Eric Herbert from Extinction Rebellion is put into a police vehicle outside 1 William St, Brisbane, this week. Back in the 1970s and 80s Joh Bjelke-Petersen was taking a similar approach. (AAP Image/Josh Woning)
Eric Herbert from Extinction Rebellion is put into a police vehicle outside 1 William St, Brisbane, this week. Back in the 1970s and 80s Joh Bjelke-Petersen was taking a similar approach. (AAP Image/Josh Woning)

Protest arrests take spotlight off the real threat

BACK in the second half of the 1970s I’d catch a bus from near where I was living at the time at North Burleigh and go to Brisbane to protest.

My mates thought I was mad.

There were waves on tap, and I was wasting time on a day off heading back to a city I hated working in. For what?

To them it didn’t make sense.

To me, angst at the increasingly emboldened conduct of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen regime left no choice.

It wasn’t as though I was exactly welcomed as one of the gang by the collection of university students and young Labor devotees who would march down from the University of Queensland to gather in King George Square to protest Joh’s assembly laws.

I looked out of place and as such was clearly considered by some as a Special Branch plant.

That was particularly so when the rugby league player in me gratuitously suggested stiffening the front line to better withstand the inevitable onslaught by baton-wielding police officers on horseback.

Inevitably, the line would break and protestors would be hauled away. The rest would engage in a mad dash across to the South Brisbane watchhouse where the likes of future premier Wayne Goss and civil liberties lawyer Terry O’Gorman would argue the case for bail.

After being alone in my protest in a crowd all day, I’d then catch a late bus from Barry Parade back to the Gold Coast ahead of my next shift at the bottom of the reporting ranks at the Courier Mail.

On a dog-shift Sunday night I was to report the arrest of a small group of Christians singing hymns outside Parliament House because they exceeded the proscribed number in Joh’s assembly laws.

Excuse the reflection, but it has been drawn to mind by the ironically-mad rush by a current-day Labor Premier to enact laws to quell public dissent of the nature the old National Party also couldn’t stomach.

Not surprisingly, LNP leader Deb Frecklington and sidekick Tim Mander are demanding even tougher legislation than Labor proposes.

The protests of the late 1970s brought to broader public attention a climate of suppression I thought I’d seen the last of in my very early twenties.

Now it’s the climate that’s the issue and people of all ages have taken to the streets to express a widely held view ignored by politicians, that more needs to be done to build a sustainable future.

It took a decade after those late 1970s’ street marches to bring a more liberal change to Queensland.

This time round we don’t have the luxury of time.

Today at the University of the Sunshine Coast, a forum has attracted speakers including academics, lawyers, the chair of the Queensland Reconstruction Commission and a representative of the Insurance Council of Australia to discuss the risks this region faces from climate change.

The message is clear. Insurance council representative Tom Davies will tell those in attendance which should, but won’t, include everyone of our political representatives at every level of government that its members accept the international scientific concensus presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and supported by the CSIRO the following.

“The earth’s mean surface temperature is increasing and it is extremely likely the dominant cause of the observed warming is the effect of human activity on the climate system.

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans. Climate change is occurring along a rapid and severe

pathway, and without intervention it presents a serious risk to environments, economies and people worldwide.

“The impacts of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions are becoming increasingly evident through the occurrence of extreme weather events. As a shared risk, and a shared responsibility, climate change presents several concurrent pressures for the insurance industry and wider Australian community.”

While politicians have dithered, and others have shown greater concern for what they may lose than what can be gained from acting now, it’s a message that’s been repeated consistently for the past two decades.

Maybe protestors on our streets have used the wrong tactics. They, rather than their message, have become the story.

In the current climate of denial and obfuscation it’s difficult to see what else could have been done to get leaders to listen.

What is certain is that while locking up grandmothers and teenagers may serve an immediate political purpose, it won’t make very real threats go away.

But then again that’s a problem some, including the most powerful, appear happy to leave to our future generations.