Extinction Rebellion protests expose SA Labor climate hypocrisy

Extinction Rebellion (XR) has just completed four days of courageous protests disrupting the fossil fuel industry and its cosy relationship with the recently elected South Australian Labor government.

XR SA had been organising for some time for the Asia Pacific Oil & Gas Conference and Exhibition (APOGCE), which ran from 17 to 19 October at the Adelaide Convention Centre on Kaurna land. The fourth day of action was rapidly pulled together in response to the state government’s Roundtable for Oil & Gas in SA, at Adelaide’s National Wine Centre.

Both events were attended by fossil fuel companies like Santos, Woodside and Beach Energy, with international delegates at the Convention Centre event.

Conference protesters made their presence felt at the entrances with vibrant flags, banners and placards, smoke, chalk slogans, and plenty of noise with chanting, drums and whistles.

Despite a heavy police presence, some rebels managed to glue themselves to doors or the pavement, with arrests headlining several TV news bulletins. Street theatre from the “Oilies” in black oil slick costumes gave another visual focus.

On Seven News, XR’s Peta Page summed up our demands: “No new fossil fuels. No new projects. And really for the government to be investing in a transition for the current workforce.”

CCS lies

A popular chant was “De-Decarbonise, CCS is a pack of lies”, referring to the industry’s favourite trick of masking fossil fuel development with undeveloped carbon capture and storage technology, which has never worked effectively at scale.

It was pointed out that CCS also stands for Complete Crock of Shit. Meanwhile Premier Peter Malinauskas appeared on TV praising Santos as “the national leader when it comes to, not just talking about CCS, but actually doing it”.

The day after the conference, several XR members who’d registered for the Oil & Gas Roundtable managed to stop Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis delivering his speech there. Supported by others demonstrating outside, the XR delegates instead gave a passionate presentation to delegates while glued and chained to the doors.

The Malinauskas Labor government actually met one of XR’s demands shortly after its election, by declaring a climate emergency. But it’s become clear they have no intention of treating the climate crisis with urgency. Rather, they are backing the industry in delaying the switch to renewables and seeking every opportunity to launch new gas and oil projects.

Koutsantonis’s departmental website boasts petroleum exploration “is anticipated to grow in future quarters due to an increased focus and activity in South Australia’s Cooper Basin … About 100 petroleum wells are expected to be drilled in the 2022 calendar year, compared to 54 wells drilled during calendar year 2021”.

Inside the Roundtable, XR’s Leena Sudano scolded Koutsantonis: “We are dismayed and angry that instead of standing up to these vested interests, your government is cosying up to them, partnering and supporting them in hosting conferences and events, providing subsidies and other supports that are a betrayal of a climate emergency situation. Which side are you on?”

The protests were inspiring and powerful, showing the impact a hundred or so activists can have. However, it will take a lot more people, and power, to break the cosy relationships between governments and the energy vandals, and win a just transition to publicly owned renewables that looks after energy workers and First Nations communities.

The SA Unions peak body has pro-climate policies, and interstate groups like Workers for Climate Action and the Hunter Jobs Alliance are strengthening on-the-ground links between the workers’ and climate movements. We need to build on these efforts to relate climate issues to workers’ concerns about cost of living and job security, so we can bring the numbers and strength of the union movement to bear on the climate emergency.

By Robert Stainsby

To learn more about XR SA, including protests next January against Santos sponsoring the Tour Down Under, see https://www.facebook.com/xradelaide. Or contact Solidarity in Adelaide at [email protected].

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