We are the 99% Occupy Melbourne: First Look

A crowd gathers to hear a speaker wax lyrical about the dangers of climate change. If only we had some kind of legislation to discourage pollution, a "tax" on carbon, if you will

Last week, we reported on the Occupy Wall Street protests. Since then, the protests have spread like wildfire, all across the US and around the globe. Today sparked the beginning of the Occupy Melbourne protests. Given that the Occupy Wall Street protests were in reaction to unprecedented unemployment, student and mortgage debt gripping the United States, why would anyone in Australia join the protest? The Occupy Melbourne website states:

We face similar problems with our democracy here in Victoria and Australia as people face in most other developed nations. Our democracy is unwell. Our elected representatives no longer represent their constituents, instead their ears are turned by wealthy lobby groups, whilst the common interests of the people they were elected to represent, are ignored. Some levels of our government are also rife with corruption.

It’s time our elected representatives actually started representing the 99% of the population who don’t have enormous wealth and political influence. Who suffer the social, economic and environmental consequences of corporate greed. Who work to generate enormous wealth for a mere 1% of the population.

Inspired by the actions of those striving for democracy in North Africa and the Middle East, and similar demonstrations throughout Europe and more recently, in the United States. From these events, “Occupy Together”, a global social movement for real democracy, has grown. It is from this global movement that Occupy Melbourne has grown.

Being a Melbourne local, I decided to head down to the protests and see for myself what they were all about. Armed only with my trusty iPhone camera, I was determined to experience the Occupy Together movement firsthand.

If only all the protesters were this attractive

To their credit, the crowd were remarkably peaceful. Around 1pm, a crew of protesters congregated outside the Melbourne Central shopping centre precinct but were moved on by police without incident. I didn’t notice anyone behaving antagonistically or in a confrontational manner with police, and in return the police were respectful with protesters.

The protest occupies the public space on the corner of Swanston and Collins streets, opposite town hall. At the entrance to the square was a young woman holding a sign proclaiming that Occupy Melbourne was an independent, politically unaffiliated protest. However, everyone I met at the protest were a part of the far left. The Socialist movement had a strong presence at the rally, as did climate change and immigration activists. I did not encounter anyone from moderate or right wing political groups– unsurprising, despite what the protest signs say.

During my time there, I heard speakers talk about the importance of being socially conscious, the dangers we face from climate change, and the apparent evils of self managed superannuation funds. They failed to inspire me, and I wasn’t alone. The crowd appeared listless and uninterested. Whether this was because the inadequate sound system made it almost impossible to hear most speakers, or whether it was due to the fact that Australia already has policies to combat most of the social ills the speakers seemed upset about, I don’t know.

A banner reading "If you think Greed is bad, wait until you hear about capitalism"

When did communists become the 99%?

It’s hard to see what, if anything these protests have in common with the Occupy Wall Street and other American Occupation rallies. The current financial and economic climate of the two nations is incredibly different. Although we still don’t have a clear idea of the demands of the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s not hard to see what sort of conditions have compelled them to protest.

– Record unemployment: The US has historically high levels of unemployment. In 2009, Detroit’s unemployment rate was a staggering 30%.  By comparison, Australia’s current unemployment rate is around 5%

– Record student debt. The college system in the US is totally private, and students must rely on scholarships, savings or private loans to pay for education. The cost of education in the US is far higher, with bachelor’s degrees costing anywhere from 20-60 thousand dollars for a four year degree. Students are also liable to begin paying these loans back upon graduation regardless of financial circumstances. Meanwhile, Australian students are offered partial subsidization in the form of HELP loans. HELP loan payments are repaid as a portion of income tax. Australian students who fail to earn more than the threshold annual income may never have to pay their loans back.

– The US economy teeters on the brink of a double dip recession. After nearly defaulting on their debt earlier this year, and faced with a falling dollar, the economic outlook in the US is beyond grim. Australia, while no longer in surplus, has a much stronger economic outlook, and there is no indication we face the potential to default on our debt.

Two protesters, one in a Guy Fawkes mask, look at an Apple Macbook

A friendly protester helps Guy Fawkes tweet the revolution on a macbook pro. Thank you, American corporations for providing the technology.

For what it’s worth, there was precious little talk of economics while I was there. Most of the conversation was around the climate debate. I can’t help but feel that the protesters would have summoned more anger if the lower house of parliament hadn’t just pushed through the world’s biggest per capita carbon tax. There were a few more passionate discussions surrounding immigration, mandatory detention and boat people. However, these were arguments of the extreme left. They did not even represent the moderate political left in Australia and they certainly didn’t represent the 99% of Australia.

The protests somehow seemed less coherent than even the US ones. It’s as if anyone in the Australian left with an axe to grind joined up for a loosely affiliated protest. The same people that decry American imperialism and the intrusion of US culture onto our way of life chose to co opt American protests simply so they could say “me too.” Like the US protests, it’s not immediately clear what politicians would need to do to make them happy.

