Shoot to Kill

Shoot to Kill  Mick Daley © 2018

A former SAS and counter terrorism soldier has described as ‘terrifying’ the Attorney General Christian Porter’s announcement that Australian soldiers with discretionary ‘shoot to kill’ powers could be used to enforce political decisions at civil protests or demonstrations.

     Trooper RJ Poole, who in 1978 was the youngest ever soldier to be accepted into the SAS regiment, said that in his experience the ideological culture within the armed forces would not be conducive to the fair and peaceful treatment of civilian protestors under such orders.

     “The normal military is pretty right wing, sexist, racist and homophobic anyway. In the special forces that is just ramped up,” he said. “The prevailing culture is of bitter hatred towards other races. It is very much a white supremacist culture.”

     Poole points out that the most recent occasion when the SAS were called upon to intervene in a civil matter was during the incident known as the Tampa Affair. In October 2001, then Prime Minister John Howard deployed SAS troopers to prevent a Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa from entering Australian waters with 443 refugees on board. During an election cycle, Howard claimed that the asylum seekers threw children overboard after they had sabotaged the boat.

     Howard’s claims were largely discredited by an Australian Senate select committee inquiry. In 2013 the former head of Military Public Affairs, Brigadier Gary Bornholt, told the ABC that the asylum seekers on the Tampa had not represented a security threat.

     “That’s a pretty clear indication that the power to call out the SAS, who are essentially trained killers, can be misused by those in power,” said Poole.

      The Coalition government is attempting to introduce a Defence Amendment Call out of the Australian Defence Force Bill 2018, which had a second reading in Parliament on June 28, 2018. That Act would allow a minister to authorise defence personnel to be deployed to quell any kind of protest, if it were deemed by that minister to be a threat to civil order. Army officers in charge would then have discretionary powers to decide whether a ‘peaceful protest’ had turned into a ‘riot’, at which point they would have the powers to order ‘shoot to kill’.

     Fahim Khan, Senior Lawyer at Criminal Defence Lawyers Australia, says the Defence Amendment Call subverts democratic norms.

     “From what I understand firstly, there is the lack of a suitable test for when they call the military out for a peaceful protest by Australian citizens. Initially it needs to be at a request from the police and secondly, threats to the national security of Australia. At the moment, if this new legislation was to come into effect, it would simply be a discretionary matter of the authorised minister to call out the military, even without police requesting assistance.

     “With that comes additional powers for the military personnel and those include arresting, detaining, searching and maybe on a very limited occasion ‘shoot to kill’ if a danger to other human life arises.

     “Now that is not something different to what the police have, however the police are civilly regulated by the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act (LEPRA). They’re not simply free to do as they wish, because their actions do infringe upon citizens civil rights and liberties.”

     Mark Burgess, CEO of the Australian Police Federation says that in principle the the legislation has been supported from a police context.

     “But that it would need to be strongly underpinned by guidelines and standard operating procedures to be developed in consultation with police across the country. It needs to be really clear and concise, with no room for misunderstanding about what the procedures look like,” he added.

     “When people get deployed to these things, I’ll use as an example the Lindt cafe siege, when you look at a lot of matters that have occurred overseas or even here in Australia, they’re over in a very short space of time.

     “The ability to deploy personnel is quite often very limited. More often than not you find the first responders are going to be security guards or in fact general patrol police officers and quite often the incident is over before any specialists can be deployed, but what happens in these situations is they become a critical incident investigation because unfortunately  sometimes people lose their lives. Then those investigations are undertaken by police on behalf of the coroner.

     “If ADF personnel were involved, they would be subject to the  investigation, so how is that going to take place? We operate in a policing context, so our people are subject to certain orders and we have to comply and make ourselves available to give evidence.

     “I’m not sure if anyone’s worked out what that’s going to mean in the context of the ADF. What powers would the coroners have to compel them to give evidence, to be interviewed? Where does the buck stop when these things are investigated, post the event?”

    Julian Burnside QC is satisfied that Porter’s proposed amendment answers to most legal concerns, but grants that it has the potential for disastrous side effects.

