Sparks fly over coal delivery

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Coal protest: Men, women and children outside the office of Flinders MP to protest at the mining of coal and its export from a port within Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Simon Hawking, kneeling centre, helped carry a crate of coal into the office. Picture: Supplied

Coal protest: Men, women and children outside the office of Flinders MP to protest at the mining of coal and its export from a port within Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef. Simon Hawking, kneeling centre, helped carry a crate of coal into the office. Picture: Supplied

THE “advocacy organisation” GetUp has a planned campaign to keep up the pressure on Flinders MP and Environment Minister Greg Hunt over threats to the Great Barrier Reef from coal exports.

Mr Hunt last week accused members of a GetUp protest of upsetting and intimidating a staff member at his Hastings office.

But one of two men who carried a crate of coal into the office on Wednesday alleges the version of events as outlined by Mr Hunt is “far from the truth, an incredible fabrication”.

Simon Hawking, of Somers, said Mr Hunt’s reaction was “disappointing and so misleading”.

Mr Hawking cheerfully admits to carrying the coal into the office, but denies intimidating or threatening anyone.

The staff member’s comment – “So you’re going to pollute our office with coal?” – when relayed to the protesters outside, was met with “laughter and disbelief”.

Mr Hawking said he told the staff member that the crate of coal was “symbolic of what Mr Hunt was consigning to the nation”.

“I absolutely and categorically deny there was any threatening behaviour,” he said.

“There were three police happily chatting to the crowd and, surely, they would have been called in? I’ll leave it to other people to draw their own conclusions.”

Mr Hawking said it was disappointing when citizens concerned about the environment were made out to be bullies and intimidators.

Following the demonstration he had written to The Age quoting Mr Hunt’s staff member because the “irony in the message needed to be spread further”.

“I couldn’t believe the irony when she used the word pollution,” Mr Hawking said.

Mr Hunt last week told The News that the behaviour of two men during the anti-coal mine protest was “utterly unacceptable”.

“A member of staff was deeply upset and intimidated by two of the protesters,” Mr Hunt said.

“This aggressive behaviour by two male protesters towards a female staff member is utterly unacceptable and should be condemned by GetUp.

“I certainly hope their behaviour is not representative of the organisation and did not represent the general behaviour of the delegation.”

GetUp this week said Wednesday’s rally was “just the beginning”.

“We’ve got an audacious plan to keep the pressure up on our environment minister (and your local member) as he decides whether or not to re-approve Adani’s beleaguered coal port and mine,” it said in an email calling supporters to a meeting at Hastings Community Hall on Thursday.

“This Thursday we’re going to hit the streets of [the electorate of] Flinders and start collecting messages from your neighbours and fellow community members who love the reef too.”

In the letter published in The Age Saturday 5 September Mr Hawking identified himself as one of two men who carried a crate of coal into Mr Hunt’s office “as a symbolic manifestation of what the minister was consigning the nation to” [by permitting the Adani Mining coal mine in Queensland].

“We were equal parts astonished, amused and despairing to be asked indignantly, ‘So you’re going to pollute our office with coal?’”

Mr Hawking said the “one concession” was the welcoming, by Mr Hunt’s office staff, of children bearing gifts “in the form of animal-shaped balloons representing the Great Barrier Reef marine life”.

Mr Hunt, in a response requested by The News, said the Coalition government “inherited a reef from Labor that was on the watch list and on the way to being listed as in-danger”.

Government efforts to protect the reef had led to it being removed from being in-danger listing by the World Heritage Committee.

“The committee praised Australia as a global leader in its management of the reef,” Mr Hunt said.

Protesters are fighting against the Indian-based Adani Mining’s plans for Carmichael open cut coal mine near Moranbah in central Queensland and the export of coal from Abbot Point, near the Great Barrier Reef.

The government’s approval for the mine was set aside by the High Court in August after being presented with evidence of a bungle within Mr Hunt’s department which meant there were no provisions to protect the endangered yakka skink and ornamental snake.

The falling price of coal and an announcement by the Commonwealth Bank of its withdrawal as Adani’s advisor may mean that the project’s “lifetime resource value of at least $300 billion” may stay in the ground.

Mr Hunt, although asked for his views by The News, did not comment on the bank’s action or provide an estimate of the number of jobs likely to be created by the coalmine.

GetUp describes itself as one of Australia’s largest campaigning communities and claims to have more than 800,000 members.

“We’re an independent, grassroots, community advocacy organisation that seeks to build a more progressive Australia and hold politicians to account.”

Joe Lenzo, of Safety Beach, said he too helped carry to coal into the office and accused Mr Hunt of exaggerating the incident.

“If his staff were so intimidated, maybe they should not be working in a political capacity. I can assure you that our ‘intimidating’ was only 50 per cent of the example set by the federal government during public question time,” Mr Lenzo said.

“We are only taking our guidelines and limits of what is proper from their example and trying to not sink to their wretched depths of shamelessness.”

Sam Regester, a GetUp senior campaigner, expressed the organisation’s “regret if staff members were upset”.

“The handing over of a gift of balloon sea creatures and a big bucket of coal by children, their parents and supporters was intended as a symbol that the community urges the environment minister to choose coral over coal,” Mr Register said.

“If the minister doesn’t want coal polluting his office, then why would he allow mega-mines in the Galilee Basin that risk polluting local water supplies, impacting communities and risking the future of the Great Barrier Reef?”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 15 September 2015

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