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January 07th 2013 print

Philippa Martyr

What to do with a dangerous dill?

Does a green-dipped sense of moral superiority give an anti-coal activist the right to mount a hoax that throws the stock market into turmoil? That's a question it may well fall to the courts to decide


Today the ANZ bank and coal company Whitehaven were the subject of something described as a hoax, but which may actually be a fraud.


Someone called Jonathan Moylan, described as a "coal activist", issued a fake press release indicating that ANZ had withdrawn a $1.2 billion loan to Whitehaven Coal Ltd because of concerns about the impact a planned mine would have on the environment. This wiped $160 million off the value of Whitehaven shares in a morning and led to the suspension of trading. The stock later regained its former levels when trading resumed.

Here’s what Jonathan Moylan had to say about why he did it:

ANZ customers have the right to know that their money is being invested in a project which will force farmers off their land and destroy 1,360ha of critically endangered koala habitat … We are determined to continue our campaign on ANZ bank until the bank shifts its investments to ethical investments.

Do what I want, or I’ll wipe out your profits. I think that’s called "standover tactics", isn’t it?

And of course, the various news stories feature photos of a very young, white, presumably privileged and healthy young man with straight teeth (but sometimes with unkempt hair and a scruffy beard). This is Jonathan Moylan.

In 2010, someone called Jonathan Moylan was an ‘Education Officer’ with the Newcastle University Students Association. He was an ardent opponent of voluntary student unionism, seeing it as the Howard government’s way of "silencing" students. He told Communist Party of Australia rag The Guardian in 2009:

And yet the question remains: should students have to pay a fee which funds these kinds of things? [right-on crusades of the kind championed by Jonathan Moylan.] Again, this should always be up to students to decide, not governments with vested interests. After all, it is students who make the decisions about how their money is spent.

On the other hand, when it comes to the thousands of dollars in HECS fees which we are obliged to pay, a lot of which is spent on controversial things like military, mining and corporate research as well as astronomical executive salaries, students have next to no say at all.

I don’t know if anyone else here is inexorably reminded of Rik from the Young Ones, but I certainly am. He later repeated in a press release that “it was essential that the Government did not limit students’ ability to decide how their [student union] fees were spent.” 

I think it would be safe to speculate that Jonathan Moylan has never had a real job. However, in 2009 he pleaded guilty in the Sydney District Court to charges of resisting or hindering police in execution of duty c/s 546C Crimes Act, and entering Inclosed Lands c/s 4(1)(b) Inclosed Lands Protection Act 1901. He and some chums had chained themselves to railings at the Tomago Aluminium Smelter because of concerns about the environment.

People are fond of the word "hoax", because it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card. "It was only a joke" is right up there with "I was only obeying orders" as a handy and instantaneous defence. But Jonathan Moylan is deadly serious. "The future of our farmlands, our forests, our health, our climate, these are the biggest threats humanity faces and they are far more important than concerns over liability," he told Reuters.

That’s good to know, because now we’re going to look at the definition of "investment fraud" in Australia. 

Investment frauds induce investors to make purchase or sale decisions on the basis of false information. Most investment frauds target the general public or a particular community within the general public. Investment frauds may take the form of telemarketing, direct mail, seminars or door-to-door selling schemes. However an increasingly large number of investment frauds are carried out over the internet … Boiler-room fraud is generally highly organised, spanning multiple jurisdictions and encompassing the use of sophisticated technology, non-compliance with share-listing requirements, the making of fraudulent misstatements to potential shareholders and/or identity fraud.

I do hope Jonathan Moylan – whoever he is – has good legal representation. But I suspect the ANZ Bank and Whitehaven may have better.

Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City, a quiet and well-bred place.