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Byron Shire
August 9, 2022

Opinion: 5G, activism and testing the public

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Let’s make two assumptions.

First, you really, really believe that 5G is dangerous to our physical health, and that Telstra has really, really harmed people by the introduction of the technology to Mullumbimby.

I know that is a giant leap for many folk, but humour me.

Second, let’s assume that Telstra, and our local member, are correct that the tower fire in Mullumbimby was deliberately lit.

Is it justified?

Retired magistrate David Heilpern. Image Jeff ‘not guilty your honour’ Dawson

This raises that thorny old question about when it is morally permissible to damage property in the interests of a cause – is it a breach of the principles of non-violent direct action?

Before I state my own position, it is worth reflecting on a few interrelated considerations.

Nelson Mandela helped found and was head of the military wing of the ANC, which was responsible for bombings of property and the killing of civilians.

He did not practice non-violence, and yet he is one of the most revered people of our times.

Similarly admired actions litter the activists’ archives – the Ploughshares Eight, BUGAUP, the Thatcherite miners – all involved destruction of property.

Second, most engagements for change over the last 100 years have involved property damage of some sort or other – suffragettes, environmentalism, labour activism.

Third, there are shades of grey as to what property damage is – if someone blocks a road to protest climate change there can be economic loss, costs to workers and employers. Is that property damage?

The least worst conclusion is that ‘minimum necessary damage’ to property is justifiable by activists.

So, the breaking of a lock to get into a shed and film a torturing chicken farm, or graffitiing on a public building, or a tripod over a bulldozer, or the occupation of a politician’s office are examples of this.

True, there is property damage, but it is at minimal necessary levels. Greenpeace and Sea Shepherd practice and preach this effectively. On the other hand, bombing of abortion clinics, setting fire to timber mills, and trashing shop windows cross over a line.

In my days on forest blockades, property damage beyond the very minimal necessary was shunned because of the potential for violent backlash, the alienation of moderate supporters, the risk that things would go wrong and harm people, concerns about police (over)reactions and the counterproductive responses from the general public.

And so to the assumed deliberate destruction of the 5G tower.

First, I think it really stretches the boundary of non-violence.

To take out communications for a town and hinterland in the aftermath of a catastrophic rainfall event risks serious harm or death to people.

It is not hard to think of scenarios where people’s ability to get help in an emergency was completely hampered. If property damage carries real risks to the physical wellbeing of the community, it is not non-violent at all.

Second, it has caused a classic backlash against the activists and the cause.

If I were still a magistrate, I’d be thinking prison.

Many people I know generally sympathetic to activism are about ready to strangle the next person that even mentions 5G at the dinner table.

It really has caused grief to grieving people way beyond inconvenience.

Small businesses were unable to operate, families could not connect to pick up children, broken down cars had to be abandoned (mine too) and alternate communications (including homing pigeons and a town crier) were overloaded.

Third, this was not by any means necessary or minimalist.

5G fears are not comparable to an apartheid state/totalitarian regime that disenfranchised, oppressed and shot people on the basis of the colour of their skin.

These vandals are no Mandela’s.

Australia, with all its faults, even with its corruption of political donations, failure to bridge the gaps with First Nations people, media ownership concentration and disgraceful climate change policies, has at its beating heart the rule of law, the separation of powers and a vibrant, if imperfect, democratic process.

Right next to the burnt tower is graffiti proclaiming the dangers of 5G.

Go hard with that I reckon. Maybe even climb the tower with some banners if you’ve got the guts. But burning key infrastructure crosses my tolerance level.

I’m open for discussion on all of this – it is hard territory with shades of grey and plenty of room for robust debate.

What if you really believe 5G is murder? What is necessary then? Is there a ‘reasonableness’ test?

Some of the brilliant heart-felt writing in the wake of Black Lives Matters related to looting and destruction in the USA argues that property damage is justifiable in the face of overwhelming state brutality, and structural economic and racial injustice.

There is a vision that the BLM protests without property damage would not have been taken seriously or been as effective in changing the dominant discussion. Maybe so. Perhaps I am guilty of being old and staid.

But here in downtown Mullumbimby, struggling out of the mud of the biggest (un)natural disaster of our times, looking up at the smoking remains of the tower, I reckon Gandhi should have the last word:

‘It is an old argument… in defence of terrorism. Sabotage is a form of violence. People have realised the futility of physical violence but some people apparently think that it may be successfully practised in its modified form as sabotage. The destruction of bridges, etc., by means of explosives does not touch this evil but only provokes a worse evil in the place of the one it seeks to end.’

