G20 Protests: The Good, the Bad and the Useless

The G20 summit has begun in Brisbane this week, a gathering of the world leaders from the top 20 economies. Funnily enough most of them were already in the neighbourhood attending an APEC summit, where some pretty important shit was decided (though just how decided is arguable). Hopefully it’ll turn into an interesting meeting, despite Tony Abbot and Joe Hockey’s endless intoning about how this’ll be all about something as vaguely pedestrian as jobs and growth. There’s already a bit of spice about with the PM’s embarrassment about being the only leader who doesn’t want to mention climate change, and a bit of military showboating with RAN frigates and a surveillance plane keeping an eye on four Russian warships steaming south towards international waters just outside our EEC. Good stuff.

Security’s a bit ridiculous, with bans on bows (of all types) and easily throwable objects like tin cans and eggs in the secure zone that covers most of the Brisbane CBD. There’s been a bit of grumbling and satire about the inability to boil an egg in the city at the moment, though nothing close to the level of the Chaser’s visit to APEC way back when. But there can be no collection of powerful men (and a few powerful women) without some protests, and distaste for the current political status quo and a desire to make that distaste known will find a way!

Free-Tibet supporters floated large black balloons with a banner asking the G20 to unite in forcing China to free Tibet, raising a few questions: 1. Do they realise that China is a G20 nation; 2. Do they really think anyone in the G20 still gives a damn enough about Tibet to ruin their attempts at becoming ascendant China’s best mate; and 3. How long before the One China folk turn up to chase them off?

A few people from Oxfam dressed up in life guard outfits and the comically oversized heads of a few of the leaders (including Merkel, Abbot, Obama and Modi) in order to warn against ‘inequality rising.’ Not exactly as dramatic as black balloons carrying a banner, but it’s pleasant, light-hearted and attracted a lot of people to take photos, and I’ve got a lotta respect for people willing to wear giant heads for hours at a time in a Brisbane heatwave for a good cause.

Far more serious is the protest about indigenous deaths in custody, which I assume is attempting to embarrass the government in front of the rest of the world. It’s a cause I most definitely support, but can’t help but wonder if this is the best audience for the protests. I can’t help but imagine that there’s not going to be a whole lot of coverage of an Australian death in custody protest, and that the gathered leadership is pretty good at tuning out name-calling like “Genocidal 20.”

Perhaps my favourite so far, and the one that seems most… appropriate? let’s say appropriate. The one that seems the most appropriate so far was on Bondi Beach, where hundreds of protesters buried their heads in the sand, symbolic of the Abbot government’s continued wilful ignorance and refusal to acknowledge climate change. I like this one. It uses an internationally recognisable location, makes it’s point cleverly but not obliquely and doesn’t accuse the other leaders of genocide (seriously, what’s with that?) I’m not exactly a big fan of most protests, but this one’s alright.

Finally, let me mention the folks from PETA, who sent a trio of girls stripped down to their briefs, some strategically placed stickers and a mess of green body paint to encourage the approaching international dignitaries to embrace a vegan diet. Now, I’m torn between having a go at PETA for continuing their trend of blatant sexism objectifying women in order to garner attention and controversy (especially because you only need to Google ‘PETA’ and ‘sexist’ to find a bunch of articles doing it better than I ever could), and making a joke about how threatening to put your clothes back on is hardly the best way to get a bunch of men to do what you want. That long sentence does both, so I’ll close this paragraph simply with this: Really PETA? Really?

I’ve always found a lot of these kinds of protests strange. I mean, I get that it’s an international audience but aside from the possibility of a mention in the BBC’s G20 coverage what exactly are people trying to achieve? I mean, Xi Jinping certainly doesn’t care if a handful of Aussies think he needs to extend more democratic rights to Hong Kong, Narendra Modi wouldn’t care about Tibet beyond maybe – maybe! – sticking it to China, and I doubt Dilma Rousseff is all that worried about the rights of indigenous Australians. Yes it raises local awareness, but local awareness is likely fleeting. A big part of the reason I like the Bondi protests is that it reinforces something already filling the media, that our biggest strategic and trading partners are concerned about climate change but the Abbott government wants to ignore it (and is even bragging about ditching the Carbon Tax).

There’s also the problem that with all the different groups protesting about different things at once they simply become a wall of white noise that’s even easier to ignore. This is a problem that has tended to effect left-wing protests in Australia (as well as the lack of achievable goals) over the past few years, such as during the Occupy Sydney/Martin Place movement and the March in March … er … marches.

So I’m not gonna bet on a lot of these protests’ success. But hey, I’m a political cynic.

Anyway, let’s see what the rest of the summit brings. Here’s hoping for a few more laughs.

Cheering for the bloke in the budgie smugglers


Live from the G20 summit!
Live from the G20 summit!

