Port of Newcastle and Break Free 2016 blockade, Australia

Break Free 2016 blockade of world's largest coal export port in Newcastle, Australia, stops ships for a day and highlights impacts of global warming, particularly sea level rise on Pacific Island Nations.

New South Wales is one of the world’s major coal exporters and the port of Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port. The port was privatised through a 98-year lease for $1.75 billion from the NSW government to Port of Newcastle Investments, comprising Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants Group (NSW Government, Treasury Department). Anti-coal campaigners in Australia contest its primary use as the world biggest coal export hub. On 8 May 2016, anti-coal activists gathered at the port and Sandgate Bridge railway line as part of the global “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” actions, #BreakFree16. 1,500 activists gathered in Newcastle and hundreds kayaked into the shipping channel to block coal ships from entering and leaving the harbour; while around 70 protesters at Sandgate Bridge blocked a coal train in a day of civil disobedience (Davidson 2016). In addition to the blockade, protesters climbed vessels and infrastructure, abseiled and hung banners calling for politicians to “Make Coal History”. It was reported that 66 people were arrested including 57 people at Sandgate (Code and Marchese 2016) and the events of the day have been recorded on the Break Free Australia website: https://australia.breakfree2016.org/. The purpose of #Breakfree16 was to call for action on climate change globally, to break free from reliance on fossil fuels and rapidly transition to renewable energy. The messages expressed by activists during #BreakFree16 in Newcastle included the need to: wind back coal use, stop new coal mines, reinforce that coal mining is a local as well as global issue through the contribution of coal production and consumption to global warming, highlight the threat of rising sea levels on nations in the Pacific islands, support cultural survival, protect the environment for future generations, contest vested interests and power associated with the coal industry, and move the debate from the dichotomy of jobs verses environment. The actions were supported by numerous groups and individuals including Break Free Australia, Greenpeace, 350.org, The Pacific Climate Warriors, Climate Angels, and The Greens political party. Pacific Island Nations have expressed frustration at Australia’s lack of commitment to mitigating climate change and the plight of their islands that are already affected by rising sea levels and extreme weather events. As a result Pacific Island Nations were central to the protest and five wooden canoes from Tonga, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Fiji and the Solomon Islands were part of the blockade (Connell 2016). The day and location were both significant. The day marked the commencement of the 2016 Federal election campaign where the Liberal government was fighting for re-election, and successfully elected in July, regardless of their pro-coal agenda. The Greens leader Richard Di Natale attended the protest and noted that Bill Shorten, the leader of the Labor Party, was “out at a mine kicking off this election campaign” (Connell, Carr, Kirkwood 2016). The Port of Newcastle is the largest coal export port in the world. The export coal industry generates $54.6 billion in Australia and directly employs around 28,000 people (Franks et al 2010) and $13.2 billion in New South Wales (NSW Government 2016). It is also the site of the first export of any product in Australia, which was coal in 1799, only 11 years after “settlement” (New South Wales Minerals Council 2013). This provides an indication of the long term and significant entrenchment of coal in Australia’s infrastructure and economy.    
Basic Data
NamePort of Newcastle and Break Free 2016 blockade, Australia
ProvinceNew South Wales
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Fossil Fuels and Climate Justice/Energy
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Coal extraction and processing
Ports and airport projects
Specific CommoditiesCoal
Project Details and Actors
Project Details
New South Wales is one of the world’s major coal exporters and the port of Newcastle is the world’s largest coal export port. The port was privatised through a 98-year lease for $1.75 billion from the NSW government to Port of Newcastle Investments, comprising Hastings Funds Management and China Merchants Group (NSW Government, Treasury Department)
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Project Area (in hectares)792 hectares
Type of PopulationUrban
Start Date08/05/2016
End Date08/05/2016
Company Names or State EnterprisesPort of Newcastle from Australia - Owner of the Port of Newcastle where the Break Free 2016 protest and blockade was held
Relevant government actorsNew South Wales Government Department of Industry, Resources and Energy
Environmental justice organisations and other supporters- Breakfree 2016, https://breakfree2016.org/

