News & Current Affairs
17 July 2014
Why Jonathan Moylan’s Whitehaven Hoax Was Great
Anti-coal activist Jonathan Moylan left court still in the dark about his fate, after his sentencing for breaching Section 1041E of the Corporations Act was adjourned.
The 26 year old trilingual translator from Newcastle first hit headlines in January 2013, after distributing a fake press release from ANZ bank confirming they would pull out of their $1.2 billion loan to the Maules Creek coal mine, owned by Whitehaven Coal. The prank aimed to highlight the environmental and economic problems of the project, and how our major banks are financing these destructive projects – and it was a great success.
The hoax caused panic among investors, temporarily wiping $314m off the value of Whitehaven Coal, although this recovered soon after. Needless to say, Whitehaven were not impressed.
Although unlikely that Moylan will serve jail time, the charges come with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison or fines of up to $765,000.
At the time of the stunt, Moylan had spent almost six months at the Leard State Forest blockade with Front Line Action on Coal (FLAC), during which time he became acutely aware of the devastating impacts of the mine both on the environment and the local farming community.
I’ve written previously about the environmental destruction of the Maules Creek coal mine – the unique woodland to be bulldozed, the threatened species, the indigenous heritage, the threat of groundwater contamination, the health impacts, and the outright misleading environmental offsets proposed by Whitehaven.
Despite this, Whitehaven chairman Mark Vaile had the gall to label Moylan ‘Un-Australian’.
‘It’s quite un-Australian that an individual can conduct a fraudulent act like this. There were many investors… that lost significant amounts of money during that period.”
Deeply sorry for those investors who lost retirement savings, Moylan submitted a written apology to them, despite the losses being hugely overstated by Whitehaven (it was reported by Fairfax that shareholders lost no more than $450,360 between them). He maintains that his intention was merely to support the Maules Creek community by raising awareness of this damaging open-cut mine.
But Mark Vaile doesn’t seem too concerned with the livelihoods Whitehaven will destroy in Maules Creek. He even reckons that the project has, “a very broad level of support in the community.”
Local farmer Rick Laird would not agree. One of many who turned up to support Moylan, his family has farmed in the district for more than 150 years – the Leard Forest was named after them. He said,
“We’ve been fighting this mine for years and the stand that Jono took means that people now know what’s happening at Maules Creek.”
Jonathan Moylan’s press release put the Maules Creek mine in the headlines, and shone light on the hidden relationships between the fossil fuel industry and banks.
Since the hoax, we’ve seen environmental campaigns use this increased public awareness and interest with great success. Most visible has been the Great Barrier Reef campaign, with pressure from environmental groups leading to bank after bank withdrawing their funding for the expansion at Abbot Point. We’ve also seen the huge growth of the Australian divestment movement, with mounting pressure on the big four banks and superfunds to ditch fossil fuel investments.
The Whitehaven hoax has exposed the inherent flaws in Australia’s regulatory system, which allow huge corporations to get away with environmentally destructive and unethical practices, while attempting to punish those who expose them.
#StandWithJono Campaign coordinator Nicola Paris said the legislation under which Moylan is charged “was never intended to pursue people acting in good conscience.”
“The move to take this matter to the Supreme Court is yet another overreach in this relentless pursuit of a young man acting on principle. This lies in stark contrast with the failure of ASIC to prosecute serious corporate crime whilst people found guilty of insider trading such as John Gay, get a slap on the wrist.”
Communities have been powerless in the face of the resources industry for too long. As Moylan himself shockingly points out, “You don’t have the right to be notified if a mining company is applying for a coalmining lease over your property”. Is that ‘Australian’?