In this anti-Adani rally speech, novelist Richard Flanagan says the fight against the Carmichael coalmine defines the fight against the climate crisis
I grew up in a remote mining town. I know the hardship. I saw the tragedy. One of my earliest memories is a whole town stopped for a miner’s funeral, family after family lining the main street, one people joined in grief.
And when politicians talk of caring about miners I don’t believe a word they say.
If they cared wouldn’t they be advocating to end black lung disease, a 19th century industrial disease now returned, because of unsafe working conditions, to kill Australian coalminers in the 21st century?
If they cared wouldn’t they be speaking out about the increasing casualisation and pay stripping of coalminers, supported by the Morrison government?
And if they cared wouldn’t they question whether Adani is an appropriate business to employ Australian miners? Adani, such a friend of the working man that, when building its giant Shantigram luxury estate in India, it housed workers in conditions so appalling that there were 15 recorded outbreaks of cholera.
Put a hi-vis jacket on that corpse and say you’re still for the working miners of Queensland, Scott.
But then Adani’s long-term aim isn’t to employ miners under whatever pitiful conditions and awards its paid-up political mates might legislate.
As Adani Mining’s CEO said in 2016, “When we ramp up the mine, everything will be autonomous from mine to port. In our eyes, this is the mine of the future.” That’s right: Adani’s ambition is ultimately that its mine is all robots. Not a miner, not a driller, not a driver in sight.
So the promised 10,000 jobs that turned out to be 1,462 jobs will in turn vanish like the mist as Adani buys in ever more robots.
But that’s not all. Modelling by Wood Mackenzie shows that if coalmining in the Galilee Basin, led by Adani, goes ahead, coal production in older, less efficient Australian coalmines will drop significantly and many coalmining jobs will vanish. Adani’s new mine will simply steal the jobs off the old mines.
Jabbering jobs, jobs, jobs, in a hard hat doesn’t change these truths. It doesn’t make a politician fair dinkum. It makes him or her a lying clown who sells every coalminer down the drain for another backhander from the bosses of the fossil fuel industry.
The coalmining communities of Australia deserve better. They deserve the truth. They need a responsible transition plan, not lies and deceit.
Because Adani’s mine is not happening to help miners. It’s not happening to help Clermont or Mackay or far-north Queensland. It’s certainly not happening to help the poor of India.
It’s happening because of one thing: greed.
And that greed controls our politics. How can Scott Morrison claim to care about climate change when his political survival now hinges on a deal with Clive Palmer, a man whose own massive Galilee Basin coalmine is dependent on Adani getting up? What exactly did Scott Morrison promise Palmer? The Liberals’ platform is nothing more than a smoking coal heap.
Forty-one years ago, I had just kayaked through a beautiful gorge on the Franklin River called Irenabyss. The Franklin was to be dammed and though there was opposition to the damming, no one I knew believed it was possible to defeat the all-powerful state and federal governments that were at the time hell-bent on building it.
The gorge opened out into small basin. At its rainforested edge there was a beach. I kayaked over to it and a lanky man appeared out of the rainforest. And there, on the banks of that beautiful, doomed river, I met Bob Brown.
I asked Bob did he really think the river could be saved. His answer was revealing. I think, he said, that there is hope.
And this is what I learned from Bob Brown. The battle for that river raged for another four years. Governments came and went. At every step it looked like we had lost, and yet, what we could not see was that at every stop we were growing stronger. Thousands of people went to prison in the biggest act of civil disobedience in Australian history.
In the end the government was spending countless millions to get heavy machinery into that remote rainforest to destroy as much a possible to make that dam inevitable. And at the very last moment, the high court ruled the dam could not go ahead.
I am here today to say that there is hope. That the Franklin flows free and Adani will be stopped. These things happen because at a certain point enough people say there are things that matter more than politics or money. There is no power on this earth that can resist an idea whose time has come.
