non v non negThe peaceful resolution of the Bentley blockade was a great win for people power. I have been asked so many times since, what was the main thing that I thought secured the victory. In so many ways, that is the wrong question because the answer is that it was every little action along the way.

We were always up against enormous odds. The mining industry has worked itself into a position of influence over all major political parties and as a result over all of our parliaments over many decades. There is endemic corruption throughout Australia that gives this industry privileged access to decision makers. If our democracy had been functioning properly the situation at Bentley would never have eventuated. The massive rallies and the 87% vote against gasfields in 2012 should have been the political death knell for the l industry in this region straight away. But where there’s vested interests and corrupt linkages involved then democracy takes a back seat.

When I think about the battle of Bentley, I imagine a giant set of scales. On the one side was the mining industry and all of its embedded links with government, its huge financial resources and its international backers, and on the other side was the people of the Northern Rivers, courageous and uncompromising. All of the actions small and large of every person along the way was like drops of water pouring into a giant bucket. Slowly but surely the bucket became heavier and heavier until the scales reached their tipping point.

The battle of Bentley is of historic significance. It is one of the only instances in Australian history where an entire regional community has taken a stand and faced up to the combined forces of the corporate state. The power of non-violence was very much on display. The Bentley blockade provided a safe welcoming place where ordinary people could come and experience (often for the first time in their lives) the empowerment of taking part in a community protest. And where they could learn about non-violent protest, blockade installations and meet other protectors. It was also a place of great healing for the community. During those months, farmers, townspeople, indigenous elders and communities and environmentalists lived together and forged new and hopefully lasting alliances for the region’s future.

The region’s resistance extended well beyond the protest site itself, as business owners began to refuse to contract with Metgasco, the RFS and caterers resisted supporting a policing operation and the Lismore council threatened to refuse transport permits for Metgasco’s equipment. It was a community wide outbreak of non-compliance. Most significant of all though was the reluctance shown by the police, to be used against the people in this situation. The fact that the Police Association publicly criticised a code named operation (Operation Stapler) before it had been confirmed spoke volumes about the resistance that was brewing among police. By the time security forces become reluctant to move against a movement, it is a sure sign that the ground has shifted.

In the week leading up to the expected confrontation, the state government was effectively in a check mate situation. To have gone ahead with a massive police operation was going to generate global attention. The battle of Bentley was a seminal battle for the anti-fracking movement both nationally and internationally. So many people believed that if anyone could resist the frackers, it was the Northern Rivers. The government and industry had hoped that they could smash the Northern Rivers that other communities would lose hope. The outcome has been the opposite. Other communities have been empowered and congratulations have flowed from around the world.

The outcome at Bentley has not changed the underlying problem of mining industry domination of our parliaments but it is a very historic crack in that wall. The task now is for communities across the nation to get in there with their elbows and crow bars and widen that crack up until all communities regain the democratic right to say NO to the invasion of their way of life by unsustainable industries.

Metgasco has said they intend to return but that remains to be seen. In the mean time our community must celebrate, consolidate and prepare ourselves for the future. We have powerfully disrupted the hegemony of mining interests in this state, but theres is so much more to be achieved. Ultimately it is the responsibility of us all to care for country. We have done this in the past by fighting for the forests, we are doing it now by resisting invasive industrial gasfields and we will be called upon to do it again no doubt.

Originally published in the Nimbin Good Times, June 2014.


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