019 • 15m48s

There is fresh momentum behind the Adani mine in central Queensland. What happens next could define Australia’s relationship to climate change both here and globally.

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Inside the Adani blockade

76 • Sep 10, 2019

Inside the Adani blockade

[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Elizabeth Kulas. This is 7am.

There is fresh momentum behind the Adani mine in central Queensland, as the state government pushes through approvals and Native Title is extinguished. What happens next could define our relationship to climate change, here and around the world. Anna Krien on the Adani blockade and the people fighting on the front line.

[Theme music stops]

So let's start, Anna you flew to Townsville to report this story for the Saturday paper.

ANNA:

Okay. Well first of all you discover that you weren't meant to fly to Townsville you should have flown to Mackay. And so you add an extra two hours travel.

ELIZABETH:

The way all good reporting trip start.

ANNA:

The way my reporting trips seem to often start.

[Music starts]

ANNA:

You drive for three hours or so down through Air and past Bowen which is where Abbot Point is the terminal that Adani now has the lease to which is where they intend to load up the coal onto ships and take it out through the Great Barrier Reef.

ELIZABETH:

Anna Krien is a writer and journalist. She travelled to the Adani blockade for The Saturday Paper.

ANNA:

And then you go inland you follow a sort of unsealed track and you're pretty sure you've got there when you see a fence with some flags on it, Stop Adani sign.

ELIZABETH:

And when you say you got there, where is there?

ANNA:

This is Camp Binbee. Which is a blockade that's been set up for 18 months now with the intention of stopping Adani from starting work to open up the Galilee Basin coal seam. It's hot and dry and there's a whole hell of a lot of land and there’s long grass but someone's mowed paths through all the long grass and mowed out little circles, little clearings for people to pitch their tents. And you know there are tents dotted around. There's a couple caravans and then you sort of wind your way down towards the house which is there and you sort of announce yourself.

Archival tape

[People playing guitar outside]

Archival tape

[Birds chirping]

ANNA:

Down at the house, that's sort of being transformed into the media and communications centre. Beside the house there is a really big kitchen that's being built. There's people on cooking groups and cleaning groups and garden groups. And then there's all these other little areas, sheds and tents and those kind of things. Every morning you hear this sort of gong.

Archival tape

[A loud gong sounds]

ANNA:

That's an empty gas canister that's hanging from a tree. And that sort of let everyone know it's time to get up, get your coffee and come to the meeting.

Archival tape — Unidentified woman #1:

‘...do the things real discreetly, have a chat about what you think went well…’

ANNA:

And over the course of that meeting, different issues are brought up and resolved, and most days there will be non-violent, direct action workshop and that's for people who are planning to get involved in an action to stop work. They do role plays. - some of them play the role of a protest; someone plays the role of a worker. When I was there there was this role play which was a young man standing in front of Lauren who is a social worker who runs a team in Brisbane, and the young man was playing the role of the worker and he was like ‘Get out of my way. How would you like it if I did this to you? How would you like it if I stopped you from doing your work?’ or things like ‘you're taking food out of my children's mouths.’ I mean, these are big, hard questions.

Archival tape — Unidentified people yelling during role plays #2:

‘...why don’t you fuck off to Melbourne’
‘‘...get outta my way….’
‘...drink your soy latte…’
‘...and take this whole fucking mob with you…’
‘...you’re a bunch of dickheads…
‘...I have no fucking time for this…’
‘..why aren’t you looking at me? Aren’t you gonna say anything?..’

ELIZABETH:

How did Lauren respond?

ANNA:

Well in the role play she, she was sympathetic. She had she said she was sorry but she said she wouldn't still.

Archival tape — Unidentified people yelling during role plays #2:

‘...what did I just say…what did I just say huh?’
‘...we all wanna get paid…’

ANNA:

It's important to remember that was a role play, I think at an action adrenaline is coursing for everyone and it's a harder scenario.

ELIZABETH:

How many people are on this camp at any time?

