Try Red Pepper in print with our pay-as-you-feel subscription. You decide the price, from as low as £2 a month.More info ×
For anyone who sees themselves as more progressive than Nigel Farage, life under the new Australian government hasn’t been very exciting – but over the last few weeks we have seen what could be one of the great political shifts in the country’s history.
On 31 March more than 2,000 people responded to a call to ‘go back to the roots of democracy’ and take direct action to protect their land, water and future from a corrupt government and a reckless company. Last year, people from the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales celebrated a win over Metgasco, when the drilling company withdrew its plans to start fracking in the area. Metgasco came back – but after declaring their region ‘CSG (Coal Seam Gas) Free’, the people were ready this time. With a protectors’ camp now set up and hundreds based there permanently, roads blocked with a tripod and people taking shifts chaining themselves to concrete barrels, the expected drilling machinery still hasn’t shown up.
On the same day, 550km away, over 100 people took part in a day of action to disrupt the construction of Australia’s largest new coal mine in the Leard Forest. 82 people were arrested, including a 92 year old second world war veteran. Explaining his actions, Bill said ‘We’re faced with a catastrophe. I owe it to my grandchildren, and I owe it to all children. I was willing to put my life on the line in the second world war, so putting my body on the line here is a small inconvenience.’Almost every day for the past month there has been some kind of direct action. There have been women with D-locks and knitted ‘D-cosies’ locking themselves to equipment. Groups of local farmers, spanning generations, have been using arm-tube lock-ons to demobilise massive mining trucks. The mass action last month was a peak, but not an isolated incident. The camp has been there for over a year and a half, but the numbers and effectiveness of actions has snowballed. More than 40 people were arrested in the weeks leading up to the mass action and the blockade has kept on rolling.
Australian coal exports, already the world’s biggest, are set for a massive expansion. The biggest two new mines would, over their 30-year lifespan, emit an equivalent amount of CO2-e as the UK churns out in six years. The new government is on a crusade to demolish pesky regulation inhibiting the great national tradition of digging stuff up and shipping it away. But as we’ve already seen, the road won’t necessarily be easy for the mining barons.
A super-coalition has been forming over the past four years; made up of greenies, farmers, indigenous peoples and a growing number of town and city folk who are shocked by what is happening around them. The mining industry has spread voraciously for the past decade, oozing out obese billionaires, gauging epic scars in the landscape and infecting different layers of politics as concentrated wealth so often does.
Rusted-on conservative voters in country areas have had a rude awakening. Entire towns have literally had the ground torn out from underneath them. In southern Queensland over 4,000 active fracking sites seemed to pop up overnight. It wasn’t until people found their health rapidly deteriorating and their water no longer safe to even bathe in that they realised they’d been lied to.
When these communities have been stonewalled by local MPs, they’ve found allies amongst unfamiliar faces. Indigenous people have been challenging the mining industry since the country was invaded, and environmental activists joined the fight in the 70s. It’s been a pretty lonely and hard battle, and the new friendships are welcome.
The anti-mining groundswell has been building slowly for at least five years, but the growing murmurs of dissent have struggled to challenge the major parties’ pro-mining consensus. The newest national government came to power with promises to ditch a mining profits tax and cut environmental regulation for the industry, while Labor extolled the ‘healthy future’ of the coal industry. But the movement is getting harder to ignore now.
The coal and gas companies’ cries of ‘alarmist green propaganda’ and ‘vocal minorities’ are becoming increasingly panicked, and their PR efforts ham-fisted. The latest swish promotional effort from the coal lobby, was quickly hijacked as the Twitter hashtag #australiansforcoal became a playground this week for satirical tweeters. Meanwhile, the latest polling shows the conservative vote dropping dramatically in rural areas and the green vote climbing to 17 per cent nationally. This could represent early signs of wider traction with the issues.
Perhaps more importantly, the energy and willingness to challenge the law and directly blockade mining projects shows no signs of easing. Another proposed fracking site 150km west of the Leard Forest coal mine is heating up with a series of lock-ons from local farmers. At the Northern Rivers camp, numbers surged to over 3,000 this Monday, with their website proclaiming ‘with numbers like this, we can’t lose’. If that wasn’t enough activity, the Leard Forest site is poised to see another mass intervention this week. The ongoing direct action is becoming hard to keep up with.
What we’re seeing now are the fruits of years of community organising, town hall meetings, door-to-door outreach, direct action training and a groundswell of frustration directed at a government that has taken it too far. It’s hard to say whether this will mark a permanent shift in the political landscape, but all the ingredients are there.
