Bernard Collaery, Woodside, and the carbon industry’s corruption of Australian democracy

XD Law

February 18, 2021

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By Tim Hollo (@timhollo)

We’re here, of course, to stand in solidarity with Witness K and Bernard Collaery, and to bear witness to them being dragged before the courts because they stood up for democracy, and because their actions expose for all to see the dark dirty underbelly of our political system, and their trial in secret exposes it even more.

Australian democracy has always been a complex, contradictory beast. We’re proud of the peaceful process of federation, with no war of independence, but that carefully sweeps under the carpet the 120 years of frontier wars that preceded it, which our mainstream history studiously ignores.

And, while remarkable grassroots campaigns delivered voting rights to women and the secret ballot very early on, that federation process, conducted by old white men in closed rooms 120 years ago has bequeathed us a very top-down democracy.

Our country’s founding document is an act of the British parliament, written in the age of empires, closer to Napoleon’s time than our own. It does not see government granted the capacity to govern by a sovereign people – far from it. It sees a crowned sovereign a planet away granting her subjects some measure of a say over their lives.

Bernard Collaery’s trial and the carbon industry’s influence

I give this potted history which we all know because this top-down democracy has evolved over that century from the generous grant of an imperial sovereign to the dominant power of extractive industry, treating this land and its people as inconvenient impediments to their untrammelled right to make mind-boggling profits.

In Australia today, we have government by the fossil fuel industries, of the fossil fuel industries, for the fossil fuel industries.

From the carbon price to the resource rent tax, from Juukan Gorge to Adani, from the gas-led recovery to the Timor Sea, we see the will of the people and just outcomes subordinated to the profits of one of the most destructive industries in the world.

What Witness K and Bernard Collaery have done is shine a spotlight on that fact, deeply embarrassing governments by showing for all to see that the highest levels of government, even in international relations, are corrupted, are coopted by polluting profiteering.

That our government would spy on our neighbours in order to benefit Woodside should beggar belief. That, instead of calling to account those who are responsible, governments both Liberal and Labor instead drag the whistleblowers through the courts shames our entire polity.

Democracy dies in darkness, whistleblowers shine a light

While Labor are now on the right side of this story, we must never forget that they had to be dragged to this position.

K and Collaery’s actions are so important because they make us think about the state of our democracy. And a quick glance around the world tells us there are few more crucial tasks.

Democracy is not in a good state, here or elsewhere. And top-down democracy, the subordination of the will of the people to the profit of the few, turning citizens into consumers, into supplicants, into cogs in a machine, is central to why democracy is now in crisis.

If we want to have any hope of facing down the rise of the authoritarian extreme right, we have to build a true democracy, from the bottom up, a democracy where government is the collective will of the people.

That’s why it’s so incredibly important to be here, bearing witness. The fact that this trial is being conducted in secret shows that the government know they are in the wrong.

Democracy dies in darkness, and Witness K, Bernard Collaery, and all of you are shining a light. Thanks so much for being here.

This article is adapted from a speech given by Tim Hollo during a recent protest against Bernard Collaery’s prosecution.

Tim Hollo is Executive Director of the Green Institute, a visiting fellow at the ANU’s RegNet, and Greens candidate for the setoff Canberra. He is the founder of Green Music Australia, was previously Communications Director for Greens Leader Christine Milne, has been a board member and campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and has recorded 7 albums and toured nationally and globally with FourPlay String Quartet.

Tim established Canberra’s flourishing Buy Nothing Groups, set up a little library, and spearheaded a campaign to keep billboard advertising out of Canberra. His writing has been widely published, including at the Griffith Review, the Guardian, ABC, and Crikey. His forthcoming book, Living Democracy: An Ecological Manifesto, will be out with NewSouth Press in 2021.


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