Australia

Although it has had less attention than Earth First! in the USA. EDA on environmental issues began at least as early and possibly earlier in Australia. From 1979 to 1983 direct action helped the environmental movement to achieve success in three important conflicts over forest issues. The first at Terania Creek in northern New South Wales covered only a small area, but provided a model for the two more significant campaigns that followed, at Daintree in Queensland and the Franklin Dam in Tasmania. Importantly, the Terania Creek campaign had its roots in existing alternative-left groups. The area was popular with alternative communities and many of those involved in this protest had previous campaigning experience in the anti-Vietnam movement and other radical campaigns in the 1970s. When logging began in August 1979, protesters had already established a camp and after their initial attempts to block the road with cars failed they 'climbed trees and attempted, tree by tree, to slow the process down' (Hutton and Connors 1999: 153). The novelty of such tactics attracted television coverage and national attention. The most controversial action was taken by two protesters who acted in contravention of a decision by the protest group, by spiking trees with nails and cutting up logs on the ground to make the wood unusable commercially. Their action was condemned by all, including the protesters, but as Hutton and Connors note, it stopped the logging.8 Tree spiking has always caused controversy as a tactic because of the dangers that it poses to timber workers cutting the trees. The nails can break the saws used to cut the timber and cause injury to the operator of the saw. Its use as a tactic has been most widespread in the USA where much EDA protest has concentrated on the timber industry, but even there it has been criticised by those within Earth First! trying to build an alliance with those logging workers against the timber companies.9

The activists at Terania Creek used the organisational principles of new social movement campaigns, based on consensus decision-making and informal organisation and established these as part of the culture of radical environmental groups in Australia. As also in other parts of the green movement, the culture of EDA was shaped by a process of rethinking that occurred within the broader alternative left. Epstein's comments on what she calls the direct action movement in the USA apply to EDA in Australia and Britain as well: Most activists 'have seen the specific objectives of the movement as inseparable from a vision of an ecologically balanced, non-violent, egalitarian society' (1991: 16). And, although Terania was the first use of EDA on forest issues, the militancy seen at Terania and Daintree had precedents in the broad-based movement against uranium mining, which had been able to mobilise large numbers for demonstrations in the second half of the 1970s. Thus, while recognising the novelty of using such tactics on forest issues, we also need to see the forms of action and organisation adopted as a product of existing social movement networks on the left.

Another important feature of the Australian environmental movement was importance of alliances with groups outside the mainstream movement. Environmentalists worked with aboriginal communities in opposition to the expansion of uranium mines, and trade unions played an important role in urban conservation conflicts in the 1970s. The 'green bans' declared by the Building Labourers' Federation (Burgmann and Burgmann 1998) succeeded in preventing new building in areas where local residents were campaigning against developers. A similar alliance with sympathetic unions, known as the Earthworker-Green Alliance, was established in 1997 by Friends of the Earth and other groups. In contrast to the left in Britain,10 environmental themes were taken seriously by important parts of the mainstream Australian left,11 particularly in the 1970s and early 1980s, however the defeat of the Mundey forces within the unions and the decline of the anti-uranium movement, led most environmental groups to focus more on wilderness protection (Hutton and Connors 1999: 197) and turn away from a wider ideological engagement with issues of ecological justice (Doyle 2000: 215).

The environmental movement succeeded in making forest conservation an important political issue in the early 1980s particularly as a result of the successful campaign against the plan to build a hydro-electric power dam on the Franklin River in south-west Tasmania. This would have threatened a major wilderness area, which had been nominated for World Heritage status. The Tasmanian Wilderness Society (TWS), led by the charismatic figure of Bob Brown, who later represented the Greens in the Australian Senate, organised blockades at the site from December 1982 until the Federal Election of 1983, which made the dam a major election issue. Over 6,000 people took part in the campaign and over 1500 were arrested. The new national Labor government imposed the decision to accord the region World Heritage status on the Liberal state government of Tasmania and forced the cancellation of the dam. The TWS campaign had been based upon the principle that wilderness should be defended for its own sake not because of its use to humans (Hutton and Connors 1999: 163). However, the leaders of the campaign were criticised for failing to develop a strategy based on using direct action as a basis for a movement committed to longer-term change. For instance, Martin saw the TWS as reducing the issue to an 'appeal to elites' and thus failing to develop a radical movement (Doyle 2000: 130). Moreover, by relying increasingly on lobbying decision-makers Doyle suggest that this campaign 'ultimately led to the more corporatist style of environmental politics' (ibid.: 132) dominated by the EMOs.

