On 7 January Jonathan Moylan, an Australian pro-life (or ‘anti-coal’) campaigner, published a hoax press release purporting to originate from ANZ bank. The hoax press release stated that ANZ had “withdrawn its $1.2 billion loan facility to Whitehaven Coal, which was primarily intended to develop the Maules Creek Coal Project.” The media and the markets took the bait. Media articles were rushed out the door and Whitehaven Coal’s share price decreased by 8.8% in the subsequent hours, before recovering when the hoax was revealed.
Jonathan Moylan’s ANZ hoax was illegal under the Corporations Act and he may have hell to pay – ironically, legislation designed to combat avaricious white-collar crime may be wielded by the white-collared against an altruistic green-collar criminal. With such persecution impending, how should other climate activists, and the climate movement, respond? Options range from solidarity, to qualified support (for the ends, if not the means), to condemnation. In considering these options, it’s important to consider Moylan’s means, his message, and his being a messenger. For now (I haven’t yet had my morning cup of tea), I’d like to consider the means.
Jonathan Moylan’s ANZ hoax was justified
Firstl, arguments that Moylan’s hoax was wrong because it was illegal are outright deceptive. There are countless examples, from every past social and political context, of laws that an ethical individual should have disobeyed. Notwithstanding egregious examples arising within fascist states, we might consider Australia’s Vietnam-era conscription, which many Australians dutifully resisted. If you’d steal a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, you have accepted that illegality does not, in itself, imply immorality.
Moylan’s hoax could, however, be considered wrong because of other consequences. The predominant argument here is around the impact on “mum and dad” investors, some of whom lost money due to selling their shares when the market had under-valued them. John Quiggin poured water on this notion, pointing out that once the share price had recovered any individual losses were offset elsewhere in the market by individual gains. While some individuals did lose money, the “mum and dad” population on the whole came through unscathed.
Let’s not forget that non-conventional tactics are crucial to democracy because they are the best means by which the “have-nots” – who lack institutional power – can resist the “haves”. Saul Alinsky, a community organiser who did incredible things with oppressed communities in the US, has no truck with the ivory tower post-hoc ethical evaluations such as we’ve seen around this hoax. “In action,” he writes, “one does not always enjoy the luxury of a decision that is consistent both with one’s individual conscience and the good of mankind. [sic] The choice must always be for the latter.”
Moylan’s hoax has drawn attention to ANZ’s forthcoming loan towards the destructive Maules Creek Coal Project; it has helped, too, to spark scrutiny of corporate investments and their role in radically interfering with the global and local environment. If Moylan’s hoax screwed over lots of investors for no net gain to the public interest, it would be hard to justify. In the face of fatal heatwaves, mass extinction, and desertification, it’s important to remember that “the most unethical of all means is the non-use of any means.” Moylan’s ANS hoax was justified.
For a strategic analysis of the role that Moyer has played in the anti-coal movement, read my follow-up post.