Meet Frances. She’s a Canberra-based IT worker, a mother of two, and is on her way to becoming the new poster child for the climate action movement.
It seems Frances now has the ear of Scott Morrison after she was singled out by the prime minister this week as a positive example of peaceful protest.
The praise came after he denounced Extinction Rebellion activists who vandalised Parliament House on Tuesday.
Morrison was referring to the “foolishness” of numerous activists who spray painted “Climate Duty of Care” on the walls of the Parliament House and his Canberra residence – the Lodge – and superglued themselves to the ground, in the wake of a major new scientific report that underlined the urgency of the climate crisis. Police arrested eight people.
By contrast, it was Frances’ calm, peaceful manner that caught Morrison’s eye.
“That is not the way we go forward,” Morrison said, referring to the spray painting activists, before offering up the story of Frances – “a woman that I wave to almost every morning when I come into this building, as I drive up”.
“She’s there almost every morning and she makes this point every day, and she gives me a wave and she gives me a smile,” Morrison said. “I’ll tell you what, I’m listening to her.”
Frances – who asked us not to publish her surname for privacy reasons – stands near the corner of Melbourne Avenue and Capital Circle, wearing a yellow Pokémon outfit, where she waves at passing cars heading up the ramp towards Parliament House, during sitting weeks.
She holds up two signs – one says “We can do this!” while the other states “Strong climate target = strong economy”. She has had other signs. One bore the slogan “Let’s beat Paris” and another read “Balance the carbon budget”.
Frances estimates she has seen Morrison about 20 times this year. She waves at his white vehicle – bearing the C1 number plate and a little Australian flag on the bonnet – as it makes its way up the hill.
“He waves, I think, but I can’t always tell because of the dark window,” Frances says.
The Queensland Liberal National party MP Warren Entsch often walks up to parliament and “he always says hello”. The Greens senator Janet Rice also frequently stops for a chat.
Despite Morrison’s attempt to differentiate between types of climate protesters, Frances reveals she, too, is a member of the Extinction Rebellion movement, and admires those who took more direct action this week.
“When a child misbehaves, you have to look at why they’re misbehaving – a child hasn’t got a voice, and so it will kick and scream and misbehave to get what it feels it needs,” Frances says.
“They’re not violent, but the people who protest more demonstratively – they’re terrified, they’re absolutely terrified. They love their families, they love the world, and they’re just terrified at what climate change is going to do to it. And no one has listened to them.
“I can’t speak for them all, but if they’re anything like me they’ve probably written to parliamentarians, they’ve probably spoken to their local member, they’ve probably done all the things that you’re supposed to do as a good greenie … and what are they left with to do? To me, it’s just the only thing they see left to do.”
Frances says if the prime minister’s house was burning, he probably wouldn’t want someone to knock politely on the door and wait for him to answer. “He would probably want someone to just shout fire – and they are shouting fire.”
Frances started demonstrating for climate action in late 2019, initially in a position on Kings Avenue, the other side of Parliament House. “Our children’s lives depend on this,” the mother of two adult children says.
Frances began by campaigning alongside fellow members of Extinction Rebellion “and then I came one day and they weren’t there anymore”. She felt it was her “personal obligation to come every sitting day”.
She started wearing the yellow Pokémon outfit when she found herself alone “like Nigel no friends waiting for the bus”. “It’s just to be colourful – and it’s warm. There’s no message,” she says.
Asked what she thinks about Morrison mentioning her at the press conference, Frances says she believes the prime minister is in a difficult position. She says Morrison has “inherited 100 years of negligence” on climate change “and now we’re at the pointy end … where if he doesn’t do something, we’re really up the creek”.
And what would Frances say to Morrison if she had the opportunity to speak with him directly? She urges him to do “whatever it takes” to address climate change, including adopting deeper emission reduction targets ahead of the Glasgow summit.
Australia should “definitely” kick its addiction to fossil fuels coal and gas, and take expert advice “100% seriously”.
For the record, Morrison says he accepts climate change is a “serious challenge” with “serious implications for Australia” and he is “listening to Australians about this issue”.
But will he actually listen to Frances?