Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Today by Elle Hardy

Extraordinary emergency
As climate activists seek to set legal precedent, Canavan doubles down

Extinction Rebellion protesters from marching in Brisbane on August 6.  © Darren England / AAP Image

Today in Brisbane Magistrates Court, four climate-change protesters pleaded not guilty to traffic offences, on the grounds that they should be allowed to break the law in order to save the planet. The group was charged on August 6 after they blocked a major Brisbane intersection during an Extinction Rebellion protest.

Ahead of her return to court on October 22, Emma Dorge told the ABC that she and her fellow protesters are trying to set a legal precedent. “I’m pleading not guilty on the basis of the extraordinary emergency defence, which basically allows for people breaking the law in an extraordinary emergency. We’re in the midst of a crisis and that’s the climate crisis; we believe we’ve essentially been forced to break the law to avert a far more catastrophic outcome.”

As the protesters were preparing for their day in court, yesterday Resources Minister Matt Canavan declared [$] that companies that bow to pressure from environmental activists should be “blacklisted” from the mining industry.

Speaking at the inaugural meeting of the Resources Media Club in Brisbane, Canavan said that the economic growth of Asian countries had been “perhaps the most remarkable event in economic history”, and claimed that extreme poverty had declined by 75 per cent in the past 30 years, thanks to industrialisation.

“These post-election protests against coalmining are not just illegal, they are immoral,” he said, referring to the matter of the four before the Magistrates Court today. “If the goals of the protesters are ever achieved – that is, the end of coalmining – the result would be millions of more people without a home, without access to electricity and without as much hope as they otherwise could have.”

Canavan went on to attack what has been called “woke capitalism”, companies that divest from fossil fuels and other problematic industries to avoid consumer boycotts. He suggested that the resources sector should boycott these companies in turn.

But for individuals like Dorge, the right to protest is increasingly coming under threat [$]. And as we saw last month, this creeping form of censorship is often bipartisan. The Palaszczuk Labor government in Queensland proposed new laws in response to the Extinction Rebellion protesters, seeking to ban locking devices used by climate activists to attach themselves to the road, as well as giving police more power to search suspected protesters.

In countries such as the United States, cracking down on left-wing and environmental protesters is becoming something of a sport. Shortly before Heather Heyer was murdered by a man driving a car into a group protesting a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville in 2017, six US states had introduced bills to protect drivers who ran their cars into protesters blocking their path.

The demonisation of protesters across continents and political parties is no coincidence. Nor is the fact that it is all too often (and ironically) led by vocal free-speech advocates, such as Canavan [$]. Accusations of hypocrisy carry little weight, because supporters of the fossil-fuel industry are interested in winning, not in being consistent.

Charges against protesters, even if they are dismissed, have a chilling effect. And the damage done by public laws and private campaigns that seek to silence dissent is crucial, as Australians increasingly recognise climate change as the most critical threat to the nation’s interests.

For all the bravery of the protesters, the climate-change debate highlights the declining utility of freedom of speech in the first place. Whatever remaining free speech we have, and the seemingly limitless platforms on which we can express it, is useless unless it can effect meaningful change.

“Many on the benches opposite would relish a no deal. They see it as an opportunity to open up Britain to a one-sided trade deal which puts us at the mercy of Donald Trump and United States’ corporations that will increase the wealth of a few at the expense of the many.”

Newly appointed British prime minister Boris Johnson has vowed to table a motion for an early election after losing a vote in the House of Commons brought by MPs seeking to block a no-deal Brexit.

“There’s a reason why you have recessions, which is, you can cleanse balance sheets, deleverage them very quickly, which means that you allow yourself plenty of scope to grow in the aftermath of a recession.”

Australia’s economic growth numbers have virtually ground to a halt, and some, including JP Morgan chief economist Sally Auld, have an interesting take on what an almost inevitable recession will mean for the country.

American secrets
As Brian Toohey releases his major book on national security in Australia, he reveals that American spies have been working here without detection.


The proportion of voters who follow federal politics closely, according to a Guardian Essential poll, which also found that 15 per cent do not follow it at all. A further 38 per cent said that they monitored political events sufficiently to know what’s going on, 23 per cent said they tuned in when something major was happening, and 8 per cent engaged only during election seasons.

“It simply beggars belief that nearly a third of all child sex offenders who were sentenced last year were not required to spend a single day behind bars, despite the devastating and life-long impacts that their crimes have on their young victims and their families.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter and Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton jointly announce sweeping changes to federal sentencing laws, to be introduced to parliament next week, which would see mandatory jail sentences for paedophiles and potential life sentences for the most serious offenders.

The list

“It is astonishing how little we know about sex, or at least about how our brains orchestrate our sex lives. Sixty or so years after William Masters and Virginia Johnson hooked volunteers up to monitors to plot the physiological changes that happen during sex ... we still don’t understand what happens in the brain during orgasm. This is partly because sex involves coordinating a lot of hugely complex brain regions. But it is also because of the strange ways in which we think, and refuse to think, about sex.”

“At the very least, Dutton is guilty of double standards – although the hapless stranded on Nauru and Manus may ask if he has any standards at all. Even before the au pair controversy was revealed, it was obvious that the amalgamation of border security and immigration was running into difficulties, which is presumably one reason Scott Morrison has hived immigration off to David Coleman, who can be relied on to keep his head down.”

“Forty per cent of the 1900 female members of the police surveyed said they had experienced harassment (the community average is 33 per cent). Some had seen far worse. Female officers described being preyed on by their superiors – and being too afraid to report it.” 

Elle Hardy

Elle Hardy is an Australian journalist based in the United States. She can be found at



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