“It’s not good for residents, it’s not good for business and it’s not good for our city”

16 March 2018

Residents of Port Augusta, South Australia don’t always have the basic human right of being able to breathe clean air. Instead, all too often they’re forced inside as choking coal dust blankets their town.

7am in central Adelaide, Tuesday 14th March. Golden rays of light break over the city as we gather on the dewy grass of Queen Victoria Park, dust masks in hand. I breathe deeply in the clean morning air, feeling glad that I can.

I’m with Greenpeace crew and residents of Port Augusta, South Australia. Those residents don’t always have the basic human right of being able to breathe clean air. Instead, all too often they’re forced inside as choking coal dust blankets their town. It really gets up their nose, making them cough, sneeze and itch – and it’s especially dangerous for people with asthma and other breathing problems.

The dust is giving Port Augusta a bad rap, too. In the words of Alan, a Port Augusta resident and business owner, “it’s not good for residents, it’s not good for business and it’s not good for our city.”

Alan, Port Augusta resident and business owner

For over 60 years, Port Augusta had a coal-fired power station operating next to their town. For much of that time, the station was state-owned, before being sold off to Alinta. The community there has lived with the health effects of coal for decades. When the power plant closed down in 2016, they thought they’d see an end to the sickening coal dust. In a classic story of corporations shirking their responsibility to the communities they operate in, Alinta carved off a smaller business – Flinders Power – so they wouldn’t have to bear the full brunt (and cost) of cleaning up the power plant site after it closed.[1]

Flinders Power have a remediation plan for the site, but it’s failed the people of Port Augusta on so many occasions. The covering meant to control the dust has been washed away, the seedlings that were supposed to grow on top of the old ash dam have died off. There’s been a litany of stop-gap solutions.

South Australia’s government need to hold Flinders Power accountable to clean up their mess. That’s why we’ve been pushing for a commitment to do just that from all of the party leaders coming into the SA election – and most of them have. Weirdly, South Australia’s clean energy champion, Labor Premier Jay Weatherill, is the only one who has yet to make that promise.

That’s how we found ourselves in Adelaide, outside Weatherill’s office, dust masks in hand and ladders on stand-by. Port Augusta’s a long way from Adelaide, so just in case Weatherill missed it, we’re bringing Port Augusta’s dust issue right to his doorstep.

We went the whole hog with this action, dust-masking statues all around central Adelaide. These guys know that cleaning up after coal is a pig issue.

Our all-female team pulled off the dust-masking with aplomb, and we were stoked to have the support of Queen Victoria’s statue herself. She looks across at Weatherill’s office, so there’s no chance they could have missed Vic and her message.

We also had Captain Charles Sturt standing up for clean air:

Explorer John McDougall Stuart was out searching for who to hold accountable to clean up Flinders Power’s mess in Port Augusta.

And maybe the best part… in the middle of all of this, Jay Weatherill’s campaign bus rolled past us – further confirming that there was no way he could miss this action!

In fact, with over 11,000 people signing our petition to see the Flinders Power site and the nearby Bird Lake properly remediated, dozens of people calling Weatherill and over 220 people tweeting him yesterday, we don’t see how he can keep sweeping this issue under the rug.

This issue isn’t done and dusted. With just one day until the South Australian election, it’s time for a last push to get Weatherill to stand up for clean air. Do you have five minutes today? Help out the crew by calling or tweet Weatherill now!

 

REFERENCES:

[1] Done and Dusted? Cleaning Up Coal Ash in Port Augusta report, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, 2018