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Hope in a "lost cause"

Hope in a "lost cause"

Words by Prudence Wilkins-Wheat

This article is part of PULPCLIMATE week. CLICK HERE to join the facebook group. University of Sydney Students will be marching from Fischer Library at 10:00 AM on the 20th of September.

“Wait for the call-out,” said the speaker, “as soon as we’re given the signal, we’ll send everyone up to fight.”

The room was stuffed with people sitting and standing – the crowd spilling out the door. It had only been a couple of weeks since Adani received  the final environmental approval. They could now start work. In Sydney, an emergency Assembly was called for environmentalists across Australia. It was mostly silent, the glow of a power-point casting the stoic faces of the crowd in a waterfall of light. They listened with a warrior-like composure - silent, focused – veterans of the front-line. But at the corner of their eyes, especially of those whose fight had lasted years, there lay uncertainty.

We were exhausted.

The 11th of April, the day Melissa Price approved Adani’s groundwater plan, struck a blow right into the gut of the climate revolution. Winded and spitting through our teeth, we took to the streets. But this news felt like the king hit and the death knell for the Australian environment.

Had we lost?

Indian mining magnate, Gautam Adani, purchased a Queensland deposit of untapped thermal coal in the Galilee Basin in 2016. His plan, now in action, was to build the Carmichael mine, doubling Australian carbon exports by producing 60 million tonnes of coal every year. It would also clear land for nine more mega-mines belonging to five different mining companies. 

His environmental corruption is also aggravated by accusations of his fiscal corruption. A 2017 Four Corners episode exposed Adani’s history of environmental degradation and misconduct. The National Green Tribunal found that they carried out illegal work in India, with “absence of environmental clearance or coastal regulation zone clearance … [and] without care for any adverse … impact on the environment”.Adani Enterprises also has associations with bribery, shell companies, tax havens, suggested fraud and money laundering. Guatam’s brother, Vinod Adani, was investigated in India for allegations of “siphoning off foreign exchange”. Yet, the Adani project was approved with bipartisan support. 

Does the government serve the interests of the people?

I think my uncertainties over the likelihood of actually stopping Adani were mostly amplified by a Climate Strike assembly at Manning Bar a few weeks later. We were voting on our goals for the September 20 climate strike. 100% renewables, no new mines, and stopping Adani being all listed. Great choices. But, to my honest surprise, it was suggested that we scrap Stop Adani from our priorities. 

The aversion to surrender, however strained, that moved many in the Stop Adani meeting was lost in this space. 

The young people, undoubtedly more vibrant in their discussion, were seemingly too visionary. The ‘old fights’, like Stop Adani, being a dead thing dragging down the movement; heavy, ugly. ‘It had become high-jacked as an anti-worker, racist campaign’, to paraphrase. It was true, Stop Adani had been co-opted by the liberal media to distort the morality of the environmental mission. However, underlying their reservations, I can only worry, was the same uncertainty worn by the elder activists. But this time it wasn’t tucked behind their eyes. 

Some of their criticisms sounded familiar – where had I heard this? Go Adani cares about Australia. Go Adani embraces global connections. Go Adani cares about its workers.

But will Adani create work?

The project supposedly aims to address the high unemployment rates in Queensland, according to state minister Anastacia Palaszczuk, by creating “10, 000 jobs” and “$22 billion in royalties and taxes invested back.” Yet former Reserve Bank economist Jerome Fahrer (under oath in the Queensland court) has stated that Adani shall likely create less than 1500 “direct and indirect” jobs, partly due to the modernisation of mining. Further, its establishment will mean the demise of the Great Barrier Reef which supports 70, 000 jobs.

Since when did we start buying into right-wing scare campaigns? 

Sitting in the national Stop Adani Assembly, listening to their voices worn-out from years of chants, I blinked. Confused. Was it time to call the end and move on.

Had the Assembly ended with such a thought, I may have voted for the USyd motion to abandon the Adani goal. But there was one more speaker and she was making a plea.

The Wangan and Jagalingou people, the Traditional Owners of the land that Adani currently excavates, were fighting the government. They had begun a court case to stop Adani on the grounds of native title. Denial of their sovreignty in support for Adani is “an  act of war and terrorism,” explains David Cole, a member of the original sovereign tribal federation. “Wangan and Jagalingou have never knowingly acquiesced their title nor dominion over the lands to the crown or corporate government,” proclaims Adrian Burragubba, a member of the Wangan and Jagalingou tribes. Refusing to recognise their dominion and relaying title to Adani, argues Cole, is a form of “ethnic cleansing”. In removing them from land and records Australian authorities revert to a terra nullius ideology, burying their history, religion and family - alive. 

Again.   

As the assembly continued, they explained that they were waiting on the call-out. The indigenous custodians would give the signal should their claims to native title be rejected. It was this that cleared the fog of doubt clouding the room. 

There was still a fight to be had. 

Since the assembly we have fought banks like Westpac and Commbank, corporations like GHD, lobbying them to refuse financial support to Adani. He is still looking for sponsors and has yet received approval for his much needed railway. Every set back, every right hook that lands in the face of our movement, will be defended by an understanding of the importance in protecting our land. Not only for the future, but for the history the land holds. Stop Adani, like the climate revolution, is an issue of racism; because those who are most affected are not the big corporations or parliamentarians, but the Indigenous. Some Torres Strait Islands have already had their shores flooded with rising sea levels, drowning their burial grounds. 

How little they contribute to the problem, but how greatly they feel it.  

Anna Krien argues that “parliament has become a transit lounge for politicians and their staffers on the way to fossil-fuel companies and their lobby groups. Inertia is the result.” She names private money as the controlling factor in Canberra decision-making, so the way we make them listen is through protest. Do not fall into the easy category of social justice nihilism. We can create change even in the face of devastating approvals – it is how our reef first got listed as a World Heritage site! Everyday I hear tales of activists using policy, politics and sometimes their own bodies to stop the steam roller.  

The least we can do is stand bright-eyed in strike beside them tomorrow. 

When we chant on Friday, we will sing out to Stop Adani. Not because it’s more important than any other project, but because at this stage it is symbolic of the never-ending spirit of activists. A proclamation that only when our demands are met will we consider laying our banners to rest. 

Only then and never before. Stop Adani. 

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