No new coal on the Aurizon

14 11 2013

Yesterday, I got off my arse and did something I haven’t done in years.  In fact, I did something I had never done before, the climax in a whole series of firsts.  First, I bought some shares.  Now there’s something I never ever thought I’d participate in!  I view share trading today as unethical practice.  But you probably already knew that……  the reason for buying these shares was to allow me to attend the AGM of a company called Aurizon.  The Queensland government a couple of years ago sold the most profitable arm of its railways network to private enterprise.  Aurizon was born, and today it’s a ten billion dollar company that develops rail lines to service the mining industry.  They also now operate nation wide, all the way to Western Australia.  They are also planning to develop the Galilee Basin which, should it come to fruition, would be the source of greenhouse emissions six times that of the UK……  if the Galilee Basin was considered a nation in its own right, it could become the seventh largest CO2 emitter IN THE WORLD…!

Ben Pennings who was recently involved in a hunger strike with ex Senator Andrew Bartlett among others over this issue, originated a new group of activists called Over Our Dead Bodies.  OODB organised some ten of us, neatly dressed and attired for the occasion, to ask some very pointed and audacious questions of the board of fat cats.

I’ve attended loads of AGMs in my life, but normally only of community groups, never a corporate one.  Nothing

Gathering for the event

Gathering for the event

that occurred there should have surprised me, but it was nonetheless an eye opening event.  It was interesting skimming through the Annual Report, because I was sitting next to my friend Sarah who, like me, was a professional photographer in a previous life; and we both used to shoot for these reports, and we both agreed that the quality of the photography was, well…..  mweh.  Full of motherhood statements and platitudes, the report even has three pages on sustainability which…….  had absolutely nothing to do with sustainability!  But who’s surprised, after all you would expect any company prepared to develop the world’s biggest coal mine to know the meaning of the word.

John Prescott

John Prescott

The whole event was so boring and bland (until we got involved!) that had the chairs been more comfortable, I could have easily fallen asleep.  It’s hilarious how various Murdoch media interpret our action as “Shareholder activists storm Aurizon AGM“, because nothing that interesting happened, believe me….  The chairman, John Prescott, addressed the meeting in such a droning monotonous voice, I wonder if anyone listened to anything he said.  Maybe he too was bored…..  And all those verbal motherhood statements and platitudes (was he reading the annual report?), all that spin, was all too much…..  Much was said about their admittedly excellent safety record, but the safety of the Earth’s climate did not get a look-in… but eventually, our turn came to bring the room to life!

Ben kicked off by highlighting an open letter to Aurizon chief executive Lance Hockridge.

“There is no way to build a rail line to open up the Galilee Basin in a ‘sustainable’ manner,” the open letter from environmental groups had written reported the media….  “There is no way to build a new thermal coal export port in the Greet Barrier Reef world heritage area in a ‘sustainable’ manner.”

Lance Hockridge

Lance Hockridge

They had a problem with that?  This letter was sent to Hockridge in June; he claimed he’d never seen it.  What sort of operation is this, that ignores (or pretends to ignore) letters that threaten the very existence of their company?  Or maybe, loses it?  It was pointed out to the board and all shareholders present that potentially millions of eco warriors from all over the world could decide to get involved in whatever means it takes to stop this Galilee project from happening.

Question after question was asked of the chairman (who was obviously the only person appointed by the board to address shareholders’ queries…) about the impact on ‘our shares’ were they to go ahead with their proposed two billion dollar investment if none of it produced the desired financial gains.

After someone else pointed out that coal demand was projected to fall, the opposite of what their Annual Report predicts, Prescott announced that in the future 30% of energy generation would still be from Coal.  I was gobsmacked.  I mean, that’s a great outcome for the planet, but how could he sit there and make shareholders believe this was a good outcome for their share price?  But it gets better……  because as they all were starting to get very shirty about questions on the Galilee, I decided to go off-script and tackle Prescott over his interpretation of future energy generation.  I asked him, how did he think that a drop in coal fired generation from 90% to 30% would be good for shareholders’ investments….. to my amazement, he questioned the fact that 90% of current power generation is from coal……  What planet does he live on?  It was interesting to see a couple of ‘plants’ were brought in for support, asking obvious dorothy dixers for comic relief.

Another one of us asked, “Is there a cost (to Aurizon) when a train is stopped?” “How would they protect hundreds of kilometres of, well, unprotected railway far from anywhere?”  In each case, Mr Prescott said he would not discuss anything related to security.

In response, another shareholder said she was “appalled” by activist questions that seemed to condone putting the safety of Aurizon staff at risk (nothing of the sort was ever stated…).  She also claimed that she represented typical country Queenslanders, and that they had no problems living near coal mines.  This woman obviously had not seen the Lock the Gate film I saw on Friday last that showed traumatised Australians bearing all sorts of dreadful illnesses and who could not even move away because now their properties were worthless.  In this film, the call was “who would live next to one”, not “everyone loves them”…..

About 50 protesters also gathered outside the meeting in Brisbane, including some dressed as corporate beggars.aurizonprotest

The Murdoch press reported:

“Protesters were dressed as corporate beggars because GVK is basically begging Aurizon for money to get their coalmine off the ground,” Greenpeace spokeswoman Louise Matthiesson said.   “We are asking Aurizon to not take part in opening up the Galilee Basin as these mines will emit as much carbon as some small countries.”

In fact, just the first two mines in the Galilee Basin has the potential to emit six times as much CO2 as the UK……  and I’d hardly call the UK “a small country”.

Hearteningly, the Aurizon board continuously assured us that nothing had yet been determined with regard to the Galilee Basin.  Were they telling us the truth?  I for one hope so, because if they leave it long enough, then GFC MkII will make sure none of it is built, and if they do start, all the shareholders will lose their money.  They can’t say they weren’t warned.