What Is A 'Community Decommission Order'?


Australia has sent the international community plenty of signals on climate change over the last few years. Most of them have been smoke signals of some sort, either hazy obfuscation or just good old-fashioned pollution. We’re going to Copenhagen in the hope that no one notices we’re there; the expensive, oxymoronic trash talk we’re hearing about "clean coal" is pure smoke and mirrors, and our power generation, especially in Victoria, is pure filth.

As the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s a coal-fired power station. And given the amount of smoke in the air, it’ll come as no surprise to learn that about 95 per cent of our state’s electricity is generated by burning dirty brown coal. Victoria’s Hazelwood power station is one of the worst in the industrialised world. It’s a relic, which by itself puts out 15 per cent of Victoria’s greenhouse emissions, and was to be shut down this year. However, in 2005, under pressure from the coal lobby, the state Government extended its licence to pollute for another couple of decades.

Meanwhile, state and federal ALP are backing a new coal-fired power station in Victoria that goes by the name of HRL. If you could summarise the message that sends the world it would be, "We’re polluting the world on a massive scale, and we’re OK with that."

But the signals being sent into the atmosphere from Hazelwood on 13 September will not be the usual 50-or-so daily tonnes of climate-altering CO2. On Sunday, after the morning fog lifts from the plant’s massive wastewater ponds, Hazelwood will be used to send a message of a very different sort up into the international media-sphere. The first of a series of national mass community civil disobediences is about to take place there, in an action to remove the plant’s social licence to go on burning coal and registering the community’s demand that government take science-based action on climate change.

Hundreds of members of the public will walk onto the Hazelwood site, pass under the shadow of its towering Cold War-era smoke stacks, and serve its owners with a "Community Decommission Order". This Sunday the public will be sending the message that the Government should have been heeding all along: switch off coal, and switch on renewables.

The signal sent will be a historic one for a number of reasons. It’s the first event of its kind for a rapidly growing Victorian climate change campaign that’s only been a self-identifying movement for about four years. In that short period a highly diverse range of people have come forward to help organise this community action, and participants will be coming from suburbs and towns throughout the state.

There’s something powerful about the fact that ordinary people are prepared to step outside their comfort zone and risk arrest to bring attention to the urgency of the situation. "We feel like it’s time to get serious about climate change," said Carol Ride, from the Darebin Climate Action Network. "The next few years are critical."

Sunday’s Community Decommission Order also sends a message that Australia is ready to participate in a global movement on climate change, but one that doesn’t depend on professional lobbyists and the pre-approval of the corporate sector. Worldwide, a grassroots movement of mass protests and civil disobedience campaigns is taking immediate action on climate change. In the UK, a massive Climate Camp on London’s Blackheath has just come to a close, ending a week-long session of protest actions, training sessions, skill-sharing and community action for thousands of members of the public. These camps have been held in places all over the world, including one in Newcastle in NSW last year, and one in Bangladesh next month. Sunday’s action signals Australia’s intention to take action and join in.

But more than anything, Sunday’s event will make a point about the nature of power generation in the political sense. This commitment to a mass community civil disobedience is proof that we have matured into a strong campaign made up of people ready to do more than change their light-bulbs, have four-minute showers and trust those in power to do the right thing.

In spite of worldwide scientific consensus about the urgency of the problem, governments, corporations and vested interests have hidden behind a smoke-screen of economic jargon and the absurd fantasy that the market will magically fix the problem. Instead, people are skilling themselves up, educating themselves, and going directly to the source of climate change in Victoria with a strong agenda for switching to renewables.

The message being beamed out from Hazelwood over the weekend of 12-13 September is all about how we can take action on climate change by generating real power within and for the Australian community.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.