In 2019 the much publicised Nationals Senator Matt Canavan railed against the Stop Adani Convoy as: ‘do-gooders and bludgers’ heading to Queensland and ‘telling us all what to do’.
He was too young to remember his idol, Queensland Premier Joh Bjelke-Peterson, heading to Tasmania in 1983 to tell locals they must dam the Franklin River.
After Queensland, the Stop Adani Convoy culminated in a rally outside Parliament House in Canberra. That was the biggest show of public feeling in the 2019 election campaign. Five thousand people called on both Labor and the Coalition to stop the Adani coal mine then about to get under way in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.
However, no major media outlet covered the rally, not a word or a picture. Climate change was off their agenda.
Labor lost the election two weeks later after announcing it would not stop the mine and, as well, would give $5 billion to fossil fuel corporations to accelerate gas extraction across Australia including from the Galilee and Beetaloo (NT) Basins.
Had leader Bill Shorten assured Australians he would stop Adani extracting the coal the Queensland result would have been much the same, but Labor would have picked up seats in the southern capitals and won the election.
Post-election, some fashionable commentators claimed that the Bob Brown Foundation’s convoy, not Labor’s pro-coal policy, had cost Labor the treasury benches.
In fact, the convoy saved Greens Senator Larissa Waters’ seat in Queensland which pre-convoy polls had had her losing. After 4,000 people turned out in Brisbane to cheer the Stop Adani Convoy rally there, an electorate freshly invigorated about climate disasters, including the bleaching of Great Barrier Reef corals, voted Larissa back in. Her Senate win was an essential foundation for the Greens well-earned Queensland successes in 2022.
After the 2019 election came the bushfires and floods which speakers in the Stop Adani Convoy had warned about. As the Adani mine was developed over the protests of thousands of citizens, many of whom were arrested or jailed, hundreds of thousands more Australians were going through the hell of the coal-fuelled climate disasters of bushfires and floods. Coal-toting Prime Minister Morrison holidayed in Hawaii and came home with his hubris in shatters. Rockhampton-based Matt Canavan became less visible, even on the ABC. The climate sceptics who for so long had been ubiquitous in climate change discussion thinned out in both commercial and ABC broadcasting.
Coalition MPs like the member for Capricornia, Michelle Landry, who had paid for counter-gatherings to the convoy in 2019, were shuddering in 2022 as the Greens and Teals galvanised new attention on climate change. The latter-day Landry called on her extremist colleague Canavan to: “pull your head in, Matt”.
United Nations’ Secretary-General António Guterres warned that it is: “moral and economic madness” to invest in new fossil-fuel projects. Every time Greens leader Adam Bandt repeated the same sentiment in the election campaign the Greens gained votes.
Ms Landry got back with a reduced majority while three Greens were elected in Brisbane. She now plaintively affirms that we need action on climate change. She should have listened to the convoyists who were, after all, not breaking news; scientist Eunice Foote first warned about the perils of injecting carbon into Earth’s atmosphere in the 1860s.
Politics is a game for too many scribes in the Canberra press gallery who get paid well to report on the entrails of human political interplay and shortcomings. However, the viability of our little planet is not a game. It is deadly serious and requires mature reportage of the fact that Earth’s biosphere is rapidly deteriorating due to human destruction, not least the burning of fossil fuels causing catastrophic global warming. This existential crisis surpasses all others in human history.
Six hundred years ago Machiavelli wrote that if you want to change the world you should get ready to be crushed by those who already have the power and the money.
That’s the case now with the huge, vested interests which profit from burning fossil fuels. Labor and the Coalition have buckled but the Greens, and now the Teal independents, have not. Nevertheless, many petty politics-captured pontificators in the media are all too ready to take up the cudgels against the agents of change who are outside their own myopic bubble.
This echoes the Suffragettes travails more than a century ago. Amongst their highly organised critics was journalist Flora Shaw who saw women as having: ‘a ‘God-given’ position as the helpmeets of men’. The Suffragettes’ frustration was insufferable and some resorted to violence, giving the anti-Suffragists even more ammunition. But the tide of history was unstoppable.
So it is now with the climate emergency. The difference is that this time life on Earth is at stake and the global community’s response is appallingly slow and short of the mark. That is why, in a recent joint declaration, 400 climate scientists, physicists, biologists, engineers and others broke with usual caution to back peaceful protesters courting arrest from London to Sydney. Their frustration is insufferable.
After Anthony Albanese’s sigh-of-relief victory, it is tempting to think that all is okay again. But it isn’t. Witness Labor’s rush to burn more gas, including the new Prime Minister’s full-blooded endorsement of Woodside’s giant Scarborough gas extraction project off the Western Australian coast. Scarborough’s projected greenhouse gas pollution of Earth’s atmosphere is greater than the Adani coal mines.
For those who hope that the urgency of environmentalism is seeping into the old parties, look no further than Labor combining with the Coalition in the Victorian and Tasmanian parliaments, since the federal election, to pass draconian new laws with jail sentences aimed at crushing peaceful protests against coal mining, industrial fish farms or the logging of native forests. Standing in front of a chainsaw about to cut down an ancient tree full of endangered species, or in front of a napalm-dropper setting fire to its felled remnants, is now an equal crime in Tasmania to aggravated burglary or to invading a neighbour’s house brandishing a shotgun.
Because they cannot win the public argument for destroying biodiversity, Labor and the Coalition are going to criminalise environmentalists. They are captured by the resource extraction lobbies and are not about to implement the seismic change required to respond to the scientists’ alarm for life on Earth. The Greens-Teals vote will continue to grow, but they needed to be in government now, everywhere, for the planet to have its best chance.
Even so, while there is life there is hope. Down in Tasmania’s takayna/Tarkine rainforest, more than 80 peaceful protesters have been arrested for getting in the way of giant state-owned Chinese mining company MMG’s machinery preparing a toxic waste dump. The rainforest is a stronghold for Tasmania’s giant masked owl, the largest barn owl on Earth, which is vulnerable to extinction.
MMG has alternatives to its proposed acid wastes dam outside the Tarkine near its Rosebery mine. Yet former Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, gave MMG the go-ahead, even dismissing as unnecessary MMG’s offer to protect the big trees which contain nesting sites for the owls. A week before the election, after the Federal Court intervened to say MMG must protect those trees, Ley notified the Bob Brown Foundation that she was reconsidering her decision.
Her reconsideration is now on the desk of the new Minister for the Environment, Tanya Plibersek. The world’s best practice option for MMG is to pulverise its mine wastes and place them back underground. The nearest mine to MMG is already doing so. But there are no options for the endangered owl, Tasmanian devils or other threatened species in the Tarkine. This may be a small matter in the global environmental crisis but, now that it is Minister Plibersek’s call, hope has returned to the rainforest camp where forest defenders lie awake at night listening to the calls of the masked owls which face being silenced forever.