Coal versus Coral

Australian Climate Change Politics sees the Great Barrier Reef in Court


  • Claire Konkes University of Tasmania
  • Cynthia Nixon University of Tasmania
  • Libby Lester University of Tasmania
  • Kathleen Williams University of Tasmania



The Great Barrier Reef, climate change politics, corporate and environmental activism, environmental laws


The likelihood that climate change may destroy the Great Barrier Reef has been a central motif in Australia’s climate change politics for more than a decade as political ideologies and corporate and environmental activism draw or refute connections between the coal industry and climate change. The media fuel this debate because in this contest, as ever, the news media always do more than simply report the news. Given that the Reef has also been central to the evolution of Australia’s environmental laws since the 1960s, it is not surprising that the Reef is now a leading actor in efforts to test the capacity of our environmental laws to support action on climate change. In this contribution, we examine the news coverage of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s (ACF) 2015 challenge to Adani’s Carmichael coal mine to observe the discursive struggle between the supporters and opponents of the mine. Our analysis of the case shows that while the courts are arenas of material and symbolic contest in the politics of climate change in Australia, public interest environmental litigants struggle both inside and outside the courts to challenge the privileging of mining interests over the public interest.

Author Biographies

Claire Konkes, University of Tasmania

Dr Claire Konkes is a Senior Lecturer and Head of Discipline at The Media School, University of Tasmania. Her research continues to explore the role of media, especially news media, in the development of policy and law, especially in relation to gendered violence and the environment.

Cynthia Nixon, University of Tasmania

Dr Cynthia Nixon has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering, a Master’s in Environmental Law and a PhD in Media. Her research has focused on the intersection of strategic communication, litigation, media, and activism. She has worked for over 15 years in the energy and paper industries and is currently a consultant working to improve the sustainability of organisations by improving their environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance. Cynthia’s current focus is supporting the rapidly growing renewable energy sector as the world transitions to a cleaner energy landscape.

Libby Lester, University of Tasmania

Professor Libby Lester is Director of the Institute for Social Change and Professor of Journalism, Media and Communications at the University of Tasmania, Australia. She works to understand the place of public debate in local and global decision-making, and her research on environmental communication and conflict is published widely.

Kathleen Williams, University of Tasmania

Dr Kathleen Williams is the Director of Creative Curriculum and a Senior Lecturer in Media at the University of Tasmania, Australia. She primarily researches the cultural, environmental and industrial impacts of changing media technologies and practices.


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How to Cite

Konkes, C., Nixon, C., Lester, L., & Williams, K. (2021). Coal versus Coral: Australian Climate Change Politics sees the Great Barrier Reef in Court. Queensland Review, 28(2), 132–146.