     “It is fairly tightly drafted.  It remains to be seen whether it will ever be invoked, and (if so) whether it is invoked reasonably,” he observed.

     “I accept that the legislation may be used in ways not contemplated by Parliament: that’s true of any legislation which contains normative expressions which are to be interpreted and given effect by people with extreme views (whether left or right).  When the results can be fatal, Parliament needs to think very carefully whether the legislation is necessary.”

     The Defence Amendment Act comes hard on the heels of the Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, which promises prison terms of up to 20 years for journalists and Government whistleblowers who leak information deemed damaging to national security.

     Described as ‘creeping Stalinism,’ by Ethicos Group specialist Howard Whitton in The Guardian, it has drawn widespread condemnation from human rights and media groups. It was passed in tandem in June 2018 with the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme Bill, which the Law Council of Australia’s president Morry Bailes warned may inhibit public policy dialogue.

     Christian Porter claimed such measures will enhance Australia’s national security. But Fahim Khan warns that if these distinct Acts were used in unison they would endanger democracy in Australia.

     “If the Defence Amendment Act were combined with some of the other legislations, we’re essentially criminalising dissent.

     “After 9/11 there have been up to around 70 legislations passed in Australia, the effects of those are slowly abolishing our individual civil rights and liberties, one act at a time.

     “What is even more concerning for Australia, we don’t have an entrenched Bill or charter of rights, nor do we have a separation of powers between the Parliament and the judiciary, so in effect, not too far in the future we may reach a position where our very basic fundamental civil rights are abolished through the enactment of such legislations.”

     Sue Higginson, the former head of the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO) and currently campaigning for the Greens in the state seat of Lismore, has made resistance to anti-protest laws a mainstay of her campaign policy. She is specifically campaigning against a new regulation under the Crown Lands Management Act, which removes the traditional right to peaceful assembly, gathering or protest on public land anywhere in NSW.

     “You have to ask the question, where is this ideology taking us? Is it a deliberate plan? It’s definitely from the same song sheet – this NSW anti-protest law is consistent with what the feds are doing. They say they’re concerned with national security and terrorism and so forth, the states are saying they’re trying to look after business interests, but the two meet to a massive extent, it’s all very neat and why is it all happening at the same time?”

     During Higginson’s work as a public interest lawyer with the EDO, she successfully defended the town of Bulga in NSW against mining giant Rio Tinto’s plans to extend its Warkworth mine, only to have the government change the laws and approve later appeals. She says that under pressure from the resource extraction lobby, the NSW government is dispensing with democratic procedure.

     “I think the NSW laws are part of a broader attack on democracy and all of the elements within it,” she said.

     “This regulation is part of a suite of control laws creating new aggravated offences that seek to protect resource extraction projects. Previously we saw massive increases in penalties for people protesting about coal and gas projects specifically and now this next round of control applies to people merely protesting on public land together. By preventing the community from doing that you are literally stifling the democratic process.

     “These laws are drafted to give capacity of decision makers to exercise discretion in a draconian way – they are not best practise laws under an advanced and healthy democratic system.”

     Higginson says that introducing the armed forces into protest situations would only exacerbate threats to democracy.

     “These laws are really problematic in the sense that they’re disempowering civil society from doing the very thing that helps maintain a safe, peaceful and humane democratic system, because governments can act corruptly, can act complicity and they can just get it wrong. They may make a decision that has a really terrible impact, so the one safeguard you have is that people can come together to express dissent, and the minute you take that away you’ve lost that last resort safety net of protection, whether it be against wilful corruption or just really bad decision making.”

         Aidan Ricketts is a lecturer in law at Southern Cross University, Lismore. He was part of the police liaison team at the Bentley Blockade, a 2014 protest action against speculative coal seam gas mining company Metgasco’s bid to drill up to 50 CSG wells in the Northern Rivers area.

     In that role he was in close contact with senior police right up to the eve of May 19, 2014, when 800 police were deployed to evict protestors the following day.

