Activists Move To Shut Down East Coast Coal Exports In Coordinated Action


Activists are calling out the fact Australia continues to profit from fossil fuels, while telling the international community at a United Nations summit on climate change they’re committed to phasing them out. Thom Mitchell reports.

Australian activists have moved to shut down three massive coal ports across the east coast as a crucial climate summit in Paris draws towards what they suspect will be an underwhelming end, amid demands that the Federal Government heed Pacific Islanders’ calls for a moratorium on new coal mines.

At the world’s largest coal port, in Newcastle, three activists have ‘locked on’ to a coal loading facility; In Brisbane, a man is obstructing the rail line which freights coal into the port; and in Port Kembla, south of Wollongong, activists have climbed a coal loading machine.

They’re calling on the government to give substance to the lofty rhetoric Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull deployed last week on the first day of make-or-break United Negotiations summit on climate change, which are currently underway in Paris.

“Governments have been meeting for over 20 years and we’ve still seen a total failure of the Australian government to take the necessary action; they’re just committed to new coal mines and the expansion of existing coal mines,” said Kelly Purnell, from the group Front Line Action on Coal.

The group said that half a decade on from committing to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees celsius, Australia’s coal exports were up 38 per cent, to 393 million tonnes, and that this trajectory suggests the government is not serious about putting a brake on global greenhouse gas emissions.

Police have moved in on activists in Port Kembla and Newcastle, demonstrators told New Matilda, but are not yet on site in Brisbane. It is understood activists moved into their positions around dawn, but at the time of writing (around 7.30 AEST) organisers did not believe any of the protestors had come down from their positions.

New Matilda understands the activists are likely to continue to obstruct coal ports’ working until arrests are made. The protestors are supported by groups of around 15 people near each location.

“I think this is the first time this has happened, that there’s been coordinated action around the country stopping coal imports,” said Kelly Purnell, who is standing by near Brisbane coal port.

At the Port Kembla demonstration, protestor Rada Germanos said activists are “pretty confident we’re stopping the export of thermal coal to Taiwan”.

“We’re calling for a halt to new coal expansion, with a parallel effort to support job creation and re-skilling workers in sustainable industries,” Germanos said.

In October, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said it “would not make the blindest bit of difference to global emissions” if Australia stopped exporting coal because other countries would simply meet the demand. But yesterday, the President of Kiribati, a low-lying atoll nation in the Pacific Ocean, told New Matilda at the Paris climate talks that this is a “silly argument”.

“I think what they should be doing is not doing it, and encouraging the other not to do it,” Tong said.

He was highly critical of the Australian government’s response to climate change, and specifically Turnbull’s dismissal of his call for a moratorium on new mines, suggesting the Coalition government “don’t feel it, they don’t know it, [and]they don’t care”.

“They care about the next election,” he said.

“Australia is probably trying to protect or enhance its image at the climate talks this year,” Germanos said, but she argued this is not supported by their low-ambition emissions reduction targets or other domestic policies.

“As we saw only a few months ago, government Ministers are joking about our Pacific Island neighbours having water lapping at their feet, and I think that typifies our government’s facade of concern,” she said.

Purnell said that while senior members of the Federal government have talked about their support for the climate-vulnerable Pacific Islands in Paris, “the best way they can support them is through committing to strong moratorium policies and stopping the export of coal from new and expanded coal mines, which they’re not doing at all”.

“We’ve just had the climate marches which saw tens of thousands demonstrate around the country, and there was the People’s Parliament [where activists staged a sit-in to call for an ambitious deal in Paris],” Purnell said.

“I’m interested to see where it goes from here. This is the first coordinated action like this. It’s people being pushed by total government inaction, so who can say where that can go.”

Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.