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Why Jonathan Moylan’s Whitehaven Hoax Was Great

Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan left court today still in the dark about his fate, after his sentencing for breaching Section 1041E of the Corporations Act was adjourned.

The 26 year old trilingual translator from Newcastle first hit headlines in January 2013, after distributing a fake press release from ANZ bank confirming they would pull out of their $1.2 billion loan to the Maules Creek coal mine, owned by Whitehaven Coal.  The prank aimed to highlight the environmental and economic problems of the project, and how our major banks are financing these destructive projects – and it was a great success.

The hoax caused panic among investors, temporarily wiping $314m off the value of Whitehaven Coal, although this recovered soon after.  Needless to say, Whitehaven were not impressed.

Although unlikely that Moylan will serve jail time, the charges come with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to $765,000.

At the time of the stunt, Moylan had spent almost six months at the Leard State Forest blockade with Front Line Action on Coal (FLAC), during which time he became acutely aware of the devastating impacts of the mine both on the environment and the local farming community.

Image by 350.org

Image by 350.org

I’ve written previously about the environmental destruction of the Maules Creek coal mine – the unique woodland to be bulldozed, the threatened species, the indigenous heritage, the threat of groundwater contamination, the health impacts, and the outright misleading environmental offsets proposed by Whitehaven.

Despite this, Whitehaven chairman Mark Vaile had the gall to label Moylan ‘Un-Australian’.

‘It’s quite un-Australian that an individual can conduct a fraudulent act like this.  There were many investors… that lost significant amounts of money during that period.”

Deeply sorry for those investors who lost retirement savings, Moylan submitted a written apology to them, despite the losses being hugely overstated by Whitehaven (it was reported by Fairfax that shareholders lost no more than $450,360 between them).  He maintains that his intention was merely to support the Maules Creek community by raising awareness of this damaging open-cut mine.

But Mark Vaile doesn’t seem too concerned with the livelihoods Whitehaven will destroy in Maules Creek.  He even reckons that the project has, “a very broad level of support in the community.”

Local farmer Rick Laird would not agree.  One of many who turned up to support Moylan, his family has farmed in the district for more than 150 years – the Leard Forest was named after them.  He said,

“We’ve been fighting this mine for years and the stand that Jono took means that people now know what’s happening at Maules Creek.”

Jonathan Moylan’s press release put the Maules Creek mine in the headlines, and shone light on the hidden relationships between the fossil fuel industry and banks.

Since the hoax, we’ve seen environmental campaigns use this increased public awareness and interest with great success.  Most visible has been the Great Barrier Reef campaign, with pressure from environmental groups leading to bank after bank withdrawing their funding for the expansion at Abbot Point.  We’ve also seen the huge growth of the Australian divestment movement, with mounting pressure on the big four banks and superfunds to ditch fossil fuel investments.

The Whitehaven hoax has exposed the inherent flaws in Australia’s regulatory system, which allow huge corporations to get away with environmentally destructive and unethical practices, while attempting to punish those who expose them.

#StandWithJono Campaign coordinator Nicola Paris said the legislation under which Moylan is charged “was never intended to pursue people acting in good conscience.”

“The move to take this matter to the Supreme Court is yet another overreach in this relentless pursuit of a young man acting on principle. This lies in stark contrast with the failure of ASIC to prosecute serious corporate crime whilst people found guilty of insider trading such as John Gay, get a slap on the wrist.”

Communities have been powerless in the face of the resources industry for too long.  As Moylan himself shockingly points out, “You don’t have the right to be notified if a mining company is applying for a coalmining lease over your property”.   Is that ‘Australian’?

I #StandWithJono

You can follow Kate on Twitter @kateokate

 

11 comments

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  1. Florence nee Fedup

    I believe the MSM if doing their job, should have checked the story.

  2. corvus boreus

    Mark Vaille can call Jonathan Moylan un-Australian.
    That just adds ‘mindless moron to the litany of charges I would level at the ex-pollie.
    These would include a ‘corrupt and deceiving profiteer’ and ‘collaborator with foreign land-rapists’, and a ‘traitor to the health and interests of our land’.
    The Maules creek mine is a moronically destructive proposal, implemented with corruption and deception, with flagrant disregard of environmental legalities and community wishes, to profit foreign investors.
    Vaille should be in jail.
    Thanks for raising the issue, Kate, it needs periodic spotlighting. Leards is a very significant block of bush.