Now, about the morals of eliminating Putin…


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31 COMMENTS

  1. Banner hangs? Political cause? 5G fears are not comparable to an apartheid state/totalitarian regime?

    They believe it’s a physical threat that is harming them physically, constantly.
    It’s a matter of self defense. As is Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine.

    Telstra could put up 4G equipment. 4G is just normal radio transceivers operating at relatively benign frequencies.
    It was the most predictable thing in the world that sneaking up 5G towers just after people have had to physically protect themselves was going to cause that self defense spirit to spill over to defense again their towers.

    Funny how all the Eco nuts here don’t care about radiological threats in the environment. 5G is not just better 4G, it’s completely different and has raised red flags with scientists with what it does, and military analysts / national security experts, with what it can be used for.

    It’s not a political issue for those who destroyed the tower. They aren’t against internet and telephone access.

    • It’s the Eurasian Globalists and the Liberal Globalists fighting over who get to run the one world government they all want to put us under.

  2. I just remember about 10 years ago when (probably the same) people were whining about 4G saying it’s not safe, it hasn’t been tested, it’ll fry our brains and harm our children. Yet now pretty much all of us (including children) have been using 4G phones for a decade with no recognised ill effects. Frankly I’m looking forward to 7G.

  3. Thank you David for your balanced and reasoned comments about protests in general and 5G in particular.
    The damage to the tower in Mullumbimby was a selfish and unjustified act and rendered more so after the devastation in our area.

    • Putting up a damaging tower in Mullumbimby was a selfish and unjustified act and rendered more so after the devastation in our area.

  4. Dear David,

    If your stated assumptions are true, then, but for a carceral approach to justice, I generally agree with what you are saying, and I too cannot condone the burning of the tower.

    However, (and I may be wrong here) didn’t Telstra install the 5G in the midst of a natural disaster, thereby denying the natural justice that emerges out of the sustained protest by the relevant section of the community? (That is, assuming the existing 3G and 4G were operational at the time – but even if 3 and 4G had gone down, would not the correct conduct by Telstra in respect of the public process that was on foot, be 1) to put a ‘cease fire’ on the 5G standoff , 2) repair the 3 and 4G, and then 3) resume the public 5G argument, – once the community had dealt with the natural disaster).

    From what I can see, whilst the burning of the tower (if it was intentional) likely caused harm to the public, the capitalising on a disaster by Telstra, in my view, is relevant to the context in which the act is commented on: as, in my view, it is an offence to the natural justice deserved by the community of people who have protested for a long time on an issue of public interest.

    Whilst ‘property is theft’, particularly in Australia, I am not saying that the burning of the tower is reasonable, but does Telstra’s conduct have probative value to the context in which the act occurred? and if so, does Telstra’s conduct deserve mentioning when framing the issue in this instance?

    Respectfully, in my view, if you are going to argue the case made on the assumptions you have stated, it would seem reasonable to also comment on Telstra’s conduct, given it’s relevance to the context of opinion you’ve given.

    Whilst Telstra obviously didn’t force someone to burn their tower down, does Telstra hold some culpability by treating the community with such contempt as to wait until the community is in the midst of responding (unsupported by government) to a natural disaster, and therefore unable to protest, – whilst Telstra (supported by government funding,) capitalises on the disaster by taking the opportunity to trample the community’s natural rights to in the pursuit of expanding their profits?

    Again I am not saying that burning the tower is ok, but I am asking: does not Telstra’s unclean conduct frustrate the community process going on?

    It is a really public forum: people protesting in the street, against something they don’t want, for a long time. Should not that public fight be fought with clean hands?

    Again, whilst burning the tower isn’t the correct response, respectfully, in my view, 1) telling the story probably would be better served by accounting for Telstra’s conduct, and 2) Telstra unclean conduct in the context of a very public fight is worthy of public scrutiny, and perhaps a follow up ‘Opinion’.

    Regards,

    Zac

  5. GUILTY! And from an ex-Justice?
    Has anyone been arrested? Has evidence been shown to prove this was definitely arson and not a faulty part?
    Why have you decided this was a protest? Now maybe some new news has come out stating this, but regardless,
    what you should be asking is why Telstra and these “essential services” went down again!
    Despite the reason, where is the backup? Why don’t we have fall overs and fail safes on these “essential services”? That’s the REAL crime. If you can’t dial 000 when you need to then the finger should be pointing directly at those responsible for providing this service, not to “that long haired bloke over there”.
    This is not about 5G, regardless of your stance, this is about not being able to communicate effectively and efficiently in 2022 because ONE tower had an issue.
    Sorry David, I normally like your column.

