“I sat on the Spit Bridge that morning and I felt it like every other commuter around me. I saw people sitting in their cars with their schoolchildren trying to get to school,” NSW roads minister Natalie Ward told the Legislative Council on 31 March.
“These protests are a real issue, not a trite or threeminute matter,” the Liberal minister added, as she referred to her having been delayed in traffic on her way to work as recently established climate action group Fireproof Australia blocked the bridge during peak hour on 14 March.
The minister made the statement that is presumed was meant to evoke some sympathy over what she suffered whilst being delayed for more than three minutes, as her party was about to jam through some laws so that in the future, such protesters can be imprisoned for up to 2 years.
But the minister’s hypocrisy is much graver than that, as Ward is part of a political machine that refuses to act on climate, which directly led to the impact the megafires and recent floods had on many “quiet Australians”. And that devastation was hardly “a trite or threeminute matter” either.
Warding off climate action
The 14 March action was the second time climate defenders Fireproof Australia had disrupted the Spit Bridge, and they’ve blocked numerous other major thoroughfares at peak hour as well.
Their aim is to rattle the Wards of the Earth into taking the climate emergency seriously.
“I am sick of it, like everybody else,” Ward told 2GB’s Ben Fordham later on the same day she was delayed and ended up late for work. “We need to make sure the penalties are really severe because they are just being completely selfish.”
So, in a completely selfless manner, Ward created a new law ten days later that would see those who disrupt Sydney bridges and tunnels sent to prison for up to 2 years and/or fined $22,000, because, let’s face it, nonviolent activists who make people late hardly deserve their freedom.
And not to be outdone by their colleague, in a further act of selflessness the Liberal Nationals extended these measures to include roads and major facilities last week.
So, from now on, if the Coalition’s civilian opponents fail to stop publicly complaining about the injustices it propagates, they can be sent to prison.
On the day that NSW parliament passed the laws designed to criminalise climate defenders, Fireproof Australia successfully blocked the Princes Highway in Sylvania, and announced it was launching its Day-After-Day campaign, meaning it won’t be stopping.
And as proof that simply slapping further penalties on protest is hardly going to prevent climate defenders from continuing, Fireproof Australia blocked the Grand Parade at Brighton-Le-Sands on Tuesday morning just for good measure.
Sydney Criminal Lawyers spoke to Fireproof Australia spokesperson Danny Noonan about why his group is going to continue taking nonviolent direct action, the draconian nature of the new anti-protest laws, and why he, as others, believe the Coalition is aiming to silence protest in general.
Last Friday, Fireproof Australia launched its Day-After-Day Disruption campaign, with its first nonviolent direct action involving blocking the Princes Highway in Sylvania at 8 am on 1 April.
So, Danny, how did that specific action go? And further what’s the campaign all about?
The Princes Highway action went well. We got to call out our April Fool, Scomo, who is fooling us all. And during that action, four of our members were taken into custody. They were held overnight, then seen on Saturday, with all released without bail conditions.
The Day-After-Day campaign came about as we’ve done a lot of research looking at other campaigns around the world. We’ve looked at what’s been failing, as well as what’s been succeeding. And we came to the conclusion we need to repeatedly get the message out there.
If you do something once, the action is out of the public eye, out of the media and out of the zeitgeist within 36 hours – if you’re lucky. And this is something too important to be ignored.
So, we’re going to keep on repeating this until the powers that be can stop pretending that nothing is happening, and they come to the table.
The actions are going to keep coming at locations where we think they will be most effective. This is going to keep happening.
Fireproof Australia hasn’t been around that long. Indeed, your first action involved blocking peak hour traffic along the Spit Bridge on 22 February. But not only has your group been grabbing headlines, you’ve already been mentioned in state parliament.
What is it about Fireproof Australia that seems to have made such an impact in such a short time?
Starting with an action on the Spit Bridge is part of the reason as to why we’ve had such an effect.
The Spit Bridge is in the right independent seat, and it interferes with the right people to see things happen as a result.
We stopped the NSW roads minister in her car. She gave a lovely speech about how naughty we were. That inconvenience was taken very personally because you don’t ever upset the powers that be.
Another reason why we’ve been so effective is we’re not following the rules. We’re not filling out a Form 1 and submitting it to NSW police. We aren’t doing what we are told to do, so it’s harder to ignore us.
As Gandhi said, “At first they laugh at you. Then they ignore you. Then they fight you, and then you win.”