  3. Hotspringer

    My hat off to you, Jonathan, wish there were many more like you.

  4. mikestasse

    I stand with Jonathan Moylan…………

    Great article.

  5. Anomander

    Jonathan should have been given a medal for so easily revealing the farce that is the modern share market. If anyone is to blame for this, it is high-frequency trading as the principal reason why the Whitehaven share price plummeted so quickly and so deeply.

    In previous times, any normal shareholder would have done their research and checked the source of the information before panicking into action. Even they would have to contact a broker and issue a sell order, which would have taken time. Even simple on-line trading would not have elicited such a massive fall, so rapidly.

    But with high-frequency servers running complex algorithms, attuned to catch the slightest whiff of any change and react instantaneously – the result was an immediate plunge and a very quick gain once the truth was ascertained.

    The share market is no longer a representation of the actual value of a company or the state of the market, it is a massive on-line gambling game.

  6. Kaye Lee

    Let’s not forget Garry Reed either. Coalition governments are allowing mining companies to destroy people’s livelihoods.

    “A north Queensland man faces financial ruin after a failed legal bid to stop the expansion of a coal mine owned by the state’s richest man.

    Mr Reed took on mine owner QCoal and the State Government over a plan to divert Coral Creek, which runs through land owned by the mine and Mr Reed’s property.

    The farmer, who relies on the creek for half of his water, lost an appeal in the Land Court in February and had costs awarded against him this month.

    “There’s certainly a risk … I risk losing the family farm. That’s been in the family for almost 100 years,” he said.

    “I’ve put that at jeopardy.”

    QCoal, owned by reclusive mining billionaire Chris Wallin, wants to dig up the coal underneath the creek to extend the life of the Sonoma mine by six to eight months.

    The former state government geologist is one of the biggest donors to Queensland’s ruling Liberal National Party (LNP), giving $120,000 through two of his companies just before the 2012 state election.

    The creek diversion was not part of the initial plan for the Sonoma mine.

    Local residents say they were assured by the company at a public meeting that it would not be touched.”

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-29/farmer-faces-ruin-after-losing-coal-mine-court-fight/5417394

  7. Jan Dobson

    To be clear, I’m not supporting the mining company or Mark Vaille but, and please don’t shoot me, I will admit to some concerns about Jonathan Moylan’s actions. From what I’ve heard, and I’ve not seen the evidence first hand, the ‘prank’ was very sophisticated. Not just a quick, clever and easily discoverable trick. I believe he said that he had been working on it for over six months.

    I have two concerns, one is the easy dismissal that no one was hurt (or, from others, that they ‘deserved’ it). We don’t know the effects on individual investors. Also, like it or not we need confidence in the Australian Stock Exchange to ensure our economy remains strong. Again, please note, I support scientifically supported environmental protection.

    Certainly, Jonathan shouldn’t receive a harsh penalty, certainly not jail time. But I also hope we don’t see more of this tactic. Try to imagine if his cause had been one with which you disagree. We condemn any kind of trickery from our opponents, let’s take care our own tactics can be held up to scrutiny.

  8. Laura

    Jonathon Moylan’s prank results in prosecution and a criminal record. CBA financial advisors fraudulent advice causes investors to lose hundreds of millions of dollars, but no criminal investigation or royal communion required. Wonder why.

  9. Wayne Rowles

    Laura, I can tell you why there will be no inquiry into CBA financial advisers,is because the CBA gave the LNP $3million in donations before the Federal election.This was all done through a subsidiary company of CBA,the name of the company,I can’t remember,but if you Google it you will find it somewhere.I’m with Jonathan, his prank was superlative and just shows how spooked the stock market really is,that they can give credence to one document and not check the facts.

  10. corvus boreus

    Whether pro or con in your views on the (technically illegal)tactics Jonathan Moylan employed, the fact is that the whole open mine project is going to wipe out the vast majority of the world’s remaining White box forest(with associated fauna), and that the documentation used to table approval was falsified, and the procedures of undertaking deceptive, and sometimes counter to regulation(also technically illegal, and done for financial gain).
    Whitehaven’s plan is destructive, dodgy and unwanted. Maules creek mine must not be dug. It will fragment, and possibly ultimately destroy an entire ecosystem and doom species to extinction, and the people in the area are predominantly opposed.

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