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Byron Shire
February 27, 2021

Tales from the political coalface

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Nick Hanlon, Ash Grunwald and journalist Margo Kingston on a coal slag heap near Gunnedah. Photo Eve Jeffery
Nick Hanlon, Ash Grunwald and journalist Margo Kingston on a coal slag heap near Gunnedah. Photo Eve Jeffery

Margo Kingston

Mungo and I last discussed politics just after the federal election on Late Night Live.

We both knew what Abbott would do – seek to close down free speech and climate change science information and further corporate interests at the expense of community.

The bottom line was that a disenchanted public had voted in a climate change denying government at a time when climate change amelioration and adaptation was crucial to the survival of our species.

I felt lucky to have co-ordinated the citizen journalist coverage of the boil-over in Indi, southwest of Canberra, for my website No Fibs.

It was a successful green-shoot challenge to a corrupted, post-truth political establishment.

An intelligent, transparent, community-building grassroots campaign enmeshed with social media saw Greens, Labor and National party voters unite to dump sitting Liberal Sophie Mirabella for a quality independent committed to a carbon price.

So I geared my site and my focus to covering the green shoots of communities seeking change from the ground up, rather than the closed world of insider politics where the great bulk of big media failed to join the dots.

It’s a good thing when all hope for established political ‘good faith’ dies, because then individuals must ask – what will I do?

Activists need to let go hierarchy, be in the moment and trust in people to work together for the common good.

For me, this is the exciting space to report in Australian politics right now, and to foster the reporting of citizen journalists.

I began by funding a pilot project on CSG citizen journalism while I took a break, then did on-the-ground news reporting for the first time since covering Pauline Hanson’s 1998 election campaign when I live-tweeted civil disobedience at the Leard Blockade and established #leardblockade as Twitter’s news feed.

Here, determined locals and visitors tilt at windmills trying to stop Whitehaven felling the critically endangered Leard State Forest for the biggest new coal mine in NSW.

If they can get away with that, they can get away with anything on climate change.

As Naomi Klein wrote recently, we face an existential threat that requires collective political action at a time when the very concept of collective wellbeing is being kicked to death by corporatist ideology (yet enlivened by social media).

She says the time has come for each of us to to find a place to stand, and for me that is reporting Liverpool Plains food bowl communities defending a shock-and-awe invasion by fossil fuel miners with governments in their back pockets.

Like the voice for Indi, Lock the Gate supports and co-ordinates local communities defending their land, water and future their way.

Back home in Queensland, I became heavily involved in the Twitter-based #SPCsunday campaign to lift sales of our loss-making last canned fruit processor after Abbott’s sinister decision to kill Shepparton and lie about why.

Massive public support at the checkout saved SPC and Shepparton.

Newcastle writer Linda Drummond created that campaign. She wrote, ‘It’s easy to look at an issue and think, “Someone should do something about that”, but it seems our governments are becoming less inclined to be the ones to do something.’

‘So where does that leave us? We can either complain. Or we can act.’

The Newcastle and its surrounds is at the forefront of questioning dirty coal and CSG owing to the defacement of the Hunter Valley without regard to human, land, water and environmental cost.

The region is home to some of the state’s most intelligent and sophisticated climate change and land and water quality activists.

On my last trip to the Leard forest, I reported on the occupation of the Whitehaven Coal mine site, and like other citizen journalists, was arrested along with more than 80 protectors, including the blockade’s spiritual leader Bill Ryan, a 92-year-old veteran of the Kokoda Track.

I then drove to the Pilliga, where Santos CSG exploration in Pilliga State Forest has mobilised farmers, environmentalists and Aborigines.

It was just after Wilderness Society campaigner Naomi Hogan uncovered the contamination of an aquifer by Santos and its cover-up.

Northern rivers’ musical activists organised a much needed pop-up Pilliga Party to boost the stretched Pilliga Protector Network, and I spoke to one of its elders on the state of play.

She said the top priority for people concerned with CSG must be the Bentley blockade.

‘It is the frontline,’ she said.

‘If they are beaten we are all beaten. If they hold out they empower us to fight on.’

I write this before driving to Bentley to visit the frontline. Will I see it before, during, or after police move in?

However that looming confrontation plays out, the Bentley blockade holds the hopes for many communities threatened by fossil fuel expansion around the state and across the nation.

I feel honoured to be visiting the Bentley blockade and to be published in the Byron Shire Echo for the first time, especially as a substitute for a journalist hero of mine.

Go well, Mungo.

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  1. Thank you Margo. It is hard to believe that what should be an ‘enlightened age’, is fast moving into, what I can only call ‘the dark ages’. The greed and dismissal of the threat facing not only the human population, but all life on Earth,is staggering. The conversation about how to protect environments, and the move to renewables should be happening, but is disguised by deceit and ‘mistryths’ by our present Government and by Main Stream Media, coal barons and other vested interests. I am fearful for our near future, and the consequences if we, as a supposedly thinking public don’t act now to stop this madness.


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