5 Things to Take Away from the Brisbane G20 People’s Summit

(By: Nicholas García)

In the three days prior to this year’s G20 summit in Brisbane Nov. 15-16th organizers and activists from around the world gathered for the G20 people’s summit: a mix of demonstrations, workshops, panels and music as an alternative global summit against the G20 agenda. While G20 was promoting further free trade agreements and entrenching corporate interests in the political sphere the people’s summit put climate change and social justice issues in the forefront of their agenda. Panels included topics such as climate justice, feminism, indigenous struggles, and confronting neoliberal capitalism. It provided an avenue not only to make apparent how G20 is an opportunity to further strengthen political and economic elite interests throughout the world, but also for an avenue connecting diverse issues to the types of free trade policies pursued by these elite. In case you missed it, here are the 5 biggest things that went down at the people’s summit:

1. Calling out Undemocratic Global Economics

Much like other institutions that establish the structures of the global market, such as the multi-national corporations, the IMF, and the World Bank, G20 is not a democratic affair. The G20 summits involves 20 representatives from 20 countries setting in motion economic policies that effect the other 178 countries of the world without input from the public or the countries who these polices will effect. As a result the Brisbane Community Action Network- G20 (BrisCAN-G20), the coalition of groups organizing the Peoples’ Summit, was created to challenge the G20 summit and the ideas that make it seem legitimate, with the goal “to re-frame public G20 discourse around issues that impact people, communities and environment; issues that are not addressed or have been ridden roughshod over by the G20 to date.”

More than just discussing the topics the G20 won’t, BrisCAN–G20 directly challenges the legitimacy and goals of the summit, and “ is concerned about social and economic disparities perpetuated by G20 and the systems it represents.” The People’s Summit constructs a democratic summit to discuss world problems – many of which caused by the G20 itself – and establishes a democratic alternative to create a meaningful discourse and solution, as well as create an international network of organizers in solidarity.

2. Indigenous rights

Indigenous groups were at the forefront of organizing the People’s Summit, demonstrating and speaking out against the ways free market polices promoted by the G20 have hurt indigenous communities internationally. Locally, Australian austerity measures have cut many social services for indigenous groups, and have denied indigenous heritage and erased indigenous culture, recently visible in Tony Abbotts remark about Brisbane being “bush” prior to white colonialization. The cuts to social services deemed necessary by politicians, paradoxically enough, are coupled with increased policing of indigenous communities through negative child welfare policies, limiting indigenous use of the public space, and the militarization of Brisbane during the G20 summit. According to Paddy Gibson, a senior researcher with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS):

“It very much seems to go along with the neoliberal form of government that’s been pushed by G20 – they won’t fund the social services people need to look after their families and communities, but they will fund the punitive agencies that will go in and rip children away.”

Most recently, indigenous communities were barred from Musgrave Park a sacred site that was set to be closed due to security concerns to the G20 summit. Indigenous groups at the peoples summit brought to the forefront the issue of how the free market polices of G20 and increased police presence may hurt everyone, but they are especially brutal on marginalized communities that have historically been attacked by state and corporate interests.

3. Climate Change

Climate change, an issue that impacts the entire world but especially the global south, was surprisingly absent from the G20 agenda. Tony Abbot, Australian Prime Minister and notorious climate change denier, set the agenda to focus on “economic development,” and curtailed any set discussion on climate change or sustainability. As a result of this myopic focus on economic performance, the People’s Summit sought to bring people from around the world together to debate this problem that G20’s economic framework did not. Panels and workshops organized by the Australian Green Party and other environmental groups brought to the forefront issues of sustainability and climate justice. More than that having these discussions because the G20 wouldn’t, Panelists connected the current Climate crisis with the same economic policies created and sustained by the G20

4. Immigration and Refugee Protection

One of the most well publicized events of the People’s Summit was the launch of thousands of paper boats into the bay, calling attention to the thousands of refugees from southeast Asia who die trying to make their way to Australia every year. While G20 makes deals to promote the free flow of capital from country to country, through programs similar to NAFTA or the current formation of the Pacific trade agreement, the same polices are not given to the workers and the people who suffer as their jobs and livelihood move.

As a result these free trade polices don’t benefit workers or people, but the business leaders and corporations who can navigate freely across borders while workers must uproot from their communities and live under illegalized conditions. The People’s Summit, hosting panels like “what’s wrong with Free Trade Agreements,” aimed to promote discussions of how to break down borders that impact peoples lives globally, and connect the issues of refugees in southeast Asia and undocumented immigrants in the US and Europe, as victims and potential allies against the free market policies that marginalize them.

5. A Choir of Complaints against the Militarization and Overspending of Brisbane

Of course no article surrounding the G20 can be complete without a look at outlandish state spending in security and lavish posturing to those, who are allowed to attend the event. This year huge sections of Brisbane were closed to the public with snipers on the rooftops. Various peoplewere unable to go to their jobs, while the elite was debating, how the better the economic developement..

What is maybe even more surreal is the mayor’s cultural celebration that accompanied the summit, which were criticized as a “circus and bread” affair to distract the people from protesting the G20. How ridiculous Brisbane’s 10 million dollar cultural celebration is, becomes clear when we remind us, that the city has cut 20 million to the cities art budget, which which went towards cities art galleries, youth centers, and cultural affairs.

I could go on, but I will leave it to the Brisbane complaint choir which eloquently describes how G20 is more than just a get together of political and corporate elite to further entrench their power in the structures of the global economy, but also a major nuisance to all the residents who have to deal with these billionaires staying in town for the weekend:

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