     Ricketts has accessed a document through the Freedom of Information Act which shows that police considered Bentley the biggest public order crises they had ever faced. It also shows that they were warning the NSW Energy Minister Anthony Roberts that human casualties were expected.

     “These are documents which the police provided to the minister as advice,” says Ricketts. “They attest to (the blockade’s) growing support throughout the region, to extensive support from local mayors. In their final document they advise the government that the risk of casualties, including death, was high to very high and the risk of litigation was catastrophic.”

     “But in the end, for good political reasons they decided that foisting 800 police on 5-10,000 people was bad politics. The alternative outcome, if this legislation enabling the call out of the military was used, is that that the kind of consideration that went into handling the Bentley Blockade could be missing. What you could have seen is potentially terrible violence against ordinary people, whereas the police had some sense of restraint.”

     Ex-SAS trooper RJ Poole points to his experience at the Bentley Blockade.

    “I can remember being out at the Bentley protest and we had the prospect of the riot squad rocking up and I can remember feeling like, ‘wow, I don’t know how I’m going to react to that, too old to do anything but could still kick up a fuss’.”

     “I know the regiment would have viewed all of us at Bentley as a pack of left-wing, tree-hugging hippies. They wouldn’t have had any qualms in dealing with us whatever way they were told.”

CSG and coal mining stories

Cause of Action

The morning Sue Higginson invites me to court, she is there to hear the decision on a New South Wales Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) case disputing Chinese coal company Yancoal’s bid to expand operations in the Hunter Valley town of Camberwell.

Higginson is principal litigator and lately chief executive of the defenders office which, in this instance, had represented widowed octogenarian farmer Wendy Bowman’s property against Yancoal.

In the courtroom, a bewigged justice read the verdict.

“I dismiss the appeal,” he uttered dryly, “with costs.” And with that, a landmark case against Big Coal was won.

“We’ve got a political system that has privileged the rights of these multinational corporations over the top of community and environmental rights.”

It was another in a series of astonishing victories for the legal centre. Higginson and her outfit have a formidable record, having been responsible for a series of victories against multinational corporations.

“We’re very small and we punch way above our weight,” Higginson observes. “But change is slow in a system as big as ours.”

The legal centre suffered an enormous blow in December 2013, when then prime minister Tony Abbott pulled vital federal funding. The following year the NSW government also reduced state funding.

But Higginson and the EDO are nothing if not resilient. Since then, they’ve undertaken ambitious fund-raising drives that have helped facilitate recent wins over Japanese whalers, the Indian Adani corporation and its massive Carmichael coal project in Queensland, and now Yancoal at Camberwell.

Higginson’s is an amazing story. In 10 years, she’s risen to become head of an institution that is on the front line of environmental advocacy in Australia.

In an age of potentially disastrous global warming crises, women such as Higginson have formed the vanguard of Australia’s environmental protection. From Indigenous spokeswomen to corporate warriors, they are bringing the fight for survival from the fringe of activism to our mainstream courts and stock exchanges.

With up to 90 per cent of Australia’s landmass under exploration or mining licences, many of these issues directly relate to mining and the extraction of fossil fuels.

Sue Higginson’s story is particularly germane, as her role means she is directly involved in legal battles across the spectrum of environmental issues. It’s a role she relishes, one she’s been working towards since she came to the struggle in her mid-teens, while at school in Melbourne.

“I picked up that in NSW we were logging old-growth forest and that there was very little left. And as an inquisitive young person I kept looking for the sense in that,” she says.

She left home for northern NSW, where she joined the North East Forest Alliance. “It was an organisation that had a plan, and I need a plan,” Higginson says. “I’m not just an emotional operator, I need to operate on the basis of scientific evidence and most importantly within a context.”

Higginson spent years on the remote front line of forestry campaigns, negotiating with loggers and police at often-volatile blockades. After the forest alliance won seven landmark court cases and successfully stopped old-growth logging in NSW, she found herself sitting across from government ministers, helping carve out the deals that created the forest reserve system that stands today.

