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Issue 11: Our right to protest is under attack again

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From the editorThe UK is in crisis, Trump is being impeached, the religious right runs rampant in Aus
 

SundayFocus

September 29 · Issue #11 · View online
Your weekly wrap of national affairs, society, culture and politics, published by UnionsACT.

From the editor
The UK is in crisis, Trump is being impeached, the religious right runs rampant in Australia, and a 16-year-old Swedish girl is heralded as the planet’s saviour because she suddenly looks like the only sane person left. Welcome to Earth, 2019.
Of course Greta Thunberg isn’t the only beacon of hope left in a cruel and savage world – there’s also SundayFocus! Why not share the joy of forthright progressive news by forwarding this issue to friends and family? It’ll be your good deed for the day, and it also might mean we pick up a few Solidarity Subscribers so we can keep the project going.
Thanks, and enjoy the issue!
Guy Mosel, Editor

Our right to protest is under attack again
by Guy Mosel
­When more than 300,000 school students and their supporters rallied across the country on September 20 to protest climate inaction, acting prime minister Michael McCormack described the protests as “just a disruption”.
Earlier this month, when two Extinction Rebellion activists glued themselves to a Brisbane bridge, Queensland Opposition Leader Deb Frecklington said, “These protesters are disrupting everyday Queenslanders.”
Disruption, say our leaders, is bad.
Except not all disruption is bad, is it. The philosophy of disruption dominates contemporary business thought, with the likes of Uber and Amazon worshipped for their disruptive innovations.
The difference between the two disruptions, of course, is that one lot of disruptors make money for the investor class, while the other lot threaten the interests of the investor class by challenging the status quo.
So when a police officer says, “A peaceful protest does not disrupt the services in the CBD,” as Superintendent David Clayton did after April’s vegan protest in Melbourne, what he’s really saying is, “The state accepts your right to protest provided it does not in any way inconvenience it.”
But what would be the point of that?
Fight the power
From the eight-hour working day to women’s right to vote and ending our involvement in the Vietnam War, many of the most important social reforms and decisions in Australian history have been achieved in large part by protest. Disruptive protest.
But the powerful have never been big fans of the great unwashed standing up for themselves, usually because whenever they do it’s to either demand that those in power give up that power, or to exhort them to do something they’d rather not.
Those who gum up the gears of capitalism invariably find themselves subjected to the state’s wrath. That’s why we have legislation restricting labour strikes, making it almost impossible for workers to withhold their labour. (A mass strike like the one that saved Medicare in 1976 would result in the deregistration of unions today.) It’s why we had the tyranny of Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s police state.
And it’s why over the past few years, during which the activist left has enjoyed a resurgence, there has been another concerted effort by governments of both stripes to undermine the right to protest and protect the interests of businesses.
Last year’s Espionage and Foreign Interference Bill, presented as essential for responding to new threats of foreign interference in our democracy, could be used to jail Australian political activists, and placed the protection of profit above civil rights by recasting espionage as acting against “economic interests”. The legislation was so troubling even the Institute of Public Affairs complained.
Legislation was also passed earlier this month targeting the activities of animal rights protesters. The laws, which criminalise behaviour that “would cause detriment to a primary production business”, create harsh new penalties for people who incite others to trespass on farms.
In Queensland, where Brisbane has become the front line for anti-fossil fuel activism, the Labor government has tabled legislation (for which they sought mining industry advice) which proposes new penalties for protesters who disrupt transport or block access to businesses, and grants police new powers to search activists for “dangerous attachment devices”.
The laws have brought memories of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen years roaring back for many Queenslanders. The LNP-dominated Brisbane City Council even tried to ban a protest organised in response to the legislation but was defeated in court.
In New South Wales, the Right to Farm bill introduced last week to ostensibly stop animal rights protests on farms, has been attacked for being so broad as to outlaw civil protest in any enclosed space. The new laws come on the back of last year’s anti-assembly regulations which give low-level bureaucrats the power to disperse protesters on state-owned land.
Meanwhile, in Tasmania, the Liberal government campaigned at last year’s election on restoring anti-protest laws that were dubbed “Pythonesque” in their absurdity by the High Court.
March on
At a time when the power of corporations is in the ascendancy, we can’t rely on millionaire executives, the billionaires to whom they answer, and the politicians who do their bidding, to voluntarily solve the great problems of our epoch. Without putting too fine a point on it, they’re not our friends.
In the face of intractable racial and class injustice, rising inequality and an existential threat to the existence of life, the only thing we can truly count on is lots of people, in solidarity, saying “no more”.
No legislation can ever stop that.
Read more
Queensland Greens MP Michael Berkman’s piece in Green Agenda is an excellent appraisal of the current challenges to Australian democracy.
Tell us more
What do you think of the new anti-worker legislation that would remove workers’ rights to join and control their union? Tell us!
In other news...
Swede justice Millions of white men of a certain age lost their minds over Greta Thunberg’s “how dare you” monologue, in which she castigated their generation for royally buggering the planet. Greta is having none of it: “I honestly don’t understand why adults would choose to spend their time mocking and threatening teenagers and children for promoting science when they could do something good instead. I guess they must simply feel so threatened by us.”
Too little, too late “Faced with the monumental, Australia is committed to the incremental: creating a ‘circular plastics economy’ and tackling overfishing, as Morrison spruiked at the UN, while ignoring the threat of rising emissions.” Rick Morton lays it all out in The Saturday Paper.
Lying with dogs Jason Wilson makes a compelling argument that the reason why there is no insurgent rightwing populist movement in Australia is because the demagogues have already found a home in our government.
You scratch my back… Scott Morrison’s Great Big American Festival of Dumb was entertaining and ridiculous but, as Elle Hardy points out, it also laid bare the Australian media’s addiction to “access journalism”.
Fear of god In a clear indication that there’s definitely nothing to the rumours that the PM attempted – and failed – to get Hillsong founder Brian Houston an invitation to a state dinner with The Don, the church has threatened several Australian news outlets with defamation.
Wage theft epidemic continues Sunglass Hut and Bunnings last week joined the growing rogues’ gallery of Australian businesses seemingly incapable of not taking money out of the pockets of their staff.
Moving forward In IndigenousX, Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves argues that Western and Indigenous ways of life need not be constantly in conflict, and that First Australians must not be continually forced to choose between their culture and opportunity.
Pushing back against the market The UK Labour Party announced on Monday that it would take Universal Basic Services to the next election, a crucial step towards the democratisation of the ownership of the economy.
Coming up this week
Newstart under review Submissions to the senate inquiry into the adequacy of Newstart close tomorrow, with public hearings beginning on October 10. The committee is due to hand down its report on March 27 next year.
Robo-debt in the spotlight Following the announcement earlier this month of a class action against the government for Centrelink’s discredited automated debt recovery system, a senate inquiry launched into the debacle will begin public hearings this week.
Longreads
“There are reasons for optimism”
Everything you need to know about the UK Supreme Court ruling
For your bookshelf
On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal, by Naomi Klein
Inside the Greens: Origins and Future of the Party, the People and the Politics, by Paddy Manning
Glimmer of Hope
Shop
"Climate action is union business" t-shirt
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