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Time to act for all the people

View from Tallows Beach to the Byron Bay Lighthouse. Photo Mary Gardner.

Story & image Mary Gardner

All understanding begins with our not accepting the world the way it appears.

– Susan Sontag

The moment I see the clouds march from the Byron lighthouse like a beacon, I snap the photograph. I watch the rain falling like a message on the sea. The surf is a movement changing the very ground on which I stand. Reflections and variations play on the interface of sand and water. What is this tide?

Early afternoon on the 14 May, 2020 means this is a changing tide. The moon is in the last quarter. It is weeks into the pandemic lockdown, months since the last wildfire and drought here, and years into climate change.

The Grattan Institute reports that 17–28 per cent of the Australian workforce is unemployed. The usual democracy is suspended; the work of governing now done by select high level groups. Only coalition members are included. Not one of the Federal opposition or cross party members. This excludes about half of our elected representatives.

On 25 March, 2020, Prime Minister Morrison created a National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC) with the aim of ‘mobilising a whole-of-society and whole-of-economy effort, so we come through this unprecedented health crisis.’ This team (two women and thirteen men) represents the interests of big fossil fuel companies and large corporate industries. Only one member works with a union.

No one represents Aboriginal interests. No one is conversant with sectors such as ecology, education, medicine, or the many service industries. No one stands for the children, old people, artists, casuals, refugees or temporary visa holders.

A fighting future chance

On 28 March 2020, Australia’s Commission for the Human Future held a round-table discussion and published Surviving and Thriving in the 21st Century.

Of their fourteen board members, half are women. All are experienced across many of the gaps found in the NCCC Commission. One is a young woman involved with the youth climate justice movement. 

Their report lists ten risks to human survival including: ecological losses, climate change, pollution, food insecurity, weapons of mass destruction and pandemics. The last one is ‘national and global failure to understand and act preventively’. They promote a holistic approach to a science and psychology of survival and well-being. They see not only research, but careers across the board, all ‘towards a safer, more sustainable human future… [with] collaborative… positive change.’

Over the years, the Climate Council has stubbornly proven its worth. In May 2020, it released the report Primed for Action. Rather than expand an export economy based on gas, the report explains how Australia can supply ‘zero emissions energy, products, minerals and services’.

Representatives for the Uluru Statement from the Heart are still ready to engage with both the government and the people of Australia. They seek constitutional recognition, a legislative change to ensure creation of just agreements, and the establishment of the Makarrata Commission for truth-telling.

Of several such groups, The Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience appears to be exceptional. Their knowledge-hub online brings together expertise from specialists, for communities to access. Together with the Rural Fire Service and State Emergency Services, they can prepare us for beyond COVID-19, into the next fire and flood seasons.

In the recession and recovery ahead, the NCCC has no need to ‘go it alone’. Nor is it desirable. What we can easily have is a widely representative consortium, including leaders from these groups, and maybe others wherever a gap is found. A joint co-chair, a cross-cultural partnership, can begin to address how we should continue in reconciliation with each other and our land and waters, both sweet and salty.

Let’s challenge the NCCC to objectively assess their representativeness. Let’s urge them to accept reports and include delegates from at least these groups I’ve mentioned and begin a genuine ‘whole-of-society and whole-of-economy effort’. They can step up – and to not fail in their brief – they surely must.

In a world like ours, appearances matter so much, and nothing is as it appears. Our dark sense of crisis can fade with sunshine on the surf. You may see yourself as a small person overlooked by government, quietly reading the rant of an old sick woman.

But much as I am an experienced researcher, and a determined community activist, you are a vital, able-bodied member of a growing Australia-wide awareness of our options for survival. Move into positions that enable you to act on this. Pass on your messages, and expand your experiences. How about writing to the NCCC? [email protected]

In spite of road-signs, the headland’s true name is Walgun. Throughout the Byron Shire, all of you know power is from people coming together, shining like beacons. Now go.


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4 responses to “Time to act for all the people”

  1. Keith Gasteen says:

    Wonderful article and photo from a courageous eco warrior. Best of luck Mary

  2. Sandra says:

    The beach. I thought I would head to the beach and so I ran. The moment I hit the beach, running, the wind and the sand hit me back as the cool grit oozed between my toes and the breeze whipped my hair into my face. This is but God’s grace. Would I rather be home? The bubbles and foam of the small waves washed my feet and rose up tp my ankles and I felt the exhilaration rise up my spine? This beach I wish it was mine and it is for a moment in time as I step forward further out into the waves and the wash. The salt haze rose upwards off the waves and floated in the air and just hung there, awhile, while overhead the clouds like cottonwool formed the wooly backdrop as the wool moved slowly across the landscape like a painter’s brush. I will stop awhile as there is no rush and take in the scene and take it all in before it begins to rain, but then it may not ever.

  3. Definitely. A whole society & economy
    is a ‘must’ plus ‘The Climate Council &
    Uluru Statement from the Heart’ ditto.

  4. Jenni says:

    Thanks for all you do, despite everything, wonderful Mary. A brave beacon.

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