A now usual smoky haze covered the city skyline as thousands of ticked off citizens streamed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Saturday, demanding drastic action from the government in the face of fire conditions that authorities had deemed catastrophic.
“Scomo, fuck you. We deserve a future too” was the chant that rang out from young and old as they marched in unison, recognising that the hundreds of fires raging nationwide are indiscriminate in their destruction, just as is the abandonment of any meaningful form political leadership.
The prime minister was yet to have arrived back in the country, after he’d apologised and decided to cut short the Hawaiian holiday he’d taken right in the middle of an unprecedented calamity that a growing majority assert his government’s fossil fuel addicted policies are stoking the flames of.
Led by a grassroots climate activist coalition, the March on Morrison: Bridge Walk for Climate Justice was a visual representation of a much larger mass of Australians who’ve come to recognise that this nation is in trouble, is also culpable and is totally bereft of any leaders who actually give a damn.
With his tail between his legs
“We’ve got a prime minister who might be flying back,” NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge told the crowd gathered at Circular Quay, “but the only reason he’s coming back to face the disastrous results of his climate policy is because of a national revolt.”
Shoebridge further stressed that the PM was coming back to face the results of decades of major party federal governments “taking truckloads of money from the fossil fuel industry to sell out our future”. Morrison subsequently arrived back in the country Saturday evening.
The NSW Greens justice spokesperson described the “obnoxious smoke” that’s been covering the Harbour city for weeks as “a major public health crisis”. But, he emphasised that this pollution is in no way confined to that area, as he’s witnessed in Bega, in Bathurst and in the Blue Mountains.
“We’ve lost almost 3 million hectares of our native forest,” Shoebridge pointed out. “That’s three times the tragedy we saw in the Amazon.”
And the parliamentarian listed three key demands, which are supporting firefighters, stopping the further logging of forests, and taking the billions currently being funnelled into the fossil fuel industry and reinvesting it into coal communities, so as to facilitate a just transition to renewables.
The emperor’s new clothes
On Saturday evening, the airwaves were bristling with the PM’s office making announcements regarding his holidaying during a countrywide crisis as being a miscalculation. However, this is the sort of obvious mistake one doesn’t expect senior managerial types to make in the first place.
The entire nation knows that Morrison’s a big fossil fuel supporter. He made that clear with his chunk of coal in the chamber buffoonery in 2017. Back then, though, most weren’t so aware that he was basically barracking for profiteering through the scorching of the country.
Thousands upon thousands of scientists across the globe have called a climate emergency. And the intensification of bushfires is just one of its outcomes. But, weeks ago, as the fires across the eastern states intensified as never before, the PM chided the public for making this connection.
And despite the fire season having kicked in earlier than anyone can ever remember, about a week before the current catastrophic escalation began, Morrison appeared before the Queensland mining lobby and told them he’s going to legislate so as to make blocking further coal expansion a crime.
Then, in all his wisdom, he got on a plane to the US to be photographed on a clear Hawaiian beach, sinking beers with some strangers and giving the “hang loose” sign, in a move that’s so preposterous, you’d be forgiven for thinking Albanese cooked it up if he wasn’t asleep on the job.
From the frontline
“Right now, there’s over 200 fires across five states,” Sydney career firefighter Jim Casey told the crowd, just before the march took to the bridge. “There’s been 800 homes destroyed in NSW. And we’ve got eight dead, including two of my comrades from the Rural Fire Service.”
“This is unprecedented. In the 20 years, I’ve been fighting fires, I’ve never seen anything like it,” Casey made clear, and he added that it’s “the extreme weather associated with global heating that’s really nailed it.”
Mr Casey appeared as the spokesperson for the Australian Firefighters’ Climate Alliance, which is an ever-growing group of fighters that are acknowledging the link between climate change and what they’re dealing with in the workplace.
And these same sentiments have been reflected in the senior ranks. Five weeks ago, a coalition of 23 fire and emergency services leaders gathered in Sydney, demanding that the government call a climate emergency. Of course, our prime minister refused to meet with the experts.
“These conditions that we’re seeing this fire season, they’re the new normal. This is not a one off,” Casey explained. “And that’s why this government’s shameful inaction on climate change itself is the real horror show.”
Takes one to know one
As the procession of anti-Morrison critics made its way across the Harbour Bridge, passing cars honked in support. And as it descended from the structure, the demonstrators continued to march towards the prime minister’s house in Kirribilli.
Just two days prior to this, another demonstration had taken place out the front of Kirribilli House, which was once again over the disappearance of the so-called head of the nation. At the time, Mr Shoebridge was amongst 10 protesters that NSW police took it upon themselves to arrest.
Shoebridge told Sydney Criminal Lawyers on Saturday afternoon beneath the bridge that there was nothing “pleasant” or “reasonable” about the actions of police on the day. But, luckily, the situation hadn’t escalated to the point where officers decided to strip search him, which seems to have become the new norm these days.
As the mobilisers descended upon the strip of road out the front of the PM’s house, a line of police officers gathered at the gate, as Mr Morrison, being absent, wasn’t able to watch over the state of his own residence, let alone the state of the entire nation.
Perhaps rally MC Gumbaynggirr activist Gavin Stanbrook best summed up the sentiment of the crowd when he drew its attention to a placard that one of the protesters was holding towards the front of gathering.
The sign depicted “Scumo” dressed as a bishop flying back into a burning landscape on a Jetstar plane, with a cocktail in one hand and a band of jewels in the other, declaring, “You cunts ruined my holiday.”
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.