Jonathan Moylan: Going to extremes

ACTIVIST Jonathan Moylan, 24, is a life-long Novocastrian. His last local address was in Hamilton before he moved to a tent near the Liverpool Plains to protest against the expansion of the coal industry in NSW.

This week he made national headlines with a hoax press release on Monday stating the ANZ Bank had withdrawn support for the Maules Creek coalmining project in the Liverpool Plains.

The shares of Maules Creek owner, Whitehaven Coal, dropped off a cliff upon the false news, temporarily wiping more than $300million from the value of the company’s shares.

Moylan issued a subsequent email under the name of Front Line Action on Coal taking credit for the fake ANZ statement. Whitehaven’s share price recovered on Monday (finishing at $3.50, down from $3.52 at the start of the day).

H2 interviewed Moylan by phone on Wednesday from his remote campsite.

 Where you are now?

 In the Leard State Forest between Narrabri and Gunnedah. It’s the largest forest in the Liverpool Plains. Half of it is slated for destruction as part of open-cut coalmine and part of the biggest expansion of the coal industry in NSW. There are two existing mines [Tarrawonga, Boggabri], one with state approval. Two mines slated for two- to four-fold expansion. And then the grand view mine, Maules Creek, would be the biggest in NSW. It would destroy 1360 hectares of critically endangered koala habitat and the same amount of productive farmland.

 How long have you been there?

 This is day 158. We’ve been here since August 5. We are planning to stay until the mines are done, until the forest and the community are protected.

 How many in the group?

 Sometimes two, there’s been up to to 40. Hundreds pass through camp. At the moment there’s only three of us.

 You seem dedicated.

  I grew up in Newcastle my entire life. I’ve seen the port of Newcastle expand. I lived a block from the Carrington coal terminal. I was sick from the day I moved in to the day I moved out. If we allow this continued expansion of the coal industry, we will lose 90per cent of species, half of our drinking water, witness a massive sea rise as well as a massive temperature rise like we’ve seen in the last week. It is the most critical issue we face.

 Did you expect such a reaction to your ANZ hoax? 

 No. I didn’t. I was hoping for ANZ Bank to publicly expose themselves as using their customers’ money to fund a mine that was destroying peoples’ lives. They’ve certainly done that. But it has had a much bigger impact than I expected.

 Are you prepared to be punished for the hoax?

 I know there are potentially serious consequences for me personally, but they pale in comparison to the destruction of  farmers, the destruction of natural resources and the risk to our futures if we continue to approve mega-coal projects like this.

 What is the worst thing that could happen to you?

 ASIC is investigating me under a potential breach of the Corporations Act, which carries a penalty of $500,000 or 10 years’ imprisonment. By the way, it is an offence to reveal details of an ASIC investigation so I will try not to do that.

 Do you believe your actions were justified?

 My intention was to get ANZ Bank to expose themselves as the backers of the Maules Creek project. Some media organisations have used the word ‘‘justify’’ – this is not my word. My prime concern is the local community, which has been feeling very despondent – the forest, our health and our water.

 Did you consider the consequences before the action?

 Well, my intention was to expose ANZ Bank. I am prepared to accept the consequences if it is found there was a breach of the law. I am co-operating fully with ASIC investigations.

 How many people were involved in the planning?

 One.

 Would you do it again? 

 I am not intending to do it again. We’ve seen around the world the effect, in the Yes Men Dow chemical impersonation [a fake promise to pay Bhopal chemical explosion victims $12billion compensation] and the winning bid by [environmental activist] Tim DeChristopher, which permanently protected lands in the US [he bid at  auction on oil and gas leases, but had no money to pay for them]. Those lands were subsequently protected by legislation brought forward by the Obama administration, but he’s serving two years of imprisonment, and he deserves  everybody’s recognition.

 Have you heard from people in support of what you did?

 Absolutely. The local community have been crying out to be heard. They’ve been writing letters, supporting peaceful direct action protests. Nevertheless, NSW’s largest coal extension and expansion has received almost no attention. There is a lot of belief and a lot of support out there. This is a mine which is chaired by Mark Vaile, who used to be the leader of the Nationals. So they feel betrayed and fearful for the future. The customers of ANZ Bank and the federal Environment Minister, Tony Burke, are the only people who can prevent this destruction from going ahead.

 Was the University of Newcastle Student Association a good training ground for your work?

 Look, I’ve always stuck up for the underdogs and my own rights. We need courage in the world. My primary focus in the last six years has been this primary issue of coal exports.

 Do you think this was more effective than standing on the picket line?

 I think there’s a place for every type of action. We can’t rule anything else out. We need a diversity of tactics to stand up to an industry that has far too much political influence. This is a small-employing, inflationary industry and we can’t afford to let our democratic processes be compromised by greed.

 Do you have a lawyer yet?

 I’ve spoken to a lot of lawyers. 

I am still obtaining formal legal representation.

 Was ASIC reasonable?

 They were. I don’t think they are used to dealing with just-cause investigations. They’re usually investigating corrupt millionaires.

 Is it hot out there?

It’s a couple of degrees cooler  in the forest, but yes, it is excruciatingly hot. We live in tents. We’ve got a greenhouse, a worm farm and we’re completely powered by the sun.

 Any celebrity support?

 There’s a lot of high-profile support out there, but I’m not going to name anyone without their permission.

 What does your mum think?

 She’s concerned, but very supportive and very proud.

 Who else is deeply involved at the site?

 The one other person who deserves recognition is Murray Drechsler, who wasn’t involved in the hoax, but has been there the whole time. He’s put a huge effort into supporting the local community.

 What you do eat? What’s for lunch?

 Most of it is brought by local farmers. Stir fry chicken today ... The occasional kangaroo that’s been hit by a car.

 Do you have a water supply?

 No. We’re being supplied by local farmers.

 How do you make the time go by?

 We have done a huge amount of wildlife surveying. We found four koalas, which is more than the mine. We found the biggest diversity of bats in NSW, including the yellow-bellied sheath-tailed bat. We do live catch and release. We’ve had a number of public protests and peaceful civil disobedience actions, and most importantly, community organising, meeting with community members.

 What type of computer do you have?

 It’s an ACER. We have wireless broadband, good phone reception and 150 Watts of solar power.

 How long will you be at the camp?

 We will be here until the mines are gone. It’s not a win if the coalmine goes ahead.

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