The Guardian • Issue #2054

The right to protest

Politics in the Pub ñ Local Hotel, South Fremantle

Speakers from left to right: Josie Alec, Sophie McNeill, Violet Coco, Joana Partyka.

Speakers from left to right: Josie Alec, Sophie McNeill, Violet Coco, Joana Partyka.

As capitalism and its extractivist resource corporations continue exploiting the last portions of carbon from this earth and putting it into the atmosphere to keep their profit making turning over, there is a growing public awareness that this cannot continue if we wish to live on a habitable planet with a sustainable future for all.

Nowhere in Australia is the subject of this discourse more on show than in the Western Australian capital of Perth whose skyline is dotted with the skyscrapers of mining and energy corporations. On 28th April one of them, Woodside Energy, held its Annual General Meeting at the Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The meeting drew protestors both inside and outside the venue. Woodside CEO Meg O’Neill described the annual protests as “frustrating” as they kept many of their retail shareholders from attending.

Climate change activists see Woodside in a different light. Woodside is the proponent of one of the largest potential emitters of carbon emissions in the Scarborough gas field off the north west coast of Australia. Its opponents rightly see projects like this and others as a threat to life on this planet.

Federal and State governments in Australia are also lining up behind these carbon emission polluting industries by making it more difficult to protest through anti-democratic laws. Yet, as the carbon energy dinosaurs are heating up our planet, the fight to resist their unsustainable and life-threatening industries is also gaining momentum.

On 2nd May at the Local Hotel in South Fremantle, Greens Member of the Legislative Council, Brad Pettitt held a Politics in the Pub on the Right to Protest which was attended by over 150 people. Pettitt opened the proceedings by declaring we have a climate emergency, we need to act now in a country and especially in a state where we continue to dig up and extract fossil fuels.

“We are cracking down on protest and making it more difficult to challenge these extractionist activities.”

The four speakers were headed by Sydney Harbour Bridge traffic stopper, Violet Coco, Josie Alec, Kuruma Marthudunera traditional custodian and member of Saving our Songlines from Karratha, Sophie McNeill of Human Rights Watch and Joana Partyka, artist and environmental activist who had recently sprayed the Woodside Energy logo across the Perspex covering the Frederick McCubbin 1889 painting, “Down on his luck,” being exhibited at the WA Art Gallery.

Violet Coco pointed out that it was as a consequence of bipartisanship between the government and the Coalition that this country now has some of the most restrictive protest laws in this country.

She warned that the resources transnationals run the country, where blocking traffic with a truck for 25 minutes can lead you to be sentenced for a year in imprisonment. “We are on the verge of civilisation collapsing and we are in the end game,” added Coco

Josie Alec is protesting the removal of Aboriginal rock art from the Burrup Peninsular “which contains the law of her ancestors on how life should be lived. The laws are about water, land management, family, animals, trees, and everything that is us.” Alec’s protests are aimed at the construction of the Perdaman urea plant using natural gas from Woodside Energy’s Scarborough gas project to make urea fertiliser.

Sophie Mc Neill began her presentation by noting with concern that 120 climate protesters have been imprisoned in Australia in the last two years. To underscore the lack of commitment to meaningful change, COP 26 held in Glasgow, Scotland/UK in December 2021, was the last UN climate conference where protest and dissent was allowed.

The last speaker was Joana Partyka who as a consequence of her WA Art Gallery protest had her home raided by the police, where they seized her devices and asked her for her access codes which she refused.

Partyka’s fight with the legal authorities is ongoing. Partyka said that we should fight for the right to protest.

In this way said Violet Coco, we turn climate anxiety into climate action.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the militancy of the climate activists to bring about a heightened consciousness of the climate emergency which all of us face. The capitalist system, as the iconic climate activist Greta Thunberg noted, is unsustainable and nothing the system or status quo and its apologists can say can make it sustainable.

That is why we need a change away from the capitalist system based on exploitation and theft, to a system based on satisfying people’s needs and the flourishing of humanity.

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