The third campaign was against the building of a new road through a rainforest in a Queensland national park. The Daintree protests of 1983 were more militant than the previous conflicts and protesters used more confrontational tactics, diving in front of bulldozers, burying themselves up to the neck, and climbing high into the trees (Doyle 1994). Many had been at Terania Creek, the Franklin Dam and the protest against uranium mining at Roxby Downs. In this case some of the early confrontations were especially dangerous as building workers faced protesters without any police or media presence. Australians seem to have been the first to seek to develop tactics that used technical devices to manufacture situations in which they became especially vulnerable. One example was the tripod, (then) made of wooden poles from which a protester was attached in such a way that moving one pole would cause the others to collapse and cause injury. Many of the tactics and techniques developed in the Australian rainforest protests were exported to Britain and the USA and used in different contexts. For instance, the tripod later appeared on sites as varied as major London streets and isolated logging roads in the US Pacific north-west (Restless 2000).

Australian radical environmentalists have concentrated mainly on forest and wilderness issues, particularly opposition to uranium mining.12 In this they are more similar to US Earth First! Yet, in their links with a broad range of left movements and the lack of any significant philosophical divisions (Hutton and Connors 1999) they are more like European radical environmental movements. Whereas earlier the example of the rainforest campaigner John Seed who wrote a column from Australia for the US Earth First! Journal, showed the importance of US-Australian links, now there are more signs of Australian-European contact. British activists who established Earth First! in the UK were influenced by the experience of George Marshall and Shelley Braithwaite in the Australian Rainforest Action Group (Wall 1999: 48). More recently, there may have been more influence from the other direction. One of the founders of Earth First! in the UK, Jason Torrance, spent several years in Australia in the mid-1990s and spoke of the importance of the interchange between British and Australian activism, one sign of which was the first Australian Reclaim the Streets party in Sydney in 1997. Doyle (2000: 48) notes that in Australia there has been a shift from more traditional forms of EDA in which arrests were accepted, to what he defines as militant direct action (MDA). This is still non-violent towards living things, but poses a more direct challenge to authority. Those pursuing MDA are likely to do their best to avoid arrest and seek to disguise their identity, in ways similar to British EDA campaigners. In recent years Australian EDA activists have participated in global anti-capitalist protests paralleling the similar pattern in the UK and the USA. Attempts to blockade the meeting of the World Economic Forum in Sydney in September 2000 involved a broad coalition of anti-corporate activists from urban anarchists to Green Party politicians as well as EDA activists. As with similar protests in the USA and Britain, while the experience of EDA activists was important in the organisation and tactics used, they were part of a broader coalition of green and other groups and part of the anti-capitalist 'movement' rather than the whole movement.

Perhaps more than in the USA and Britain there have been conflicts between EDA groups and other parts of the green movement in Australia. The use of EDA by some of the mainstream EMOs in the 1980s and 1990s such as the Wilderness Society13 meant that there was less distance between EDA groups and EMOs than in Britain and the USA. However, when EMOs gained more influence, continued EDA by radicals posed a threat to this status. For instance, an occupation of the office of the Forestry Commission in Sydney in 1992 resulted in the loss of consultation for the North East Forest Alliance (Doyle 2000: 57), some of whose activists were part of the occupying group. In the 1980s many wilderness groups became more involved in consultation with state governments and with the Labor government of Bob Hawke. Wilderness activists have been criticised for their lack of attention to social justice issues and many younger activists are uncomfortable with the concept of wilderness because of the history of the dispossession of the indigenous Aboriginal peoples. In the 1990s anti-nuclear networks have re-emerged as a more oppositional environmental voice, campaigning against uranium mining, but within a social justice framework (Doyle 2000: 198). In Britain, in contrast, EDA has not been divided into wilderness and social justice-oriented networks and has complemented the activity of more mainstream EMOs such as Friends of the Earth (FOE) who avoided confrontational and illegal direct action.

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  • miikka
    Who were the people involved in the green movement?
    9 years ago

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