The movement intends to Occupy Melbourne indefinitely, the same way protesters have occupied Zucotti Park. If that is their intention, they seem woefully unprepared. Beyond a few outdoor marquees, I didn’t see coverings of any kind, although the protest is still in its early stages and more supplies could be forthcoming. Unfortunately for the protesters, rain clouds appear to be brewing over Melbourne. Australians are an apolitical bunch at the best of times, and I fear the first round of bad weather could put a dampener on the Melbourne Occupation.

Three protesters holding signs

A local youth wears a SHEEPLE tshirt, just like a half dozen others I saw at the event. Another girl holds a vintage 2003 anti war sign. Another worries that his generation will be asked to clean up the future. I doubt his generation will even clean up the square

Read more:

About Occupy Melbourne – Official Occupy Melbourne Site

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13 Comments on “We are the 99% Occupy Melbourne: First Look”

  1. October 15, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

    In Australia since banking deregulation we have sold off our State Government Banks and The Commonwealth government Bank it was stated then that this move would allow an International means of raising capital from overseas banks which have corrupted the system and required huge bailouts by taxpayers (tax slavery).
    We are not immune to this failed system of greedy Bankers a lot of investments here by local governments and private investors including super funds lost money in the GFC and our “stimulus” packages trickled back into the banks here providing solid deposits that allowed more lending involving fractional reserves using multiples of the assett held.
    If we were not able to sell raw materials to Asia we would look different yet with bankers using fractional reserve banking and a fall in demands for raw materials, we need also to understand how the virus of greed and exploitation will arrive here in Australia.

    • October 16, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

      On the contrary, banking in australia is among tthe most highly regulated industries there is. The plight arising from the American unregulated loans and insurance schemes would never happen in Australia, especially not after we saw the effect it had on the economy this time around. If you want to protest how about you protest the rate of housing prices rising? The Australian greed of owning a home and guaranteed sale at 20% higher prices in 2 years is ridiculously greedy and unsustainable. However, I bet if housing markets burst, making property more affordable, this same lot will be the first to whinge that families are losing value on their mortgages. Housing in Australia is simply one of the most unfathomably expensive markets in the world. That is something worth protesting and worth protesting at the detriment of everyday Australians with an existing mortgage.

    • October 16, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

      Actually, in some respects I do agree with you about the banks, only in that the banks are currently free to lend “the 99%” up to 95% of their mortgages so that they can buy a home. But you know what? Yes, it’s irresponsible of the banks, but this isn’t the stupidity of the banks. This is the stupidity and greed OF the 99%. Too many people out there are saying “hey guess what! I have $25,000, I can buy a home now!” and they go and get a $580,000 loan (~95%) without doing the calculations on their interest over the next 20 years, or considering changes in interest rates. Why be that greedy for?? Everyone at these protests wants everything NOW NOW NOW and what is needed is a brutal wake-up call / change in attitude. I’m happy to do the sensible thing and wait years until I have a hell of a lot more of a deposit than that. This is why housing prices are so high: the impulsiveness of the 99%.

      • James Hill
        October 16, 2011 at 2:27 pm #

        Housing prices are a pretty complicated issue. It’s partially demand, partially tax breaks like negative gearing and exorbitant fees and taxes such as stamp duty that artificially inflate housing prices. As you’ve pointed out, even if we make houses more affordable, the people that bought into the housing market during the height of the bubble will be disadvantaged.

        As for nationalizing the banks: I fail to see how that will eliminate any of the issues we face. The federal government has proven to be every bit as corrupt and greedy as the banking sector, the two groups work hand in hand already. I doubt you’d find most of the key players in the banking industry expelled as a result of nationalization anyway, someone with expertise still needs to run the banks after all. They’d simply print out new business cards and it’d be business as usual.

        Again though, these aren’t issues I’m hearing voiced by most protesters. They’re rallying to end “greed,” which is a noble sentiment but about as practical as rallying to end “jealousy” or “embarrassment.” Without concrete, clear demands, the average person’s eyes just start to glaze over. If these movements want to gain traction, they need to get on the same page and get clear about what it is they want and if they want to represent 99% of hard working Australians they need to ditch their association with the socialist alliance, because they certainly do not represent mainstream Australia.

        • October 17, 2011 at 8:52 am #

          I think it’s called “the 99%” because they are protesting 99% of …things. XD

    • James Hill
      October 16, 2011 at 2:30 pm #

      Jolly Rodger, I’m interested in what you mean by tax slavery. Are you suggesting that all taxes are a form of slavery or simply the bailouts? I’m not sure I believe the bailouts were necessarily a good thing for the US people, but surely you acknowledge the role of the federal government is to use taxed funds to protect the people’s way of life and ensure social stability. Would you consider disability pensions funded from the public purse tax slavery?