Well, they’ve ignored us. They’ve laughed at us. And now look at what’s happening with the laws.
As you’ve just mentioned, attorney general Mark Speakman has passed new draconian protest laws, and he cited Fireproof Australia, as one of two key groups that have made the new measures necessary.
What do you think about the scope of these laws? And what is their likely impact going to be?
Our actions and Blockade Australia’s actions are the excuse the state used to bring in their flawed draconian laws.
The government thinks that its role is to silence any protest of any type that it doesn’t approve of.
Obviously, they didn’t want to upset the unions, so they made a few exceptions to the laws. But, in a nutshell, this is just their excuse.
These laws are being made left, right and centre. It’s happening in Tasmania as well. And they tried to get it through in Victoria. It’s because they don’t want us to get the message out.
They would like business as usual, and business as usual will kill us all.
These laws aren’t going to just affect climate action. They’re going to affect any type of protest the government doesn’t like. It will hugely affect First Nations justice, as well as all sorts of minority groups from getting their voices heard in order to make positive change.
It’s all about stifling dissent, so the dollars keep rolling in and the public is fooled.
The new laws have left in place the protest regime already set out in the Summary Offences Act, whereby groups, like yours, give NSW police prior warning that you intend to take an action. If they approve it, then it goes ahead.
As you’ve just mentioned, your group is well aware of this process, but you’re not following it. Why isn’t this process good enough?
Firstly, there’s no guarantee they will approve an action. And secondly, it’s not really actions that they do approve, it’s protests in certain places at certain times where they know you won’t cause too much disruption, and you won’t really be heard.
So, that’s not good enough because it’s not getting attention or getting the dialogue started that’s caused by disruption.
Nonviolent civil disobedience is the only way the people can force the government to listen.
So, that’s why these laws have gone too far, because they’re trying to stamp out civil disobedience completely.
Exactly, they say that these laws will only affect people like us, but these laws, which were rushed through, have so many flaws that they will be able to stop anyone they wish from protesting about anything they don’t like.
But that’s not how government is meant to work. Government is voted in by us. Its job is to listen to us, support us and protect us. But they’re doing the exact opposite to the people.
The latest IPCC report was just released, and like all those that came before it, the document again finds that the state of the climate emergency is much worse than its last assessment found.
What are your thoughts about the findings of the report? And more broadly, where is the climate crisis at right now?
We are working closely with Scientist Rebellion, who are an international group of scientists who are trying to get the call out about how serious this is.
Last year, they actually leaked the last report early, because they have grave fears that by the time government representatives go ahead and change words and weaken it, the report would no longer be telling the truth.
So, we not only listen to those who hold the hose, like the firies, but we also listen to scientists and the experts.
The new report basically shows that we’re not going to have a climate crisis, but that we’re in the midst of one already.
We can see megafires and floods all around the world. We see continual unseasonal and unnatural weather events. And nothing is being done about it.
So, we’re up shit creek and we either have to make them listen or find someone else who will, because our time is running out.
Professor David King said in 2020 that we have two to three years to decide the fate of humankind. That was two years ago. So, we don’t have much time left, and, yet all they dangle in front of us is that we may have net zero by 2050.
All the science is showing that moving towards net zero by 2050 is at least going to lead to a rise well over a 2°C, if not 3°C, by that time, and the world is going to be an absolute wreck.
Fireproof Australia launched its Day-After-Day campaign on the same day NSW parliament passed these new draconian laws. You’ve stated that your surprise disruptive actions will continue until your reasonable demands are met.
So, will the new laws be putting a halt to your campaign?
No, they won’t be. One MP in NSW parliament stated that putting these laws in place will do the opposite of stopping groups like us, because the passing of these laws shows that the work that we are doing is effective and the actions are having an impact.
So, these laws will just incite us to do more and more, which is exactly what we are planning on doing.
And lastly, Danny, what are Fireproof Australia’s reasonable demands?
We started this as Fireproof Australia, but then we have had all the floods, so we had to do a bit of a pivot.
Our demands are that all survivors of flood and fire events are rehomed immediately, because we still have people from the Black Summer fires who haven’t been housed yet, and it’s now two years later.
We also want to see smoke filtration put into all NSW schools, aged care centres and disability facilities. We need to protect the most vulnerable people and that’s our government’s job.
And we’re also calling for the purchasing of a large aerial fleet because we’ve got megafires and you need the right tools to fight them.
The firies have been calling out for this since 2017, after the Tasmanian fires. And it’s a no-brainer that it should happen.