“I found myself having to master all these skills. I learnt a lot about the legal system, about social movements, and I saw a very clear line in that you do it through science and evidence,” she says.

“So I got myself into university and I could see all the way from day one that the law was going to be the tool to further the actual purpose that I was put on the earth to do, and that was to protect the environment.”

Graduating with first-class honours, Higginson began working in private practice. Three years later, she took a job with the Environmental Defenders Office. After seven years, she became principal solicitor. In 2015, she became chief executive.

“I’ve become an expert in public interest environmental law, and the best vehicle in this country to assist the community is the organisation I work for,” she says. “Becoming CEO means that I can have a seriously committed attempt at keeping this organisation the best it can be.”

That is a very high standard. The office has operated with remarkable success for 30 years, so well that it has made very powerful enemies.

In 2012 the Minerals Council’s chief executive, Stephen Galilee, accused the EDO of a “deliberate campaign of economic sabotage” and the next year lobbied for punitive measures from attorney-general George Brandis and then NSW premier Barry O’Farrell, who later stood down over evidence given to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Indeed, two Labor and 12 Liberal MPs have been dragged before ICAC over corruption allegations related to the approval of coal and coal seam gas mining projects in recent years. Nonetheless, Higginson’s outfit lost most state and federal funding.

Private funding by tax-deductible donations is also endangered, as the Coalition has sought to revoke the office’s charitable status.

“It’s times like that that I have a rare moment of questioning the effectiveness of what we’re doing,” Higginson confides.

“We’ve got a political system that has privileged the rights of these multinational corporations over the top of community and environmental rights.”

In 2013, the office represented the citizens of Bulga, a small town in the Hunter Valley, against the extension of an open-cut mine owned by Rio Tinto. The office won the case, at which point O’Farrell changed legislation so the miners could appeal. After a second loss, and O’Farrell’s disgrace, the Baird government has amended its rules in a third attempt to force the mine expansion.

“So that’s the other thing, you’ve gotta be a fighter in this job,” Higginson says. “The sense of injustice is just horrific when that happens.”

Such injustice has provoked considerable civil unrest as citizens, many of them farmers, are becoming aware of the power that multinational miners hold over their country.

“Now we’re seeing this massive growing movement throughout NSW and Queensland. Farmers who have never protested against anything before are standing up to say, ‘Enough’,” Higginson says. “When I started my foray into environmental protection, there was a lot of polarised conflict. It was loggers versus greenies or farmers versus greenies.

“But in the last five years, traditional National Party voters are seeing reason in what the greener side of politics is speaking.

“You throw in the very serious issue of climate change and you’re getting a very complex alliance of people.”

This first manifested when farmers, assisted by the Environmental Defenders Office, began mobilising against massive coal and CSG projects in Queensland. It came into its own in the Northern Rivers of NSW, where a coalition of farmers and townspeople combined to see off speculative CSG mining company Metgasco.

More recently on the NSW Liverpool Plains, a similar alliance has vowed to stop Shenhua’s planned 35-square-kilometre open-cut mine in some of the finest agricultural land in the country.

In the Pilliga Forest, where mining company Santos seeks to drill more than 800 CSG wells in the recharge area for the Great Artesian Basin, farmers from all over north-western NSW are joining activists to blockade drilling rigs.

“The clients that I work with…” Higginson says. “It’s hard to explain just how dedicated and committed these groups and individuals are and the burden that they carry, in most cases on behalf of all Australians, of generations that haven’t yet come.”

This workload takes a heavy toll on Higginson, as she commutes between work in Sydney and family in Lismore. But she is resolute that the sacrifices she makes are more than compensated for by the importance of her work and of the law centre.

“I know this office really well. When I say this office, I’m talking about an institution that has developed over 30 years and needs to be here, not just in the next 30 years but as long as we have a civil society that is governed by a legal system. This office is fundamental.

“Some nights, when it’s hard to sleep because I’ve got a massive case the next day, I long for the day when somebody taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘My turn,’” says Higginson.

