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Tag Archives: Leard Forest

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


David vs Goliath – Maules Creek vs Big Coal

The destruction of the Maules Creek community by Big Coal is enormous. Kate O’Callaghan writes about the level of this impact and how the community is fighting back.

Last Saturday, four members of a group of 13 medical professionals and students were arrested after joining an anti-mining protest at Maules Creek. Spending more than four hours chained together at the site, the so-called Medics Against Coal felt compelled to act. In March, 92 year old World War II digger Bill Ryan was one of 60 people arrested at the blockade, disrupting construction by sitting on machinery. According to Bill, “I’ll continue to protest for as long as I can walk.”What’s going on at Maules Creek that’s driving so many everyday Australians to put their bodies on the line?

Maules Creek is a picturesque agricultural community, situated north west of Tamworth in the agricultural belt of NSW. It lies in the foothills of Mt Kaputar National Park, with Leard State Forest to the south. In July 2013, Former Environment Minister Tony Burke fast tracked an approval for Whitehaven Coal to develop three open pit coal mines in the Leard Forest, thrusting the small farming region into an industrial zone.

The Leard Forest is 8000 hectares of bushland, named after the Laird family, who have been farming at Maules Creek for five generations. It was recently identified as a Tier 1 Biodiversity area by the NSW government, areas which ‘cannot sustain further biodiversity loss’. Leard Forest is home to some of the last standing and intact populations of critically endangered Box Gum Woodland, as well as numerous threatened species including the koala and masked owl. Tier 1 areas are not, however, protected from mining. Construction of the three mines will clear more than half the forest, roughly 5000 Ha, including over 500 Ha of White Box Gum woodland.

Whitehaven began construction on the Maules Creek mine in January of this year. The coal deposit is one of the largest in Australia, with 362Mt of recoverable resources. Once completed, the mine will operate 24 hours a day, loading coal onto trains to Newcastle where it will be exported to China, India and other coal hungry nations. The $767 million development is one of the largest taking place in the country, with first coal sales expected to occur in early 2015. The mine is expected to operate for 30 years.


Image courtesy of katesenviroblog.com.au

Apart from the immediate ecological destruction caused by clearing the forest, the community has raised other concerns. The adverse health impacts caused by coal dust is of major concern for the community. The dust will be inhaled, pollute the water supply and settle on agricultural lands. Doctors for the Environment have warned that, “Communities in which coal mining or burning occurs have been shown to suffer significant health impacts.

The mines will demand large quantities of water, placing a huge strain on the surrounding agricultural lands and causing a groundwater drawdown up to 10 metres. Greenpeace spokeswoman Julie Mackan is shocked, stating that “This mine has been granted 50 per cent of high-security water for this area which, I mean I’m sitting here looking at a country getting chewed up by drought, and I find that just extraordinary.”

The Leard Forest mine area holds many significant sites and artifacts for the local aboriginal community. Traditional owners the Gomeroi people are now prevented from entering the mine site, after a dispute with Whitehaven over their failure to preserve items of cultural significance and heritage.

The long term issue is the coal itself, which when burned will contribute to 30 million tonnes of CO2 per annum, a figure much greater than the total emissions of many developed nations. Considering the annual emissions will be greater than the entire savings from the government’s Direct Action Plan, this is major blow.


Image courtesy of katesenviroblog.com.au

Front Line Action on Coal began non-violent direct action at the Leard Forest in 2012, frustrated that the government had failed to protect the Maules Creek community from the destructive forces of Big Coal. Since then, they have seen the campaign grow dramatically and have been joined by a number of groups such as Lock the Gate, Greenpeace, 350.org and the Wildreness Society.

In March, the Forestry Corporation ordered the closure of the Leard Forest over public safety concerns resulting from protest activities. Assistant Commissioner Geoff McKechnie said that people, “accessing the roads, using their bodies as roadblocks, running on to roads, putting themselves under heavy vehicles . . . presents an extreme risk to people’s safety”.

Recently, serious questions have been raised with the misleading information behind Whitehaven’s environmental offsets. Offsetting is a measure that a company must take if it plans to cause ecological destruction. In Whitehaven’s case, they plan to destroy 5000 Ha of forest including 500 Ha of old growth, critically endangered White Box Gum. To offset this loss, they are required to create an equivalent area elsewhere, either through restoration or protection. Crucially, the offset area must contain the same habitat and species as the destroyed area.

According to their Ecology Fact Sheet, “Whitehaven has developed a comprehensive Biodiversity Offset Strategy to compensate for the impacts to native flora and fauna.” This has been strongly disputed by independent scientists and ecologists, who argue that up to 95% of Whitehaven’s offset mapping is wrong, containing very little of the threatened White Box Gum woodland.

Despite these major problems, a spokesman for Whitehaven Coal insists that the project is proceeding and protesters need to accept it. “The fact that Mine opponents do not like the outcome, or want to pursue a broader anti-coal agenda, does not entitle them to seek to interfere with its progress, and with the livelihoods of our workers and contractors”. With the government fighting with Goliath, it’s uncertain if David can ever win.

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