BILL WILKIE

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page - BILL WILKIE is an au­thor based in far north Queens­land. His book The Dain­tree Block­ade won a Queens­land Premier’s Lit­er­ary Award.

As the Stop Adani cam­paign grows, and the heat around Adani’s coalmine con­tin­ues to haunt the Queens­land premier, it might seem ironic that at this year’s Queens­land Lit­er­ary Awards the premier’s award for a work of state sig­nif­i­cance went to a book about Queens­land’s most sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal protest to date.

The irony wasn’t lost on me: my book, The Dain­tree Block­ade: The Bat­tle for Aus­tralia’s Trop­i­cal Rain­forests, won the award last month. If Premier An­nasta­cia Palaszczuk un­der­stood the irony, I’m sure she didn’t dwell on it for long. She has an elec­tion cam­paign to run.

As Palaszczuk was giv­ing an award to a book about en­vi­ron­men­tal justice, she and her gov­ern­ment were sup­port­ing a coalmine that would de­liver one of the great­est en­vi­ron­men­tal in­jus­tices Aus­tralia has wit­nessed. Though the Dain­tree cam­paign was a lead na­tional story at the time, it may well be dwarfed by the Stop Adani move­ment, such is the breadth and di­ver­sity of op­po­si­tion that it has so rapidly amassed.

As I watch the Adani cam­paign un­fold, it’s dif­fi­cult not to draw com­par­isons to the Dain­tree. In 1983, when Dou­glas Shire Coun­cil be­gan work on a road through the Cape Tribu­la­tion, Dain­tree Na­tional Park, in the state’s far north, lo­cals formed a protest group to stop work on the road. The road would cut through some of the last re­main­ing trop­i­cal low­land rain­for­est in the coun­try. When work was de­layed, the po­lice were called in. The me­dia showed up and sup­port­ers of the protest ar­rived from in­ter­state. The con­fronta­tion es­ca­lated into a full­blown en­vi­ron­men­tal stoush and be­came na­tional news.

The block­ade was the spark that ig­nited the ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful cam­paign to have the wet trop­i­cal rain­forests of far north Queens­land listed as a World Her­itage site. With the list­ing came pro­tec­tion for 8940 square kilo­me­tres of the state’s trop­i­cal rain­forests, and an end to log­ging within the area. Though the block­ade lasted eight months, the list­ing was a cul­mi­na­tion of a decade­long cam­paign to recog­nise the beauty, unique­ness and sci­en­tific value of the Dain­tree and sur­round­ing ar­eas. At the time, the Dain­tree pro­test­ers weren’t re­ally aware of how ground­break­ing their cam­paign was. Nor were they aware it would be­come such a defin­ing and sig­nif­i­cant mo­ment in Queens­land’s his­tory.

One thing of note about the Dain­tree cam­paign was the role of ev­ery­day peo­ple. The protest started as a lo­cal af­fair, or­gan­ised by a small group of peo­ple who had de­vel­oped a deep un­der­stand­ing of the en­vi­ron­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance of their sur­round­ings. These peo­ple went on to do ex­tra­or­di­nary things: par­tic­i­pat­ing in peace­ful civil dis­obe­di­ence; in­vest­ing their sav­ings in the cam­paign; and gen­er­ously vol­un­teer­ing their time, some for close to a decade.

At the Dain­tree, cam­paign­ers were writ­ten off as in­ter­lop­ers from the south­ern states. Lit­tle did they know the legacy these brave peo­ple would leave. As the front-line cam­paign to stop Adani heats up in cen­tral Queens­land, politi­cians are once again seek­ing to vil­ify as trou­ble­mak­ers those put­ting their bod­ies on the line. But, as with the Dain­tree block­aders, their com­mit­ment and courage should be ap­plauded.

The di­ver­sity of those op­posed to Adani’s mine is im­pres­sive. The Stop Adani move­ment has al­ready drawn the sup­port of two mil­lion Aus­tralians, in­clud­ing farm­ers, con­ser­va­tion­ists, tourism oper­a­tors, Indige­nous landown­ers, and par­ents and grand­par­ents con­cerned about the legacy fos­sil fuel use will leave for their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.

For the peo­ple who or­gan­ised the wet trop­ics cam­paign, the bat­tle­ground was al­ways mid­dle-class Aus­tralia. Lo­cally, it was mid­dle-class Cairns. If they could show the La­bor Party that pro­tect­ing rain­forests would not cost them seats in the far north, they would have its sup­port. When the polling stacked up, the fed­eral La­bor Party went to the 1987 elec­tion with a com­mit­ment to pur­sue the World Her­itage list­ing. I’m also sure the premier, who grew up in Queens­land in a La­bor fam­ily, would re­mem­ber this cam­paign.