“But at the end of the day I know that seeking environmental justice is not about one case. This is a lifetime engagement and it will go beyond my years.”


CSG and coal mining stories

A gathering storm

The perfect storm – Shenhua and the Liverpool Plains

The softly spoken Andrew Pursehouse is a well-known man on the Liverpool Plains. Patriarch of a long established farming family, a prominent businessman, a respected regional elder. He’s brother-in-law to former Independent MP Tony Windsor and a founding member of the Caroona Coal Action Group (CCAG), representing over 400 landholders and local businesses, the longest running opponents of the Shenhua Watermark mine.

Finally approved in July 2015 by Environment Minister Greg Hunt, this would allow a massive 35km square open cut mine in the middle of the finest agricultural land in Australia.

The mine is now awaiting final approvals from the NSW government, whose leader Mike Baird, Nationals leader Troy Grant and local member Kevin Anderson all made pre-election assurances to the members of CCAG that they would oppose the mine.

Pursehouse and a majority of farmers across the State, in a new alliance with other concerned groups have vowed to fight this mine to the end – ‘whatever it takes’. As Tony Windsor famously said, they consider it to be the wrong mine in the wrong place.

But with the federal Government attempting to strip Australians of their right to contest mining proposals through gutting the Environment Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC), a perfect storm of dissent is looming.

Andrew Pursehouse points to the dining room table of his house, just above the Mooki River, the life blood of the Liverpool Plains.

“Before the election Baird made a commitment at that table right there. He said ‘I’m going to take this on personally’. We’ve never heard from him since. So them being here was an election stunt.”

There were plenty of witnesses. The members of CCAG present, conservative farmers all, were Fiona Simpson (former president, NSW Farmers), John Hampersum, Juanita Hampersum, Jim McDonald, who used to sit on the Independent Expert Scientific panel, Susie Lyall and political lobbyist Tim Duddy.

The plain facts

Andrew Pursehouse is under no illusions as to the damage such a mine would cause on the Liverpool Plains.

“It’s not just the water issue and potential damages to the aquifer, it’s the salt and the dust on 270 degrees around it, what that can do to our agricultural products, the koalas, the Aboriginal heritage.

Fiona Simson, former president of the powerful NSW Farmers group, is adamant that the farming community will never allow this mine to be built.

Simson’s focus is on Shenhua’s passing the fit and proper person test that was put in place by this government last year. Shenhua currently has four senior executives under investigation for corruption.

John Hamparsum, whose farm lies very close to the immediate impact zone of the mine site, is rather more blunt:

“The people’s resolve is such that there’ll never be a bulldozer on that country.

“The gloves would be off and it’d be civil disobedience at a level that the government hasn’t seen in NSW. Tempers are that point now that people want action, they want blood.”

CCAG have already launched 27 anti-mining court cases.

In 2008 they first opposed BHP with a blockade at Breeza led by the octogenarian George Clift, who famously stated that he’d meet them at the gates with a shotgun before he’d let them mine the Liverpool Plains. That 635 day blockade effectively discouraged anyone from attempting to mine here till 2011, when 100 farmers blockaded Santos from exploratory drilling for coal seam gas.

Andrew Pursehouse warns of a politically ruinous anti-mining campaign, if Hunt elects to pursue this course.

“We’ve got good grounds for further legal action and we’ve got the support of the Australia Farmers Fighting Fund, because this is of national significance. We’ve already spent round about a million bucks fighting this.

“So we’re not afraid to put money where it counts. But if all else fails we’ll stand up for our rights and invite whoever wants to be here and stop this nonsense. Don’t underestimate what a farmer can do.”

A national concern

The Shenhua Watermark mine has been been mired in controversy since corrupt former Labor minister Ian McDonald first sold an exploration license to the Chinese on the misconception that it was further south in the Hunter Valley.

Now the structural price of thermal coal is steadily falling and Chinese coal imports have dramatically dropped away as their sluggish domestic economy, concerns over pollution and increasing reliance on renewables start to bite.