ANNA:

When I was there, there was between 50 and 60 people. When it started, there was probably only five. Some of them have been there on and off for 18 months. Some of them they never for the entire 18 months. A lot of people who I met have taken a week or two weeks off their work in order to go to the camp and pitch in.

ELIZABETH:

How did the people at the camp tell you, describe their own motivations for being there?

ANNA:

I mean there was a real diversity of people there. Probably most memorable was a couple in their mid 70s, Ray and John. Ray is a former science teacher and a museum educator. Her husband John is a doctor and they've been arrested now five times and when they explained why their motivations, they said that they really didn't say that they had too much of an option. They've got three children, five grandchildren. They understand the science and not only that, they're looking at a political framework in Australia that basically is revealing itself to be completely apathetic towards climate action. So they've decided to put themselves on the line.

And then I made a whole consort of different people from, vets just out of graduate school. A junior doctor who'd come up on his two week break from a Ballarat hospital, nurses social workers.

It's not a literal blockade in the sense of the word in that often blockades are actually placed and built in the way of bulldozers and machinery, whereas camp Bimbi is focusing on three different geographic areas of the project from the port, the railway, to the mine site. So it's more of a base camp in that way but with the same objectives of a blockade.

ELIZABETH:

What would happen if this Adani project went ahead, what would it mean?

ANNA:

The Galilee Basin is a huge coal seam, it's enormous, it's one of the biggest remaining reserves of thermal coal left in the ground. If it was burned in its entirety, it said by scientist it would it would do a third of the job in getting the climate to two degrees warming which is basically contributing to the massive fever that scientists are saying that climate change will bring. So Adani will basically open it up, and once it's open, the others will come. Clive Palmer's mine is tucked behind the Adani mine which is far larger than Adani’s proposed mine. There is GVK mines which are partly owned by Gina Rinehart and there's another mine owned by a Chinese company and they've called it Mac mine and there's also AMCI which is a subsidiary of a US mining company. Basically Adani is the icebreaker to opening up the Galilee Basin.

ELIZABETH:

We’ll be right back.

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ELIZABETH:

So Anna you're just back from visiting this camp in the past month and there's been an acceleration of hostility on both sides. What is happening?

ANNA:

So Camp Binbee was holding off on issuing a red alert. They were waiting on the findings of a federal court appeal by the Wangan and Jagalingou people, the Family Council who were seeking to overturn a land use agreement that Adani made with the Wangan and Jagalingou people in 2016. The Family Council has said that that land use agreement was a sham and it was an instance of manufactured consent. So they've been taking it as far as they can; they took it to the federal count, their concerns were dismissed. They appealed and a full bench of three judges dismissed their appeal. That happened July this year. And after that, Camp Binbee be put about a red alert saying it was time to enmass come to central Queensland and try to stop the work.

ELIZABETH:

And at the same time the Palaszczuk Government has passed its legislation to outlaw the use of lock-on devices and other methods, is that also part of what prompted the red alert at Camp Binbee?

ANNA:

I'd say the red alert prompted that proposal. But the seasoned protesters that I spoke to kind of shrugged when I mentioned the Palaszczuk new zero tolerance for lock-on devices. Most of them have been searched already by police who say that they are looking for illegal devices to stop work. However, Palaszczuk is also sort of floated the idea of harsher penalties including the possibility of jail time which is quite a foot on the neck when it comes to civil disobedience.

ELIZABETH:

So it hasn't dampened the spirits of those at the blockade?

ANNA:

No if anything it's kind of fuel on the fire. It's a sense that everyone's tooling up, not just to the protesters but also politicians.

I think Queensland is going to be a flashpoint for a larger debate and a larger battleground between Australians and the rest of the world when it comes to what we're going to do in the face of climate change.

After the federal election, Premier Palaszczuk, there was a sense that she was liberated from toeing the Federal Labor's line; Palaszczuk basically came out swinging. She flew straight into Makai. She put on a hard hat. She forced a meeting between the state coordinator-general, the independent regulators which is her Department of Environment and Science and Adani and she enforced the deadline for decisions and the deadline was met. So within a month, approvals were starting to roll out.

