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
Grassroots posters giving an alternative take on the general election
Hundreds of people surrounded the fences this weekend. Hera Lorandos spoke to women who have suffered inside.
Laying out the case for Labour's leadership of a Progressive Alliance, Jeremy Gilbert argues that far from posing a threat to the Left, the Progressive Alliance offers a golden opportunity to end Tory rule and build a 21st century government committed to social justice
The Greens have stood down in Brighton Kemptown to clear the way for Labour, and the Lib Dems won’t stand in Brighton’s other seat, Green-held Pavilion. Davy Jones, who would have been the Green candidate in Kemptown, says this shows the way forward
The snap general election represents a unique opportunity to defeat this terrible government. We believe that visual artists have a crucial role to play!
Drax is the UK's biggest source of CO2 emissions – and we're paying for it, writes Almuth Ernsting
For the past 3 years, Barby Asante and members of London-based artists' collective, sorryyoufeeluncomfortable, have been responding directly to the vision of James Baldwin. Ahead of the nationwide release of a new film about the American activist and author, they reflect on the enduring relevance of Baldwin in Britain today.
Housing campaigners' gains in Bristol are spurring on a national movement to build a renters' union, writes Stuart Melvin
A new Espionage Act threatens whistleblowers and journalists, writes Sarah Kavanagh
We need an anti-austerity alliance, not a vaguely progressive alliance, argues Michael Calderbank
Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports
On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.
Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns
The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections
In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines
Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.
West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective
How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences
The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally
Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.
Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change
Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself
#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces
Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond
On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network
Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter
#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement
Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union
Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.
Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees
Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides
The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari
Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next
Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace
Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill