Right image by Andrew Meares //
I first became aware of writer/surfer/activist Sean Doherty after seeing a mate share one of his posts on Instagram. His profile picture is Christian Bale as the sociopathic and narcissistic protagonist American Psycho, Patrick Bateman; an entity whose indifference to the suffering around him is his defining feature. Ironically, Bateman shares these traits with the corporate mining bodies that Doherty is fighting against.
“I haven’t chainsawed anyone up lately, but there’s always time,” he says over the phone.
He’s obviously joking, though you couldn’t blame him for wanting to chainsaw some of the companies that are polluting our natural world and political system. Equinor, Rio Tinto and BHP, are among the corporations he’s taken aim at recently, along with their political mouthpieces Nev Power, Matt Canavan and our coal-humping PM, Scott Morrison.
His followers will be all too familiar with his intelligible takedowns and breakdowns of these clowns and their motivations, with his straight-shooting style making the political world easy enough for anyone (even me!) to understand. Spurring his impassioned posts is a lifelong appreciation for the Australian coastline and the bushy landscape that it skirts – something most of us can relate to.
“I grew up in Foster on the North Coast, and we lived 50 yards from the beach and 100 yards from a national park. That was my playground for 15 years as a kid. I think that’s where that deep-seated sense of the environment and the love for it, and the willingness to do something for it, all came from,” he says. “Then I got into surf mags after that.”
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Okay, time to get serious with this PEP11 bullshit. Advent Energy and Bounty Oil and Gas are two approvals away from drilling off the Central Coast, and in their words they say the approvals are “imminent”. The whole idea of turning the coast between Sydney and Newcastle into a gasfield seemed laughable – a gasfield off one of the world’s most iconic cities – but here they are on the verge of making it happen. We need to get in front of these two approvals. The crew at @save_our_coast have a template letter on their site that allows you to address it to tour local member. Already 10,000 people have sent letters, but we need to get another 10,000. Nobody apart from @keithpittmp and the gas companies want this to happen, so if you live along this coast (and if you don’t) you need to let your local member know that you’ll remember this bullshit at the next election unless something is done.
His resume is about as decorated as it can get for a surf writer. Editing Tracks for a decade, being a senior writer at Surfing World and Surfer magazines, and writing best-selling surf biographies are the kind of milestones that most writers, surf or otherwise, dream of. Naturally, causes like the Fight for the Bight, which recently fought off Norweigan oil juggernaut Equinor, hit home for someone who’s dedicated most of their life to writing about the surfing experience.
“It was very refreshing and very humbling to see all these surf communities that got it, that understood we need to protect this place down there,” he says about the campaign. “I thought, “Man, if these crews are willing to spend their time and their Saturday to go and paddle out and try and save this place down here, what would they do for something closer to home?” he says.
For those of us in New South Wales, the fight has moved closer to home, with approval of Advent Energy and Bounty Oil & Gas’ Petroleum Exploration Permit “imminently” arriving for a 4,500 square kilometre area of the coast of Sydney, Newcastle and the Central Coast. In a world where renewable technology is clearly the future, such proposals – one that could make gas rigs visible on the horizon from the state’s most populous stretch of land – seem like such a brazen disregard for our future. Companies like Advent and Bounty, however, have teams of people who are constantly greasing the palms of our pollies (what a life, right?).
“I think they know they’ve got the backing of the government, broadly,” Doherty says. “I think that they know how this country works, the fossil fuel industry calls the shots, pretty much, and the government just answers to it, and it’s been that way for a long time. We’ve developed into a bit of a first-world quarry over the past couple of decades, and that’s what we’re up against: that institutionalized link between the fossil fuel lobby and the government that’s really hard to unstitch.”
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Sign this guy up to JobShirker. So let me get this right… he tells the rest of us to turn up to work and school, heath care workers risk contracting the virus every day, he wants borders open and business as usual… but he suspends parliament because it’s too dangerous? The choad was necking schooners at the footy last week, but bails out on running the country because it’s too dangerous?? Of course, no parliament makes it far easier for him to avoid scrutiny as he takes the opportunity to secretly rebuild Australia in the interests of him and his mates. Apart from going to the footy, and haphazardly giving away our money, can anyone tell me what this guy has actually done to lead during the pandemic? About as much as he did during the bushfires.
It’s a grim assessment especially considering our vast landmass and predictable climate could see us become a clean energy powerhouse. It seems that politicians are desperate to maintain our gimpish relationship status, preaching that the destructive corporations who fund their campaigns are nice guys underneath it all, whilst covering our bruised environment with glossy tourism propaganda.
It can be difficult to look to the future with great optimism with all this is happening under our noses. Is it possible? “Oh, I try to be, for sure,” Doherty says. “You’re pushing shit uphill a little bit when fighting these things because they’re just so big, and you’re not only fighting the individual projects themselves, you’re trying to fight the system that creates them at the same time… I tend to be optimistic by nature, but I really look at it and go, “Well, fuck, there’s hope.””
“People are getting smarter about understanding renewable energy and understanding options for the future and how you could build a future, as opposed to… Well, there’s no future in a fucking gas field off Sydney. That’s just a profit for the company. That’s just bringing death down the track, and debt, for a generation who don’t want it.”
“That’s the other thing. You’ve got a younger generation who understands all this stuff now, and they just want something that’s going to be built for them down the track. All this stuff is built for the people who are building it now. There’s no thought for the future or the people that are going to have to live with the consequences of it.”
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To be honest @scottmorrisonmp I don’t give a shit what your media adviser has told you to cook for dinner and post. In some private aged care homes around the country, senior Australians are living on as little as $6 a day. The sector has been privatised and screwed down for profit, for years. In 2017 the Libs pulled $1.2 billion out of aged care, a federal responsibility. It got worse. Aged care was so neoliberalised that last year Australia’s biggest aged care provider Aveo was bought out and is now owned by a company registered in the tax haven of Bermuda. Its registered at the same address as the law firm at the centre of the Paradise Papers. Aged care has been screwed down for years under this bloke and his mates, and the result? The Royal Commission into aged care is hearing day after day of horror stories. Currently in private aged care homes in Victoria there are 927 active COVID cases in private aged care facilities, as opposed to 5 cases in public facilities. Private facilities have been understaffed, and when COVID hit and when the mostly casual workforce weren’t paid wage relief, they had to turn up to work when they were sick. They took other jobs at other facilities. The result of all this? COVID is currently tearing through aged care homes. Victoria is locked down again. The death toll is spiking. But yeah, this bloke cooked a curry and his Sharkies won on the weekend.
Invariably on his Instagram posts, one of Doherty’s 28K followers will suggest that he make a move into the political arena himself. Given people’s dissatisfaction with the current Australian political sphere being higher than ever, there’s never been a better time for candidates who are independent of the major parties to take a run at it.
“I’m kind of reluctantly where I am right now. There was no one in my circle and stuff that was really looking at these issues,” he says. “I don’t lie awake at night thinking about moving into politics, but if it ended up being the best way to get ahead, then maybe… I wouldn’t rule it out, but I’m not planning the next election campaign just yet.”
For now, he recommends writing to your local MP to express your disgust at the PEP off the Newcastle, Sydney and Central Coast shores – there are plenty of marginal seats in those areas and your letter could make a real difference. And don’t forget to follow @Seano888 on Instagram and keep yourself informed.
Anyway, I have to return some video tapes.