Ten years of pushing back on repression of activists – a call for support

As you would have seen in recent weeks – we have broken new ground in terms of finally seeing broader cross sector movement support for civil resistance, and people speaking up against the repression of activists – more than one full year after the first climate activist was jailed.

In recent decades we have never before seen 230+ organisations of such diversity (list is here)standing together on any issue – let alone in support of activists involved in disruptive civil disobedience. You can still submit your organisation here to be contacted for future activation and sign and share this email action up to and including February 2023 highlighting the #ProtectProtest issue in the lead up to the NSW state election.

What is important to understand is that there is a recognised role for civil disobedience – and its been core to all major social movement change, but generally only recognised and celebrated in retrospect. There is evidence that funding social movements can be more effective for social change, and also that “radical tactics” don’t turn people off from climate advocacy, as one of the common myths that is shared. In fact there is evidence that many Australians support disruptive action, and want urgent action on climate.

We have been trying for many years to raise the profile of increasing attacks on activists, and monitoring repression – surveillance, police violence and harassment, increasing penalties for activists, anti protest laws and we really need to see the broader sector step up for funding and organisational support for this work. We will be issuing a call out in 2023, and we hope to see some resourced organisations stepping forward to back the work ourselves and other grassroots activists have been doing to help build infrastructure around knowing our rights, legal resources, legal collectives, monitoring and reporting police repression and highlighting and challenging unjust laws. Here is a brief overview of just some of our work in this area

  • 2013 – We coordinatated the solidarity campaign for Jonathan Moylan, the first climate activist who faced jail, after a Yes Men style prank of a faux announcement from a bank that they were pulling finance from Whitehaven Coal. He walked free with a suspended sentence, and international solidarity from around the world.
  • 2014
    • We coordinated a rapid response team when Pacific Islanders came to Australia in a powerful action with traditional canoes and supporter kayaks blocking the Newcastle coal port – police came in hard, and we supported a legal observer team and follow up after unexpected arrests and police aggression.
    • There was a peace activist event on Swan Island, what had been an annual event which we supported – sadly it ended very badly with activists being assaulted and treated as terror suspects – we helped debrief and support this work.
  • 2015
    • CounterAct was compelled to appear before a parliamentary committee as part of an attack on environmental groups and charities. We wrote about that here, and compared environmental activists penalties with polluter (lack of) penalties in our parliamentary submission and appeared on the 730 report.
    • This year saw the successful pushback in WA of proposed anti protest laws and we helped kick off another win in Victoria with changes to the move on laws/summary offences successfully revoked with a newly elected ALP government after strong union support joined together with grassroots groups and NGO’s.
Farmers and others from impacted coal communities and city rally in support of Jono Moylan. A young white man is flanked by older men with beards and the crowd around them shows signs saying community not coal
Image by Kate Ausburn. Farmers and others from impacted coal communities and city rally in support of Jono Moylan
  • 2016
    • saw the biggest civil disobedience action on climate in the nations history, and some incredible actions. We supported many of these with training and legal briefings.
    • Around 2015/16 we saw the first wave of the most recent round of repression against climate and forest activists, as ongoing disruption became an issue for Whitehaven coal near the Leard forest. Laws were introduced into NSW parliament to restrict protest, Tasmania continued its attacks, as various state governments were seeking to do similar.
  • 2017
  • 2018
    • We spoke up and organised action around the changes to the Espionage Act and other federal legislation designed to target activists
    • Work was done to launch a legal network for climate activists, and we helped support legal activist training in several states, including supporting the coordination of the legal collective for frontline climate activists challenging Adani’s coal mine – and bringing Julian Burnside onside to highlight the huge penalties which were subsequently challenged
  • 2019
    • We gave a speech about Human Rights and what is needed to support activists from repression at the Australian Progress conference. We also run sessions every year for their fellowship program explaining civil resistance and how to support activists. We also presented at the National Community Legal Centre conference which brought climate activists to the fore.
    • We wrote extensively mapping many strands of repression from legislation to surveillance in this detailed article and supported the emerging School Strike movement with legal support and training.
  • 2020
    • We ran an event in collaboration with leading Noongar technology expert, Kat, from Thoughtworks on digital privacy and security culture to educate activists on keeping themselves safer. We also educated people about the risks of surveillance by the failed Covidsafe app.
    • We worked with grassroots activists in Sydney to train and mentor the NSW Legal Observer group, as they were established and supported discussions for First Nations legal activist support.
  • 2021
    • We collaborated with and advised the Hands off our Charities group as the Morrison government sought to introduce extremely anti democratic, anti protest laws, which could have seen charities deregistered for merely participating in some peaceful protests
    • We presented at the NSW Community Legal Centre conference to a full house with NSW Legal Observers to engage the sector more in rights to protest.
  • 2022
    • March – We organised a snap protest against the NSW Anti Protest laws and coordinated a letter from civil society orgs
    • June – We convened a group of frontline activists and NGOs in a groundbreaking collaboration to support Blockade Australia from the mismanaged raid, police assaults, likely unlawful arrests, the jailing of two activists and extreme harassment experienced by activists

We have continued to work with the #ProtectProtest collaboration, and hope it can develop into something bigger in 2023.

Of any public statements made this week there is none with such significance as from CFMMEU leader, Cristy Cain released Thurs 15th – “The CFMMEU will not sit by while any government in this country seeks to remove one of the cornerstones of our democracy. If these laws are allowed to stand no worker, no citizen, no member of the community will be safe from the threat of government overreach.”

We are stronger together – black, green, red – lets join forces more often to challenge the status quo. We have been leading on this work for a decade on the smell of an oily rag with very little support from resourced organisations – and we have less than a half time paid staffer. If you support this work, please support us to grow it, or check in about providing organisational time and resources.