Planned changes to legislation won’t mean we’ll lose our right to protest, but there will be consequences for those who cause disruptions just for fame, writes Nick Steel.
You may have recently seen the “Blockade Australia” protests in Sydney. The defining moment being the live social media stream of a young woman who drove to the entrance of the Sydney Harbour Tunnel, stopped her car in the middle of the road and locked herself to the steering wheel to block both lanes at peak hour.
This is the social media era protest. A live stream, where the severity of the disruption and number of likes/views on social media have become the only clearly defined goal, and astonishingly it would seem, the sole purpose of the action.
I watched the full video, with her neck clamped to the steering wheel as she masterfully moved the camera around to frame the shot while declaring the purpose of her action, which is the vaguely stated “protesting the climate destruction”.
It is still unclear what she was specifically drawing attention to, other than herself of course. Perhaps it was the use of petrol-powered motor vehicles, such as the one she used to drive to the tunnel?
Maybe she was objecting to the mass production of technology that requires new mineral exploration, such as for the phone she was using to project her message to the world? Perhaps it was the issue of plastic pollution, demonstrated by the disposable bottle she was drinking from?
But enough about the hypocrisy, let’s get to the point, even if our Sydney protester couldn’t articulate it.
The tools of her trade, her car, her phone, her drink bottle on their own do not contribute much to climate change, so even though she is a consumer, I imagine she doesn’t view herself as part of the problem.
That is a wonderfully ideological and privileged position to take but it’s far removed from reality.
It’s this type of self-indulgent protest that we take issue with and that we are calling on new laws to address.
It’s not the well-organised and well-attended protest movements that result in important social change: Such as decriminalising homosexuality, workplace relations reform and rallies on climate change.
If a cause attracts hundreds or thousands of people to mobilise to have their message heard then shut the streets, clear the path and let them be heard. It has been done in the past and will be done again.
But laws do need to evolve to keep up with the changing pace and mindset of the rouge social media protester who just wants to single out a business and shut it down for attention.
There is one thing we can be sure of. Our Sydney activist would have the view that forestry should stop. These ideologues always do, while they simultaneously demand paper and card products to replace plastics, demand an increase in social housing and demand use of natural products in the built environment over high polluting, manufactured ones, they still say stop forestry.
Yet it is industries like forestry that are on the cutting edge.
We are the ones creating the solutions that we need to create a better environment and these advancements are happening right now, just Google “mass timber”.
So why have I used the Sydney protester as an example? Hypocrisy for one, but also this time the disruption came out of the forest and impacted the general public, not just our workers and contractors.
Like us, I bet while in that traffic jam, thousands of climate and environmental scientists, academics, engineers, researchers and others, who are doing amazing work were underwhelmed by her contribution to finding environmental solutions.
While the world acts, one (or a handful) of entitled and uninformed individuals decide to bring the world to a halt for a social media moment.
There should be consequences for this.
Once she was free to get on with her day, after a quick release of course, she monopolised on her newfound fame by appearing on The Project on Channel 10 and various other media outlets where she stated that she was “happy to have drawn attention to the issue” and “has no regrets”.
Now I understand that while locked on to the car her thoughts might have been a bit scattered, but by now she’d time to consider her reasonings and make her point, the stage was hers, she had just brought thousands to a standstill, the nation was waiting . and her point was. to draw attention to climate change.
Underwhelming isn’t it.
Protests in the past achieved some great things, they certainly made our industry look at itself and make improvements, but with the uprising of social media fame this individual grandstanding must stop.
Their moment in the spotlight can’t and shouldn’t come at the expense of others.
With the proposed legislation changes to the Police Offences Act we will not lose the right to protest, but there will be at least some consequences for these ideologists who cause disruption looking simply for social media fame.
Nick Steel is the chief executive of the Tasmanian Forest Products Association.
Published in The Mercury Newspaper 24/08/2022