The future of Capitalism, Democracy and Activism in Australia

Politics in the Pub: 24 February 2016.

sufferagestreetmeetingActivism and social movements, an eternal part of human evolution

The march of history is complex and unpredictable and it is anything but linear. It is actually impossible to determine whether things are getting better or worse, some things are decidedly worse whilst in other areas we see great signs of positive change. Despite the temptation to indulge in measuring social progress, there’s actually not a lot of value in doing so. The most intelligent and practical way we can influence the future is to grasp the opportunities for positive social change that present themselves and give them the hardest nudge we can.

We can reflect positively on the great shifts in social awareness on issues like feminism, the environment and sexual diversity since the 1970’s or we can wring our hands in dismay at the destructiveness of neo-liberalism over the same period. There is no end point to history, no place where we get to find out who won and who lost, it’s not even about that, it’s all just ongoing evolution for better or for worse however we each define those things. It can actually get better and worse simultaneously.

Whether we are aware of it or not we are all taking actions every day that contribute to changing the world into the future, so we may as well all consciously come to understand that we are all activists. The more we understand that all of our actions and choices are having an effect, however small, the more effective and empowered we can become.

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Social media as a tool in social movement campaigns

20150120_Far North Coast_PEL Map 13_2 copy

Far North Coast PEL Map 13.2 copy, 20/01/2015

Gasfields still threaten most of the region, how will you vote?

We are now hurtling towards the state election, here’s what the parties are offering on the issues of gas and coal.

The best that the Liberal and National parties have come up with is the Gas Plan, which is really a Gasfields plan. Premier Mike Baird is on record as saying “Absolutely we want CSG”. The true colours of the LNP as the political wing of the mining industry are plain to see. The state government has approved a massive new coal mine over some of the states richest agricultural land on the Liverpool plains, confirming their betrayal of regional farming communities. At Maules Creek they are overseeing the destruction of ecologically vital remnant forests by coal mining and there are plans for yet more mines in the Hunter. Mike Baird, an old friend of the mining industry has also promised draconian anti-protest laws if re-elected to further sublimate our democracy to the will of foreign mining companies.

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Round Three in the battle to save our native forests

The North East Forest Alliance (NEFA), remembered for their unswerving campaign over many decades to protect the old growth and high conservation value forests (HCV) of NE NSW has fired a first shot over the bow of the state government in what is set to become round three of the historic fight to save our public forests from unsustainable logging.

Yabbra State Forest. Logging of wetland in dieback area, 2009.

Yabbra State Forest. Logging of wetland in dieback area, 2009.

Whilst the Terania and Nightcap campaigns led to the historic protection of rainforests in the region in the 1980’s, it was NEFA’s campaign in the 1990s and 2000’s that led to over a million hectares of old growth and HCV forest being protected from the ravages of an unsustainable timber industry. NEFA’s battle to save the old growth involved over a decade of blockades, eight successful court cases and culminated directly in the resignation of then Liberal Premier Nick Greiner over allegations that he had improperly secured the vote of a key independent to pass pro-logging legislation. Following a full scientific assessment of forest values by the incoming Carr government a series of reserves was set up to save the last of the best. The political compromise at the time was that logging would continue in other state forests under Regional Forest Agreements that provided government-backed guarantees of timber supply that were knowingly unsustainable. In the years that have elapsed we have what remains of the industrial logging sector in NSW hammering our state forests to extract a dwindling resource at ever increasing cost to our forests, and heavily subsidised by taxpayers to boot. Over the past 12 years taxpayers have forked out over $12 m to logging companies to buy back timber allocations that never existed, and that’s in addition to up to $15m a year in direct subsidies to the Forestry Corporation to cover its losses.

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Gloucester Dreaming

lismore_mick_daley-125Guest post by Mick Daley

As dawn broke and mist lifted off the Avon River, six police vehicles rolled down Fairbanks Road towards us, eight kilometres from Gloucester. Outside the gate shielding the river paddock where AGL’s gas hub is hidden behind a fifty metre square fortress, around 30 protesters tensed in the chill air.Gloucester local locks herself to gate

Farmers, students, retirees and business owners from the surrounding districts, some as far afield as Newcastle, they were being filmed assiduously by AGL’s outsourced security, go-pros strapped to their chests like cyborg-sentinels. Two performance artists from Sydney made theatre of the rather grim proceedings, one cavorting in a rabbit costume and another dressed as Alice in Wonderland, mocking the wooden-faced guards with satirical song.

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Rally a great display of direct democracy

On Saturday 1st November, 2014 the Northern Rivers regional community came out in force once again to assert our determination to remain a gasfield free region.

Estimates of the crowd varied but judging by the way the march filled the city centre the crowd was at least as large as the 7000 who marched in 2012 when the prospect of impending gasfields first galvanized our remarkable region into action. That’s one seventh of the population of Lismore, if that level of engagement occurred in Sydney it would see a march of 642,000 people, contemplate that for a moment.
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The Art of Dissent

Photo: Giles Price, from The Art of Dissent

Can we be a totalitarian democracy?