There’s a lot of reasons to not be happy with Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Hell beyond the insultingly unbalanced budget, classist education reforms, atrocious refugee policy and a cabinet made up, with a single exception, entirely of middle-aged to old white men, he’s given us plenty of reasons to not be happy with him in just the last fortnight. Something I can’t fault him for, however, is declaring that he’ll be picking a diplomatic fight at the upcoming G20 leaders summit with Vladimir Putin over MH17. Because someone bloody needs to.

The challenge was laid down earlier this week when Abbott declared that he would “shirtfront” Putin on the issue, personally confronting the Russian President about the murder of Australian (and a lot more Dutch) citizens by “Russian backed rebels using Russian supplied equipment.” My first thought when I heard this was, “what the hell is ‘shirtfront?'” Apparently it’s slang for a shoulder-to-body tackle in Australian Rules Football (I live in NSW, I follow Rugby League when the fancy takes me, I can count on one hand the number of people I know who I’d expect to recognise what ‘shirtfronting’ is). There’s some suspicion he meant to say “buttonhole” and got his terms confused. My second thought was, “good.” While I tend to agree with Opposition Leader Bill Shorten that Putin shouldn’t have even been invited (that would require support from the rest of the G20 nations though so isn’t really up to us), I’m glad to know that the government is at least planning on calling him on his shit. Because, as I said above, someone bloody needs to, and at the moment it just seems to be us and the Dutch.

The Russians responded to Mr Abbott’s tough talk with some tough talk of their own. They’d already voiced their negative opinions of Mr Abbott in state mouth-piece Pravda before the shirtfronting threat, and again afterwards. From what I understand it’s a bit of diplomatic foreshadowing, one side indicating an important part of the agenda and the other indicating their displeasure at its inclusion. The international relations equivalent of two boxers trash-talking each other to the press before a fight. The fact that everyone seems to have taken Mr Abbott literally and are expecting the him to strip down to the speedos and Putin to rip of his shirt so they can toe-to-toe down Brisbane’s main street certainly helps the image.

So the roo and the bear have been sizing each other up, and if the Pravda articles are anything to go by the bear found his opponent wanting… Or did he? Maybe. Friday morning Foreign Minister Julie Bishop had a sit down with Putin and managed to get a… promise? (that might be too strong a word)… that he’d influence the Russian-backed rebels to allow investigators in before the famous Ukrainian winter set in. There are also indications (such as his current attendance at the Asia-Europe Meeting) that Putin wants to re-establish some positive relations with the west even if his continued rhetoric (and the fact he occasionally shouts “WE HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS!” in his loudest diplomatic voice) has left many, including Australia’s leadership, taking everything with a grain of salt (or several dozen). The sanctions have certainly hurt the Russian economy, and their own counter-sanctions hurt them more than they hurt everyone else (for now). The Economist ran an article back in July that estimated Putin’s leadership cost the Russian investment market one trillion dollars in value. One trillion dollars. What’s more, Australia has been in a good position to press the Russians on this issue. While not a military threat, Australia has been able to impose economic sanctions (including on Uranium sales) without the same fear of reprisal that energy dependant Europe has faced. As a current member of the UN Security Council, Australia was also key to the rapid introduction and passing of the resolution allowing independent access to the MH17 crash site. We’ve also got a fair bit of international support, and the good relationships with China and India to keep them from weighing in on Russia’s side.

The kangaroo’s got a decent kick, and the bear hasn’t been eating properly. Still, nuclear power being run by a crazy narcissistic bastard seems like the most accurate description of Russia at the moment, so it’s still just a maybe.

What’s been jarring to me has been the number of people I know who seem to be on Putin’s side in all this. Ignoring all the people whose response to the upcoming firm discussion between the man in the budgie smugglers and the man who wants us to believe wrestles tigers was “like Russia actually gives a shit about what Australia thinks” (I’m frequently guilty of overrating Oz’s place in the world, but a lot of people are guilty of underrating), there were more than a few of my fellow lefties who saw this as yet another excuse to attack Abbott. Blogs and satirical websites posted articles that varied between light humour to outright attacks on the government’s international credibility, which were then shared on social media pages like Tony Abbott – Worst PM in Australian History, which then began appearing on my own feeds as my leftie and ‘progressive’ mates enthusiastically hit the ‘like’ buttons.

The theme of a real world leader like Putin putting a small fry like Abbott in his place seemed common and I just don’t get why beyond a bad case of seeing schadenfreude (SCHADENFREUDE!) where it shouldn’t be seen. Because Vladimir Putin is an Arsehole, with a capital A. He’s a misogynistic, racist, homophobic Arsehole with delusions of grandeur responsible for the murders of 298 innocent people including over three dozen Australians. And as I said, if Abbott’s planning on calling him on his shit than that’s something to be supporting.

Truthfully I don’t expect Abbott and Putin’s discussion to be anything history making, and I don’t expect to be seeing video of two shirtless heads of state beating the crap out of each other (though that would be the Best. G20. Ever.) But that doesn’t make the cause less righteous and I wish more people saw that. Cheer for the bloke in the budgie smugglers. Then we can all go back to relentlessly mocking him about his “Coal is good for humanity” remarks.