The People’s Climate Assembly gathered outside Australia’s Federal Parliament on the first day of sitting, on 4 February ‘to make a stand against the ignorance of the Australian government, and to demand real action in the face of the climate change emergency.’
The gathering outside the Parliament followed a calamitous season of bushfire and a popular denouncing of climate change denialism. It coincided with the first sitting day of 2020 for the now reviled Morrison government.
The Assembly occupied Federation Mall for five days, and busloads of individuals and groups arrived from Melbourne, Wollongong, the Blue Mountains, Sydney, Dubbo and the Rainbow Region.
The program included workshops about liveable cities, hydrology, traditional ownership, doctors talking climate and mental health, veterinarians talking fire and wildlife. There were smoking ceremonies, and choir-led sing-alongs, information stalls and lots of banners and signage.
With hot sun, limited shade and blustery wind, Federation Mall was a harsh place for the protesters. They were corralled well back from the big house by an army of police, even though for four of the five days the crowds were sparse.
Support from across the community
The first sitting day saw the action begin at 7am with a Pollie Watch at the Melbourne Avenue entrance to Parliament House. Activists and their banners lined up so that politicians arriving from the airport could not help but notice them. There were about one hundred people with 20 big banners – the biggest Pollie Watch yet.
About 2,500 people attended the 11am rally. Popular science communicator, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki MC’d the rally, and the speeches were fiery – hot with anger at the government’s inaction and climate denial.
Speakers included the newly announced Greens leaders, Adam Bandt and Senator Larissa Waters, former Liberal leader, John Hewson, and the ever-popular Bob Brown who urged direct action against coal miners and Tarkine loggers.
Bruce Shillingsworth, a Muruwari and Budjiti man from the northwest NSW river lands, demanded water be put back in the rivers.
The Member for Warringah, Zali Stegall, spoke of a climate emergency bill, for which she intends bipartisan support. Go Zali!
Dr Sue Wareham from the Medical Association for the Prevention of War warned of coming conflicts from climate extremes and war-promoting military spending. Of the ‘LibLabs’ she decried, ‘How long do we have to suffer these people?’
The ALP Shadow Minister for Environment, Mark Butler, was heckled. He left the stage with the crowd chanting in unison, ‘No more coal!’
The rally finished with a walk and hand-holding around Parliament House.
Personally, I felt disappointed that there was no direct action, and all-in-all it seemed to me just an exercise in more hot air. It was good for movement-building, but the practical task of reducing CO2 in the face of a fossil-fuel funded government remained unaddressed.
Graeme Dunstan is a peace activist from the North Coast of NSW (Peacebus.com).