By Melissa Halsey.
Cambell Klous has spent the last few months fighting against the construction of Australia’s largest thermal coal mine. “We know that coal kills,” he said. “We know that coal will kill people, we know it will kill the ecosystem and the environment around it. It’s destructive on so many different levels. If this mine goes ahead and that coal burns, it essentially means the end of the Great Barrier Reef as we know it.”
Adani Group is an Indian company who are currently in the process of applying for approval and funds to create the Carmichael coal, railway and port project. It will be located in the north Galilee Basin, west of Rockhampton in Queensland. According to State Development Queensland, it is expected to be a $16.5 billion investment.
Mr Klous is part of the Stop Adani alliance, a group of organisations that represents about 1.5 million Australians. He said the group came together when they realised the project “was one of the most damaging projects on the planet at this time”. “If we have any chance to stay below the two degrees [global temperatures], this project can’t go ahead,” he said.
North Queensland is welcoming the mine with open arms in the hope it will bring a job boost for the towns who are feeling the brunt of high unemployment rates. Federal member for Capricornia Michelle Landry said the Adani project would bring significant benefits to the area. She said she has had conversations with the Adani Group and believes they are very much on board wherever possible to be employing locals. “I’m very hopeful local contractors, businesses, will benefit from the employment of supplying the mine with the different things they need,” she said.
The Nationals Senator Barry O’Sullivan said in Parliament in May the northern areas near Emerald and surrounds were depressed, and they would remain depressed until the government “stimulates them with the proper development of this Adani mine resource”. “This wonderful project will generate thousands of jobs and many hundreds of millions of dollars of export earnings for our nation,” he said.
Whitsunday Construction Training director Peter Utber has been patiently waiting for the go ahead of the project for years. Mr Utber has invested around $140,000 into a specific training facility, ready for the Adani project. His company will provide construction workers the training they need to obtain the appropriate tickets and licenses to get job ready to work on the Carmichael coal mine.
“I started the planning for it around four or five years ago, because at that stage the Adani thing was all green light and go, and it was supposed to be approved three years ago,” he said. “So we are all still waiting and hoping.”
Mr Utber said when, not if, the project went ahead there would definitely be backlash, contention and protests. He is confident the response will be a strong arm of people, representing themselves, fighting for the life of the project. “They are husbands, fathers, workers, taxpayers and family men who rely on that income to keep their dream alive,” he said. “They have got family, schools and mortgages and they can’t afford to take a political stance, they just want to be given the opportunity to work.”
Stop Adani member Klous said the group was not even considering what their action would be if the mine went ahead, because they were confident Adani would not get approved.
Mr Utber said the there was a current drought in Queensland in the mining construction industry, especially since Gladstone has finished. If the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine goes ahead, Mr Utber said it meant men who only got to see their families five days a month, because they have to fly to Western Australia to work, would now be able to work closer to home. “Those are the ones who have work, well the ones who don’t have work they’re in dire straights,” he said.
According to State Development Queensland, the mine itself will create up to 1075 jobs during construction and up to 3800 jobs when operational. The railway line will create up to 1400 jobs during construction, and up to 120 when operational.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters said in parliament in March irrespective of the jobs the project will create, it also creates uncertainty for the 70,000 tourism jobs that will be lost if Australia loses the Great Barrier Reef. A typical image of the Great Barrier Reef includes many different colours of coral, with rainbow fish swimming by. The current reality of the reef is far from that after it has experienced the worst coral bleaching for the past two years. There are fields of dead or dying coral.
“There is a lot of talk about job creation, and we love job creation,” Ms Waters said. “We also love the 70,000 jobs on the reef. They are at risk from a continued bleaching episode, driven by climate change, which will be made worse by this coalmine were it ever to proceed.”
According to a report by Environmental Justice Australia, the mine will add up to 120 million tonnes per year of greenhouse gas emissions to the Earth’s atmosphere. Greens Senator Janet Rice said in parliament in May 2017 instead of protecting the Great Barrier Reef, the Turnbull government was choosing to destroy the natural wonder. “And, instead of taking note of the structural decline of coal worldwide, this government is backing a losing industry,” she said.
Former chief scientist at the Australian Institute of Marine Science told The Sydney Morning Herald he thinks there is no single action that could be as harmful to the Great Barrier Reef as the Carmichael coal mine.
There is also opposition across political parties. Greens Senator Nicholas McKim said in parliament in March 2017, the Great Barrier Reef was dying before our eyes, and the Australian Greens would fight endlessly on the issue. “We will be ceaseless in harrying this government and others in this place who think a mine like the Adani mine is still a good idea,” he said. “We will be harrying them and harassing them ceaselessly, those fans of coal, those stupid people who are going to cost future generations so much.”
According to the Australian Institute of Marine Science, 22 per cent of the coral is already dead. Ms Landry said there has been a lot of scare tactics around the environmental factors of the mine. “I think we have to realise the mine is actually 800 kilometres inland and then the Barrier Reef is another couple hundred kilometres away from that, so I can’t see there will be an impact there,” she said.
Ms Landry said Adani has to pass many environmental factors before it can go ahead, and the conditions will be monitored very heavily. Adani’s Environmental Impact Statement states that there will be no impact to the Great Barrier Reef, whether it be ecological, cultural or social.
Another Environmental Justice Australia report says if the mine goes ahead it will destroy traditional lands and sacred sites of the Indigenous Wangan and Jagalingou people, along with affecting unique and important species and ecosystems.
The Wangan and Jagalingou people own a large part of land in central-western Queensland, including the site of the proposed Carmichael Coal Mine. Their website states if the mine was to go ahead “it would literally leave a huge black hole, monumental in proportions, where there were once our homelands”.
A spokesman for the Wangan and Jagalingou people said if the mine proceeded on the scale it is proposed, the negative impacts would be profound. “It would be massive and devastating to the land and waters, to the plants and animals, to all of the things of cultural significance, the cultural heritage of that entire area,” he said. “The prospect of witnessing destruction is harrowing.”
Adrian Burragubba & Murrawah Johnson wrote a letter to Adani in Decembern behalf of the Wangan and Jagalingou people. The letter read: “If the Carmichael mine were to proceed it would tear the heart out of our country – destroying our ancestral homelands, the cultural landscape and our heritage; causing irreversible and major damage to the environment; and unleashing a mass of carbon into the atmosphere, propelling dangerous climate change. As First Peoples, we will defend our rights as traditional owners and custodians, protect our ancestral land inheritance, and maintain our rights and interests in and on our Country.”
Murrawah Johnson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers that the coalmine would effectively result in the annihilation of her people. “We know that the mine is going to affect our water, and poison our sacred water source,” she said. “And then how can the people go on to live from there if the water is poisoned?”
While Adani’s Environmental Impact Statement puts green house gas emissions, aquatic ecology and air quality as a low risk, they do rate the indigenous cultural heritage one step up as a medium risk.
Adani was contacted for comment but did not respond.
Ms Waters said in Parliament in May it was clear the legitimate traditional owners of the area were one of the lesser-heard voices in the debate, and it was very clear they also do not want the mine to go ahead. “No means no, yet this government is completely deaf to them, such that we now have a bill to ram through a reduction in native title rights just so the Adani mine can get up,” she said. “What an absolute farce—and what a real abrogation and an insult, once again, to our first nations.”
Many Australians have fought hard against the Adani Carmichael Coal Mine, but the supporters have also pushed back just as passionately.