People's port blockade shows the climate movement is back

November 29, 2023
People's blockade of the world's largest coal port
People's blockade of the world's largest coal port, November 26. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Hundreds of activists responded jubilantly to Rising Tide's Shaun Murray who said “the climate movement is back” at a campsite briefing on November 27, the fourth day of the People's Blockade of the Newcastle coal port.

The day before, 109 people were arrested on the water blocking the channel to the coal port. Murray said this was an unprecedented number of arrests.

The blockade reached other milestones as well: 3000 people participated in the four-day protest — the largest of 12 similar blockades of the coal port since 2005. In addition, this blockade was the first to include a night flotilla as activists blocked coal ships overnight.

An important feature of the blockade was that it was built around a public declaration to organise civil disobedience. It was not a secretive or conspiratorial “disruptive” act. The blockade would be successful, or not, based on the numbers involved.


Tax coal profits, fund new jobs
Tax coal profits, fund new jobs. Photo: Zeb Parkes

This perspective was demonstrably successful.

The fact that the NSW Police Minister Yasmin Catley had to congratulate participants in the lead-up illustrates the level of community support for the protest that activists had won.

Murray told participants that official approval of the historic blockade would not have happened if activists had not been prepared to blockade regardless of permissions.


Rising Tide's Shaun Murray speaks to blockade participants
Rising Tide's Shaun Murray speaks to blockade participants. Photo: Zeb Parkes

Greens leader Adam Bandt told Green Left it is “absolutely vital” to support big direct actions like this one. “Politicians react to people pressure and social movements can change what governments do.

“People are fed up with gaslighting governments that say they want to take climate action and then open up new coal and gas mines.”


Newcastle Socialist Alliance member Niko Leka told Green Left that “there is no future unless we stop coal, so I've come today and I'll keep on coming every single day until it ends”.

Another person from the Northern Rivers of NSW said “we're already living through a climate crisis: lot of us were really impacted by the floods”.

The four-day event began with workshops, including legal briefings and kayak training, and a very moving Welcome to Country by Worimi Elder Aunty Theresa.


Socialist Alliance members at the blockade
Socialist Alliance members at the blockade. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The first evening also featured a forum, jointly organised by Green Left and Rising Tide, on worker solidarity and the transition to sustainable jobs. A live stream of that can be viewed on the Green Left YouTube channel.

The weekend blockade had as much of a festival atmosphere as a protest. As kayaks were blocking the waterway, music played from a stage on the beach.


Night blockade
Night blockade. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

The weekend was peppered with activities including: making a human “we are the rising tide” sign; discobedience; a dog parade; a professional sand sculpture; and an interfaith service.

Socialist Alliance members initiated a Palestine solidarity action and highlighted Greta Thunberg's comment that climate justice is impossible on occupied land.


Palestine solidarity action
Palestine solidarity action. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

After the approved 30-hour blockade ended, more than 100 activists continued. As Rising Tide's Alexa Stuart said: “If the government will not take action on climate change, the people will use civil disobedience”.


Arrestees defiant on police boat
Arrestees defiant on police boat. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

“We wish we did not have to do this, but the Albanese government needs to understand we are serious.

“Until the Albanese government says no to new coal projects and agrees to tax coal export profits at 75% to fund the transition, we will continue to disrupt the fossil fuel industry because the climate crisis is impacting us all.”

Of those arrested, the youngest was 15 and the oldest 97.


Coal is killing us
Coal is killing us. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Justin Page from the Hunter Jobs Alliance (which includes blue and white collar unions) wrote a positive defence of the blockade in the November 25 Newcastle Herald.


Greens leader Adam Bandt joins the blockade
Greens leader Adam Bandt joins the blockade. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Paddling against coal
Paddling against coal. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Sail4Sanity arrive from Wollongong
Sail4Sanity arrive from Wollongong. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Beautiful Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony
Beautiful Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Knitting Nannas at the blockade
Knitting Nannas at the blockade. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Launching the night blockade
Launching the night blockade. Photo: Alex Bainbridge


Sand sculpture by Steve Machell (
Sand sculpture by Steve Machell ( Photo: Alex Bainbridge

More photos from the blockade are on the Green Left Facebook page: welcome; blockade begins; night blockade; Palestine solidarity; and day three.

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