Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Port Augusta: corporate protectors versus climate protesters

(Map, above, shows Port Augusta at the top of the gulf, and both Leigh Creek and Copley sandwiched between Lakes Torrens and Frome)

A small contingent of protesters calling for the closure of the polluting coal-fired Port Augusta power station last weekend were easily outnumbered by the corporate world’s protectors, the state police.

About 50 supporters of the Climate Camp Organising Collective took the 3-hour road trip from Adelaide to Port Augusta. They held a community forum on Friday night and marched on the power station the following morning.

In a farcical display of state overkill, more than 150 police were deployed, including mounted police and the dog squad.

The corporate protectors stopped the climate protesters after they had marched some 2 kilometres to the power station. At this point protesters in t-shirts and thongs (footwear variety) deposited 350 red bottlebrush flowers on the road, symbolising the 350 parts per million of atmospheric carbon that climate scientists say is the upper limit to maintain a safe climate.

Several Climate Camp representatives were then escorted by weapons-toting police to the front gate of the power station, where they hoped to present the company with a Community Decommission Order requiring the immediate closure of the plant. However, no company personnel were prepared to accept the Order.

The action occurred as part of a four day climate camp where a range of workshops were held to discuss the science and politics of climate change, including the need for an immediate switch to renewable energy. Participants emphasized the need for a just transition for workers in the region and that more jobs could be created in renewable energy than are currently provided by the power stations.

Climate Camp activists were careful not to demonise workers at either the power station or the Leigh Creek coalfields. CFMEU (Mining Division) national secretary Tony Maher had cautioned activists about this at a day-long Climate Change conference organsied by SA Unions and attended by over 100 union delegates on the Thursday before the weekend protest.

However, the power stations themselves (Northern and Playford B) certainly deserve community anger as they are among the most polluting and inefficient in Australia.

Originally owned and operated by the state government through the Electricty Trust of South Australia, they were leased to private enterprise as Flinders Power in 2000 by the then state Liberal government. In June 2006, multinational investor Babcock and Brown (20% is owned by German bank Bayerische Hypo und Vereinsbank ) acquired Flinders Power and continues to operate it and the Leigh Creek coal mine through a wholly-owned subsidiary, Babcock and Brown Power despite the parent company declaring bankruptcy last March.

An interesting aside to the power plant protest was the deliberate lie put out to the media and to Climate Camp organisers that Flinders Power would agree not to run the Leigh Creek coal train for the duration of the climate camp at Port Augusta. The coal train is up to 3 kilometres long and is said to be the longest in the world.

According to ABC News on Friday, “Flinders Power says it has cancelled coal train deliveries due this weekend because the train runs at night and the driver may not see any protesters if they walked onto the rail tracks.”

This was also conveyed in a special bulletin authorised by Police Assistant Commissioner Graeme Barton which said “As a result of Operation Climate Camp SA 2009 emissions protest at Port Augusta, Flinders Power agreed that the longest coal train in the world would not run on Saturday or Sunday”.

Yet Flinders Power did start the train rolling towards Port Augusta on Sunday morning. It didn’t arrive because one of the engines was derailed at about 10am outside Copley, not far from Leigh Creek.

The deceit of trying to run the train behind a screen of lies, and the truth of its derailment, was revealed by an astute and enterprising 14-year old Victorian school girl on holidays in the Flinders Ranges in this piece for the Coober Pedy Regional Times: http://cooberpedyregionaltimes.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/derailment-of-leigh-creek-coal-train-enroute-to-port-augusta-power-station/

The revelation led Climate Camp activists to state that “Future South Australian Climate Change Camps are less likely to undergo negotiations with police due to the deliberate abuse of our trust.”


climate camp sa said...

Some corrections to your article.

Climate Camp was not orgasnised by CLEAN, but by the Climate Camp Organsing Collective, which included activists from CLEAN, young greens, resistance, cross campus, a few other groups and many individuals. None of our media releases stated that CLEAN was the organiser.

There were 50 people at the rally on Sunday, not 35 as was reported by much of the media.

Mike said...

Thanks - I've made the necessary corrections!