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Sunday, June 20, 2021

A thousand school students go on strike against climate change

A thousand young people and their supporters marched through Civic today, brandishing placards, chanting slogans, and calling on the Federal Government to act on climate change before it was too late. Canberra students, like their peers across the country, were taking part in the first national climate school strike since the pandemic began.

“I shouldn’t have to be here,” Rosie Brady, one of the organisers, told the crowd gathered in Glebe Park. “I’m a teenager. We have people who lead our towns, states, and countries – and yet they are not leading us in the right direction. They are leading us down a path of irreversible destruction…

“We are not going to let that happen. Try and ignore us. Now we have these national strikes all across the country, our so-called leaders can no longer turn a blind eye to this crisis or to us,” they said.

“We are here to demand that our government fund our future, not gas. We are here to demand climate justice.”

Protesters in Glebe Park. Photo: Nick Fuller

The Federal Government was in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry, Rosie and fellow organiser Jimmy Hollo claimed.

In last week’s Federal Budget, $58.6 million had been committed to expand the gas industry. When the government approved the Carmichael coal mine, Adani donated $200,000 to the Liberal and National parties. Over 2018–19, fossil fuel companies donated almost $1.9 million to the Liberal, Labor, and National parties. Meanwhile, lobbyists for the coal and gas industry are active in politics. The Prime Minister’s chief of staff John Kunkel is a coal lobbyist, former deputy CEO of the Minerals Council of Australia, and former chief adviser on government relations for mining giant, Rio Tinto.

“People who work for fossil fuel companies walk into the offices of the Prime Minister and senior ministers, and ministers walk out of politics into jobs in the fossil fuels sector,” Rosie and Jimmy said.

The protesters were also concerned that Adani’s Carmichael mine, one of the largest untouched coal reserves, will be “a carbon bomb”. The mine could also deplete the Great Artesian Basin, while the Great Barrier Reef could be damaged by 500 coal ships a year travelling through the area.

Protesters outside David Jones. Photo: Nick Fuller

Instead of propping up the fossil fuel industry, protesters believe, the government should switch to non-polluting renewable energy, as many jurisdictions around the world – including the ACT – are doing.

Instead, Rosie said, “Our so-called leaders choose to value gas and fossil fuels over their future, choose to value short-term solutions and short-term profits over [children’s] lives.”

Speaking to Canberra Weekly after the event, Jimmy said: “Using COVID relief money to fuel gas, the leading cause of the climate crisis, is not going to ensure us a safe future. This is a one-way ticket to global collapse of environmental systems. We need renewables instead.”

Rosie agreed. “Even after the school strike movement, even after the Paris Agreement, the Australian Government is not making the right transition towards renewable energies. This is the climate crisis, so we need to act urgently. That’s what we’re fighting for today.”

Nevertheless, the organisers are confident they can convince politicians to listen. The movement grows bigger each year, Rosie said, while Jimmy predicts that as the climate worsens, and more people are affected by floods and fires, matters will reach a tipping point.

“We can’t take no for an answer,” Rosie said. “They need to change – or we won’t have a future.”

Protesters in Garema Place. Photo: Nick Fuller

The ACT Government allowed students to attend with parental permission; ACT Greens politicians Emma Davidson and Jo Clay were present, as were Labor MP Alicia Payne and Greens candidate Tim Hollo (Jimmy’s father).

“It was inspiring to see so many young people take to the streets to demand a better future,” Mr Hollo said. “It gives me hope that change is coming, and it’s being driven by the next generation. I was proud to stand with my amazing kids, as I know so many other Greens were.”

Nevertheless, some people think kids should be in school, learning, rather than going on strike.

“The fact of the matter is, if the government was taking the appropriate action we need for climate change, then we wouldn’t need to strike from school,” Rosie said.

“I’d call education more than timetables,” Jimmy said. “We’re the future generation, and these are the things we need to learn. I don’t want to sit in school learning about that sort of stuff if when we have to run the world after everybody else has gone, we don’t know the simple things – like what matters. And this is what matters.”

Besides, they said, the school strike was a lesson in democracy, exercising their rights, and running a strike. “Event management!” Rosie said.

Protesters in Glebe Park. Photo: Nick Fuller

Striding through Civic shouting ‘F… you, Scomo!’ or telephoning the Prime Minister’s office to chant slogans at him, however, may not seem the height of reasoned political debate. But the organisers believe their passion and anger will make them heard.

Jimmy calls the Prime Minister’s office most days, they said, to ask him to change his climate policies; every time, the office hangs up. “He is just hiding in his office, scared of the children. They’re scared of confrontation and of change. Maybe they shouldn’t be the people in power.”

“He might not want to listen to us,” Rosie said, “but look at everyone who does.” Another strike may be held in October / November.

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