When a small group of Australians decided in January to organise a national protest against Abbott Government policies they took a gamble that cynicism — described by singer Billy Bragg at yesterday’s Sydney March in March as the biggest obstacle to change — would not defeat them.
And it did not. Their plan turned into a resounding success. It wasn’t just the numbers who marched across 33 centres on Saturday and Sunday, it was the array of issues — coal seam gas, “jobs not cuts”, a better deal for childcare workers, calls to stop the TPP, support for refugee and gay rights and action on domestic violence.
There were builders, journalists, students, teachers, waiters and homeless people. There were seasoned protesters such as myself and many who were attending their first protest. A single march is a long way from building powerful and ongoing grassroots action for change but it’s a hopeful beginning. As NM publishes this report today, protesters are gathering in Canberra for a final protest.
I support the March in March movement because it is not about one issue but many and because it is about politics, not a single political party. Different issues spark our individual dismay and focus our anger. For some it is violence against women or the treatment of single parents forced into greater poverty and stressful lives by both our major parties, for others it may be the turning back of action on climate change, the shockingly brutal treatment of asylum seekers or the undermining of a quality education for everyone.
But whatever sparks our initial resistance to current policies, the high attendance and enthusiasm at the weekend’s rallies suggests that many realise we need to connect our issues.
I was asked to speak at the Sydney rally about environment and media. I asked whether distracting the public's attention is one purpose of the hatred inspired by media against people arriving by boat, and the endless focus on politics as a leadership game. With the media focus here, the big business lobby, particular the big miners, can attack the working and living conditions of Australians, while they rip as much out of our earth as possible with the short-term goal of maximising profits.
One of the Abbott government's first moves was to remove the Climate Commission, just the start of its dismantling of initiatives to deal with carbon emissions and push-back against environmental protections.
Working in concert with conservative state governments, the Abbott government is opening-up national parks, including the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, and cutting off funds to support biodiversity and the survival of threatened species. It is assisting shark culling in Western Australia and putting the Great Barrier Reef in grave danger.
This government is anti-knowledge, anti-science and anti-education. By cutting environmental legal assistance, it is making it more difficult for communities to exercise their right to have a say over their environment and planning.
It is cutting thousands of science research jobs and appointing known climate sceptics to steer its decision making.
We should not be too pessimistic. We should remember the fights to save the Tasmanian wilderness and the more recent defence of the Kimberley. The massive Lock the Gate Movement against CSG and the activists protecting agricultural land from coal fields and campaigning to save the Great Barrier Reef should inspire us.
We need to remember that without these movements, and those that came before, far more forests, reefs and species would have been destroyed. But many Australians have no knowledge of the scale of the Coalition Government’s destructive attack on the environment.
This is because some big media players choose to actively keep them in the dark — to produce silence and ignorance. Meanwhile these same groups lecture us every day about a free press and how they must hold politicians accountable – except their favoured ones of course.
Recently I completed a detailed study of how the Australian media covers climate change — what I have found is that the biggest audiences for news publications in Australia are fed a diet of misinformation. I am particularly talking about News Corp, which owns the biggest outlets including the Herald Sun, the Daily Telegraph and outlets in Brisbane, Hobart, Adelaide and Darwin.
When it comes to climate change, this propaganda is not even balanced by basic news reporting which might update audiences on findings, for instance, of well established links between climate change and extreme weather. These are either ignored or buried away where most readers won’t notice them. We could call this a form of informal censorship.
Research has shown that Australia has the most climate change sceptic media in the world, likely caused by Newscorp's domination of our highly concentrated media environment. Meanwhile billionaire mining magnate Gina Rinehart has a big stake in Newscorp’s competitor, Fairfax media.
Many have expressed disappointment with the coverage of the March in March protests. Saturday's protests involving more than 20,000 people in regional centres were all but ignored. Although reporting improved on Monday, it still pales in comparison to the build up provided to Rinehart, Jones and co before their anti-carbon tax rallies.
The paucity of reports in part reflects a crisis in resources in the mainstream media — we can’t hope for too much from them. So along with all our other issues, an urgent task is to build our own, more democratic media.
Prospects of media reform are small. That opportunity was lost under the Labor government – and now Abbott, supported by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, wants to deregulate even further, risking handing even more power over our political process to the Murdoch family.
So what can we do? We should support those journalists and publications inside the mainstream media who do try to hold power accountable. We should support the publicly owned media ABC, SBS, National Indigenous TV and community radio, without which our media would be much worse.
We also need to expand the audiences of existing non-mainstream media outlets. I don’t just mean through social media, although that’s important, but by organising for our own reporting to happen on the ground as No Fibs has been attempting to do.
I agree with the Indigenous speaker in Darwin yesterday, Larrakia woman Ali Mills, who stressed that we should look to those hiding behind Abbott who are pushing the decisions.
Many people already take action every day but we must do more. We must talk with those we know and those we don’t yet know about why they are involved in March in March and how together we can act to create a less destructive society.
We can learn from the past but we need to make our own future. We won’t all agree — difference and discussion are part of change — but the biggest step is to believe that each of us is important and that by acting together we can create a sustainable and equitable society.
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