ACT News

Canberra University professor arrested at coal mine protest

A Canberra University professor has become the second Canberra academic to be arrested protesting against expansion of coal mining in Australia.

The first, ANU Professor Frank Briggs, along with Wallaby David Pocock, will join a contingent of about 30 Canberrans this weekend heading to the Leard blockade protest against the controversial Maules Creek coal mine at the Gunnedah Basin.

Civil disobedience: Professor Colin Butler was arrested at the Gunnedah coal-processing plant on Wednesday.
Civil disobedience: Professor Colin Butler was arrested at the Gunnedah coal-processing plant on Wednesday. Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Tan

The group will protest the impact the mine under construction will have on endangered species, Aboriginal sites, water supplies and community health.

The UC professor of health Colin Butler was arrested after chaining himself to a coal-processing plant at Gunnedah on Wednesday.

United stand: Protesters at the Gunnedah coal-processing plant on Wednesday.
United stand: Protesters at the Gunnedah coal-processing plant on Wednesday. Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Tan

Professor Butler joined 20 anti-coal activists and pastors protesting against the plant, which serves a number of coal mines in the area, including Whitehaven Coal's open-cut mine near Tamworth.

The Maules Creek mine is the largest coal mine under construction in Australia. The project, started in January and 68 per cent complete in September, is expected to be completed early next year.

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Gunnedah police said Professor Butler, who was chained to the front gate of the mine, was arrested for interfering with an operation of a mine and trespassing on private property.

He is thought to be the first contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to have engaged in civil disobedience.

"I went there to get arrested as a protest to the coal exports by Australia. I've just reached the point of utter frustration and I think we need civil disobedience about climate change," Professor Butler said.

Australia was heading in the wrong direction over climate change action, he said.

"It's getting worse. The evidence for climate change is getting stronger and yet instead of moving away from coal exports [Australia] is just advocating it. It's the moral equivalent of selling heroin and saying, 'It's not my fault I'm selling heroin, it's the people who use it'. We profit from selling something we know poisons the future."

The Whitehaven Coal share price has dropped from $2.03 in late August to $1.30 on Thursday.

Professor Butler likened the coal industry to the tobacco industry in its death throws.

"They're selling a substance we know is toxic, they're making an awful lot of money out of it, they're employing PR companies to obscure their message and they got the Prime Minister of our country to say 'coal is good for humanity', which is an idiotic statement, because it depends on the dose. Too much of it will poison us."

Professor Butler was released on bail and returned to Canberra on Thursday. He will face Gunnedah Local Court on January 6.