Photo: Margo Kingston
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
’We believe in you. We are with you. We will never forget.’ Grenfell solidarity sweeps East London in mass banner drops from housing estates
Michael Calderbank profiles Jeremy Corbyn's new supporters in parliament
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues to witness devastating political violence, but the world refuses to act. Ishiaba Kasonga and Serge Egola Angbakodolo ask why?
When fire safety has become a privilege for the rich, it’s time to stop austerity and fund emergency mass works to raise standards immediately, writes Jane Shallice
The election result has irreversibly changed political discourse in the UK, writes James Fox
In commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Bernie Grant's election to parliament, Ayo Wallace explores the life and legacy of his radical representation of Tottenham's black communities.
Across Britain, hundreds of thousands of people have now taken part in mass rallies for Corbyn's Labour. Eli Regan soaks up the atmosphere in Warrington
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced
India: Modi’s ‘development model’ is built on violence and theft from the poorest
Development in India is at the expense of minorities and the poor, writes Gargi Battacharya
North Korea is just the start of potentially deadly tensions between the US and China
US-China relations have taken on a disturbing new dimension under Donald Trump, writes Dorothy Guerrero
The feminist army leading the fight against ISIS
Dilar Dirik salutes militant women-organised democracy in action in Rojava
France: The colonial republic
The roots of France’s ascendant racism lie as deep as the origins of the French republic itself, argues Yasser Louati
This is why it’s an important time to support Caroline Lucas
A vital voice of dissent in Parliament: Caroline Lucas explains why she is asking for your help
PLP committee elections: it seems like most Labour backbenchers still haven’t learned their lesson
Corbyn is riding high in the polls - so he can face down the secret malcontents among Labour MPs, writes Michael Calderbank
Going from a top BBC job to Tory spin chief should be banned – it’s that simple
This revolving door between the 'impartial' broadcaster and the Conservatives stinks, writes Louis Mendee – we need a different media
I read Gavin Barwell’s ‘marginal seat’ book and it was incredibly awkward
Gavin Barwell was mocked for writing a book called How to Win a Marginal Seat, then losing his. But what does the book itself reveal about Theresa May’s new top adviser? Matt Thompson reads it so you don’t have to
We can defeat this weak Tory government on the pay cap
With the government in chaos, this is our chance to lift the pay cap for everyone, writes Mark Serwotka, general secretary of public service workers’ union PCS
Corbyn supporters surge in Labour’s internal elections
A big rise in left nominations from constituency Labour parties suggests Corbynites are getting better organised, reports Michael Calderbank
Undercover policing – the need for a public inquiry for Scotland
Tilly Gifford, who exposed police efforts to recruit her as a paid informer, calls for the inquiry into undercover policing to extend to Scotland
Becoming a better ally: how to understand intersectionality
Intersectionality can provide the basis of our solidarity in this new age of empire, writes Peninah Wangari-Jones
The myth of the ‘white working class’ stops us seeing the working class as it really is
The right imagines a socially conservative working class while the left pines for the days of mass workplaces. Neither represent today's reality, argues Gargi Bhattacharyya
The government played the public for fools, and lost
The High Court has ruled that the government cannot veto local council investment decisions. This is a victory for local democracy and the BDS movement, and shows what can happen when we stand together, writes War on Want’s Ross Hemingway.
An ‘obscure’ party? I’m amazed at how little people in Britain know about the DUP
After the Tories' deal with the Democratic Unionists, Denis Burke asks why people in Britain weren't a bit more curious about Northern Ireland before now
The Tories’ deal with the DUP is outright bribery – but this government won’t last
Theresa May’s £1.5 billion bung to the DUP is the last nail in the coffin of the austerity myth, writes Louis Mendee
Brexit, Corbyn and beyond
Clarity of analysis can help the left avoid practical traps, argues Paul O'Connell
Paul Mason vs Progress: ‘Decide whether you want to be part of this party’ – full report
Broadcaster and Corbyn supporter Paul Mason tells the Blairites' annual conference some home truths
Contagion: how the crisis spread
Following on from his essay, How Empire Struck Back, Walden Bello speaks to TNI's Nick Buxton about how the financial crisis spread from the USA to Europe
How empire struck back
Walden Bello dissects the failure of Barack Obama's 'technocratic Keynesianism' and explains why this led to Donald Trump winning the US presidency