Anti-Adani saboteurs face financial ruin
MILITANT anti-Adani protesters say they are facing possible bankruptcy in a landmark lawsuit which could make them personally responsible for the financial fallout of blocking coal trains.
The case in the Supreme Court in Brisbane has unmasked a handful of activists who have boasted about their dangerous stunts, which have brought a freight business to a standstill for days and cost millions in lost time.
Four of the five activists, who have now been joined as party to the action brought by stockmarket-listed Aurizon, are from Brisbane and interstate and travelled hundreds of kilometres to interfere with the rail line which connects to the Abbot Point terminal, north of Bowen.
Protesters targeted the lines to pressure Aurizon not to provide freight access to its network to Adani and other potential miners in the Galilee basin.
The Aurizon fightback against the militant activists comes amid a new wave of damaging protests as Adani becomes a focal point of the federal election campaign.
Yesterday a protester from a group called Extinction Rebellion was freed on bail and the group claimed it had stopped coal trains heading to the Port of Brisbane for three consecutive days.
The Bob Brown Foundation's Stop Adani convoy travels north to central Queensland before hosting a "special event" in the Galilee area next weekend.
The wave comes after activists exhausted all legal avenues of challenging government environmental approvals for new coal projects in Queensland in the courts.
The Supreme Court case began in November when Aurizon rushed to court in a bid to block alleged threats of a six-week-long campaign of intimidation by anti-coal activists, court documents state.
The anti-coal campaign allegedly began with a train stoppage on October 30 and Front Line Action on Coal Inc (FLAC) planned to run disruptions until "mid-December" 2018, the court heard.
The blockages planned by FLAC have ceased because on December 4 last year, FLAC agreed to an undertaking to not "procure, incite or counsel any person to" interfere with Aurizon trains or enter any rail corridor and specifically the Brisbane, Blackwater, Newlands, Goonyella or Moura rail corridors until the case was heard.
On April 11, the ante was increased when Aurizon won its bid to add the five protesters as respondents in the case, meaning each could have to pay $75,000 in "damages for trespass" for blocking Aurizon's access to Abbot Point.
The five's spokeswoman, Sadie Jones, told The Sunday Mail the case would bankrupt them. They are crowdfunding online to pay legal fees.
"There is a huge imbalance of power between we five and Aurizon, with their large team of lawyers," Ms Jones said.
"The case is designed to restrict freedom to protest and discouraging others from doing similar things."
Protester Clancey Maher, a nursing student from Canberra, boasted on Facebook that she would use her taxpayer-funded "student allowance" to pay any damages bill.
Two of the group are teachers and the rest are students or volunteers.
A fundraiser for the group says the lawsuit "is designed to financially cripple activists and draw large swathes of time and resources from the environmental movement, ultimately silencing community concern".
Court documents allege three protesters used 10m-tall tripods to "psychologically" intimidate train drivers, while others used a barrel filled with concrete and strapped to their arms as they sat on the tracks.
Ms Jones is alleged to have waved a train down with hand signals before climbing on top of the coal load and sitting there for 10 hours.
Aurizon claims FLAC, which is based in the NSW town of Bega, gave the five individuals the equipment and training support necessary to trespass and block the rail line between October last year and January.
Four protesters blocked lines in the Bowen Basin and one in Brisbane en route to the Port of Brisbane.
FLAC emerged in August 2012 from a blockade of Whitehaven Coal's proposed Maules Creek mine near Boggabri in central NSW. It has asked its supporters to donate cash to pay for communication, tools and transport for protesters to blockade mine construction.
Geography teacher Greg Rolles of Gembrook, Victoria, told the Supreme Court in an affidavit that he was not a member of FLAC, that his protest on November 21 last year was a personal action and not through urging by FLAC.
Rolles has been charged with trespass and obstructing a railway line, he has pleaded not guilty and faces Bowen Magistrates Court on May 16.
Ms Jones, who lives in Highgate Hill in Brisbane, denied she was a member of FLAC in her affidavit, but conceded she had made a press release which stated she was "from FLAC" and used the FLAC Facebook page to "promote" her protest "because its an effective way of getting the message across".
She told the court she shared the values of FLAC but was not a member and was acting on her own accord when she protested on November 20.
Speaking outside court, Ms Jones claimed this was the biggest anti-environmentalist case in 15 years, since Tasmanian paper maker Gunns sued 20 activists in 2004 over the Tamar Valley pulp mill.
Gunns spent $2.8 million on the case, before being pulled.
FLAC has told the court it intends to defend the lawsuit. No final hearing date has been set.