Still Burning is a network working against the global hard coal infrastructure.

5.4 On stolen land – coal from Australia

by | 30 Mar, 2021 | Sites of Devastation

The Wangan and Jagalingou people are the First Nation of the Country in the Galilee Basin in Central Queensland where the Adani company is currently planning a new coal mine, the Carmichael coal mine. The mine is the most controversial mining project in Australia, proposed by the Indian multinational Adani. Some consider it to become the most environmentally and socially contentious project in Australia’s history.

Murrawah Johnson, a spokesperson of the Wangan & Jagalingou Family Council, sums up their fight: 

“Since 2012 my people have rejected and resisted the Carmichael mine being built on our land. We have voted ‘no’ on multiple occasions and have fought on the international stage, in the courts of Australia, and across many political fronts to have our decisions recognised and respected”.

“The Adani Carmichael coal mine will tear the heart out of our country, permanently destroying vast areas of our ancestral homelands and everything on them – plants, animals, our waters, and sacred sites. It would destroy the stories and song lines in our land that give us our law and teach us who we are and what our culture, spirituality, and customs are. Without these, we cease to exist. The Carmichael mine will devastate our sacred Doongmabulla Springs. The mine will draw down billions of litres of water each year from aquifers in the area, and if the mine depletes the aquifers that feed the springs, the springs will dry up. Once dry, even temporarily, the springs cannot be restored. We would not be able to pass our culture onto our future generations”. 

They are not alone in their fight against the mine. Varsha Yajman, one of the organisers for School Strike for Climate Australia, explains why more and more people in Australia are protesting against coal mining. “In the unprecedented bushfire crisis in 2019, we have faced walls of flames over 70 metres high. Our biggest cities have been blanketed in hazardous smoke, 35 people have died, over 2,000 homes have been turned into ash and more than a billion animals have been killed”, recalls Yajman. “This is not normal. This is climate change hurting us now. And we know the number one cause of this climate crisis is the mining and burning of coal”. Australia’s hard coal comes almost entirely from eastern parts of the country, from New South Wales and Queensland. About 80 percent is extracted in opencast mines and 20 percent underground. Over 80 percent is exported: Australia’s key export markets for thermal coal are predominantly in Asia, with small volumes also exported to South America, especially to Brazil and Chile. Japan is by far the largest importer of Australian hard coal, accounting for almost 117 million tonnes in 2018. Over the last decade, China has emerged as a key market for Australian coal in general, now being the second largest market, while India, Korea, and Taiwan remain key markets. 

Since 2012, between 15 and 20 million tonnes of Australian hard coal have been exported to the EU each year, mostly to Germany, France, and the Netherlands. Much of this is coking coal for European steel works. 

The land on which this coal is mined is stolen land, appropriated and occupied by settler colonialists as they spread out across the Australian continent, and without the cession or consent of the First Nations people.

Indigenous dispossession on the violent frontier continued for over a century and a half in Australia. Mining was one of the many destructive land uses that followed in its wake. As is often the case with mining projects, the native titles over Indigenous land are extinguished or impaired without free, prior, and informed consent, to make way for mines. The planned Adani mine is a case in point. The Queensland government ‘extinguished’ the native title over 1,385 hectares of Wangan and Jagalingou country for the proposed coalmine.

This means that Wangan and Jagalingou First Nations people can be forcibly removed by police from what is their traditional homelands.

“We have been made trespassers on our own country”, Burragubba was quoted in the Guardian, “Our ceremonial grounds, in place for a time of mourning for our lands as Adani begins its destructive processes, are now controlled by billionaire miner Adani”.

“Australians overwhelmingly oppose the Adani Carmichael mine”, says Varsha Yajman, who joined the movement #StopAdani opposing the project. “This coal mine will open up the Galilee Basin, one of the largest untapped coal basins in the world”.

If built as planned, the entire Carmichael project could potentially unlock 700 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. The pollution would be more than 1.3 times Australia’s existing annual carbon emissions. Furthermore, the mine will destroy the ancestral lands, waters, and cultures of Indigenous peoples without their consent.

Stopping this mine is a tactical necessity as the Adani Carmichael Mine is a pivotal project with the potential to open up the entire Galilee Basin to coal mining. Eleven other coal mining projects are proposed in the basin that would add up to a combined export tonnage of 280 million per annum, roughly equivalent to Indonesia’s annual coal exports. Mining in the Galilee Basin would more than double Australia’s coal exports from 300 million tonnes per year in 2010-2011 to roughly 600 million tonnes per year. If the Adani Carmichael Mine were constructed, its infrastructure would then be used for the other coal extraction projects. Without the long rail route being created to transport coal to the Abbot Point Coal Terminal, which would have to be extended and financed by Adani, the other projects almost certainly wouldn’t be able to commence, and the areas saved.

At the Siemens shareholders’ meeting in early 2020, Murrawah Johnson asked Siemens not to supply signalling technology for the planned coal transport railway – without success. “Critically for Siemens, Adani’s rail infrastructure will also open the way to other major coal mines in the Galilee Basin, and our lands and waters, which are sacred to us and form our culture, would disappear. We would not be able to pass our culture onto our children and grandchildren”, she reminded the shareholders present.

Lindsay Simpson has already witnessed how climate change is destroying Australia’s unique nature. “Cyclones are getting stronger and more intense because of climate change. As well, half of the coral in the Great Barrier Reef has bleached. 30 percent of the coral perished in 2016, another 20 percent in 2017 according to National Geographic magazine. The UN IPCC has shown that if we let global warming get to two degrees, then 99 percent of the world’s coral reefs will die”.

The Carmichael Adani Mine would lead to 500 more coal ships travelling through the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area every year – for 60 years.

Lindsay has exposed some of Adani’s reckless methods in her book Adani: Following Its Dirty Footsteps. “Stringent environmental conditions don’t mean anything to Adani. I’ve witnessed first-hand the environmental breaches this company was responsible for in India”, she reports. “Adani is full of promises. And deceit. It’s already breached guidelines twice in Australia – releasing way beyond the levels permitted of sediment loaded floodwaters into the Caley Valley wetlands – the home to endangered species of birds. Both of these occasions were before the mine was even given the go ahead. Fines are not enough of a deterrent. Nor are imposing stringent conditions.”

Despite all obstacles of corporate power, Simpson does not want to give up. Her hopes rest on the #StopAdani campaign which puts pressure on contractors and other companies, and escalates protest worldwide: “The fierce community campaign against this project has delayed it by seven years and counting. The debate has ensured the mine is both economically and politically vulnerable”. Now the pressure must be kept up.

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