Rejection of new Australian coal mine is a rare win for community environmental campaigners

Rejection of new Australian coal mine is a rare win for community environmental campaigners

Editor’s note: DGR supports local control of the land over settler colonial imperialism. We believe in Free Informed Prior Constent, consultation is not constent.

Featured image: Screenshot from the Battle For Berrima Inc. video Hume Coal and Its Plans For A New Coal Mine In Berrima 2015

This article originally appeared in Global Voices.

By Kevin Rennie

Locals celebrate after eleven years of grassroots action

Environmentalists are celebrating a victory over a proposed coal development in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) after 11 years of debate and community protests. The Independent Planning Commission (IPC) for the NSW Southern Highlands blocked the plans for the proposed mine, saying the potential impacts of the project were ‘too great to be reasonably managed, and the social risks to the community are high.’

Korean-owned Hume Coal proposed applied to build the coal mine in Berrima. The company argued that the mine would ‘create 300+ jobs for locals’.

The full IPC determination and background materials are available here. The review followed an earlier rejection by the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

The IPC identified a long list of issues raised by the project’s opponents, including:

…mine design; subsidence; groundwater drawdown; risks to surface water, including to Sydney’s drinking water catchment area; impacts to local biodiversity; greenhouse gas emissions; impacts to Aboriginal and historic heritage; amenity impacts; adverse impacts to existing industries, including tourism and agriculture; social impacts, including ongoing stress and disharmony associated with the Project; and land use compatibility.

According to the Lock the Gate Alliance, a national grassroots organisation concerned with risky coal mining, coal seam gas and fracking, the mine would have emitted a massive amount of greenhouse gasses:

If it had been built, the Hume Coal project would have been responsible for more than 106 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifespan.

There have been local concerns since permission was granted to drill exploration holes in 2010. High profile supporters over the years have included singers Leo Sayer, Cold Chisel’s Jimmy Barnes and actor Nicole Kidman, who owned one of the 424 properties that would have been affected by the mine.

This video has an interview with Sayer, a local resident in 2015:

Sayer also made a statement for the public inquiry in June 2021:

…the mine is a danger to health, clean air, farm produce, and the nature of the Southern Highlands and the peace and quiet of this historically natural area.

Jimmy Barnes, who is another longstanding local, also made a written submission.

There has also been opposition from local small business groups such as the Moss Vale Rural and Chamber of Commerce. Their president, restaurateur and farmer Brigid Kennedy, was very pleased with the result, arguing that it would give businesses hope.

I think I have held my breath for 10 years and I feel I can finally let it out. I am so excited — the community will be doing cartwheels down the Berrima main street. There has been a lot of tears over this, marriage break-ups, divorce — this has caused a great deal of anxiety. Hopefully it will help businesses struggling though COVID hang on and flourish.

Tweets by community members Seamus Byrne and Clare Press showed both the elation and growing frustration of many online:

The IPC found that the greenhouse gas emissions were not justified ‘when weighed against the relatively minor economic benefits’.

However, Nature Conservation Council Chief Executive Chris Gambian was concerned that the overall issue of climate change was not properly addressed by the IPC, arguing that no new mines should be approved in NSW:

Yes, the water impacts of this ill-conceived project were extremely risky. And yes, the mine should have been rejected for these reasons alone.

But the fact the IPC barely touched on climate highlights the deficiencies of the planning system in coming to grips with the greatest environmental hazard we face.

The decision has been hailed as a victory for local community action. Groups such as Battle for Berrima have been active on the ground as well as online. The group celebrated the win on their Facebook page.

We would love to be celebrating with you tonight. Throughout, we engaged with the government planning process respectfully. Thank you everybody for your support, donations, volunteering and commitment. Hopefully, once lockdown is over, we can celebrate together. A massive THANK YOU to everybody

Community activist Jenny Hunter’s Twitter thread details the hard work that many locals put in over the 11 years of campaigning:

After the decision, Peter Martin, president of Coal Free Southern Highlands, posted to their Facebook page :

It’s been a ‘knock down and drag out’ struggle for the local community against the Korean steel maker which has used every weapon in its arsenal to push the project through against the determined opposition.

…Given the serious climate issues that we all face, it would have been a dereliction of duty for the State Government to let a coal mining project like this proceed. Coal is clearly at the end of its useful life.

New Australian marine parks protect area twice Great Barrier Reef’s size

New Australian marine parks protect area twice Great Barrier Reef’s size

  • The Australian government has moved to create two new marine protected areas that cover an expanse of ocean twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
  • The two parks will be established around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean to the northwest of continental Australia.
  • The new parks, which cover to 740,000 square kilometers (286,000 square miles) of ocean, raise the protected share of Australia’s oceans from 37% to 45%.
  • The decision was immediately welcomed by conservation groups.