As national attention has focused on the Liverpool Plains it has become clear that the negative impacts of coal mining are becoming critical in the national consciousness.

An online petition garnered over 50,000 signatures, while an independent Facebook group with hundreds of members is pledging to launch a citizen’s blockade.

Gunnedah’s Namoi Valley Independent newspaper held an online poll that showed 97% of 4,700 respondents to be against the mine.

And a new crowd-funded TV campaign from citizen’s advocacy group Lock The Gate is spearheaded by Alan Jones, who in it declares that “the latest move by the Abbott government puts at risk not just our environment but our very democracy”.

That notion of democracy hinges upon a belief in the sanctity of its iconic bellweathers. Besides food and water security two other salient issues here are Aboriginal cultural heritage and the koala population.

Mitcham Neave, a traditional owner (TO) of the Gomeroi people claims that while the entire Plains are sacred there are special sites, known as the Grinding Grooves, which absolutely must be protected.

Neave says they are an important war memorial site, where warriors used to sharpen spears for conflict with marauding Casula or Wiradjuri tribes – and white settlers.

“This is our Gallipoli site right here,” he says. “You wouldn’t like it if I destroyed your war memorial, I’d be locked up.”

He says they cannot be safely moved.

“Some of those sites are the size of a double decker bus. I don’t care what rock doctor they get, as soon as they move it you can’t put it back together.”

He and his fellow TO’s, who have followed all the processes within the law to this point, are fed up with being ignored. Neaves says he’s now ready for more direct action.

“I won’t speak for other people but I’ll join a blockade. We’ve had a gutful of the destruction of our culture, we’ll rally together.”

Sue Higginson is principal litigator for the Environmental Defender’s Office (EDO), who are representing the Upper Mooki Landcare Group in a public interest case on behalf of the koala populations of the area.

“They’re alleging that when the PAC made their decision they have failed to properly consider the impacts the mine is going to have on koalas,” she said.

“Essentially there’s a requirement that questions is this mine likely to place a local population at risk of extinction? Never did they answer that question. And that’s what it comes down to.”

Higginson says that the government is proceeding in non-compliance with the laws surrounding mining developments, just as they did in Queensland, where Adani’s case was defeated after Environment Minister Greg Hunt failed to take into account the fate of two threatened species in his approval of the Carmichael mine.

The head of the Landcare group is Nicky Chirlian, a speech pathologist and farmer who lives well clear of the mine site.

“My initial reaction is these bears are just going to die,” she says.

“Shenhua’s translocation plan effectively means the koalas have to get down from the trees and run away from the bulldozers in the first instance. The Koala Foundation has warned very clearly that translocation of koalas had a very high mortality rate of 90-100%.”

Tony Windsor, former Independent member for Tamworth and New England, sees behind these emotive issues a clear legal disconnect. He’s well placed to comment on the issue, being the man who effectively negotiated the ‘Water Trigger’ bill through the Senate in 2013, ensuring that coal seam gas (CSG) and coal mining projects cannot proceed until independent scientific advice concludes they won’t damage water resources.

“My viewing of the tea leaves is that this mine won’t happen,” he said. “Part of that will be because of public resistance, part will be because of the breach of process from both Hunt and Baird.

“I believe it can be shown that Hunt, Baird and Barnaby Joyce haven’t abided by their own processes of the law. In fact by circumventing the bio-regional assessment process they’ve removed the very evidence that’s required to determine the longer term scientific implications of this mine.

“All of those things will eventually get explored in the courts, that’s one of the reasons why Abbott was on about the environmental vigilante stuff. They talk about Adani but it’s just as much about this mine and the Chinese Free Trade Agreement as anywhere else.”

“It’s the most complex issue that I’ve ever dealt with in politics and it’s the easiest one to create politics out of.”

An Alliance is formed

Now CCAG have entered into a Liverpool Plains Alliance with other groups – including traditional foes in environmental groups such as The Wilderness Society.

