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.

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8 responses

14 11 2013
Ben Pennings

Correction: it is only the first 2 mines that will annually emit 6 times more carbon pollution that of the UK. There is 7 more mines to come after that! Fucking insane.

14 11 2013
mikestasse

Thanks Ben, I fixed it!

14 11 2013
David (Perth)

Wow! Mike,
I’m actually very impressed with the very fact that you had the guts to get up there and ask questions in the first place. Nicely done and I hope we see more of it.
When I see the disorganisation in the Labor party, the ineffectiveness of the Greens and the gall ‘The Abbott’ in trying to shove climate change off the agenda, I actually am beginning to think that a good dose of ‘peak oil’ would do shock the crap out of many right-wing nutcases in this country. Just a pity if that happened the harm it will do to everyone else.
I think what this country now needs is a ‘Franklin Dam’ type of activism on a scale the likes of which this country has never seen to shock people out of their greedy slumber. Issues like climate change and carbon pollution need activist groups to hit it like the proverbial bull-at-a-gate.

14 11 2013
Kari

Cheers for the insights – I wonder what will come of it all? Is anyone watching the share prices to see if any small changes occur?

I was also wondering what your thoughts are re: the likelihood that short-term share purchase might be legislated against in order to prevent this kind of action in future (could “they” do that?), and whether there might be something in the shareholder “fine print” (I seriously wouldn’t have a clue!) about not, er, committing acts of internal sabotage in a way that provides them a foundation for a legal attack on shareholder activists.

Anyways, good on yas all for taking part. I would have been there if I could have, and it seems you’ve done an awesome job 🙂

14 11 2013
The Overthinker

I found out about the share price 🙂

“But it seems that shareholders are beginning to take it into consideration… Aurizon’s share price fell 3.33% on the day of the AGM, the largest daily fall in at least a month.”

From Market Forces: http://www.marketforces.org.au/inside-the-aurizon-agm/

I wonder if it will fall further…. here’s hoping 🙂

14 11 2013
Brian Charlton

We do not need one more tonne of coal from the Galilee Basin, for sale to coal fired power stations in Australia or for export ! The time for coal is over, miners and Industry should realise this fact.

14 11 2013
Graham

Firstly well done to all involved.
Sadly, however, the way things are running it appears we are on a road that will far exceed the 2 degrees. Even allowing for increased take up of renewable energy, the International Energy Agency’s latest annual report on trends in energy markets says greenhouse gas emissions will rise by 20 per cent by 2035 and the world is on track for a temperature increase of 3.6 degrees, far above the UN target of 2.0 degrees.
The IEA expects world use of coal to rise by 17 per cent between now and 2035, and global demand for oil hit 101 million barrels per day in less than a quarter of a century with global oil production about to experience a huge power shift with the United States becoming the world’s leading producer of oil by 2015. So what chance will there be of the US signing any agreement to reduce use of fossil fuels any time soon?
I heard the CEO of AGIP (an Italian oil conglomerate) being interviewed on the BBC last night in which he boasted about their successes in finding enough ‘old’ oil in Africa that would extend the life of oil age until beyond the middle of this century. His response the questioner who stated that the majority of oil needed to remain in the ground was frightening. He believed renewable energy was not going to be economic for many years and the world will still run on fossil fuels until well after mid century, totally ignoring any warnings of temperature increases beyond 2 degrees.
The consequences of a four degree world, are not a world we would want to live in.
(Taken in part from a report by Martin Cuddihy on World Today ABC Radio 13/11)
So much for the need to retain 85% of fossil fuels in the ground to avoid catastrophic increases in global warming. We are on a super highway over a cliff with no way and nowhere to turnaround. Contrary to common belief, it is not the fossil fuel industry driving this but the overwhelming mass of the populace who are unwilling to let go of using the stuff and not prepared to adjust their lives and expectations accordingly.

7 04 2017
Matt

Looks like Aurizon have a green washing program in the form of small grants for various not for profit organisations including environmental groups. I’d suggest getting a bit of publicity around this and encouraging not for profits to publicly boycott this green washing PR program.

Turn this cynical exercise that Aurizon engages in into a bad news story rather than giving them false social licence to operate to operate in the coal industry which is cooking the planet!

http://www.aurizon.com.au/sustainability/community-engagement/community-giving-fund

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