And not only did she do that but there was also invigorated alliance with the coal industry. So the Queensland Mines Minister announced that more land would be opened up for coal mining in the Bowen Basin. So, the Palaszczuk government is basically setting the state of play. They've decided to align themselves with the Queensland mining industry.

ELIZABETH:

Is the legal status of the mine settled now?

ANNA:

Yes, for now. The Wangan and Jagalingou people Family Council appeal was a really pertinent one and that has been dismissed. So in terms of legal levers, Adani is pretty much clear at it now.

Very, very quietly, last first day the Queensland Government extinguished native title on that land in order to hand it over to Adani.

So Adani has so far cleared about 126 hectares of land, they've shifted land to start building a dam, they've pegged out the railway track, they've put fences up.

But a really powerful and interesting development has occurred last week where the Wangan and Jagalingou people Family Council has now occupied a part of the proposed mine site.

They've returned to country, they've built a ceremony dance ground and they've said that they're not leaving. They're camped on land where Adani intends to build its critical infrastructure: their telecommunications tower, industrial infrastructure, workers camp and the airport. So this has now become a crucial occupation in the Adani project.

ELIZABETH:

And from the point of view of protest, what has been won in the campaign against Adani?

ANNA:

Yeah well I did have an interesting interaction with one protester when I first arrived and mentioned to him that quite a lot of people I had spoken to in Melbourne had felt like the fight was lost, that Adani was now officially going to dig the mine in the Galilee Basin, was gonna be opened up. And the protestor looked at me with a kind of shock on his face. He's like ‘What do you mean we've won so much’.

[Music starts]

When he listed to me the wins I did realise that this is a fight that's for the long haul, it's been a fight for seven years and Adani has been delayed for seven years. There was the one billion dollar loan that then Prime Minister Turnbull was planning to hand over to Adani and that since has been shelved. There was numerous contractors lined up to work of Adani that have since pulled out. Over almost 40 financial institutions have pulled out and said that they would not underwrite finance for Adani, as well as global insurers, Australian insurers and even Chinese insurers have said that they won't touch the Adani project. Which, when you think about it, that's actually a pretty incredible battle that's been won so far. The Adani company model is, it’s a shaky model and they've now said that they're going to self fund the mine project and the Adani project is now with six of its original size. They originally intended to be hauling 60 million tonnes of thermal coal each year. That's now being downsized to 10 million tonnes, so it really is a shadow of its former self.

ELIZABETH:

Anna, thank you so much.

ANNA:

Thank you.

[Music ends]

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[Theme music starts]

ELIZABETH:

Elsewhere in the news:

Independent cross bench senator Jacqui Lambie yesterday queried key parts of the government's drug-test welfare bill, raising concerns about the absence of any rehabilitation services as part of the plan. She called for politicians to subject themselves to random drug tests and for government rehabilitation and mental health services to be improved before making any changes to the welfare program. Until such time, Lambie said, quote "this is bloody pointless." Under the proposed plan, welfare recipients who fail a drug test would be required to participate in treatment in order to receive their payment. The Social Services Minister, Anne Ruston, is likely to bring a new bill this week.

And a Greens Bill to create a Commonwealth anti-corruption commission passed the Senate on Monday with the support of Labor and the minor parties. The Bill passed by a slight majority of 35 to 32, with two One Nation senators abstaining from the vote. The Bill will now be referred back to the House for further debate.

This is 7am. I'm Elizabeth Kulas. See you Wednesday.

[Theme music ends]

There is fresh momentum behind the Adani mine in central Queensland, as the state government pushes through approvals and native title is extinguished. What happens next could define Australia’s relationship to climate change both here and globally. Anna Krien visited the Adani blockade and spoke to the people fighting there.

Guest: Writer and journalist Anna Krien.

Background reading:

Inside the Adani blockade in The Saturday Paper
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Elizabeth Kulas. The show is produced by Emile Klein, Ruby Schwartz and Atticus Bastow. Our editor is Erik Jensen. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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76: Inside the Adani blockade