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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Mass action at Hazelwood Coal Power Station

Australia Climate action 2009, An interview with one of the organisers, Louise Morris

Written by Adam S

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I’ll put up my hands and admit that as a girl, health medications not yet a quarter of a century old, remedy talking about music is utterly intimidating. Yet I try. At some point in my life I’ll make a concerted effort to dance about architecture too. There is an endless wealth of information on bands that have already been, that I am never, ever going to be able to catch up on. Yet I try. As a music fan (enough to write about it), I’m embarrassed to admit that I only really discovered my, now, all time favourite band, Talking Heads within the last five years. I know, shoot me down. My convoluted point is that, as much as I try and piece it together, I can only imagine what The Slits releasing ‘Cut’ meant to the females and general youth and music fans of 1979. Yes there was a sex bomb fronted Blondie, intriguingly androgynous Patti Smith and unconventional Kate Bush, but an all female, punk rock band that posed naked on their album sleeve and generally didn’t give a f***. No one saw that coming and their influence has reverberated ever since.

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Fast forward then 30 years and their new album, Trapped Animal, has been unleashed to a society that is certainly far from sorted. But can the music still have the same punch? The garage approach of Cut has inevitably given way to a slicker product all round. That same mixture of reggae rhythms, scratchy guitars, anger and mischief abounds. Rather than sounding like a band thirty years past their prime, as could be said of many a reunion album, there is a freshness that means you could be mistaken for thinking you’re hearing the latest South London council estate collective. This could be explained by the new multi-generational line-up that features Sex Pistol Paul Cook’s daughter, Hollie. You also get the impression that frontwoman Ari Up has as much energy as her fourteen year old self that met original member, Palmolive, at a Patti Smith gig.

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Lyrically, the album doesn’t stretch the boundaries of the concept of rhyming but you wouldn’t hear Girls Aloud bemoaning of “Men who want us to be their mother/Men who hate us because of their mother.” Where the Pop Idol-ers are concerned with their “cappuccinos to go-o”, Up and her girls are hollering about ‘Peer Pressure’, “issues with child abuse” and eschewing the shackles of a nine to five: “We don’t pay rent with a passion, and we don’t wanna follow fashion.”

The fact that foul-mouthed Lily Allen launched her career on the wave of reggae-tinged pop is no accident. The Slits invented the model for anti-establishment, men-bashing, unselfconscious pop and even though this new offering will never live up to Cut standards, it’s a welcome return of punk’s finest.

Helping to keep the pressure on governments across the world, health activists in Australia held a mass action last week against Hazelwood Coal Power Station, erectile one of the dirtiest in the world. The climate camp held a day of planning and workshops, nurse followed by the day of action where a group of over 500 people placed a ‘Community Decommission Order’ on Hazelwood to switch on the renewable energy transition.

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Images from Hazelwood Flickr

Twenty-two people were arrested on the day and, with the Governments lack of conviction, it seems many more are ready for the same sacrifice. As one secondary school teacher put it, “not such a big sacrifice in the scheme of things.” Looking at pictures and reports as well as listening to the radio report, it looks like a well planned day of disobedience. Affinity groups such as the Wombat Warriors, Radical Cheerleaders and Climate Clowns show great initiative. Apparently the police wouldn’t let “bikezilla”, a massive 8-person bike, join the protest though. Shame.

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I caught up with Louise Morris, one of the organisers of the action to get her account of the action and see what’s in store for climate action in Australia.

How long have you been involved in the protest movement in Australia and was there a catalyst for getting involved?

I’ve been involved in campaigning in Australia for over a decade, starting off with the campaign to stop the Jabiluka Uranium mine in Kakadu National park and spending many years as a forest activist and blockader in Tasmania (as a result now one of the Gunns 20) and Western Australia.

I decided to devote my time to climate campaigning in 2006, as the realisation set in that no matter how many pieces of forest we saved through campaigning and blockades etc – if climate change is not dealt with, the climatic conditions forecast will spell the end for all the places we have campaigned for and protected over the years.

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I grew up in mining towns in Western Australia, so am very aware of the sort of environmental and social scars the mining and logging industry inflict. My decision to work on climate issues has been heavily based on the mitigation angle. I am a strong believer in trying to solve a problem, rather than trying cope with the problem as best we can through adaptation measures. This has led me to focus strongly on coal issues and to work within the grassroots realm of climate campaigning. I really do think it’s in the grassroots community movement that we have the most power.

What was your personal experience on last weeks action?

I was one of the key organisers of the Switch off Hazelwood – Switch on Renewables weekend. My experience ranged from having to deal with the police in the lead up to the event and during the event with their complete over-reaction to the whole affair, talking with people who were prepared to be arrested and acting as media spokesperson for the group.