Elections are vital for a thriving democracy but we also need rights. These are detailed in The International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights to which Australia is a party. It is supposed to guarantee our rights of political participation, no detention without a fair trial, and above all the rule of law for all citizens.

A fundamental tenet of the rule of law is that laws should apply equally to all people at all times, whether they are refugees, bike club members or religious minorities and that no-one should be above the law, not the prime minister or the queen, and certainly not highly secretive security forces.

When we lose sight of the equal application of the law to all people, we enter very dangerous territory, where refugees can be concentrated into camps and detained without court processes, where particular people can’t associate with their family or friends because of a club they belong to or where secret police have the power to literally ‘disappear’ people and it is unlawful to raise the alarm. Yes, this is Australia I’m now describing.

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Reclaiming democracy

Photo courtesy the ABC

Photo courtesy the ABC

What lies behind the visceral battle between Australian rural communities and the collective force of the mining and petroleum industry is a battle to reclaim democracy itself. The Lock the Gate movement, by taking on the mission of restoring accountability to the way that governments deal with the mining industry has necessarily positioned itself at the cutting edge of an emerging national pro-democracy and anti-corruption movement.

Democracy was hard won over many centuries and can never be assumed to thrive merely because of the presence of a particular set of constitutional arrangements. Most nations these days have democratic constitutions on paper, including notables such as Zimbabwe, Fiji, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Democratic constitutions are a necessary but not sufficient condition for the effective practice of democracy, and by far the greater part of a healthy functioning democracy is derived from the quality of the political culture in a country. Across the globe, corruption and embedded economic power are the eternal enemies of true democracy.

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B Day at Bentley – a political solution, or a democratic hand grenade?

Bentley 14april2014-1Guest post from Mick Daley

As the tents and the tripods come down and people start figuring out how you extract several tonnes of vehicle and associated implements embedded in concrete, the Bentley Blockade is already being analysed and dissected by journalists, academics, police, politicians, conspiracy theorists, the Mining Council and think tanks across the nation.

This blockade camp, which lasted nearly three months, was vindicated on May 15, when certain technicalities, conveniently brought to light under immense pressure from community resistance, lobbying and some peculiarly acute political conditions, culminated in an announcement by NSW Energy Minister Anthony Roberts that gas mining company Metgasco’s bid to drill in Bentley had been foiled. Up to 1000 riot police had been booked to come in on May 19 to break up the camp – projected to have been filled with at least 7,000 people, on what I’m calling for convenience ‘B’ day – in an action that it now seems was prepared for casualties, even deaths.

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Read more by Mick Daley on CSG and Coalmining at

Bentley Blockade: mining vs democracy


Photo Patrick Gorbunovs / The Northern Star

What an inspiring beacon of local democracy the Bentley blockade has turned out to be.

Like any conflict there is the immediate issues and then there are the wider ramifications. What appears on the surface to be simply a dispute about a speculative gas explorer gaining access to a drilling site is rapidly turning into a grand experiment in the power of local democracy to resist the seemingly overwhelming combination of state and corporate power.

Across NSW now there are numerous battles to resist the relentless imposition of both coal and gas mining against the will of regional communities. Our expectation has always been that governments act on behalf of the people and to a lesser extent that businesses seek to operate with at least a significant degree of community support (social license). People are not against all mining, nor are they against gas itself but what really has provoked a response across the state is the growing spectre of the corruption of our system of government by vested interests. It has become clear that both the past and present NSW governments are deeply compromised and captured by industrial sectors that they are supposed to be regulating.

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Show up at Bentley

“We live across the road on a farm. If it is turned into a gasfield we will get really sick and so will our animals. We don’t want to get sick.”

No means No

Video material from Bentley northern NSW at site of proposed invasive gasfield. Unprecedented numbers of protectors appeared in the rain, swelling from a couple of hundred the day before to 2000 people. Speaker: Aidan Ricketts. Interviewees are local residents Liz Stops and Dr Wayne Somerville. Courtesy Gasfield Free Northern Rivers.

Watch out for early signs of fascismWatch out for early signs of fascism

DEMOCRACY is about more than just elections and political parties vying for power. For democracy to work there are some other fundamental pre-conditions:

  • Rights of protest, participation and association;
  • Transparent government;
  • Personal rights of privacy;
  • A free and independent media;
  • Respect for the rule of law.

Fascism is a creeping form of totalitarianism where democracy is sacrificed and government serves the interests of the powerful few (these days mostly large corporations). It may sound alarmist, but let’s ask ourselves what are the warning signs of the slide into totalitarianism, and is it possible to unknowingly elect tyranny?

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The politics of ‘extreme energy’- the bigger picture

Our local battle against invasive industrial gasfields is part of a mining pandemic that has communities across the state, nationally and globally fighting for their survival. In the UK, the phenomena is called the politics of ‘extreme energy’, which describes how fossil fuel industries have been driven into desperate overreach as the end of fossil economy approaches. Whether driven by scarcity (as in the case of oil) or by the need to simply replace coal with renewables, there is a desperation in the sector that is driving a pandemic of invasive mining.

