The country is in the midst of a fire and climate crisis and the police say that protests against the criminal inaction of the federal government – its anti-science climate denialism, promotion of fossil fuels and reluctance to act to defend the lives and properties of people facing apocalyptic firestorms – should not go ahead.
Demonstrations are planned across the country on Friday 10 January (see below for details). The arguments being deployed against attending them are utterly cynical and totally manipulative. Victorian acting assistant commissioner Tim Hansen is quoted by ABC News urging “fair-minded Victorians” not to turn up. According to the national broadcaster:
“He said police were still actively engaged in supporting their emergency services colleagues in bushfire zones, working in fire-ravaged communities and facilitating evacuations while dealing with day-to-day policing. ‘We will meet those obligations, but this is a distraction for us ... We see frontline police returning from the fire ground, returning from the fire zone that are fatigued, that do need a break, and this is now another operation we need to resource.’”
This is absolute garbage. The police didn’t demand people stay home on New Year’s Eve, when police were patrolling around the clock. There are no requests to cancel cricket matches and the Australian Tennis Open, which also “require” significant police resources. It is scandalous that the police are arguing that they must be present to surround people exercising their democratic right to peaceful assembly, and that we will be distracting from attempts to contain the fire carnage.
The idea that hundreds of cops are required to ensure the safety of a peaceful demonstration is ludicrous. As Uni Students for Climate Justice spokesperson Anneke Demanuele noted yesterday: “We haven’t asked for the police to come to the demonstration at all. We’re capable of holding this demonstration without police resources ... People of Melbourne march through the streets all the time”.
If the assistant commissioner is concerned about resources, why is he not making public statements demanding more be given to firefighters and emergency workers? Why is he attacking those demanding that more be done to protect lives? Does Tim Hansen really think that peaceful assemblies in capital cities are just as important to monitor as communities under threat in eastern Victoria?
No. He. Doesn’t.
He has one message: shut up. Shut up about the crisis. Shut up about lack of resources. Shut up about inaction. Shut up and take what you get.
If he were genuinely concerned about resources, he would not attack those who are calling for more resources. The reality is this: shutting up is the worst thing we can do. More resources will come only because the fuming rage of people is put on public display. It is only because of such rage that we have been granted pitiful concessions from this government in the first place. Prime minister Scott Morrison’s Hawaii holiday was cut short, 450,000 stockpiled face masks were miraculously discovered and distributed, and a $2 billion bushfire recovery fund has been established. Those things happened only because people didn’t shut up.
The government’s gestures pale in comparison to the billions of dollars in subsidies it gives to fossil fuel companies every year. But they show that expressions of anger can go some way to force governments to bear more of the responsibility for these sorts of crises. That’s why the planned protests are so vitally important.
The hypocrisy of government accusations against protesters deviating resources from firefighters is comical. It was not us that refused to pay volunteer firefighters. It is not us who won’t provide enough funding to rebuild decimated towns. It is not us giving corporate tax cuts to big business while starving essential services of resources. How disgraceful is it that those with the power to make these decisions refuse to be accountable and instead try to generate a moral panic about protesters endangering people’s lives?
It is disgusting, but unsurprising. Historically, the Australian state has taken a hard stance against protests that are gaining traction, and climate activism is no exception. In the 1970s, Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland government arrested anyone partaking in street marches; those in the anti-uranium movement were common targets. While this might sound like a far stretch from yesteryear, Morrison has threatened a radical crackdown on boycotts of fossil fuel companies. The Queensland government recently tried to keep three peaceful Extinction Rebellion protestors in custody without bail, and the Victorian Police showed an exceedingly violent response toward Blockade IMARC protestors.
Just yesterday, it was reported Brisbane Greens councillor Johnathan Sri is being investigated for facilitating protests against climate change. It is clear that governments feel uneasy about the public’s objection to Australia’s addiction to fossil fuels, and are prepared to become more authoritarian to quash dissent. The Victorian acting assistant commissioner’s comments are designed precisely to generate sympathy for such repression.
It is essential that we continue to mobilise in the current situation. Already, the millions of hectares burnt around the country have resulted in several dozen people dead. Thousands have been stranded without food and electricity, and rescue missions haven’t mobilised enough resources, leaving the most vulnerable waiting days for evacuation.
Across major cities, millions are choking. Yet we are expected to carry on with business as usual. With the fires projected to continue for months, the situation could get worse – yet the government’s priorities are elsewhere. When the tiny amount of relief provided so far has come only after public anger, what “fair-minded” individuals would patiently sit at home and watch our leaders slip back into their negligence?
These fires have given us a small taste of what climate change has in store for us. Not only will it bring about devastation on an unprecedented scale – it shows that our leaders are happy to let us burn in the process. If we are going to have a society that navigates climate change in a manner that protects lives, we are going to have to fight for it, tooth and nail.
PROTEST: Sack Scomo! Fund the firies! Climate action now!
CLICK ATTENDING to your local event for updates and INVITE your friends
PORT MACQUARIE: facebook.com/events/462294218022365/
BYRON BAY: facebook.com/events/2830296973704802/