Sunday, March 13, 2011

Melbourne gets up for climate action

Around 7500 protesters (the organisers’ estimate) rallied at the state Treasury buildings on March 12 to call for strong government action on climate change. The rally completely overshadowed the simultaneous rally against a carbon tax organised by the Liberal Party outside PM Julia Gillard’s office in Werribee which reports put at between 200 and 400 protesters.

That is, it would have completely overshadowed the tiny rally of neoliberals and climate deniers, had not the media shone their spotlight on that benighted gathering! A few pictures of it that I found have are a bit lacking in whole-of-crowd shots, but this one gives some idea.

As one wag commented on Facebook, “the timorous ABC now matches foreigner Rupert Murdoch as an enemy of the people. 7,500 people at Climate Action Rally today, 200 at Deniers' Rally but showed them first. Both given equal time on ABC News, no mention of numbers and no wide shots.”

To which one response was “better than channel 7 though, that had the deniers rally first, spoke to people, then crossed to our rally for about 5 seconds, saying 'just as many turned out....’”

Image: Nick Carson (borrowed from Earthsign)
Mitchell Toy in Rupert Murdoch's Herald Sun, surprisingly perhaps, gave a far more accurate account. AAP also gave a more accurate account. But the TV news is what most people see, sadly.

Let’s just say the climate action protest was in the order of 20-40 times the size of the deniers’ rally. It was also in the order of 5-10 times the size that I had been expecting, which is encourageing. The protest was called at only about a week’s notice, and largely built by online word of mouth and email calls; some posters were put up around the place as well.

Overflow down the embankment

GetUp, the online campaign organisation, were the principal organisers. GetUp are notorious for taking credit for other people's campaigns and failing to collaborate with other organisations, but they certainly deserve credit for their efforts with this rally.

I didn’t hear much of the speakers as the topography of the area where the rally was held was not really conducive, and I was circling around to try and find friends and take photographs (my whole album is viewable here). I just heard the announcer thanking Lucy Manne of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition as she finished speaking, and another speaker who declared that “ours is the last generation that can take the action needed” to avoid devastating climate change.

Kids find new uses for placards
The rally saw lots of people bringing their children (who went tobogganing on the embankment with rally placards!) and lots of young twentysomethings. Whole families, three generations, were there aplenty, it seemed. There were plenty of printed placards, but many homemade ones as well.

Young Labor Left
Greens placards were everywhere, but there were a large number of Labor Party people there too (identified by T-shirts and placards) and some union flags.

Many of us involved in the Stop HRL campaign handed out hundreds, probably thousands of leaflets for this ongoing anti-coal campaign. I saw others with their own issues piggybacking on the rally too: one leaflet offered to me asked the leading question, “can you be an environmentalist and eat meat?” (My considered answer – yes of course you can – probably differs from their answer!)

There was a small group from Solidarity handing out a statement opposing the carbon tax (while firmly in the camp of those wanting climate action of course). I did see one person pointedly giving the leaflet back and I don’t know how well the message was received by those that read it.

Socialist Alliance banner
Socialist Alliance had a banner which might have taken a stand against the government’s carbon price legislation, but you couldn’t read that part of it at all (which may have been a good thing). The hardline anti-Greens and anti-carbon price Socialist Alternative I only saw in the form of their leading light Mick Armstrong, circling around the back of the rally observing. Perhaps this is not surprising given their near total abstention from the climate movement.

One protester had a large placard expressing the concerns put by Beyond Zero Emissions that a higher carbon price will only drive a shift from coal to gas power at this point.

Protester Education Unit

 GetUp originally put out a call to support a carbon price (or "price on pollution"), but in the course of the week changed to call it a "rally for climate action". This is an important distinction because, as the critical comments on the fringes of the rally illustrate, there are many who do not think a carbon price will itself have many positive results.

But most people happily grabbed the printed placards on offer which supported a “price on pollution” and “clean energy” without probably knowing or caring so much for the debates about whether gas can be called "clean", or the various forms of carbon price and their relative merits. Many people shrink from the prickly debate over economic and legislative policy mechanisms, if they are even aware of it. The left need to do more work to find the information and issues which help people to begin thinking more critically on this.

Such a positive and large rally is a good sign in any case. There is much work to do to negotiate the pitfalls of the carbon price (which is intended to become a carbon trading scheme and promote a shift to fossil gas, according to environment minister Greg Combet). But if 8000 people can come out at short notice to support action on climate change– which was the clear sentiment of all those there – we are getting somewhere.

Update 14/3/2011

LIVE has a list of links to all news coverage of the rally, including videos taken by Peter Campbell


  1. Thanks for giving the comprehensive run down on the rally Ben. We were out of town at a 100% Renewables training weekend (called long before this rally, of course). All the participants were disappointed they couldn't make the rally so I'm delighted it went so well.


  2. In the big scheme of things, while the rally was great, your training weekend may well be more important. I saw some photos of your training session online, it looked great too!


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