    • Hi Maxim, and thank you for your comments. The article was premised on two assumptions, and one of them was that the fire was deliberately lit. Of course this may prove not to be true, but the discussion seemed to me to still be worthy nevertheless. I totally agree with you about the lack of back-up or failsafe on essential services. I guess until recently you could have argued that land lines were the back up. But so few people have them now. I did raise this, and it was put to me that there was enough opposition to one tower – imagine the ugliness of two. Still, good point you’ve made and I appreciate that you took the time.

      • Thanks for taking the time to reply David. I appreciate it was an opinion piece, with premise, but as an influencer (sorry to drop that one on you, but you are), continuing with the narrative that this was not only a deliberate act , but one carried out by 5g protester, deflects from the real issue and is dangerous in my view. Worth discussion, yes, but once this narrative is repeated enough times it becomes “fact” and is very difficult to repeal. Trial by media in a way. If this is an infrastructure issue then that needs to be front and centre. Landlines were the backup until recently, probably true, but that infrastructure and the government services running them at the time was reconfigured and sold off. The concerns of “one or two” towers is immaterial. There are other towers (if telcos actually came to the party and decided to share resources during emergency situations) and other ways of building in redundancies without building a whole new tower. If 5G is to work we’ll need a lot of small cell units on power poles every couple of hundred metres anyway… is that not “ugly”?

  6. My problem with 5G is that there is no mechanism by which 5G roll out can be determined or regulated like any other proposed development.

    I just completed a Court case over a 5G addition to a tower in Lismore in which Telstra was able to rely
    on an Act which specifically excludes any Council or public consultation,

    We were blocked from relying on any expert evidence or scientific documentation,

    In fact we had been given access to thousands of scientific abstracts on the effects of EME emissions
    none of which could be put before the Court,

    If the public or the Courts are denied probative evidence on a matter of public interest to make an informed decision then that is where the real problem resides,

    If David were a presiding judge in the Land and Environment Court would he not want to see the evidence of whether there is harm. He is a fair minded judicial officer, so I think the answer is yes, yet the laws have been constructed to deny judicial oversight.

    In saying this it must not be construed that I support vandalism of public property though it can be said that Telstra during the extreme flood event taking the opportunity to install the 5G equipment as it did is as I would say in the circumstances deliberately provocative.

    On the other hand, though there are allegations of arson there doesnt seem to be any evidence forthcoming that this was the case or that the fire possibly was actually caused by faulty equipment.

    • Great to hear from you old friend. And I totally agree about the blanket approval laws for this type of development. They ought to be subject to the same scrutiny and judicial review as any other development. In the end, all that darkness achieves is suspicion of a cover-up. Failure to permit evidence of harm does not even allow the contrary argument to be tested. And I presume that tests cases could lead to better community outcomes all round. And yes, the vandalism premise was a stated assumption. May or may not be so. Take care, and thanks for the commentary. David. PS. -where is the book of your court exploits?

  7. Anyone who thinks it’s perfectly acceptable to damage public infrastructure and inconvenience other people in a crisis on the basis of some flying saucer bull should feel the full force of the law, end of story

    • It’s not public infrastructure. Telecom was privatized along time ago.
      It’s a private company wanting to effect people against their will to make a profit.

  8. To my knowledge the telco smear campaign to DIVIDE the Community by partisan ill-informed massaging messages by media and pollies is disgusting. Where is the firies report? Arson- if so what charges? Incompetent work – let’s see or false flag corPirate subterfuge? Echoing the deepstate agenda 2030 for Smart Cities. Look at all clamour for a Musk stick to give unlimited joy. We have cables, we have optic fibre laid, we have radio frequencies available. All the jabbers are intended to be part of 6G “the internet of bodies” all W.E.F. Transhuman agenda.

    Remember the Telco Act of 2018 said “…regardless of health impacts…”

  9. Hi Zac, and thanks for your thoughts. I agree that it is a worthy follow up – did Telstra actually install the 5G under the cover of flooding to thwart planned protest action. Interesting.

    • Ah yes! Telstra really did know about the major storm and flooding and deliberately erected their tower then! Pity they didn’t inform the public about the disaster. What a brilliant mind you have!!

  10. Police are investigating; says it all really. If it was a fire caused by a technical problem, Telstra techies would have left it at that and just fixed it. What is obvious to all those that are not blinded by more conspiracy rubbish is that this was an act of sabotage, carried out at a time when intact and operating communication systems were essential. If the police do in fact find the person responsible for this low act, I hope they feel the full force of the law.

  11. Maybe it was a false flag . Perfect timing. Tis the season to be false flagging fa la la la lar la la la lar

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