With Adani’s mine front and cen­tre of the state elec­tion cam­paign, now is the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to show our politi­cians that their po­si­tion on Adani could de­ter­mine their po­lit­i­cal fate. That’s eas­ier said than done, of course. The cur­rent po­lit­i­cal cli­mate is more com­pli­cated. To­day’s politi­cians don’t seem swayed by pre­vi­ous logic. There’s an ar­ro­gance and bullish­ness that al­lows lit­tle room for re­con­sid­er­ing a po­si­tion based on ev­i­dence or pub­lic opinion.

At the Dain­tree, con­ser­va­tion­ists were for­tu­nate that the La­bor Party was, in prin­ci­ple, sup­port­ive of their cam­paign, even if they were slow to act. Sup­port for the Adani mine is shaky among grass­roots La­bor Party mem­bers: this should be lever­aged over the re­main­ing weeks of the state elec­tion and in the lead-up to next year’s fed­eral elec­tion. It’s time for La­bor to take a stand on coal.

Sim­i­larly, al­ter­na­tive em­ploy­ment strate­gies need to of­fer plans for in­vest­ing pub­lic funds in sen­si­ble projects that marry con­ser­va­tion with re­new­ables and agriculture, not in lu­di­crous projects such as pri­vately owned coalmines.

Can the Adani cam­paign cre­ate the kind of mo­men­tum that helped cam­paigns such as the Dain­tree and Bent­ley block­ade suc­ceed? The signs are promis­ing. Most Aus­tralians do not sup­port the mine, which is un­sur­pris­ing given ev­ery Aus­tralian has a stake in the fu­ture of our agricultural land, the cli­mate and the Great Bar­rier Reef.

Re­cent polls also show that a vast ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians, from all sides of pol­i­tics, don’t sup­port gov­ern­ment money be­ing in­vested in the Adani coalmine. The premier’s most re­cent stand on the mine – com­mit­ting to use her state op­tion to veto $1 bil­lion of pub­lic money be­ing spent sub­si­dis­ing it – seems more like a po­lit­i­cal sleight of hand than any­thing else.

It is dis­ap­point­ing that we con­tinue to de­bate this project, given it’s so rid­dled with flaws. From the mine’s use of bil­lions of litres of ground­wa­ter ev­ery year, to the con­struc­tion of a new coal ter­mi­nal at Ab­bot Point, which would al­low more than 500 coal ships to move through the reef each year, to the car­bon pol­lu­tion cre­ated from burn­ing its coal at a time when we must keep fos­sil fuels in the ground, the project is or should be doomed. There is also the very real threat to farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties and tourism oper­a­tors, who rely on the Great Bar­rier Reef for their liveli­hoods.

Thirty years af­ter the Dain­tree bat­tle, en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive tourism has be­come the main­stay of the far north­ern econ­omy, gen­er­at­ing more rev­enue than log­ging ever did. The sci­en­tific im­por­tance of the trop­i­cal rain­forests has been con­firmed, with new species found reg­u­larly and dis­cov­er­ies of medicines based on trop­i­cal rain­for­est plants. And, of course, a place of such beauty and unique­ness has been pro­tected for its own sake and the en­joy­ment of gen­er­a­tions to come.

Stop­ping Adani’s mine, through peace­ful and coura­geous com­mu­nity ac­tion, could lead to an­other water­shed mo­ment in our his­tory – when Aus­tralia, as a com­mu­nity, looks to the fu­ture. In this coun­try blessed with coast­line and sun­shine, with our rel­a­tive wealth and po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity, ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, and in­sti­tu­tions such as the CSIRO, there is an op­por­tu­nity to lead the world in re­search, de­vel­op­ment and in­vest­ment in re­new­ables. There are no al­ter­na­tives if we are to live within our en­vi­ron­men­tal means on this planet.

Like the story of the Dain­tree, the Adani cam­paign is about peo­ple stand­ing up for what they be­lieve in – tak­ing coura­geous ac­tion to pro­tect our fu­ture and the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment upon which it de­pends. As Adani prom­ises to start work on the mine, we should re­mem­ber that this is an is­sue that af­fects us all and step for­ward to of­fer our sup­port.

It is sad that 30 years on an­other ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sue plagues Queens­land. How­ever, the groundswell of com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion that’s build­ing to stop Adani’s mine gives me hope that, not too long from now, the award I re­ceived last month will go to a book about the cam­paign to stop Adani’s mine and push

Aus­tralia to­wards a fos­sil fuel-free fu­ture.

IT MIGHT SEEM IRONIC THAT THIS YEAR’S PREMIER’S

AWARD FOR A WORK OF STATE SIG­NIF­I­CANCE WENT TO A BOOK ABOUT QUEENS­LAND’S MOST SIG­NIF­I­CANT EN­VI­RON­MEN­TAL PROTEST TO DATE.

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