History of FoE Brisbane Third Phase

Friends of the Earth Brisbane third and continuing phase: 1996 – 2001

A Model of Co-operative Activism

In 1996, discussions among local environmental activists gave rise to a series of meetings about a gap in the environmental organisations operating in South East Queensland. These activists identified a significant shortcoming: most of the existing environmental groups were seen to operate through a largely benign reformist agenda, or to be single issue focused, working on specific issues such as wilderness preservation. These meetings would ultimately form the re-emergence of Friends of the Earth Brisbane, as an attempt to fill this gap by working across single-issue campaigns to articulate a more radicalised version of social change derived from a linkage between ecological integrity and social justice.

Concurrently, many of the people involved in these discussions were also involved in a campaign to prevent the opening of a new sand-mining facility on Stradbroke Island. Towards the end of the campaign, a number of the activists agreed on a vision for a local, autonomous activist organisation that could provide an enduring framework and a collection of resources to work on ecological and social issues. These activists were unified in their belief that the ‘environment’ could not be separated from social and political considerations, and that the interconnections between these elements required a more integrated approach than single issue campaigns could provide of themselves. In 1997, Friends of the Earth Brisbane was re-formed.

Throughout 1997 and 1998, FoEB held meetings to articulate the principles, aims and objectives of the fledgling organisation. The outcomes of these discussions would be later adopted, almost directly, into the FoE Brisbane constitution, and would ultimately underscore the organisation’s future direction.

In 1998, FoEB rented office space at the back of a local business called Justice Products, an ethical consumption business that had originated through the work of radical Christian groups Catholic Worker and the Waiter’s Union. FoE Brisbane occupied a shared space with the Jabiluka Action Group and Nature’s Children, an organic food co-op. These early collaborations would inform the genesis of the FoE organisation.

In 1999, a number of members of the group envisioned a creative recycling and reuse centre and ultimately initiated the formation of an ethically informed worker’s cooperative. As this process evolved, Reverse Garbage would become a key area of interest of the organisation. An attempt to locate an appropriate warehouse space for Reverse Garbage culminated in the move of FoEB to an adjacent, and somewhat larger, office space. Considerable time and energy in 1999 was split between renovating the new office space, and establishing Reverse Garbage as a sustainable enterprise that could be used to not only assist in the financing of FoE, but also provide a working example of the FoE Brisbane ethics in practice.

The campaigns of the late 1990s organised under the name of FoEB were deeply reflective of the group’s origins. The Anti-Nuclear campaign collective evolved from members of the Jabiluka Action Group. Considerable effort during the Jabiluka campaign had been spent creating alliances with indigenous communities, and on this basis, the FoE Brisbane Indigenous Solidarity collective emerged. The Sand Mining campaign collective was a fairly logical elaboration of the remnants of the Stradbroke Island campaign. Additionally, a campaign group was formed around the issue of Genetic Engineering, which was more a reflection of key focus and interest of individual members. Later campaigns, such as the Just Food project and the Food Irradiation campaign would also reflect the connection between FoEB and food politics established through informal collaborations with Nature’s Children.

As the local campaigns of FoE Brisbane expanded, there was an attempt to forge linkages with FoE International. This led to the creation of a Sustainable Societies Collective, which attempted to localise a key campaign focus on the agenda of the Friends of the Earth International confederation. This attempt to collaborate with FoE International also gave rise to an Ecological Debt campaign, which attempted to popularise a more elaborate and encompassing understanding of the forces of economic imperialism during a time when the notion of international debt relief was gaining global purchase.

From December 1999, discussions, workshops and negotiations with the Office of Fair Trading were undertaken to establish an appropriate legal structure for FoEB that would be reflective of the group’s core principles. Eighteen months later, members of the organisation consensually endorsed the FoEB constitution. In May 2001, FoE Brisbane incorporated as an activist co-operative, with constitutionally embedded commitments to decentralisation and consensus-decision-making. The structure of the organisation allows for semi-autonomous working and campaign collectives to pursue individual and specific issues, whilst the central hub, comprised of members active in collectives, co-ordinates the organisational level decision-making and maintenance.