Newcastle is already the world’s largest exporter of coal and there are plans afoot to increase the export capacity by an additional 50%. Plans for a fourth coal terminal (known as T4) in Newcastle are highly controversial. Coal-affected communities have had enough. The health and social harms of coal mining, coal transport and exports are well known. Studies show that people living in coal-affected communities are more likely to suffer heart, lung and kidney cancer, respiratory and cardiovascular disease and birth defects. There is a direct link between long-term exposure to dust pollution and a range of respiratory ailments and hospital admission and emergency department attendance. Government and industry standards and regulations have failed to protect the community from these harms.
I’m currently working with an alliance of over twenty residents and environmental groups to prevent or delay the approval of T4. T4 is problematic for different groups for different reasons. Generally speaking, for the Hunter Bird Observers the destruction of crucial habit is top while for Climate Action Newcastle, the proposal’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is what motivates them. For others, it’s a combination of impacts: locally, regionally and globally.
One of the challenges of working as part of a large alliance with diverse interests is finding the common ground that enables effective campaigning. For our alliance, the Coal Terminal Action Group (CTAG), this means working on some things together and other things as individual groups. At times this has caused some tension. Since attending the first workshop of the Fellowship program I’ve been thinking about the groups in the alliance differently. I’m starting to see the way that by coming together with a common goal, and building upon each group’s strengths and passions that our reach and impact potential exponentially increases.
I’m now seeing opportunities where before I saw challenges. I’m starting to think about alliance members who have taken on leadership roles and the various ways they could be supported. In the workshop, the metaphor of the snowflake was shared to represent an expanding organising model. For me, I’m seeing a tree. Our common goal to stop T4 is our trunk. All our groups are firmly connected to this objective. Each group is a branch on our tree and our supporters are our leaves. The branches move in different ways and have different needs. My job is to support them, to provide the scaffolding when needed.
The fellowship is helping me approach my work in new ways. I can see the structures that already exist and that if nurtured will become even stronger. I feel like my community organising is becoming more focused and effective. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to participate in professional development that I can take back and apply in my campaigns, with my communities.