THE Hastings office of Flinders MP Greg Hunt was again “occupied” and under siege on Friday by environmentalists concerned by the federal government’s pro-coal policies.
As Environment Minister, Mr Hunt has become a main target of protests, most recently in response to his re-approval of the Indian corporation Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland.
The protesters are concerned by the mining of coal and its subsequent use contributing to greenhouse gases as well as threats to the Great Barrier Reef by ships carrying the coal from terminals at Abbot Point.
Although most federal ministers are subjected to protests, Mr Hunt, because of his portfolio, seems to attract more than his share of public criticism – both outside his office, in the media and, especially, social media.
As well as entering his office, protesters are increasingly climbing onto its roof. They come prepared, using ladders to gain access.
Last month it was a group of women from Climate Guardians dressed as angels, on Friday two women and a man holding a banner dubbing Mr Hunt as Minister for Coal. The trio wore hard hats.
The Australian Federal Police is now looking at stepping up security at Mr Hunt’s office because of the additional safety risks to protesters and staff, Mr Hunt’s electorate communications officer Samantha Robin said yesterday, Monday.
While the protests outside his office are not usually attended by a large number of environmental campaigners or covered by mainstream media, their message is potentially far reaching as videos and stills are quickly posted on the internet.
Just about every decision by Mr Hunt is disputed and dissected on social media platforms.
Perhaps most worryingly to Mr Hunt, many of protesters live in his electorate – they are not just bussed in for the day.
Certainly an issue has become “local” when members of a small yoga group decided to stand on their heads to persuade Mr Hunt to overturn his re-approval of the Carmichael mine (“Group goes heels over head against coal mine”, The News, 27/10/15).
When Mr Hunt recently accused protesters of intimidating his staff, those involved were happy to be identified and quick to provide their side of the story. The two men who carried coal into the minister’s Hastings office, who both live in the Flinders electorate, contacted The News and denied that intimidation had occurred. They said police were present and would have intervened if anyone had been threatened.
Next year’s federal poll is being touted as a “Facebook election” with political parties being able to target specific voters on issues of personal interest.
However, the very nature of the internet and quick response available on social media may water down the effect of the money being spent by the parties on Facebook advertisements.
Mr Hunt left Australia on Sunday for Paris to attend ministerial level talks leading into the climate change summit, which will be attended by the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
He was not in his office for Friday’s protest, but earlier in the day was happy to be on safer waters with a stand-up paddleboard at Dromana to promote water quality testing with members of Clean Ocean Foundation.