This article originally appeared on Mongabay.

Featured image: Whale shark feeding the ocean surface. Image by Rhett A. Butler for Mongabay.

The Australian government has moved to create two new marine protected areas that cover an expanse of ocean twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

The two parks will be established around Christmas Island and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands in the Indian Ocean to the northwest of continental Australia. The new parks cover 740,000 square kilometers (286,000 square miles) of ocean.

The decision was immediately welcomed by conservation groups.

“Christmas and Cocos (Keeling) Islands are uniquely Australian and globally significant – there’s nowhere like them on Earth,” said Michelle Grady, Director of The Pew Charitable Trusts, in a statement. “Most famous for its annual red crab migration, Christmas Island was referred to as one of the 10 natural wonders of the world by David Attenborough himself. Its thriving rainforests, deserted beaches and fringing reef provide a haven for unique and rare seabirds, land crabs and marine life.”

“Christmas and the Cocos (Keeling) Islands are recognised as globally significant standout natural wonders,” added Darren Kindleysides, CEO of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, in a statement. “Oceans across the globe are in deep trouble from pollution, overfishing, habitat loss and the very real and immediate impacts of climate change. Establishing marine parks to provide a safe haven for our marine life is critical in helping stop our oceans reaching a tipping point.”

Christabel Mitchell, Director of the Save Our Marine Life Alliance, applauded the move but urged the Australian government to work “collaboratively” with local communities to “co-design” the protected areas.

“Healthy oceans and sustainable fishing are central to the Christmas and Cocos Islanders’ way of life, their culture and their livelihoods,” said Mitchell in a statement.

“Creating world-class marine parks for this region will provide crucial protection for a wealth of marine life, make a significant global contribution to the health of our oceans and support the local communities’ culture and aspirations,” said Mitchell. “We look forward to working with the government and the island communities to preserve this unique part of Australia, for our marine life and future generations.”

The new parks will bring the percentage of Australian waters under protection from 37% to 45%. Conservation groups around the world are pushing for the protection of 30% of global oceans and land mass by 2030.


Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

Indigenous Australians Take Fight Against Giant Coal Mine to the United Nations

Featured image: Wangan and Jagalingou cultural leader Adrian Burragubba visits Doongmabulla Springs in Australia. The Wangan and Jagalingou are fighting a proposed coal mine that would likely destroy the springs, which are sacred to the Indigenous Australian group.

     by Noni Austin / Ecowatch

For tens of thousands of years, the Wangan and Jagalingou people have lived in the flat arid lands of central Queensland, Australia. But now they are fighting for their very existence. Earlier this month, they took their fight to the United Nations after years of Australia’s failure to protect their fundamental human rights.

A company called Adani Mining Pty Ltd, part of the Adani Group of companies founded by an Indian billionaire named Gautam Adani, is determined to build the massive Carmichael Coal Mine and Rail Project on the Wangan and Jagalingou’s ancestral homelands. If built, the Carmichael Coal Mine would be among the largest coal mines in the world, with six open-cut pits and five underground mines, as well as associated infrastructure like rail lines, waste rock dumps and an airstrip.

Coals mine are immensely destructive: The Carmichael mine would permanently destroy vast areas of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s ancestral homelands and waters, and everything on and in them—sacred sites, totems, plants and animals. It would also likely destroy the Wangan and Jagalingou’s most sacred site, Doongmabulla Springs, an oasis in the midst of a dry land. The development of the mine would also result in the permanent extinguishment under Australian law of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s rights in a part of their ancestral homelands.

The Wangan and Jagalingou’s lands and waters embody their culture and are the living source of their customs, laws and spiritual beliefs. Their spiritual ancestors—including the Mundunjudra (Rainbow Serpent), who travelled through Doongmabulla Springs to shape the land—live on their lands.

As Wangan and Jagalingou authorized spokesperson and cultural leader Adrian Burragubba said, “Our land is our life. It is the place we come from, and it is who we are. Plants, animals and waterholes all have a special place in our land and culture and are connected to it.”

Consequently, the destruction of the Wangan and Jagalingou’s lands and waters is the destruction of their culture. If their lands are destroyed, they will be unable to pass their culture on to their children and grandchildren, and their identity as Wangan and Jagalingou will be erased.

Murrawah Johnson, authorised youth spokesperson of the Wangan and Jagalingou, said, “In our tribe, women teach our stories to our young people. I want my children and their children to know who they are. And if this mine proceeds and destroys our land and waters, and with it our culture, our future generations will not know who they are. Our people and our culture have survived for thousands of years, and I cannot allow the Carmichael mine to destroy us. I will not allow myself to be the link in the chain that breaks.”