My experience of the action and watching other peoples reaction to the day was extremely positive.

This action was the first of it’s type for the Victorian Climate Movement. For the past few years people have lobbied, rallied in cities etc but never actually taken action at the site of the pollution and been prepared to be arrested.

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We had 500-plus people from all possible walks of life turn up. A lot of families, older folk and a massive representation from the quite mainstream ‘Climate Action Group’ demographic that is strong in Australia. We had 22 people manage to scale the security fences and police lines that were put up prior to our action. In that list of arrestees are doctors, teachers, electricians, stay at home mums… the list goes on.

Our state government tried to label us as eco-terrorists in the lead up to the event. This failed dismally, as our lead up media campaign was very solutions focused (just transition to renewable energy) and we were very open in our aim of civil disobedience… this combined with images of the people who were at the action, got out to the wider world of so many kids, families, professionals and respected members of the community were taking action. We have had a lot of support from the public and arms of the mainstream media.

The feeling post this action is that people are ready for more peaceful community driven direct action, and more people are prepared to get arrested to push the government into some real action on climate change.

How did the mainstream media and the public react?

There has been a noticeable shift in public and media attitudes to people taking action on climate change, post our federal Government’s pathetic announcement of 5% emission reduction by 2020.

In the lead up to this event we put a lot of thought and energy into talking about our message of switching on a transition to renewable energy and switching off coal. Part of this outreach included a public meeting at the town of Morwell, which is the heart of coal country in our state. This was a ‘robust’ meeting but we got great feedback from everyone who came about the transition message and we were supported by unions representing coal workers that we were pushing for a just transition to renewable energy.

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In terms of media – we ran a pretty tight messaging strategy around the fact that this is a community driven event that is calling for a switch from renewable energy and this requires that we switch off coal.

At first we got very little interest, but as the word that people were going to partake in peaceful mass civil disobedience got out, the interest grew. On the whole, we got a pretty fair run in the media in the lead up to the event. A lot of time was spent explaining what civil disobedience was, as Australia has not had a strong activist culture in recent years. Once again the core message that we were calling for a switch from coal to renewables, with a just transition was central in a lot of the willingness of commercial media to hear us out.

Obviously on the day of the action some of the conservative media ran the ‘rowdy protester’ line and showed the fence shaking but considering the sort of coverage we usually get in the mainstream Australian press, I think we have seen a shift in how community protest and civil disobedience is being covered. That said, the large representation of families and ‘ordinary looking folk’ really did help that.

Do you think Australia is ready for a broader movement relating to climate change and what do you think the comparison is to movements across the world?

Yes. We had our first climate camp last year in Newcastle [NSW] and from this it was decided that in 2009 we would have state based events, of which the Switch off Hazelwood event was one. The reasons for this were many, including the fact that Australia is so geographically large that it’s not feasible (financially or environmentally) for people to trek across the country to come to a single climate camp.

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For the next 3 months there will be Climate Camp style events across the country from South Australia, New South Wales to Western Australia. The interest and willingness is there for a movement that is prepared to take action at the site of the big polluters and put some targeted pressure on government and the big polluters who are shaping the climate policy.

In terms of the broader movement relating to climate change there is definitely a lot more scope for more varied forms of action and campaigning. We are currently organising a bunch of movement building events and workshops using the lessons learnt from many countries and campaigns, including elements of the Obama community mobilisation strategy.

Comparisons are hard to make as we live in a massive continent with quite a sparse population, in comparison to many other countries who have strong climate movements. We also have a populace that has been alienated from the concepts of protest, civil disobedience and strong social movements from previous (and still current) governments who have demonised such things as ‘Anti-Australian.’

As one of the organisers of the action, what have you learnt from the process?

Honestly, the importance of networks, community and talking to people face-to-face to get them involved and part of creating the event they want to be a part of. Another lesson we always learn from these events is that people need to have fun organising and being part of events like this – best way to keep them coming back and get more people involved.

The Affinity Group and Working Group model was central in making a lot of elements of this event work. From the public meeting, the promotions, independent media to the action itself.

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What’s next for Climate Camp in Australia?

There are still a number of state based Climate Camps to come in the next few months across Australia after the ‘Switch off Hazelwood – Switch on Renewables’ event. The next immediate one is in South Australia and after that is the one at the Helensbugh coal mine in NSW. So much more Climate Camp action is on the cards. And here in Victoria we are looking ahead to what is next in the lead up to Copenhagen as a national climate event.

Looks like a lot going on in Australia, shame it would have to be a carbon intensive flight away, that or a 6 month cycle mission, hmmm.. now thats an idea.

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