If you are an activist peacefully campaigning for a clean energy future, the federal Labor government believes you are a legitimate target for secret surveillance.
Fairfax News’ Phillip Dorling reported on January 7 that resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson had asked for federal police help to spy on anti-coal campaigners. Even worse, documents released to Fairfax after a Freedom of Information request showed Ferguson acted after urging from coal industry lobbyists.
Also, at the behest of the fossil fuel energy industry, Ferguson has pushed for stiffer criminal punishments for protests that interfere with “critical energy infrastructure”.
The documents showed Labor attorney general Robert McClelland responded to a September 2009 letter from Ferguson, and said ASIO and the federal police routinely monitor climate action groups. He also said these groups are sometimes the target of “covert operations”.
A private company contracted by the federal police and the attorney general’s office — the National Open Source Intelligence Centre — gathers much of the information on anti-coal groups and activists.
The company says it provides information about “the identity, capability and intentions of organisations or individuals that engage in radical activism, criminal (terrorist) activity or unlawful behaviour motivated by politics, ethnicity, religion, radical dissension, hate or financial gain”.
The news has angered many activists. Supporters of stronger climate action held a protest outside Ferguson’s Melbourne electoral office on January 12.
Two Melbourne climate activists also launched a Facebook campaign, urging renewable energy supporters to “check in” with Ferguson directly at his office on January 13 to save Ferguson’s spies the bother.
The check-in campaign is funny, but Ferguson’s push to criminalise peaceful climate protests is no joke. The climate action movement does not threaten Australia’s “energy security”. But it does threaten the profits of Australia’s coal barons.
Friends of the Earth’s Shawn Murray said in the January 10 Age: “Anti-coal activists pose a political threat. That’s why we're being spied on …
“We pose no threat to society — unlike the coal industry, which wields massive political influence and holds the greatest responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of deaths, extinction of species, and billions of dollars of damage annually that climate change is causing.”
Thanks to its close relationship with state and federal governments, the coal industry is booming. Energy researcher Guy Pearce says so many new coal projects have been approved that by 2020 they will add about 11 times more greenhouse pollution to the atmosphere than the Gillard government’s carbon price laws are supposed to save.
Pearce also says by 2020 the emissions from new Australian coal and coal seam gas exports will be close to double the emissions of Saudi Arabia’s oil and gas exports.
With unscrupulous politicians like Ferguson already in their pocket, the coal barons know there is one thing that could stand in their way — an informed, mobilised community that is determined to win real action to deal with the climate change threat.
The government’s spooks are meant to dissuade people from taking part in campaigns for a safe climate future. Let’s not give them what they want.