Hell Hath No Fury Like A God-Bothering Premier Challenged On His Climate Change Inaction

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Welcome to NSW, where peacefully protesting a government’s inaction on tackling climate change gets you more than a year in jail. Chris Graham explains.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say NSW premier Dominic Perrottet had a sense of humour. Of course, I do know better. It’s widely rumoured Perrottet – a religious zealot with links to the Catholic extremist sect Opus Dei – hasn’t been seen laughed out loud in at least the past two decades. But a piss-take is the only rational explanation for the extraordinary things he’s been saying this week, over the jailing of a peaceful climate change activist.

In case you’ve missed the joke, Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco, a member of activist group Fireproof Australia, has been sentenced to prison for 15 months for a protest that blocked lanes and disrupted morning peak hour traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge in April this year. If Coco is lucky, she’ll make parole in eight months.

The 32-year-old was sentenced under new legislation passed by NSW Parliament in March this year, which seeks to criminalise protests in NSW even more than they already are. NSW’s laws are so restrictive that Amnesty Internal has gotten involved. This page outlining how bad our laws are was written before Coco was even sentenced.

Over to Perrottet who, believe it or not, said this with a straight face earlier in the week: “If protestors want to put our way of life at risk, then they should have the book thrown at them and that’s pleasing to see,” Perrottet is quoted as saying.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet, pictured in 2015. (IMAGE: CeBIT Australia, Flickr)

Well, at least he’s right on the ‘way of life’ front. It’s long been a basic human right of Sydneysiders to sit in traffic at any hour of the day, but that’s not because of climate action protestors, it’s because generations of political parties have failed time and again to build adequate infrastructure at a pace that matches the cities’ growth.

Of course, you don’t have to think too hard to come up with an event that actually did interfere with our way of life, and in a pretty serious way. It’s called the Autumn, Spring and Summer of 2019-20, when unprecedented bushfires swept across the nation, costing Australian’s around $100 billion.

Anyone want to hazard a guess about what contributed to the worst fire season in Australian history? I imagine ‘Fireproof Australia’ – the organisation Coco was representing when she was arrested – has a theory.

Perrottet also had this to say: “We want people to be able to protest but to do it in a way that doesn’t inconvenience people right across NSW.”

Last time I checked, the good residents of Broken Hill – indeed any town west of the great divide, and north and south of Sydney – was utterly unaffected by the daily clusterf*ck that is traffic on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

By contrast, what is seriously inconveniencing people ‘across NSW’ right this minute is the second flood emergency in as many years. And anyone want to guess what contributed to those? Let’s take a stab in the dark and suggest it’s the same thing that drove the fires – a changing climate, which puts more ‘energy in the weather system’, meaning events will be more frequent, and more severe.

Perrottet, of course, knows all this. He’s not a stupid man. But Perrottet simply doesn’t care, because he knows he won’t be around in politics long enough to be held to account for his spectacular failures.

Deanna ‘Violet’ Coco pictured being arrested during a climate action protest in Melbourne in 2021. (IMAGE: Julian Meehan)

But wait, there’s more. In the sort of bah humbug ‘Christmas story twist’ that could only involve a member of the Liberal/National Party, it turns out Coco’s uncle is none other than Liberal, Minister for Enterprise, Investment and Trade, Alister Henskens. He told media this week he proudly voted for the legislation that has stitched his niece up for a year and a bit.

Henskens told the Sydney Morning Herald, “Nobody is above the law. We are all equal before the law and individuals must take responsibility for their actions.”

Which is of course complete crap, and hilarious if you know anything about the sentences handed down to corrupt politicians in the last few decades.

While most of them never even see the inside of a courtroom, occasionally their conduct is so bad, they’re brought to trial. Like Steve Irons, a Victorian Liberal who received a suspended four-month sentence in 2015, after being caught driving unlicensed… and drunk.

And who could forget federal Liberal Nationals Frank Ford, Bob Woods, and Michael Cobb, each of whom were caught for fraud in the mid to late 90s, but none of whom saw the inside of a prison cell.

Or Scott Driscoll, a Queensland LNP politician who knocked up “42 counts of contempt of Parliament, four counts of failing to register interests and one count of misleading the House” in 2013. No jail time either.

Or Tony Abbott’s habit of claiming travel expenses while he was off promoting his book; or Bronwyn Bishop’s ‘Choppergate’ affair; or Peter Slipper’s outrageous love of expense accounts. Or Bridget McKenzie’s Sports Rorts Affair; or Scott Morrison, Josh Frydenberg, Tim Wilson and Michael Sukkar’s carpark rorts affair. Then there’s recently deceased Peter Reith’s $50,000 Telecard scandal in 2001. He got to pay the money back, and keep his ministerial position. No punishment for any of them, period.

A file image from 2015 of former NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian. (IMAGE: Rotary District 9685, Flickr)

And in case anyone’s forgotten, Perrottet only has his job courtesy of the fact that two of the last three Liberal NSW premiers had to resign, amid corruption allegations. Equally, you might also recall that the most recent NSW deputy premier, John Barilaro had to stand aside from a plum job in New York after it emerged it was corruptly awarded to him by his ministerial mate Stuart Ayres, despite it already being won by someone else.

And as for Uncle Alister… I’d pay to be a fly on the wall his  family Christmas this year. With uncles like that, who needs enemies, right?

The jailing of Violet Coco should shock the conscience of all New South Wales residents, and indeed all Australians. It is an outrageous example of government overreach, and it should be condemned by any decent thinking person. Which is why, of course, we’ve heard nothing but silence from Labor (they voted for the laws in March as well, by the way).

In any event, while Coco spends her Christmas and New Year in prison, and while we all wait for justice, I hope the Liberals, while clearly not able to contemplate their future 20 or 30 years down the track, at least find a way to think about where they might be on March 25 next year.

Because that’s when NSW will go to the polls again. And if the NSW Liberals and Nationals think that the ‘Independent Teal wave’ that hit their federal counterparts earlier this year can’t hit them too… well, watch this space.

Political parties that actively choose to drag the chain on climate change action have no future in our parliaments. But parties who are not only unwilling to act urgently and comprehensively on climate change, but jail people who do, well, they have no place in society.

There’s a storm coming, and while it’s going to cause a lot of inconvenience, it’s likely to be a localised to a small area just a few kilometres south of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, known as ‘Macquarie Street’.

Chris Graham is the publisher and editor of New Matilda. He is the former founding managing editor of the National Indigenous Times and Tracker magazine. Chris has won a Walkley Award, a Walkley High Commendation and two Human Rights Awards for his reporting.

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