Protest armada’s overnight vigil keeps Newcastle coal port shut down

Kayaks, dinghies and sailboats blockaded Newcastle's port.

Kayaks, dinghies and sailboats blockaded Newcastle's port. Photo: AAP

Protesters have spent Saturday night blockading the world’s largest coal port over what they say is the failure of government to act on climate change.

Several hundred protesters blocked Newcastle Port’s shipping lane on Saturday, remaining overnight and into Sunday with the action due to end at 4pm.

The group behind the protest, Rising Tide, claims over half a million tonnes of coal would be prevented from leaving the port for the duration of the action.

A flotilla of kayaks, dinghies and sailboats blockaded the busy port, calling on the federal government to stop new fossil fuel projects.

Protesters are demanding the government stop allowing new coal projects, tax fossil fuel export profits at 75 per cent to fund community and industrial transition, and pay for climate loss and damage.

Rising Tide community organiser and spokesperson Zack Schofield said safety was paramount as the protesters spent the night on the water, rostered in two-hour shifts.

He said police had granted permission for the protest to take place following several months of negotiations with organisers.

Greens Leader Adam Bandt, who kayaked out with protesters on Saturday, called those taking part heroes.

“They’re fighting to stop more floods and bushfires in this country,”  Bandt said.

“People here know that we’re nearing a climate tipping point, and that coal and gas are fuelling the climate crisis.”

But NSW Minerals Council CEO Stephen Galilee denounced the protesters as “extremists”.

He said stopping NSW coal exports would have a major impact on the NSW economy, with exports providing jobs for over 25,000 people in the state and indirectly supporting tens of thousands more.

“Coal is NSW’s most valuable export by far, and worth more than $70 billion nationally.”

Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen decried the Greens’ action and pointed to his government’s new investments in batteries for wind and solar farms.

“While the Greens are protesting, we are progressing jobs growth and emissions reductions by developing offshore wind,” he told AAP on Friday.

Safety concerns halt ships

Newcastle Port contributes to roughly two per cent of the world’s global coal supply and its exports generate billions in royalties for the state government.

A spokesperson for the Port said due to safety concerns shipping had been halted.

“At present, due to the number of people currently in the shipping channel, all shipping movements have ceased due to safety concerns, irrespective of the cargo they are carrying or intend to load,” they said.

Galilee said the disruption would not change global coal demand or supply but would have a major impact on the NSW economy.

Bandt said governments and corporations cared more about money than the safety of Australian communities.

“People are fed up because Labor is not listening and now people are making their voices heard,” he said.

During the 2022 election, Labor positioned itself as the more environmentally friendly of the two major parties, committing to net-zero emissions by 2050.

To achieve this, the nation needs to reduce its greenhouse gas output by 43 per cent within the next decade.

More mines awaiting approval

But since entering office, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek has approved four new coal projects that would produce an estimated 147 million tonnes of emissions across their lifetimes, according to the Australia Institute.

Another 25 coal mines are also waiting on federal government approval, which would bring the total potential emissions up to 12.8 billion tonnes.

Retired public health professor Peter Sainsbury said immediate action was needed to save the world.

“Climate change far exceeds any public health threat that I have seen in my 40 years as a public health doctor,” he said.

The blockade is the latest in a string of climate protests ahead of the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which opens in Dubai on Thursday.

Bowen and assistant minister Jenny McAllister will attend the conference.


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