Lock the Gate

Hi to all who may be about to come to Drew’s talk to the 17 Group on the 1st of February. Here is a text by Drew that might spark some thoughts with which to prepare for the discussion that will follow the talk:

Imagine a situation where certain resource extraction industries – coal and coal seam gas – have potentially massive environmental impacts on underground and surface water, agricultural land and biodiversity with ecosystem collapse in a part of the Great Barrier Reef world heritage area and thousands of hectares of precious old growth bushland cleared. Imagine that thousands of Australian farmers and rural landowners have begun a non-cooperation campaign by refusing to allow mining companies to enter their land for exploration activities, despite the fact that they leave themselves liable to arrest if they persist. Imagine they have gone further and, together with young, predominantly urban environmental activists, have begun a series of blockades to prevent largely foreign, multinational mining companies from entering this land despite the full support of the companies by governments and contingents of police with orders to crush the protests. Now imagine that Labor governments are the main supporters of these industries and the Left in Australia could play almost no role in these events. It would have been unthinkable forty years ago when green bans were frequent and Jack Mundey was building cross-class alliances – but it is happening now. The Left, with the exception of the Socialist Alliance, has no involvement in these momentous events, no participation in the building of what will be one of the most significant social movements in our history and no coherent political analysis to enable them to make sense of what is going on.

I suppose the Left should not agonise too much about this. The significance of the Lock the Gate phenomenon also escaped the traditional Right which went off campaigning against wind turbines, thereby mobilising its ideological base in rural Australia but bypassing the more pragmatic farmers who felt a whacking great coal mine next to them or hundreds of coal seam gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations and holding ponds across their fields represented much more of a threat to their welfare than a couple of wind turbines. Even the mainstream environmental NGOs (ENGOs) were blind-sided. Most of them, especially the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Climate Institute, supported gas as a “transition fuel” to a renewable energy future and failed to see the destructive impacts the coal seam gas industry would have and anyway, had long ago lost the capacity to engage in community-based campaigning. Most unions, including the left-wing ones, were not at all interested or were downright hostile and industries like tourism and manufacturing just sat blinking like deer in the headlights as investment detoured out of their areas into mining, the Australian dollar went through the roof as a result of the resources boom and took the bottom out of many businesses and high-skilled labour was wooed away by the mining sector. The leaderships of the National Farmers Federation, the NSW Farmers Association, the Queensland Farmers Federation and Agforce took stances that went from craven submission to governments and refusal to support their own members to complaining about the impacts of mining on agriculture but refusal to support locking the gate.

Nevertheless, from the grassroots of rural communities and of the environment movement has emerged a large and effective social movement.

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