Resistance at the Coal Face: Direct Action on Coal in Queensland

Over the last year, there has been a massive groundswell in the number of people prepared to take direct action against the coal industry in Queensland. Here we chronicle the short but eventful history of ordinary citizens taking action and standing up to the coal industry.

Six Degrees supports the use of non-violent direct action as one element of a suite of strategies for bringing about social change. We recognise that citizens taking direct action have played an important and legitimate role in social and environmental movements throughout history - and that its use is essential to bring about the transition we wish to see. We are not alone in this. As this report from Lateline in February shows, the willingness of communities right across Australia to take action against the coal industry is growing expotentially.

Some examples of such actions in Queensland in the last 12 months include: 

June 16, 2008: Protesters upstage major coal conference

Protesters rallied outside while two campaigners infiltrated a major coal conference in Brisbane, calling for more Queensland Government support for renewable energy. Once inside, the the two activists took the floor and addressed the Queensland Coal08 conference, which was held to discuss the future of the coal mining industry in the largest coal exporting state in the largest coal exporting country in the world. No arrests were made.

July 11-12, 2008: Greenpeace activists occupy coal- fired power plant smokestack for 33 hours

On July 11, 2008, four Greenpeace activists climbed the 462 foot high smokestack of the coal-fired Swanbank B power station near Brisbane, in Queensland, Australia. While the smokestack climbers hung a ‘Renewables Not Coal’ banner, two other activists climbed onto the roof of the plant and unfurled a banner reading ‘Energy [R]evolution’. The four remained on the smokestack overnight in near freezing temperatures.

On July 12, one of the protesters painted ‘Go Solar’ in huge lettering down the side of the smokestack. After 33 hours of occupation, all four climbers descended voluntarily. The goal of the action was to raise the level of debate in Queensland and the rest of Australia, reemphasize the urgency of the climate change issue and the need to start shifting from coal to renewables.

July 13-14, 2008: Climate Camp stops coal trains at worlds’ largest coal exporting port

On July 13, 2008 a large contingent of Queenslanders joined with approximately 1000 activists in stopping three trains bound for export at the Carrington Coal Terminal for almost six hours. Dozens of protesters were able to board and chain themselves to the trains while others lay across the tracks. Hundreds were held back by mounted police. Police arrested 57.

On July 14, 2008, five activists stopped coal loading at the Kooragang coal export terminal for more than two hours by chaining themselves to a conveyor belt. Later that afternoon four protesters padlocked themselves to the tracks at the Carrington terminal, stopping all train traffic until police were able cut the group free. All nine were arrested.

The direct actions, organized as part of the Australian Camp for Climate Action, were an attempt to bring worldwide attention to coal’s role in climate change and the expansion of Australian coal exports.

July 28, 2008: Greenpeace paints anti-coal messages on 20 coal ships

Using inflatable rafts, nine Greenpeace activists painted anti-coal messages on 20 coal ships waiting to enter the world largest coal export port in Queensland, Australia. The action intended to highlight the contradiction between the Australian prime minister’s stated intention of urgently reducing greenhouse pollution while doubling Australia’s coal exports. All nine activists were arrested.

September 22, 2008: Prime Minister’s office occupied

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Brisbane electorate office was occupied by his local constituents, who staged a peaceful sit-in for several hours, demanding a discussion on the government’s lack of response to the phase out of the coal industry. The action was the first in a week of national climate emergency protest events, which targeted Queensland government and coal mining corporations.

October 31, 2008: Farmers occupy Qld Premier’s office to save Darling Downs from coal mining

The Friends of Felton group occupied the Premier’s office to demand the Government introduce legislation to protect prime farmland from mining. The peaceful protest involved around 25 people. The group set up a mock lunch table on the pavement outside the office, with a plate of coal for the Premier’s lunch, and a glass of polluted water.

November 7, 2008: Activists shut down Tarong Power Station

On November 7, 2008, two activists locked onto a conveyor belt and forced the evacuation of Queensland’s Tarong Power Station, which produces around 1400MW of the State’s energy. Station operator Tarong Power produces up to 25 percent of Queensland’s electricity from three coal fired power stations, uses up to 7 million tons a coal a year from the company’s nearby coal mine. This action was the fourth action in just seven days targeting the coal industry in Australia and calling for the phase out of coal-fired power.

The action also served to highlight the risk to Queensland’s world heritage icon, the Great Barrier Reef, posed by climate change. Three people were arrested.

March 6, 2009: Guerilla Gardeners Turn Parliament House to a Veggie Patch

A team of guerilla gardeners from Six Degrees turned the lawns of Parliament House into a veggie patch in the lead-up to the state election highlighting plans to turn productive farmlands into coal mines. The protestors planted cabbage, lettuce and rosemary in protest of the failure of the state government to protect food security from the encroachment of the mining industry. Two mining projects highlighted by the action at Haystack Plains and Kunioon are slated to provide coal to Government-owned Tarong Energy.

For more details on direct action against the coal industry in Australia, check out Coal Swarm at