- Greenpeace, http://www.greenpeace.org/australia/en/

- 350.org

- First Nations peoples

- Climate Angels, https://climacts.org.au/tag/climate-angels/

- The Greens political party, http://greens.org.au/

- Climate Action Network, http://www.climatenetwork.org/

- Friends of the Earth, http://www.foei.org/
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Occupation of buildings/public spaces
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Other Health impacts
OtherAustralia is already experiencing the impacts of global warming through extreme weather events, particularly heatwaves, and the frequency and intensity of wildfire, both of which have caused deaths. "Other Health impacts" has been selected as the continuation of coal exports exacerbates the potential for these events.
Socio-economic ImpactsPotential: Other socio-economic impacts
OtherThe entrenchment of the coal industry in the Australian economy, which perpetuates the industry at the expense of a transition to renewable energy and continues contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore global warming and climate change.
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCoal exports are carrying on uninterrupted.
Development of AlternativesEnvironmental organisations advocate for a rapid transition to renewable energy, the winding back of coal mine, and the cessation of any new coal mines.
Do you consider this as a success?Not Sure
Why? Explain briefly.The action was successful at raising awareness of the impacts of coal, including on Pacific Island Nations, and it successfully stopped shipping of coal for the day. The timing was important given that it was the commencement of the 2016 Federal election campaign. However, the struggle to transition from coal will be a long one in Australia, as evidenced by the re-election of the Liberal Party, which is committed to coal and is hampering the transition to renewable energy.
Sources and Materials

Franks, D. M., Brereton, D., and Moran, C. J., (2010), “Managing the cumulative impacts of coal mining on regional communities and environments in Australia”, Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal, 28:4, 299-312


Break Free Australia, (2016), Break Free Australia website, [online], https://australia.breakfree2016.org/, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Code, B., and Marchese, D., (2016), “Protesters descend on Newcastle as flotilla attempts to stop coal exports”, [online], ABC News website, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05-08/newcastle-anti-coal-break-free-flotilla-protest/7394154, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Connell, T., (2016), “Island canoes in Newcastle climate protest”, [online], Newcastle Herald website, http://www.theherald.com.au/story/3890505/paddling-against-coal-tide-video-poll/?cs=305, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Connell, T., Carr, M., and Kirkwood, I., (2016), “Newcastle harbour coal blockade: live updates | photos, video”, [online], Newcastle Herald website, http://www.theherald.com.au/story/3894106/newcastle-harbour-coal-blockade/, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Davidson, H., (2016), “Dozens arrested as anti-fossil fuel protesters join Australian coal blockade”, [online], The Guardian website, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/08/hundreds-of-anti-fossil-fuel-protesters-join-australian-coal-blockade, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales Government, (2016), “Coal in NSW”, [online], Department of Industry, Resources and Energy website, http://www.resourcesandenergy.nsw.gov.au/investors/investment-opportunities/coal/coal, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales Minerals Council, (2013), “NSW mining history”, [online], New South Wales Minerals Council NSW Mining website, http://www.nswmining.com.au/industry/nsw-mining-history, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Port of Newcastle (a), (2014), “About the Port”, [online], Port of Newcastle website, http://www.portofnewcastle.com.au/Company-Information/About-the-Port.aspx, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

Port of Newcastle (b), (2014), “Company Information”, [online], Port of Newcastle website, http://www.portofnewcastle.com.au/Company-Information/, [accessed 23 October 2016]
[click to view]

New South Wales Government, Treasury Department, "Long-term Lease of the Port of Newcastle. Frequently Asked Questions", http://www.treasury.nsw.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/123659/FAQs_-_Long-term_Lease_of_the_Port_of_Newcastle.pdf
[click to view]

Media Links

Video: May 8 - Newcastle Break Free from Fossil Fuels Blockade. https://australia.breakfree2016.org/
[click to view]

Other Documents

Hundreds of people gathered at Nobby's Beach as part of the 'Break Free' event. Supplied: Sally Newell Newcastle anti-coal protests
Hundreds of people gathered at Nobby's Beach as part of the 'Break Free' event. Supplied: Sally Newell
[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorAustralian Environmental Justice Project, Lisa de Kleyn, PhD Candidate, RMIT University, [email protected], https://www.foe.org.au/australian-environmental-justice-project
Last update25/10/2016