Chris Mordd Richards was present at the recent climate protest at Parliament House where thousands joined against the Government.
200 PEOPLE GATHERED on Sunday 2 February at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for the opening and welcome to the country of the People’s Climate Assembly, before marching up to the lawns of Parliament House.
Fifteen marquees along with a stage had been setup on the Parliament House lawns, with numerous events planned for Sunday through to Thursday 6 February, as Parliament opened for the year two days prior.
On Monday, the second day of the assembly, around 100 people were present throughout the day for workshops being held by various groups, including Doctors for the Environment speaking about climate mental health.
By 11 A.M. on Tuesday, over 1,000 people had already gathered to listen to various speakers and the numbers only swelled from there, growing to over 2,500 people by not long after midday. They were gathered to put voice and numbers to their demands that Australia declares a climate emergency.
Speakers included Labor’s Mark Butler, the Greens Adam Bandt and Larissa Waters, Bob Brown, John Hewson, Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth, George Newhouse and other various speakers, all MCed by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki.
A successful attempt was made to encircle Parliament House with a human chain just after 2 PM as a symbolic gesture of protest to the Government.
From start to finish, it took just over 30 minutes for the chain to work its way around Parliament House and back to the start again, but it was indeed a successful attempt and the first time the building has been fully encircled like that.
According to the police liaison for the Climate Assembly, Parliamentary security had been quite sympathetic to the planned action and did not voice much objection to the encircling of Parliament House itself.
APH security did, however, stipulate that no one could hold placards or shout slogans during the encirclement, as protesting is only allowed on the lawn itself.
As expected, this stipulation was not completely adhered to, however no arrests were made as a result and the police did not seem too bothered by minor breaches of this requirement during the encirclement, of which there were a few.
Sadly, the end of the day was marred by the arrest of an Aboriginal protestor, who lit a red signal distress flare and held it aloft at the top of the lawns. They were at least ten metres away from the nearest person at the time and did nothing but hold the flare up with outstretched arms.
The police saw this but initially did not act, waiting for the flare to burn out before then immediately moving in to arrest the protestor with half a dozen officers. Despite the fact the man was in the lawful protest area and not presenting a danger to anyone else, the police chose not to use their discretion and caution the man, instead immediately taking him into custody.
This was an unfortunate end to a very peaceful protest that day, the police just seemingly interested in claiming a scalp at that point. It is not known at this time what the man has been charged with. A.C.T. Police have been contacted for comment and we will update this piece if/when a response is received.
Wednesday saw much smaller numbers at the protest site, with around 100 people present for healing-based workshops, with a few stalls already packing up their marquees and equipment.
Thursday featured further workshops in the morning again on “the way forward from here” and ideas for future actions, before all the gear was packed down and the event concluded.
It is hard to know how much impact the protests had on those inside Parliament; the numbers on Tuesday, though, were voluminous for a protest at Parliament House and it would have been hard to miss if you were present that day, inside or outside of Parliament.
One thing is for sure, though, the people are not done protesting or expressing their anger over the Government’s inaction on climate change and they will be back if nothing is done to address this issue.
Peter Thompson, one of the co-organisers had this to say at the conclusion of the event:
It was a fantastic outcome; a lot of energy went into the planning with a very short time to prepare. The time is right for action in the community and the response to the protest was fantastic.
It was a brilliant idea to encircle Parliament House, an incredible visual feast and an amazing political statement.
We say to the Government: Declare a climate and ecological emergency immediately, act according to the science and move toward a just and fair transition to a renewable and sustainable future.
One thing definitely achieved this week is that the people felt heard and they made their presence and anger known. If nothing else, the week at least provided an outlet for a lot of emotion around climate concerns, the fires and the dumpster fire of our Federal Government.
Whether that is enough to make a difference, time will tell. No one was holding their breath waiting for the Crime Minister to do the right thing on climate action though; it will likely take Labor returning to power – whenever that is – before even moderate further action will be achieved.
Labor itself has watered down its climate policies, though, since the election loss and should not necessarily be viewed as the party that will take the necessary action either, according to most protestors IA spoke with. The heckling of Mark Butler as he addressed the crowd spoke volumes.
It remains to be seen whether the Greens under Adam Bandt can make more progress on this issue than Richard di Natale was able to, especially at the next election.
While the politicians dither and dally, the country continues to burn and we are well on our way to 3-4 degrees of warming, which will see catastrophic effects on future fires, droughts and more. The time to act on climate change is now.
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