Right-wing radio shock jocks Alan Jones and Chris Smith from 2GB and Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi and Eric Abetz have a plan that they believe will stop the government putting a price on pollution.
They’ve responded to Tony Abbott’s call for a "people’s revolt" and they’re organising rallies, starting in Melbourne this Saturday, against the price on carbon. These guys don’t see themselves as the media, they see themselves as conservative activists — and the last time they got behind a big "rally", in December 2005, we ended up with the Cronulla riots.
In the weeks before the riots, Alan Jones repeatedly read out and discussed the widely circulated text message calling on people to "Come to Cronulla this weekend to take revenge… get down to North Cronulla to support the Leb and wog bashing day". Three days before the riots, Jones was saying, "I’m the person that’s led this charge here. Nobody wanted to know about North Cronulla, now it’s gathered to this."
Commentator David Marr said in the days after the riots, "Radio doesn’t get much grimmer than Alan Jones’ efforts in the days before the Cronulla riot. He was dead keen for a demo at the beach — "a rally, a street march, call it what you will. A community show of force." Jones used his huge reach to read anonymous emails like the following: "Alan, it’s not just a few Middle Eastern bastards at the weekend, it’s thousands. Cronulla is a very long beach and it’s been taken over by this scum. It’s not a few causing trouble. It’s all of them."
This background is relevant not because anti-pollution price rallies are likely to turn violent — after all, the subject of their anger is not a marginalised and vilified community, but politicians surrounded by parliamentary protection. Rather, it’s relevant because it shows that when the right wing shock jocks really get behind a rally, they have proven that they can turn people out, and in large numbers.
There’s no doubt that 2GB is behind the rallies this time again. An email from rally organiser Jacques Laxale to his supporters last week read: "Hi everyone. Thankyou for your patience, the meeting with Chris Smith from 2GB has provided an official date, time and place. Chris will be doing a live broadcast from outside Parliament House Canberra on Wednesday 23.3.11 at 12 noon".
And here’s some of what Chris Smith is saying on his program:
"The afternoon program is happy to promote and support what will surely be the nation’s biggest rally…. I’ll do my best on a daily basis to spread the word. Everyone should spread the word like wildfire…I’ll give it all the support I possibly can.
"You’ve got to be in the Prime Minister’s face, you’ve got to be on her turf, to make a difference. And we will see if the people have a tendency to revolt on this issue or not… Move Heavens and Earth to get there."
Early indications indicate that they’re having similar success garnering the numbers they want this time around, with the "No Carbon Tax rally" website claiming it has received 10,000 visits in the first 24 hours since the site was launched. A post on one of their Facebook groups from a T-shirt supplier states that he’s sold 500 rally t-shirts in the last 48 hours.
Jacques Laxale, the rally organiser liaising with 2GB, has set up an umbrella organisation to organise the event. It has three official members, no website, a hotmail email but a long, official-sounding name ("Consumers and Taxpayers Association"). The lack of existing membership doesn’t seen to bother Jacques, because the promotion that his rallies are receiving on 2GB is worth tens of thousands of dollars in advertising alone, delivered right to the perfect target audience.
Laxale says, "The response is just ongoing, I can’t keep up with it." He says he received 400 emails immediately after 2GB publicised it (to the address firstname.lastname@example.org), offers of free banners from printing agency Art + Soul, and has a large contingent of angry older Australians who’ve pledged their attendance. He says, "a lot of response has come from people over 60s and in their 70s… nothing will stop them".
While rallies are planned in every major city, it’s the Canberra rally that looks like it will be the biggest. Buses are already booked from the Blue Mountains, Sutherland, Central, Parramatta, Liverpool, Bankstown, Gosford, Hornsby and Melbourne.
The theory of change behind their rallies is that if they can whip up enough anger, based on their fear campaign around electricity price increases, they can make it too difficult for Julia Gillard to implement an effective price on pollution this year.
If they can’t stop a pollution price outright through their rallies and media campaign, they’ll try to delay it passing until closer to the election to help Tony Abbott win or pressure the Government to call an early election over the issue. Chris Smith said on 2GB last week that he’s aiming for the rallies to "cause some dissent within Labor ranks to think again". He said, "The only thing we can do is show our force, show people power, physically".
The so-called "people’s revolt" is also targeting the Independents, aiming to make them walk away from their support for action on climate change. The vitriol against them has reached such a fever pitch on talk back radio that at least one, Tony Windsor, has received death threats. But as Peter Hartcher pointed out in the Sydney Morning Herald over the weekend, this strategy is having the opposite effect on them. Hartcher argues that despite the similarities between the 2GB-driven rallies and the rise of the Tea Party in the US, there’s one important difference: here, we have a much more organised and effective movement that will turn out in support of action on climate change. In a way, these rallies will do the climate movement a favour. Yes, talkback radio can mobilise large numbers — but so can the climate movement.
A rally to show support for a price on pollution and action on climate change will take place in Melbourne this weekend with more planned around the country next week. They will be organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, GetUp, The Wilderness Society, 350.org, Australian Council of Trade Unions, Australian Conservation Foundation and the Climate Action Network Australia.
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