I am not going to waste your time today repeating the many facts with which you are already familiar, suffice to say one thing: the IPCC last October said we had 12 years to contain climate change – that is, decarbonise our economy so that the temperature rises no more than another half a degree on what it is today. If large-scale action is not taken now the IPCC warned that we will face a global warming catastrophe.
More than half a year of that 12 years has already passed without any meaningful national or international action. Our emissions are still rising. And that is why this is a crisis unlike any we have ever faced. On present trends much of Australia will become, quite simply, uninhabitable. And what remains liveable will be small bands of our country.
We will not have the means to generate the food we need, the wealth we are accustomed to. The most recent science suggests that around the world up to one million species on which we depend for food and clean water face annihilation, that the planet’s very life support systems are entering a danger zone. This is not science fiction. This is not a Netflix series. It is what the world’s leading scientists tell us.
The moment for believing this is a matter that can be solved by flying less or not eating meat has long passed. The solution will not be about personal choices. It will be about – and can only be about – political change.
And that change will not come about because of a messianic leader. It will not come about because of this party or that party. It will only happen if we wish it to happen and if we make it happen. We have only ourselves to blame and we have only ourselves to turn to save ourselves.
It matters very much who you vote for this election. And after May 18 it matters even more to press whoever wins to recognise this crisis is not an issue. It is the issue.
The drying out of Australia is the issue. The collapse of our fisheries is the issue. The likelihood of not having enough water to sustain our population is the issue. The threat greater and greater mega-fires pose is the issue. The decline of our agriculture is the issue. The inability of our infrastructure to cope with ever-larger floods and more frequent cyclones is the issue. Sea rises are the issue. The death of our rivers, the death of the Great Barrier Reef, the death of the Tasmanian rainforests is the issue. The drying wheatbelt is the issue. If our very fate as a species is not the issue, then what is?
And that is why Adani has become the symbol of why our country is broken. That is why the fight against Adani is a fight for the soul of our country.
I know many of you may feel that you have no power, or lack the skills or abilities needed. Faced with the crisis that is climate change it is too easy to feel powerless, to feel the problem is beyond your powers or perhaps anyone’s to influence.
Perhaps the greatest problem we face is not climate change, but the myth of our own powerlessness. We believe only the most powerful – the politicians, the corporations – can change our world. Accordingly, we feel a great despair about our future because we can see no hope in any politician or any corporation.
But it is not so.
Because the only thing that will save us is us. Half of the carbon in the atmosphere was put there by us in the last 30 years. And now we have 11 and a half years to reverse that disastrous act.
It is a time to act and it is for us to act. Because there is no one else and there is no other time.
And if our politicians continue to deceive themselves and deceive us, if after May 18 we end up with a government that will not act, and if we are only left with only our bodies to oppose this mine, if it takes putting our flesh between the past and the future, between the bulldozers and the earth, if it means a blockade of the Adani site, then I, for one, will be there. And if that means being arrested and going to jail then I will go to jail.
And my question to you today is this: will you?
Will you stand with me, will you go to jail with me, to stop this mine and save our future? Because if you will, I ask you to raise your hand.
I tell you this: we will win.
The Franklin was more than a river. Adani is more than a mine. This rally, you people, are part of the river of hope that flows through this country, our beloved country, and it is a river that cannot be bought, that cannot be dammed, that cannot be poisoned, that cannot be bought and sold. And every day that river grows larger and stronger.
And I am hopeful. Why? Because 41 years ago I met a man who refused to abandon hope and led a movement with such moral clarity that the river still flows. And 41 years later I stand here before you, with that same man, to say that hope is never lost.
Never. Never. Never.
This is an edited version of a speech delivered to the anti-Adani rally in Canberra on 5 May
This article was published by The Conversation on the 5th of May 2019.
Richard Flanagan is the Man Booker prize winner for The Narrow Road to the Deep North. His latest novel is First Person.