Politics

We Apologise For The Disruption: Why I Was Arrested At The Extinction Rebellion Protests

Here's Scott Ludlam on why it's time for direct action.

Extinction Rebellion

Former Greens Senator Scott Ludlam was arrested as part of this week’s Extinction Rebellion protests. Here, he explains why.


We apologise for the disruption. I don’t mean the off-scale heatwaves, eroding coastal real estate, ecosystem collapse or the firestorms that some of the best firefighters in the world don’t know how to stop. I wasn’t referring to the political disruption as fragile states are pushed over the edge, or the economic disruption with whole sections of the economy caving in when highly strung global supply chains get battered out of all recognition.

I mean the kind of disruption that briefly stops traffic while riot police drag us off the roadways and take angle grinders to lock-on pipes. The disruption of a dismal column of traffic momentarily transformed into a carnival of defiance and joy, and you may ask, with good reason, how the hell it has come to this.

Without question, it’s a disaster that it has come to this.

Some of what happens now is going to be disorderly, inconvenient, noisy and unlawful. Clearly, this is not a measured moment. This is handfuls of caltrops hurled under the tyres to try and stop the car being driven over a cliff moment. People have been trying to turn the wheel, or hit the brakes, or even just point out the approaching precipice, for more than 30 years. Much more, as those of us with coloniser ancestry slowly shake off entrenched historical amnesia, to remember that the struggle against extinction and collapse on this storied and ancient continent is now into its 231st year.

So what happens now is brutally simple.

The minerals industry has moved way beyond the familiar and legal avenues of corruption: the cash transfers, lobbyists emplaced within ministerial offices, wormholed tax regimes. Out the other side of ordinary corruption is a thing called state capture, where institutions set up to protect the public interest are gradually hollowed out and repurposed to serve something quite different. That’s where we stand right now. With Labor no longer even putting up a pretense, fossil interests have a lock on our parliaments, from Capital Hill to Brisbane to Darwin to Perth.

The leading edge of this phenomenon is the state of Queensland, where the resources sector has absolute control over the state’s single chamber Parliament, with the exception of Michael Berkman, the sole Greens MP who now operates as the Queensland opposition. Ditto the Morrison-McCormack-Albanese coalition lined up against a dozen Greens and independents.

These are powerfully enmeshed political, economic and media institutions with their foot hard on the fossil accelerator. Imagine if you gave the mining industry its own police force: that’s modern Australia*. They are telling us, every day, that they intend to keep shovelling coal into the tank no matter the consequences.

Why I’m Part Of The Extinction Rebellion

The only way this ends differently is if a network of uncompromising social movements are able to build scale and structure fast enough to challenge the tiny handful of people who are orchestrating this Australian version of global state capture.

Extinction Rebellion is one part of that. The astonishingly inspiring and determined school strike movement is a part of it. Blockade camps from the Galillee Basin to the Tarkine to the Northern Territory are a part of it. Powerful flashpoints like the Djab Wurrung embassy and the broader, deeper movement for First Nations sovereignty are its foundation. This is unfolding now, in real time, in every timezone on earth.

It’s not a coincidence that Extinction Rebellion’s first demand is also the simplest: Tell the Truth. If the prime minister and his dead-eyed Home Affairs henchman wants to clear the streets of red rebels, stilt-walkers and militant bees, he can do it today, without riot police, without repressive new laws.

Prime Minister, call a press conference and tell the truth. Tell us what the resources industry has knowingly set in motion. Tell us how long we have left to hit the brakes. And tell us what your plan is for the drought, for the coasts, for heat-stroked suburbs, for the emergency services workers, for coal-dependent communities, all of it. If you can’t — and we know you can’t — then you are unfit to hold office.

As for those avoiding eye contact in the background hoping the focus stays on the front-men, nothing says ‘your social licence to operate is being revoked’ like a line of riot cops out front of your corporate headquarters. This week, XR and its allies put Adani, Woodside, Chevron, Santos and the rest of the oil, gas and coal majors on notice. If you still can’t hear us, we’ll turn up the volume until you can. Business as usual is over.

Direct action buys time for every other kind of action: for divestment campaigns and shareholder actions, legal challenges, independent media and culture jamming, investigative reporting, and all the thousandfold ways in which people are already regenerating the world we want, pressing it toward a critical mass. People have been saying since the 1990s that another world is possible. Time is short, and so let’s make use of what time we have, together, to pull that magnetic possibility into the present tense. Time to rise.

And so, we apologise for the disruption. We also wish it had not come to this.

*Actually that’s colonial Australia from day one. There’s nothing all that modern about it is there.


Scott Ludlam is a former Greens Senator for Western Australia. Follow him on Twitter @ScottLudlam.