Instrumental in forming this alliance has been Naomi Hodgson of the Wilderness Society. She has earned the respect of north western NSW farmers for her staunch campaigning in the Pilliga forest, where some 18 local landholders have been arrested striving to prevent Santos from establishing a proposed 800 CSG wells.

“This issue has sparked a raw nerve throughout the populace,” she said. ““People who’ve never before felt strongly on coal mining issues can see that we must draw a line against the industry’s perpetual expansion, digging up some of our best food producing country for coal is a proposal that crosses that line.”

The Alliance has created a major social movement on the Plains, abetted by the emergence of the Liverpool Plains Youth, comprising the sons and daughters of local farmers with perhaps less of the ingrained resistance to green groups as their forebears. They’re planning an activist training weekend in November to prepare against potential police confrontation.

This continues a phenomenon begun at the anti CSG blockade at Bentley in northern NSW, where hundreds of conservative townspeople and farmers aligned themselves with environmental groups and activists to stop that proposal.

The Bentley effect

Aidan Ricketts is a legal academic from Lismore, close to Bentley. A veteran forestry activist, he was instrumental in the conduct of the Bentley campaign. In the emergence of this Alliance he sees a similar catalyst for widespread community dissent.

“The Liverpool Plains really cracks open the agriculture versus mining issue.

“The Plains is a whole grab bag of signifiers – China and the Free Trade factor, indigenous heritage, the koalas, Tony Windsor and water, even this Pacific leader’s forum. Each one’s capable of igniting a different constituency and where you have this grand alliance coming together it all rises up and boils over. Once that happens the system as a whole becomes far greater than the sum of its parts and that’s where the Bentley effect comes in.

“It’s a bear trap for the National Party as well. They couldn’t have picked a worse place to try it on.”

Phil Laird, an ex-farmer himself and president of public advocacy group Lock The Gate, points out that following their corruption scandal, Shenhua are dramatically curtailing their capital expenditure in overseas markets. He says that detailed market analyses show a pronounced downturn in Chinese interest in Australian coal.

“Shenhua don’t necessarily want this mine. Probably if it wasn’t approved by Greg Hunt they would have quietly welcomed the decision. They don’t want to build any new greenfield sites. Their focus is going to be on brown fuel sites inside China.

“China produces about 4.5 billion tonnes of coal a year. Australia produces about 450 million. They’re reducing their production by about 10% a year so they’re effectively reducing their production by the entire Australian production. Now they’ve been stuck in a situation they don’t want. They’re looking for a face saver of some kind.”

The new landscape

Andrew Pursehouse is pinning his hopes on a political solution. In the light of a new political landscape he says there may well be a change of heart on this matter. Prime Minister Turnbull owns two farms in the Hunter Valley and he and his wife visited the Pursehouse property three years ago.

“Turnbull has been a water minister so had a pretty good understanding of the delicate water systems we have here. So he’d be more of a friend than Abbott.”

More recently, Independent MP Jacki Lambie attended an anti-mine tractor rally on the Plains and stayed two nights at the Pursehouse residence.

“In the senate recently she exposed large political donations from four Chinese names connected to Shenhua ,to Labor, Liberal and the Nationals,” Pursehouse said.

“So we’re looking at changes in that sphere, but if all else fails, well, the people that did the Maules Creek blockade are looking for a new camp, they want to come here.”

He points to the nearby town of Breeza, where Murray Dreschler, the founder and stalwart of the Maules Creek mine blockade, has established a weekend camp, on invitation from the Breeza Progress Association.

“So it’ll be more than just farmers, it’ll be the so-called green element. The passionate professionals, along with the general community. If all else fails it will come to that, but this is last resort stuff.”

Mike Baird’s office was approached for comment on Andrew Pursehouse’s claims. His press officer declined.

CSG and coal mining stories, Journalism

The law of the land

When I spoke to the unstoppable law enforcer Sue Higginson she was still in the office at 10pm on a Tuesday night. After a landmark win over Whitehaven Coal to stop the slaughter of native animals with a brutal winter tree clearing in Leard Forest, she was celebrating with a single glass of champagne and a few more hours work. Continue reading “The law of the land”