      • October 17, 2011 at 8:55 am #

        I for one am glad of the tax in this country. I was in hospital twice over the weekend… and walked out not paying a cent. Someone wisely pointed out I have more than used up the tax I paid last year: that’s why we live in Australia and not America!

  2. October 18, 2011 at 9:00 pm #

    I was talking about Fractional Reserve Banking which means that for every dollar a bank holds in deposit it can create more credit out of thin air and call it money, then upon that whole amount that makes up a loan interest is applied as if it were all there in the first place.
    Because Governments local, state and federal borrow from these fractional reserve private banks our debt both National and current account pays interest on this which is a huge cost to taxpayers as we never pay off our national debt.
    This interest burden need not happen if Government was to issue money to itself as it did in 1911-1923 when we built the Indian Pacific Railroad and had it paid for on date of completion plus we funded the first world war without any debt thereafter.
    In housing people pay at least three times the house price in interest there is no wonder people want to get value for their homes it is interest rates that drive house prices also as well as it drives up inflation dont forget council rates also accumulating .
    If this account of FRC and credit creation sounds unreal I recomend you review the royal commisions into banking after the last depression in 1937 there you will see a greater racket than just credit creation


  3. October 31, 2011 at 9:50 am #

    The Qantas issue and the privatisation of public assetts resulting in loss of industry and jobs due to government not having it’s own bank and government selling public assetts.
    Here we have a classic modern day problem where a government airline that did not have to make large profits could give the employees and passengers a much better deal was sold off to raise capital that the government needed due to not having the advantage of their own Commonwealth bank.
    It then ends up in the hands of Corporations for peanuts as most privatisation does due to engineered assett reduction problems, but then the greedy shareholders demand more and more profit so it turns into a race to the bottom.
    The bottom is where employees are ending up as slaves to a system and the government loss is tax revenue.
    The system is one created by Governments giving away the right under the constitution to opperate the banking system for themselves and the Nation, instead we have private banks using fractional reserve banking to finiance the purchase of public assets for Corporations with the use of one dollar to create ten or more.
    The Government is therefore to blame for whatever happens to Qantas and whatever happens to employees yet they will blame unions or anybody else, the race to the bottom is everywhere, set in motion by privatisation of our government banks.
    Not many people noticed when the Commonwealth Bank and all State Banks were sold off to private investors, they will notice the effects more and this is exactly what the 99% see as a problem.

  4. Jolly Rodjer
    October 13, 2012 at 11:39 pm #

    Andrew & James should take a look at what has happened since the above posts were made Banks have been charged with fraud in the low doc no doc scam, still on offer,the RBA is connected to paying bribes in the note printing activity,APRA the regulator oversees no reserves, & has not fully covered derivitives now under stress world wide.borrowers are paying off loans ahead of time knowing a problem approaches, house prices are subject to debt laden state governments who cannot open up new land or development costs that push up demand for housing thus increasing the cost to those who need to buy a home.
    Banks struggle for “deposits” due to low tax revenue resulting in less tax payer backed bond issue from the government to borrow thus bank reserves are getting smaller, the ponzi scheme is revealing itself in layoffs, forclosures. “the envey of the world” requires foriegn investment 70% from countries that at present have larger debt problems?,
    Without home loans Banks would shrink in deposits by 60%, shortage causes price increase not demand which is in excess to supply thus price spike now going off boil.
    With fractional reserves Banks can profit from a fraud in a no doc loan write it off & still make 9 or more times the principle of the proven fraud written off simply by the expansion of fractional reserves described in detail in “modern Money Mechanics” Reserve Bank Of Chicago page 11-12 on the net just Google it up & see how this is done, due to time lapse in the no doc failing & thrown out by the Courts as has happened in our well regulated? banking system.

    • James Hill
      October 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      A follow up piece might be a good idea. Of the cases you mentioned, the one I’m most familiar (the RBA bribery scandal) was already well under way long before Occupy Melbourne got started: http://www.smh.com.au/national/inquiry-calls-amid-rba-bribery-scandal-20110701-1gu7o.html

      Having occupy take credit for that is disingenuous at best. If anything, Occupy grew out of such scandals, not the other way round.

      The beauty of having no leaders, no goals, no plan and nothing more than some popular grievances is that you can claim victory for any future changes without having to show you actually did anything.

      The Occupy movement worldwide grew out of a very real public displeasure with the global financial crisis and how so few of our banking elite were held responsible for the destruction they caused. This transcended political and class divides in many ways, and the fact that the Occupy movement failed to do more with such massive public support for some key issues is a testimony to their failure. Before the movement had even solidified there were accusations it had been highjacked by special interest groups:


      But really, without any leaders or guiding principles to begin with, who can say who highjacked it and who had the right to legitimately lead it?


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