ANTI-COAL groups led by Greenpeace are calling for the biggest environmental campaign in Australian history in a bid to disrupt and delay the expansion of the industry.
As a delegation from UNESCO's World Heritage Committee arrived in Australia to investigate the impact of the gas and coal boom on the Great Barrier Reef, a leaked document outlined plans for a co-ordinated campaign of legal challenges and community activism to limit mining expansion.
Titled ''Stopping the Australian Coal Export Boom'', the detailed plan says the rapid expansion of the industry - particularly the proposed development of ''mega-mines'' in central Queensland's Galilee Basin, expected to yield 240 million tonnes of coal a year - would have devastating consequences for the global climate. It calls for nearly $6 million a year to fund the campaign. The leaking of the plan to selected business reporters sparked a political backlash led by Treasurer Wayne Swan and prompted mining industry leaders to warn that anti-coal groups were planning economic vandalism.
Greenpeace senior campaigner John Hepburn, a co-author of the draft plan, said he was surprised by the ferocity of the criticism. ''I think they are worried about their declining social licence. We think the threat to the global climate and the impacts on the ground of the coal industry is such a profound issue that it is going to need the biggest environmental campaign Australia has ever seen, by a long way,'' he said. ''We think it needs to be bigger than the campaign against the Franklin Dam, bigger than the campaign against the Jabiluka uranium mine … We are only just starting down that track.''
The plan was developed by Greenpeace and US group CoalSwarm. Mr Hepburn said Wotif founder and Greens backer Graeme Wood, who is named in the document, had not committed to supporting it. Mr Hepburn said money raised would be spent funding community groups to scrutinise proposals and on legal challenges.
Mr Swan branded the campaign ''completely irrational and destructive'' and ''deeply irresponsible''. ''I find it pretty disturbing because the coal industry is a very important industry in Australia. I'm a very big supporter of the coal industry,'' he told 5AA radio.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard was more cautious, saying that the coal industry had ''a great future''.
Australian Coal Association chief executive Nikki Williams accused green groups of a systematic and targeted campaign against the national interest. She said the coal industry was worth more than $43 billion.
''If this strategy were to succeed, it would inflict significant collateral damage on the national economy, on the economies of Queensland and NSW and on the many industries and businesses that support the coal industry,'' she said.
Drew Hutton, president of the Lock the Gate Alliance against coal seam gas extraction on farmland, said it was ''completely unsurprising'' that environment groups wanted to fight coal mining.
Peter Freyberg,chief executive of Xstrata Coal, said ''destroying one country's coal industry is not an appropriate response to concerns about the climate change impact of coal''.