In a week of post-election finger pointing, Bob Brown’s anti-Adani convoy has taken a lot of flack for Labor’s titanic loss in Queensland.
The LNP’s Michelle Landry, while noting the main driver was a primary vote swing from Labor to One Nation, thanked Brown personally on Sunday after receiving a massive 11.3% swing in her seat of Capriconia. Both commentators and union sources have alleged the convoy backfired, further alienating locals against the Stop Adani movement rather than convincing anyone of the mine’s alarming potential as a “carbon bomb”.
But how did the convoy play out on the ground and in relation to Labor’s broader messaging? Did the convoy really turn any moderate voters off the anti-Adani cause, and could a protest movement be expected to deliver anything other than protest?
On the road to Clermont
Along with an electric car and a group of protesters, Brown left Hobart just before Easter for a series of east coast rallies peaking at Clermont, the town closest to the proposed mine site on April 28. They then headed back to a star-studded Canberra rally with singer Paul Kelly and author Richard Flannagan.
Despite a one-sided campaign from The Courier-Mail smearing “Bob’s mob of revolting protesters”, there were no reports of anti-Adani protesters engaging aggressively or illegally. The only incident occurred at a Karmoo Dreaming celebration, organised by the Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council in support of the Bob Brown Foundation, where a counter-protester disrupting the event rode his horse into a woman.
Unsurprisingly, Brown himself considers the campaign a success and rejects accusations that enough was not done to communicate alternative employment opportunities.
“When we look at the reception we got in Queensland, there were 5,000 people in the rally in Brisbane, which along with our rally in Canberra were the two biggest turnounts in the whole of the election campaign,” Brown says. “And where you see leadership taken on climate change by the Greens, or Zali Steggall, or [Helen] Haines in Indi, the vote went up. Where there was indecision and internal ructions, like the CFMEU attacking its own party in central Queensland, the vote went away from Labor.”
That apparent lack of engagement — which did not translate to any change in the Greens’ vote in Capricornia — has been the core complaint against the convoy (see Stan Grant sternly questioning Brown on The Drum). Union sources maintain that, whatever support at the rallies themselves, protestors did not do enough to talk with locals.
However Brown maintains his events attracted “farmers, engine drivers and people working in the mining industry”, and that the Greens’ policy for 50,000 clean energy jobs in Queensland was repeated to media throughout the campaign. The problem lay in that “the Murdoch media in Queensland was not interested in, and didn’t give due coverage to, climate change and the impact that comes with it”.
“We repeated all the time that renewables are the alternative and these will create thousands of jobs, but they’re not going to kill or threaten the 64,000 jobs on the Great Barrier Reef or the Murray Darling Basin. And every farm in the Murray Darling Basin is threatened by Adani.”
But one way or another the protests created a lightning rod for counter-protests, largely held at Clermont’s Grand Hotel Motel. These saw support from federal Industry Minister Matt Canavan, Pauline Hanson, Clive Palmer, Bob Katter and Adani Australia chief executive Lucas Dow.
Hotel owner Kel Appleton, a strident supporter of Adani and denier of climate science, made headlines for refusing service to anti-Adani protestors, and rejects claims Brown’s convoy did anything to engage with residents or discuss alternative projects. Appleton denies any direct links to Adani itself despite his Facebook page “Don’t Go Cold on Coal” publishing a high-quality video of the counter-protest, which thanked Adani for providing footage of the event.
“Bob Brown brought us the stage and the people of Clermont performed well,” Appleton says. “Labor and Greens had turned their back on the miners who had voted for them all their life and just come back and bit them so hard. We weren’t preferencing anyone, I know there’ll be stuff in the paper saying it was Labor bashing [but] it was Labor bashing because they didn’t come over and say ‘let’s go Adani’.”
Where to next?
Appleton denies Bronwn’s convoy did anything to engage with residents or discuss alternative projects. The pub owner is open to renewable projects, such as Labor’s floated hydrogen plant in Gladstone, and even possible hydro plants along the Queensland coast, but maintains coal mining in the region should go ahead.
“When asked what they’re going to do: ‘oh we’ll transition’. Well, transition into what? We haven’t got batteries, we have not got wind and we have not got solar. And we cannot build wind turbines without coal, we cannot build solar panels without coal, and we cannot put it together with batteries.”
Going forward, it might be difficult to find any “moderates” who were outright turned off by Brown’s campaign. As Brown says, a case could equally be made that Labor’s soft approach along with CFMEU Queensland’s public campaign against the party on the issue meant “a lot of Labor votes went across to One Nation and Clive Palmer, and that sent preferences back to the Liberals”.
This was despite Labor’s candidate for Capricornia Russell Robertson publicly supporting the mine and spruiking his credentials as a “proud third generation coal miner [fighting] for local workers against the Greens who want to take jobs away from our region…” (Labor’s primary vote suffered a 13.7% swing against it in Capriconia).
Brown maintains he will double-down on opposition to the mine, and notes that Morrison never mentioned the Adani mine during the campaign and therefore does not have a mandate on the issue.
Despite all this, the mere perception that the mine is crucial has scared Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk into rushing deadlines for approvals and, perhaps more positively for those still concerned by climate action and jobs, the prospect of a “Green New Deal” going into 2022.