Environment Opinion

'It's not Blockade Australia': NSW Police harass anti-mining protestors

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Protests at the IMARC conference in Melbourne (image via YouTube)

I think the NSW Police have trauma bonded with the word "Blockade". 

This week, activists held a small demonstration outside the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) in Sydney. Activists regularly do that outside this conference, it’s called "Blockade IMARC". Blockade IMARC organisers even completed a "Form 1", which is how you notify NSW authorities of a planned rally. The effort included no lock-ons, no blocked roads, none of that. Just a rally. Perfectly legal.

NSW Police decided this was the end of the world. They colluded with interstate police forces to harass around 25 to 30 activists ahead of the protest, doorknocking to intimidate them out of attending. They particularly picked on activists who’d attended actions supporting Blockade Australia, the same ones who’d suffered all the ridiculous bail conditions and excess state scrutiny that happened after the Sydney actions earlier in the year.

One person was on his way to a concert, pulled over in his car. After being arrested attending a Blockade Australia action months ago, he had a bail condition saying he can’t have more than one phone. Because he had a backpack in his car, with another phone’s charger in it, he was arrested for breaching that condition.

And you’ll note I didn’t say he was going to the, perfectly legal, rally organised by Blockade IMARC. I said he was going to a concert. He literally had his tickets on hand. He still ended up in gaol that night, unable to apply for bail until the following day.

After he was released he was arrested again, this time for being in the Sydney CBD. (Another draconian bail condition.) Now they are asking for $10,000 bail for his release.

At no point did he attend the, perfectly legal, Blockade IMARC rally.

In the past few days, they’ve also defected another person’s car for having wheels on it that are 0.2 inches too big. That takes their car out of action, which presumably stops them from attending the,  let me say this again, perfectly legal, rally. NSW Police have been visiting the family home of another activist to check that they’re at home.  They’re not, because they’re overseas and the police knew that. They’re visiting anyway.  I don’t know what the purpose of that is.

I believe the NSW Police think that "Blockade IMARC" is the same as "Blockade Australia". Because, erm, the word Blockade. Everyone who goes to events with the word "Blockade" in it must be about to stop the traffic, which is the worst thing that can happen ever. As I said, they’ve trauma bonded with an activist word.

This is the kind of finesse and aptitude you expect from the geniuses who got caught in the middle of the bush lying behind a log spying on some activists having their morning tea. 

It would be funnier if it weren’t scary, but it’s still stupid enough to be funny anyway. NSW Police make Keystone Cops look like CSI.

It's a shame these activists weren’t locking on and blocking highways again. Given all the undue persecution NSW Police have just put them through anyway, they might as well have. Because the truth is: if it’s civil disobedience in the name of climate action, and the NSW Police doesn’t want you to do it, then that means it is a great idea to do it.

That isn’t to deny all the risks involved in undertaking climate protest action. My concerns around Extinction Rebellion-era civil disobedience revolved around that sort of denial. I worried that XR’s visible veneration of police "just doing their job", and the clockwork manner in which its members volunteered for arrest, led some young activists up the garden path and into plenty of police brutality and court action. 

It’s important we don’t deny all the many risks with this activism. You need only look at Mali, the young activist who attended Blockade Australia actions, for a perfect example of the multi-faceted persecution climate activists face.

For locking on to a car on a highway, Mali was dragged before the entire foaming-at-the-mouth court of national right-wing outrage.  And its attendant service of excess right-wing justice.

She was repeatedly arrested for breaching bail. She was threatened with draconian NSW anti-protest laws.  She had her personal details exposed by media outlets like The Daily Mail and The Daily Telegraph, slavering creeps posing as "journalists" who were all devoted to doxxing anyone arrested during Blockade Australia actions. 

A wave of reactionary opinion from bench-warming idiots castigated her for doing something. She was chastised like a naughty child on national television. It would have been a devastating, daunting experience for anyone.

These are some of the very visible risks that come with doing what Mali did.  And yet, she has gone on to have all of her charges dismissed.

Her trauma as a result of having witnessed her hometown of Lismore destroyed by catastrophic floods twice was taken into consideration. So her verdict cannot be said to set precedent for the rest of the people facing persecution for taking climate action. 

However, legal firm Sydney City Crime has had phenomenal success thus far in eliminating the charges issued against Blockade Australia action attendees. 

We’re all becoming affected by climate disaster, more and more regularly. Soon we will all experience something of what Mali did in Lismore. So despite being the target of every hysterical climate denialist in Australia, Mali was, in the end, vindicated: legally, ethically and politically.

She did the right, moral thing by taking risky action in the face of overwhelming state opposition. She raised awareness for coming climate catastrophes and laid the blame at the feet of the corporations and governments responsible.

We’ve made much of reflexively reviewing the merits and messages of protest actions undertaken lately, angsting over defaced paintings and the like. In reality, there isn’t much else a frustrated young person who has lost their home can reasonably do on their own. Mali did what she could. For that, she was much maligned. But then she was vindicated.

The risks of taking any climate action in 2022 include: the police will irrationally regard you as a direct threat. You might be headed to a gig and they’ll imprison you. You might be headed to a perfectly legal action, but they’ll treat you like you were going to end the world. 

The media will doxx and harass and shame you. Joe Hildebrand or an interchangeable opinion peer will label you a terrorist, knocking out breathless articles to a deadline about you with his knuckles. Ray Hadley will demand you be interned indefinitely. The nation’s collective comment sections will scream bloody murder about you. You will face violence from the police and perhaps days, or weeks, in gaol before you are bailed.  The police will hear the word "Blockade", and they will irrationally panic. You may pay for it.

And, yet, you will be vindicated; and yet, you will have done the right thing. Frankly, they’re all lucky you’re just rallying, or blocking traffic, instead of blowing up an oil pipeline. They should be praising your restraint. The civil disobedience that NSW Police are the most suppressive of is precisely the right thing to do.

Tom Tanuki is a writer, satirist and anti-fascist activist. Tom does weekly videos on YouTube commenting on the Australian political fringe. You can follow Tom on Twitter @tom_tanuki.

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