Traffic on Sydney’s Macquarie Street was brought to a standstill at 4 pm on 14 October, as a bed appeared high on the barricades out the front of state parliament, and upon it was the embodiment of the NSW government engaged in carnal acts with gas company Santos.
The lovers’ embrace was to remind the public that the Berejiklian government has just greenlighted the Santos Narrabri Gas Project, which will involve drilling 850 coal seam gas wells straight through the Great Artesian Basin within 1,000 hectares of the Pilliga Forest in north-western NSW.
Dollar bills swirled, as Santos – an effigy with a death mask – whipped the state government into submission. Noticeably aroused, the NSW government had his pants down around his ankles, and the state symbol of the waratah was emblazoned in pink right across the front of his underwear.
The erotic spectacle showed that the spirit of nonviolent civil disobedience is very much alive in NSW, at a time when the planet is facing ecological and climate collapse. And this example of guerrilla theatre was brought by the planet-saving movement Extinction Rebellion (XR).
“A lewd love affair”
“Government, is that money in your pocket or are you just ready to screw the planet?” questioned XR Sydney spokesperson Larissa Payne. “Extinction Rebellion is here to tell you to get out of bed with fossil fuels.”
“Specifically, today, we’re demanding that you get out of bed with Santos,” she continued. “Gas is screwing our planet and by approving the Santos Narrabri Gas Project, so are you.”
The activist made this declaration in the middle of Macquarie Street, as others blocked CBD traffic on either side. And XR continued to occupy the street right out the front of state parliament for close to ten minutes, which is quite an achievement at such a traffic artery on a Wednesday afternoon.
Payne told the crowd of onlookers that since 2016, Santos has donated close to $568,000 to both major political parties combined, while at the energy company’s general meeting earlier this year, it disregarded the calls of shareholders to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.
“Extinction Rebellion demands that the NSW government ends this debauchery with Santos and every other corporation fuelling the climate crisis,” Payne added.
As he took the microphone, former Australian Greens Senator Scott Ludlam said, “If you think this is disruptive and inconvenient, wait until you see continent-scale bushfires, and wait until the coastlines start moving from where we’ve known them on the maps our entire lives.”
Ludlam went on to describe a situation where the government is handing out approvals for Narrabri gas – along with a host of other fossil fuel projects – in a case of state capture: a situation where private sector interests are heavily influencing and even controlling government policy and the law.
“That is why elections have ceased fixing things,” the former member of federal parliament continued. “That is why politicians are struggling to deal with a situation of an industry that is holding most of the political class – some of our colleagues notwithstanding – entirely captive.”
“We’re not the first rebels against extinction, Ludlam said, in acknowledging the Gadigal custodians of Warrang-Sydney. “The rebellion against extinction on this ancient land began over 230 years ago. This is the most recent and highly disruptive chapter of dispossession, extinction and disruption.”
As for the Narrabri Gas Project, the area it’s slated to occupy is Gomeroi country. The local First Nations people have long opposed the multi-billion-dollar project that would see the destruction of their land and water systems, as well as the desecration of sacred sites.
For the crime of littering
NSW police turned up a while after the action commenced and proceeded to order demonstrators off the road. However, the lovers in bed were able to continue their very public display of affection for a good half hour.
No stranger to being arrested for the cause, XR rebel Alex McDonald explained that the activists decided to highlight via pantomime “the nature of government, fossil fuel lobbyists and industry being in bed together, essentially screwing over the people of Australia”.
Police Rescue eventually arrived on the scene and coaxed the bed protesters down. They were taken into custody, placed in the back of a police van and later charged with littering, under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (NSW).
We’re out here today bringing attention to this issue, McDonald told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. And he stressed that “most importantly” XR was highlighting that the plan to “frack” the Pilliga is set to take place upon the land of the Gomeroi people, “who do not want this project to go ahead”.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.