The Wangan and Jagalingou have consistently and vehemently opposed the Carmichael mine, rejecting an agreement with Adani Mining on four occasions since 2012. Throughout its dealings with the Wangan and Jagalingou, Adani Mining has used the coercive power of Australian legislation and acted in bad faithholding fraudulent meetings and manipulating the Wangan and Jagalingou’s internal decision-making processes.

In these circumstances, the development of the Carmichael mine violates the Wangan and Jagalingou’s internationally protected human rights, including the right to continue practicing their culture and to use and control their ancestral homelands, as well as the right to be consulted in good faith and to give or withhold their consent to mining projects on their lands.

Despite the Wangan and Jagalingou’s persistent objections and their pleas to the Australian and Queensland governments to protect their human rights, both governments have approved the mine and publicly support it, and Adani Mining remains steadfastly determined to develop the project as soon as possible. The Wangan and Jagalingou have also brought litigation in Australia to protect their homelands, but have been unsuccessful to date because Australian law allows private companies and the government to override the Wangan and Jagalingou’s rights in their ancestral lands.

Now, to protect their fundamental human rights, the Wangan and Jagalingou have been forced to seek help from a United Nations human rights watchdog. Recently, the Wangan and Jagalingou asked the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to urgently ensure Australia protects their homelands and culture. The committee is the enforcement body of the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, a treaty Australia has signed. The convention is one of the core international treaties among the world’s nations that protect our most basic human rights, including Indigenous peoples’ rights to culture and land.

If Australia will not listen to its own people, the Wangan and Jagalingou hope it will listen to international community and cease prioritizing the profits of a foreign company over the permanent loss of a people who have been connected to the land since time immemorial.

Earthjustice assisted the Wangan and Jagalingou to prepare their request for urgent action to the UN.

Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

by Kim Hill, Deep Green Resistance Australia

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone. Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization. It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative. Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject. You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated? What animals? What tools would they use? How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe. This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations. If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk. There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next. A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors. A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure. People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food. The crops must be defended. The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained. Defended from people, animals, and insects. Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these. Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement. The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do. Settlements then need their own infrastructure: toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement. Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time. Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work. The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop. Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming. They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture. The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership. Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth. The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food. Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food. Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet. Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs. Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop. Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it. A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured. Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing. Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants. People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow. Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth. Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice. Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture. Why should they? The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned. The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture. The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?


From Stories of Creative Ecology January 5, 2013

Australian government votes to unload nuclear waste on remote Aboriginal community

By Oliver Milman / The Guardian

The Australian government has passed legislation that will create the country’s first nuclear waste dump, despite fierce opposition from environmental and Aboriginal groups.

The passage of the National Radioactive Waste Management Bill 2010 through the Senate paves the way for a highly controversial plan to store nuclear waste in Muckaty Station, a remote Aboriginal community in the arid central region of the Northern Territory.

The ruling Labor party received support from the conservative coalition opposition to approve the bill, despite an ongoing federal court case over the legality of using the Muckaty site to store radioactive material.

Currently, nuclear waste from the medical and mining industries is stored in more than 100 “temporary” sites in universities, hospitals, offices and laboratories across Australia.

Anti-nuclear protesters disrupted proceedings in the Senate as the legislation was debated earlier on Tuesday, with the group heckling lawmakers from the public gallery over their support for the bill.

A recent medical study warned that transporting nuclear waste over long distances to such an isolated location, which is 75 miles north of the Tennant Creek township, could endanger public health.

“The site is in an earthquake zone, it floods regularly, there are very long transport corridors, there are no jobs being applied and it’s opposed from people on the ground, on the front line from Tennant (Creek) all the way up to the NT government and people around the country,” said senator Scott Ludlam of the Greens, which successfully added an amendment to the bill that bans the importing of foreign nuclear waste to the site.

Aboriginal groups launched legal action after claiming that traditional owners of the land around Muckaty do not approve of the dump, despite the government maintaining that the local Ngapa indigenous community supports the plan.

Under Australian Native Title law, indigenous groups recognised as the traditional owners of land must be consulted and compensated for any major new infrastructure.

Although the Australian government insists that it has not decided on a site for the dump, Muckaty is the only option under consideration and the Northern Territory government has already been offered AUS$10m if it accepts the facility.

Finding a location for a national nuclear waste dump has proved a major headache for successive Australian governments, with former prime minister John Howard rebuffed in his attempt to situate the facility in South Australia in 2004.

The Northern Territory government has complained that it is being strong-armed into taking the dump due to it being a “constitutional weak link” and not having the same rights as full Australian states.

Nuclear power remains a highly contentious issue in Australia, which, despite having the largest uranium deposits in the world, has steadfastly refused to shift its largely coal-fired energy generation to nuclear.

From The Guardian: