17 November 2023 will go down in history as the day when planet Earth reached its first two degree plus temperature anomaly relative to the preindustrial baseline. It was also the day that I was carted off to hospital in an ambulance after spending over two weeks on a climate hunger strike on the lawns of Parliament House while Anthony Albanese ghosted me.
The climate science shows that by the end of this century, three to six billion people on Earth won’t have a safe place to live due to the global heating. My kids will be alive then. I’m 55 years old now, and even during my lifetime the world is going to become a very dangerous place. Climate change is no longer a future emergency. It’s here now. In the words of the Secretary General of the United Nations, the world is on the brink of climate collapse. But Australia keeps digging up coal, pumping out gas and chopping down its trees.
Before my hunger strike, I read that starvation can bring on a sense of clarity and focus. This was true for me. After four to five days, I felt enveloped by a powerful forcefield that filtered out my own and other peoples’ emotions and egos. Sitting with an empty stomach on the lawns of Parliament House for 16 days helped me see things for what they were. I realised that Australia’s political system was defunct. Our government was in denial, asleep at the wheel, and in bed with the fossil fuel companies. It didn’t care about Australia. It cared only about political games and power. Our system of democracy was defunct. I would often look up at that Parliament House’s huge flagpole and imagine the Australian flag had been replaced with that of Woodside Energy.
Albo and his Ministers ghosted me the whole time. If a Minister did need to walk past me, they would keep their eyes averted under strict guidance of accompanying political advisors. Peter Dutton and his LNP minions were no better. They slunk around with smirks on their faces knowing Albo was copping the heat, but again too gutless to look me in the eye.
What I saw clearly while sitting there outside Parliament House was that the Labor and Liberal duopoly think they own that place. They think they’re entitled to take turns to run the show. They don’t see that places as our Parliament House. They see it as theirs. Even the Greens, who to their credit eventually did come out in support of my demands for a safe planet, told me they “had to caucus”. They also patronised me. David Shoebridge told me instructively, “Gregory end your hunger strike … leave things to the people back in there to deal with”. I remember replying, “thanks for your suggestion David, but you people in there are not dealing with it!”
Amidst the haze of my hunger and Australia’s dysfunctional politics, there was something that gave me hope. Something that I saw with clarity. That was the role, value and accountability of the independents, the people who had been genuinely identified and elected by their communities. Independent Senator David Pocock was the first politician to come and sit with me. He did that on his first day back in the office. A few days later, Allegra Spender, Sophie Scamps and Andrew Wilkie all came out to sit with me and listen. They heard my call. They didn’t lecture me or patronise me. Of course, they asked me to stop. And they said I was more valuable alive than I was dead. But instead of telling me to leave it to the politicians, they said “come and help us to restore Australia’s democracy”.
I don’t know what I’m going to do next. But I do know there’s no time to waste in saving our planet. A big part of that is restoring Australia’s democracy and political system which is broken and incapable of dealing with climate change.
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