The current struggle around the proposed Adani Coal mine in the Galilee basin of Central Queensland is taking place in a complex social and economic situation.
The recently released State of the Regions Report shows that 20,000 jobs have been lost in the Bowen Basin since the contraction of the coal mining industry – in a region in which 35% of all employment is in coal mining, and in which there are high unemployment levels of 7% to 12% in central Queensland regional areas.
Polls indicate that the widespread disillusionment with the fall in living standards in these regions – the cutting edge of the crisis in capital – is leading to an electoral embrace of One Nation in the coming State elections.
The Carmichael mine, owned by the Adani Group, is planned to be the largest coal mine in Australia, and one of the largest in the world. It will comprise both underground and open cut mining operations and produce thermal coal – suitable for use in coal fired power stations, but not high enough quality for use in steel production. At present approximately half of Australia’s coal exports are of thermal coal, and half are of coking or metallurgical coal.
The key role of this mine in future coal exports from Australia, and the potential damage to the Great Barrier Reef from export shipping, has led to a focus by the environment and climate movement around Australia on organising struggle to stop the mine from being constructed.
The struggle has taken many forms. Legal battles by environment groups and Aboriginal traditional owners have continued for the past 3 years. A widespread campaign to pressure banks to refuse funding for the project has been gathering momentum and had some significant victories. Struggles around government financial support for the project have had some significant victories also.
At a local level, community meetings are being held in many towns and cities. A film highlighting the issues called “Guarding the Galilee” has been screened at communities across Queensland. Large organisations such as the Australian Conservation Foundation, and Internet campaigner Getup have put significant resources into a grass roots campaign. The depth and breadth of the campaign to date suggest that it may well turn into another “Franklin River campaign”.
Long historical experience shows us that major social struggles are won when workers take up the issue. Up until now, unions in Qld have not been prominent in this struggle around Adani. However Queensland workers through their trade unions have a long tradition of acting on progressive social causes. The first “green bans” in Australia were carried out by Qld. Unions when they banned oil exploration on the Great Barrier Reef in 1970, leading the way for a major environmental victory in that campaign.
Given the significance of coal mining to many Qld regional communities, the issue of the Adani mine is one that workers will address in a careful and measured way. A recent Congress of the Qld Council of Unions, with reps present from most unions in Qld, unanimously passed a motion to establish a sustainable jobs summit by the end of 2017. Such a course of action shows that trade unions in Qld are willing to act independently, both to protect jobs, and also to campaign for environmentally sustainable practices.