Extinction Rebellion activists to use disruption tactics from Hong Kong demonstrators in Australian protests
Extinction Rebellion protesters are planning to copy civil disobedience tactics from the unrest in Hong Kong to try to disrupt Australian cities.
- Extinction Rebellion activist are demanding action on climate change
- Organisers say they are trying out tactics used by demonstrators in Hong Kong
- They are using bike locks, cable ties and street barricades to create public disruption
The climate change activists have begun a week of protest dubbed the International Rebellion across 60 cities from Paris to Mumbai to demand action about what they say is a climate emergency.
“We’ve got barricades that have recently been used in Hong Kong so we’re going to try out what’s been happening in Hong Kong,” Tom Howell, one of the group’s Brisbane organisers, told 7.30.
“Cable ties and street barricades together, you can go and get a $40 bike lock, this is a really accessible thing.
“So it’s great that we can show that if people do want to take action, disrupt the economy … it only takes a few bike locks, cable ties and some street furniture.”
‘Wilful and deliberate disruption’
Extinction Rebellion has already been holding regular protests where they superglue themselves to roads or use devices to lock onto infrastructure.
Since April, the group says 160 people have been arrested in Brisbane alone.
The activists regularly meet in secret locations to practice protests before they’re deployed on the streets.
7.30 obtained access to one of these secret meetings, where they were practicing using bike locks to chain themselves to barricades, just one tactic they have copied from the Hong Kong protests.
Queensland Police Chief Superintendent Tony Fleming said it was concerning that the protesters would adopt those tactics.
“I think that would be very disappointing if people were to behave that way,” he told 7.30.
“I think the issues in Hong Kong and the issues in Australia are probably different and, whilst we are not in the business of taking sides in any particular issue — we’re very keen to be agnostic — the fact is … we can all see that is having a significant impact on Hong Kong.”
Chief Superintendent Fleming thinks the Extinction Rebellion protests are already at an unprecedented level and still escalating.
“It seems that their tactic is to deliberately not cooperate with us and not take our help to help them protest peacefully and effectively,” he said.
“Anywhere you’re using power tools or other heavy equipment in order to extract someone, there is a risk there. But of course, we have no choice because we’re asking these people to undo themselves and they’re refusing.
“The consequence of that is we’re having bridges shut down, and we’re having all sorts of traffic flow [issues]. And the feedback we’re getting from the community is that they’re not grateful for that.
“It appears to be wilful and deliberate to try and disrupt the activities of ordinary citizens.”
The protesters believe they have no other options left to get their message across, and claim Australia isn’t pulling its weight in addressing climate change.
“We take no pleasure in disrupting individuals’ lives, stopping people getting to work,” Mr Howell said.
“But we recognise the decades of protest, petitions, everything else that has been tried, has not worked. There has been no change; emissions are still rising.”
They are calling for the Morrison Government to declare a climate emergency, make a rapid transition away from coal, and reduce emissions to zero by 2025.
“We are not on track to meet any kind of target that would essentially get us out of this mess,” Mr Howell said.
“Emissions are going up — that is not dealing with the problem. We’re exporting more than ever before.”
Resources Minister Matt Canavan said he recognised the right of protesters to hold their particular point of view.
“But they have no right to impose those political views on the vast majority of other Australians who do not support their position,” he told 7.30.
“What Extinction Rebellion is effectively asking for is a tyranny of the activist groups to overtake free and fair democratic processes in this country.
“What they’re asking for is the Government should succumb to blackmail, so that any particular group with a handful of members should somehow be able to dictate to an elected government what should happen, because otherwise they’ll do certain things.
“Well, of course, we’re not going to succumb to such ridiculous threats.”
Ministers in the Government like Peter Dutton have suggested cutting off the benefits of protesters who are on welfare.
Protests trying to ‘attract dramatic attention’
Economist John Quiggan agrees with the protesters that Australia needs to do more to address climate change but he believes their demands are unrealistic.
“I think it’s what used to be called an ambit claim,” he told 7.30.
“Clearly, [the protesters’ demands] would be very difficult to achieve. But I think in the nature of public protest one slogan used to be, ‘demand the impossible’.
“What people want to do when you’re making these protests is attract dramatic attention, which they’ve succeeded in doing. Far more so than more-measured responses from climate scientists, economists and so forth, calling for serious action.”
The Queensland Government is fed up with the protests and is now proposing new laws which would include jail terms for activists who block transport or business access, and use locking devices.
Queensland Police would also be given new search powers.
Chief Superintendent Fleming said the Extinction Rebellion protests were a drain on the resources.
“We’re taking away police officers from other roles that are designed to keep the community safe,” he said.
“Whether it’s actually responding to calls for service — and we certainly have got certain crime types like robberies and domestic violence, which we consider really high priorities.”
He said police would also take a tougher stand against those they arrested.
“When you continue to commit the same offences over and over again, we will look to oppose bail,” he said.
None of which will deter the protesters.
“We’re going to keep going until it’s done and dusted or until we’ve failed, which will be some years before we decided,” Mr Howell said.
“So, yeah, people aren’t giving up on this one.”