The direct action Switch Off Hazelwood held on September 12th-13th was a huge success for the Climate Change Movement in Victoria. Over 500 people attended the non-violent direct action which resulted in 22 people being arrested and wide media coverage. The day as promised was one of empowering and creative civil disobedience demanding governments switch off coal and switch on renewables.
Starting off on Saturday 12th, approximately 250 people camped a few kilometres from Hazelwood and shared meals, music and documentaries as final preparations were made. They were joined by several hundred more protesters on Sunday morning. After a welcome to country from the traditional owners of the land that the dirtiest coal fired power station in the industrialised world sits on , a colourful procession marched to the front gates of the power plant, Australia’s biggest single source of carbon emissions and one of the dirtiest coal plants in the world. The crowd was diverse including people of all ages. All were united in their demands that Hazelwood should be closed and replaced with renewable energy sources as a matter of urgency and were ready to present their “Community Decommission” notices. There were a number of colourfully dressed affinity groups such as the Carbon Cops, Wombat Warriors, Radical Cheerleaders, Ministers for Energy Resources and Silly Walks, and the Climate Clowns. Unfortunately police would not let the fabulous “bikezilla”, a massive 8 person bike join the protest due to safety reasons! The crowd heard from Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, Dave Sweeney from the Australian Conservation Foundation, author David Spratt, Melbourne based paediatrician Merryn Redenbach who all delivered the same message: our planet is facing a very real climate emergency and we must act now to avoid it. A great start would be to switch off coal and switch on renewables.
After the speeches finished at the gates finished at around 1 PM, the promised civil disobedience quickly began with two protesting wombats getting over the fence. This set the tone for the rest of afternoon as people in small groups or individually seized their chance to avoid the police line along the fence to enter the grounds of Hazelwood. Some of the more nimble protestors nearly reached the permanent fence of plant but most were quickly detained by police. Apart for a few rough tackles, the arrests occurred without much force and protestors were only detained briefly.
The other main form of direct action on the day was other groups of demonstrators repeatedly trying to push over the temporary fencing in sections. This resulted in most physical confrontations with police of the action as horses were used to keep people back. Although the civil disobedience never really reached a “mass level”, it occurred in small groups consistently and with determination and resulted in 22 arrests. Arrestees were charged with Trespass and were told they will be charged on summons to appear in the Morewell Courts at a later date. They were processed on site. One protestor was charged with assaulting police after allegedly colliding with a police officer after jumping the fence. Organisers have pledged legal support and solidarity fundraising will occur for all those arrested.
The day concluded with protestors forming a human sign in the shape of a wind turbine to symbolise their hope and determination to see dinosaurs like Hazelwood shut down and replaced with renewable energy that will provide both clean jobs and power. The vibe was definitely up and empowered by the days end with people well aware that many more such actions will be needed to achieve sane Climate Change policies in Australia.
The policing of the event whilst massive was not overly aggressive. The operation was reported to have cost in excess of $200,000 with 250 officers present including horses, dogs, the helicopter and boats on the pondage. The visible presence was about 100 officers along the fence line. Police had constructed a temporary fence about 100 metres beyond the real perimeter of the plant. This allowed demonstrators to breach the first police line and be arrested without actually getting too close to the plant, something the police obviously intended. . A roadblock for vehicles was strictly enforced, although the Indymedia van was eventually allowed in. Extensive police liason had occurred prior to the event. As mentioned the most forceful policing occurred with the use of horses to defend the fence. Police did appear to lose patience by about 3 PM as the protestors held a final spokes council to decide on how to end the day. The meeting was buzzed low by the police helicopter and police liason were told that any mass charge on the fence to finish the day would be met with the use of capsicum foam. That was their subtle way of saying, it was time to go home.
The media coverage of the day was extensive and largely sympathetic. It appeared on all corporate television stations. The day was also covered well by independent media, both freelance but also Melbourne Indymedia and SKA TV. Several videos of the day have appeared on You Tube and photos of the action can also be found on http://www.flickr.com/photos/hazelwood09/ and also the official organising site of www.switchoffhazelwood.org
Timeline from the day
9:00 Last night approximately 300 people ate, camped and planned together for the day of action. Most people were formed into affinity groups and took part in the spokes council meeting. Spirits were high with live music, films by indymedia, and great food from Food Not Bombs.
9:30 Media van got stoped, one of two negotiated cars got through. 11:00
11:00 Media set up with helicopters buzzing over our heads. Speeches at start of demonstration: Robbie Thorpe, Sven Teske and Scott Ludlam. "Bikezilla" the giant bike join the parade and many officers have their badges obscured. Otherwise liaison is working well.
12:19 The protest march has reached the front gates where there is a heavy police presence and lots of new temporary fencing to keep protesters at bay. Speeches in front of gates: David Spratt, Merryn Rebenbach, Dave Sweeney congratulates locals: “People from the valley can’t voice their options and still be anonymous” “The place will become an industrial sacrifice zone as well as an ecological one”
12:31 Demonstrators waving to the helicopters and holding balloons.
12:45 David Spratt speech “Minister Should Resign”
12:55 Two Belgrave Wombats jumped the fence, two pushed away- two arrested 1:03 Cheerleader and Climate Actions Dance Group start. Rain stopped.
1:00 “Silly walks ministry” moves towards fence.
1:12 Police horses ride up to hill-fence to confront protestors.
1:13 Water and police on horses in place
1:15 Kids are playing with the “world”. Second wombat brought out of the gate.
1:20 Radical Cheerleaders in action chanting.
1:21 more police in front of the fence. Cheering activists move forward towards police and fence.
1:26 Around six more jumped the fence
1:34 Garbage bin sound-system starts. Another protester jumps the fence
1:35 The first two arrested wombats got charged and released.
1:36 Activists positioned on grass hill trying to push down fence.
1:40 Cheerleaders create diversion on fence line.
1:48 Chant and march down fence. Trying to shake fence down. Horses almost trample protesters.
1:50 Protester jumps over fence. Groups of protesters shake and try to jump fence
2:01 loud chanting. Batons up. Activists on hillside walk in an unbroken line towards the fence. Line is stopped by police horses.
2:02 Three activists get over the fence. Two get roughly pushed away and do not get over the fence.
2:03 Another activist dressed as a carbon cop jumps the fence and gets arrested.
2:05 Arrest Update: 13 so far
2:11 Crowd turns its back to Hazelwood in disgust.
2:30 Three more get over the fence, one tackled by police.
2:55 Arrests: 22, everyone ID processed on site. No one has been taken to Morwell police Station as yet. Most activists have been released on summons.
3:10 Activist forming a gigantic windmill, cheering and even though it's raining a motivated outcome of the days efforts.
3:30 People heading home after a great day of civil disobedience against the one of the worst carbon polluting coal plants in Victoria and the world.