After the People’s Climate Assembly ended last week, one man stayed on outside Parliament House to hunger strike for climate. Chris Mordd Richards reports.
ROB BAKES from Kyneton in Central Victoria urgently wants the Federal Government to declare a climate emergency. He is on a hunger strike outside Parliament House to draw attention to the issue.
Rob started his hunger strike at midnight on Thursday 6 February and was on day five of not eating when IA spoke to him on Tuesday 11 February about his protest.
At 73 years old, Rob is not a young man anymore and a hunger strike can take a serious toll on someone of any age, let alone someone in their 70s. His commitment to his cause is what is seeing him through this challenge, along with water containing electrolytes, potassium and lemon slices.
Rob has a crew of ten people supporting him in his efforts and the Climate Assembly organisers kindly left a marquee set up on the lawns to assist Rob when they packed up last week.
Despite his unwavering beliefs in the need for government action, Rob doesn’t plan to put himself in serious medical danger.
After seven days of hunger-striking, someone else will take over from him for the next seven days. However, Rob doesn’t rule out doing another seven-day period at some point again after that.
Rob and his supporters are part of a new Extinction Rebellion (XR) group formed specifically for the purposes of this action. The group’s focus is non-violent, non-disruptive direct action involving personal sacrifice.
They would be sleeping out on the Parliamentary lawns as well, however, APH security will not allow that under any circumstances.
Therefore, Rob and his crew sleep at the nearby Aboriginal Tent Embassy overnight but are outside Parliament House each day from around 8 AM to 5 PM, while Parliament is sitting.
When IA spoke with Rob, he informed us that we were the first media to speak with him thus far. Despite the Press Gallery journalists up at Parliament House each day, he has been completely ignored by the media and most of the politicians as well.
On day seven of his hunger strike, the morning of Thursday 13 February, the new Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt came out of Parliament to speak with Rob about his protest and affirm the Greens commitment to action on climate change.
For a government that, as Rob says, is “addicted to coal”, that hope of a conscience vote might be slightly more aspirational than a certainty, given the Government’s attitude to it.
As Adam Bandt said to Rob on Thursday, they are only four votes short of declaring a climate emergency in the House of Representatives. If a few coalition members were willing to cross the floor on this issue, it could be achieved.
One might wonder if a government mired by scandals of late and facing massive disunity from its coalition partners, the Nationals, could not use a conscience vote on climate action as a unifying factor that unites the nation and rises above the fray of dirty political pork barrelling.
Then again, crediting Morrison with any kind of real leadership vision or ability to unite anything, except those who don’t want their hand forcefully shaken, could be a bit too aspirational for the actual state of politics in 2020 in Australia.
While the Coalition is led by a coal-loving Prime Minister and bound by the views of extreme climate sceptics in the National Party, it is hard for even moderates in the Liberals to get traction on this issue.
Rob also accuses the Labor Party of hypocrisy on climate change as much as the Government, pointing out the CFMEU’s role in the coal industry and the influence they wield on the Labor Party.
Rob is ultimately protesting outside Parliament to invite politicians of all stripes to act by making his request politely via the banner he has erected facing Parliament House.
It is up to politicians themselves if they respond directly to him or not, as Adam Bandt now has.
Rob wants climate justice, not just climate action. He says the effects of climate change should not fall disproportionately on farmers, rural communities, people on lower incomes and others that are currently a lot more vulnerable.
We have seen this already as a result of the fires and now the floods, people who have lost everything from the fires and weeks or months later are still waiting for more than a small payment from the Federal Government so they can rebuild.
Rob also emphasises the need for total job replacement as we phase out fossil fuel industries to address climate change. He feels this is an area that is not being adequately addressed.
He cares deeply about the coal miners and their families – as well as others in similar industries – and wants them to be properly supported to transition into new jobs.
“Climate Justice, to put it simply. Is that too much to ask?” Rob wants to know.
Rob is putting his body on the line for this cause, in a passive manner that does not hinder anyone else in any way. The question is what the rest of us will do to ensure climate action is taken.
We have all seen the fires, followed by hailstorms, then floods and who knows what is next? A majority of Australians believe in climate change and the need to act. Will our Parliament listen?
Support independent journalism Subscribe to IA.