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To mine or not to mine? Catholics divided over $16.5 billion Galilee Basin coalmine

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Mining division: “There’s a real division of wealth between country and urban areas.”

TO mine or not to mine? It’s a question capable of dividing Catholics as much as any other issue.

In Queensland, those who oppose the Adani proposal for a $16.5 billion Galilee Basin coalmine in central Queensland, point to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ (On Care for Our Common Home), and his views on fossil fuels and climate change.

However, there are Catholics who would like to see the massive Adani mine project go ahead, for the economic boost it would deliver to North Queensland.

Both arguments can find support within Laudato Si’.

Pope Francis wrote: We know that technology based on the use of highly-polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions.

“I think it would be a terrible shame if this development didn’t go ahead,” 80-year-old Vince Vandeleur, who recently retired as a lawyer in Innisfail and spent his life as a member of the town’s Our Lady of Good Counsel parish, said.

“I am just thinking about places like Townsville, Rockhampton and Mackay which have suffered pretty grievously as a result of a downturn in mining.”

The mine would mean much-needed jobs.

Weighed up against Mr Vandeleur’s view are the actions of other Queensland seniors determined to stop the mine by urging the Federal Government to rule out public funding, and for banks to do the same.

On June 8, 10 people were taken into custody but later released after they staged a sit-in inside a Brisbane Commonwealth Bank branch to call for the lender to rule out funding the Adani mine.

Supporters held signs reading “Commbank CAN save our reef” and “#StopAdani”.

“This is my great-grandchildren’s future, and this is my passion,” one well-dressed, elderly protester said as she was escorted into the back of a police paddy wagon.

Another protester faced the TV cameras: “Adani needs to be stopped. This is corrupt, what is happening – morally, financially, environmentally. This has to stop.”

But it’s not the whole picture.

In the midst of environmental protests against the Adani mine, bumper stickers are being circulated in Townsville that read: “Don’t take my coal job and I won’t take your soy latte.”

“That expresses my attitude to this whole matter,” Mr Vandeleur said. “There’s a real division of wealth between country and urban areas.

“I’m not a climate change denier, but when you weigh all the factors in this case it would be a great shame if it (the mine) didn’t go ahead.

“I am just weighing up against the good that’s needed to be done by this development, I just come down heavily on the side of the development.”

North Queensland jobs

Jobs concerns: There are those too in Townsville who support a multi-pronged strategy for jobs – supporting both the Adani mine and exploring clean energy production like wind, ocean and geothermal.

There are those too in Townsville who support a multi-pronged strategy for jobs – supporting both the Adani mine and exploring clean energy production like wind, ocean and geothermal.

On the national stage, Catholics are now amongst the leading voices of concern that climate crisis should be at the forefront of all conversations about the economy and jobs.

A recent letter calling on the Federal Government co-signed by National Council of Churches general secretary Good Samaritan Sister Elizabeth Delaney declared “the proposal to provide public money to fund mining infrastructure in the Galilee Basin to be morally wrong”.

“Not only is this bad economics, it ignores the concerns of farming and tourism industries precisely at a time when Australia ought to be leading the way in investment in renewable energy,” she said.

Townsville has three solar farms in the pipeline.

Some believe North Queensland should aim to become a hub for clean energy production, research and development, and in doing so, generate sustainable jobs.

Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission is another resolute voice opposing the project.

They said: “… At a time when there is mounting evidence of enormous environmental damage caused by climate change, it is reckless for governments to permit development of more fossil fuel projects, especially the Adani mine which would be one of the largest coal mines in the world.”

The indigenous voice is crucial and important in this debate.

The Wangan and Jagalingou people, the traditional owners of the Galilee Basin land are worried that the Carmichael mine could tear the heart out of the land – impacting native title, ancestral lands and waters, totemic plants and animals, and their environmental and cultural heritage.

Laudato Si’ offers this perspective on respecting indigenous rights: “It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed.”

Perhaps in the rush to win the mining argument – for or against – there is still room to step back and consider all views, concerns and rights.

As Pope Francis offers in Laudato Si’: “Pray for our earth”.

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