In NSW we see it in the form of a desperate bid to mine and export as much coal as possible before the carbon bubble bursts, as well as the extreme haste with which gas mining is being progressed without environmental safeguards.

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The death of a thousand cuts: using multiple tactics to overwhelm your opponents

(An excerpt from  of The Activists Handbook pp 67-68  available online at

The idea that you may have to defeat your opponent by a death of a thousand cuts is a recurring theme in activism. You should use your strategic planning stage to get a really broad ranging grasp of all of the tactics that may be available to use in your campaign. You can still select the ones you think are most useful or appropriate and concentrate on these, but there’s no harm in having a few extra tactics up your sleeve. Particularly when dealing with governmental or corporate institutional players.

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Environment protesters turn to corporate law – ABC Radio Law Report

ABC Radion National Law Report


The corporate law watchdog looks set to to throw the book at environmental protester Jonathan Moylan.

In January Moylan released a hoax press release which saw the share price of mining company Whitehaven Coal temporarily tumble.

How are environmental groups such as anti-coal seam gas activists turning the tables and using company law against energy corporations?

Listen Now or Download Audio


Damien Carrick: Hello, welcome to the Law Report, I am Damien Carrick. Welcome to the first of our new programs for 2013.

Today, environmental activists and the Corporations Law. Right now the people of northern New South Wales and south and central Queensland are battling floods, and we’re seeing people in these communities come together and work incredibly hard to help those hardest hit.

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Investment Risk: An Amplification Tool for Social Movement Campaigns Globally and Locally

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 11.07.57 AM

Article by Aidan Ricketts published in the Journal of Economic and Social Policy, Vol 15, Iss 3, 2013.

The global social movement that has arisen in response to the threat of carbon-induced climate change is a very complex and amorphous movement that operates simultaneously at a global as well as at an intensely local level. Whilst acknowledging the global complexity and significance of the social movements that have coalesced around the issue of climate change, the purpose of this paper will be to examine emerging corporate campaigning models that have been employed in global campaigns and to examine ways in which these techniques can be effectively deployed in local grass roots campaigns. The specific context of this study is the movement opposed to coal seam gas exploration and mining in Australia, concentrating on a specific case study of the community opposition that has so far effectively delayed the operations of coal seam gas companies in the Northern Rivers region of NSW

The industry’s own risk analysis provides some useful insights into the impact of these grass roots movements. A 2012 report prepared for the unconventional gas industries by ‘Control Risks’, an industry risk consultancy group, observes:

As shown by local bans in the US and Canada, national moratoriums in France and Bulgaria, and tighter regulation in Australia and the UK, the global anti-fracking movement has mounted an effective campaign against the extraction of unconventional gas through hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’). Meanwhile, the oil and gas industry has largely failed to appreciate social and political risks, and has repeatedly been caught off guard by the sophistication, speed and influence of anti-fracking activists. (Wood, 2012, p.1)

Significantly, the Control Risks report identifies locally based campaigns as a major threat to the industry noting that:

(T)he anti-fracking movement has achieved its greatest successes in banning hydraulic fracturing at the local level. (Wood, 2012, p.5)

… … …
A key dynamic that the global risk report may have failed to detect is the sophisticated way in which the efforts of localised social movements are beginning to be amplified by an emerging tactic of engaging the investment community and specifically the way in which direct action and investment risk strategies can be deployed in a mutually reinforcing way (Carrick, 2013).

Emerging corporate campaigning approaches

Corporate campaigning is not new for environmental social movements, it has been a growing phenomenon in various forms for at least the last 30 years (King and Soule, 2007), but what is changing is its reach and focus. As a technique it has matured from retail-based strategies such as public awareness campaigns and consumer boycotts (King, 2008), through to more sophisticated ethical investment campaigns (Vasi and King, 2012).

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Destorying the Joint? : The Melbourne Writers Festival

Melbourne Writers’ Festival 2013

Digging a Hole

Sunday 25 August 2013 at 11.30 am
Adele Ferguson, Aidan Ricketts, David McKnight

Once Australia grew rich on the sheep’s back, now rocks and minerals carry the economy. It’s no secret that mining has a major impact on the Australian economy. On the flipside, industry expansion and its impacts on the environment are equally contentious. Political journalist David McKnight and activist Aidan Ricketts join Adele Ferguson to look beneath the surface and ask: is Australia digging itself into a hole?

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Stay calm, feel empowered

Aidan Ricketts – morning speech at Glenugie peaceful blockade from David Lowe.


The market, in action.

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Campaign events mapped against Metgasco share price

Daily price chart of Metgasco shares over 12 months contrasted to Australian All Ordinaries performance over the same period. Price movements mapped against significant social movement events during the same period. Source: Social movement data © A Ricketts 2013