Photo: Protestors wear masks of Gautam Adani and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, depicting the unpopular billion dollar government subsidy. Credit: Stop Adani Alliance - Photo: 2018

Australians Mobilise to Stop Indian Coal Project

By Kalinga Seneviratne

SYDNEY (IDN) – A peoples’ movement is gathering steam across Australia to stop a project by an Indian company to establish Australia’s biggest ever coal mining project that is supposed to create 10,000 jobs in a remote region of northern Queensland.

The protest movement – which distrusts politicians – argues that Australia needs to cut greenhouse gas creating coal exports rather than opening more mines.

“The more I tried to engage in democracy the more I found democracy to be broken,” said Lilli Barto, member of the ‘Stop Adani’ Sydney campaign team addressing a film screening and a protest meeting at inner-Sydney Newtown Neighbourhood Centre on February 22, that was attended by over 200 people.

The film, titled ‘Mighty Force, Stop Adani’, documented the growing peoples’ movement across Australia of farmers, youth, environmentalists and ordinary people against the mining project by Indian businessman Gautam Adani, which is strongly supported by the Australian government. It has been shown to over 500 community groups across Australia.

‘Stop Adani’ campaigner Russel White told IDN that the political system in Australia is corrupt when it comes to big mining and development projects. “We’ve got some Labour state politicians in jail for corruption. They had portfolios of mining and water resources,” he pointed out, adding that “even the current Federal (conservative) Government is too close to the coal lobby.”

When asked how the movement would fight big mining companies, politicians and the mainstream media who are all in the same boat, he said “we go straight to their (politicians) electors. We go as private groups and speak to them asking if they are aware what their MPs are doing (in parliament).”

The protest movement has formed alliances among conservation groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, Australian Marine Conservation Foundation, Greenpeace and the Bob Brown Foundation (former Australian Green Party Senator Bob Brown came into prominence in the 1990s when he led a campaign to stop a major dam project in Tasmania).

There is even a ‘Sydney Knitting Nannies’ Group – women in their 60s and 70s – supporting the campaign and in Sydney along there are 500 active campaign groups, using Facebook to gather support. Earrings, caps, t-shirts, socks, stickers and bandanas with the words ‘Stop Adani’ printed on them have become common across Australia.

Holly Crenaune, a researcher and campaigner with ‘Stop Adani’, told the Newtown meeting that in the last nine months over 5000 protests have taken place all over Australia. In October alone, the movement organised over 50 human sites – meaning protestors forming a ‘Stop Adani’ human graphic – at places like a popular beach, park or shopping centre.

“Thousands of us wake up every morning thinking how to stop this mine … if Adani open his mine, Rienhart and Palmer are waiting to open theirs,” she warned. The latter two are Australian mining magnets whose fortunes have dipped in the last couple of years.

Indian conglomerate Adani Group’s 16.4 billion dollar project in Australia is a grand plan to own all aspects of the power infrastructure from “pit to plug” as it owns coal-fired power generation plants in India.

The project has its origins in 2010 when the Group bought Australian energy company Linc Energy’s Galilee basin coal tenements for 530 million dollars and in 2014 bought all royalty rights to an estimated 7.8 billion tonnes of coal deposits there.

In 2011, the Adani group also acquired Queensland’s Abbot Point coal terminal for 1.98 billion dollars from the government of Queensland on a 99-year lease. The official proposal for the ‘Carmichael Coal Mine’ submitted to the Australian government for approval in 2014 included building a 388 km rail link from the mine to the port.

The mining proposal includes six open cut pits and five underground mines over an area 30 km long. The coal resources are so vast that the Adani Group plans to operate the mine for at least 60 years, extracting an estimated 2.3 billion tonnes of product coal in the process. The mine and the rail line would impact over 30,000 hectares of land, most of which are on Aboriginal land.

The mine operations are expected to suck up to 9.5 billion litres of water a year from groundwater sources and its dredging is expected to affect the nearby Great Barrier Reef corals.

The environmental impact on the Great Barrier Reef has been one of the rallying cries of the ‘Stop Adani’ campaign and the traditional owners of the land – Wangan and Jagalingou Aboriginal people – have taken their ‘native title’ claims to the Federal Court of Australia. The hearing is scheduled for March 2018.

This will be a major hurdle for the company to cross, but Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull assured Gautam Adani during a private meeting in Delhi in April 2017 that the native title issue will be “fixed”. Adani has also started direct negotiations with Aboriginal leaders.

However, the Queensland government which gave Adani an unrestricted license to use groundwater for 60 years backtracked on its support for the project after being re-elected in December 2017. The Adani mine was one of the main issues during the elections.

The Queensland government has also withdrawn support for providing a one billion dollar public bailout for the project from the North Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) because it was a promise designed to win the election. This has also forced railroad builder Aurizon to pull out of the project.

With politicians – both federal and state – supporting the project on economic grounds, protest groups have focused on its environmental aspects and succeeded in persuading 28 Australian and overseas banks to withdraw financial support for the project in late 2017.

Explaining how they were able to persuade the banks, White said “we put the banks in a very embarrassing position with their shareholders and clients. As activists, we were in their lobbies, in their headquarters. We were dancing, singing there. .. finally the shareholders and their investors took up the issue … and it worked”.

Crenaune noted that “at the end of last year their project seemed to be in tatters”. However, she warned, “we were able to stop banks (from supporting Adani) but they may not need the banks … (because) Adani’s businesses in India are doing well and they will be able to fund the project themselves.”

The Adani Group is reported to be in discussions with the Chinese government-linked China Machinery Engineering Corp (CMEC) to be involved in the Carmichael Mine both as an engineering partner and investor, which may open the door for Chinese financial institution to provide credit.

Prime Minister Turnbull is believed to have provided assurance to the Chinese embassy in Canberra that everything is okay with the project. As the government-owned ABC network pointed out in November 2017, if this goes ahead with Chinese state-owned enterprises, “it could see Australia providing big direct and indirect subsidies to a company effectively owned by an Indian billionaire and the Chinese government.”

Such deals with foreign companies, especially in the mining sector, have been somewhat the norm in Australia for decades, but this time the difference is that it is Asian companies that are involved.

Knowing Australia’s history, some argue that this may have triggered a more intense form of nationalism disguised as environmentalism. Yet, the Stop Adani campaign’s rhetoric is not necessarily based on race, but on genuine environmental concerns and particularly Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement to reduce greenhouse gases.

There is also the distrust of multinational companies, be it Indian or otherwise, and also distrust of politicians, when they are dealing with billionaires – which is a global phenomenon.

“Adani is not going to walk away, he has four billion dollars locked away in the project,” argues Crenaune. “Our politicians can stop it and we need to make sure they do.”


With the Labour Party tipped to win federal elections scheduled for 2019, the protest campaign is targeting Labour politicians across the country as it did successfully in Queensland in 2017.

“After we talk to their electors, we go to the (Labour) politician and give them the feedback that electors are not happy (with the mine project),” explained White. “The only way we can stop this is with people who have to come forward (to protest)”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 24 February 2018]

Photo: Protestors wear masks of Gautam Adani and Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, depicting the unpopular billion dollar government subsidy. Credit: Stop Adani Alliance

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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