By ALLISON HORE
Hundreds of COVID-safe rallies took place across Australia on Friday as part of a national day of action calling on the government to commit to funding renewable energy.
Last year’s school strikes around the country were amongst the largest protests in Australia’s history. However with COVID-19 restrictions making such mass gatherings impossible, School Strike 4 Climate Australia looked very different this year.
“We’re living in a pandemic, so this day of action is not about turning out big numbers,” said the School Strike 4 Climate Australia organisers.
Instead of organising mass gatherings, this year the School Strike 4 Climate Australia organisers called on community groups and schools to organise as many COVID-safe actions of 10-20 people as possible. Over 600 COVID-safe actions took place across Australia, with almost 200 in NSW alone. In Sydney, First Nations communities, school students, unions and advocacy groups like Sydney Knitting Nannas organised small rallies across the city.
In Sydney’s Martin Place, a group of twenty socially-distanced students gathered, holding a large banner calling on the government to fund renewable energy rather than gas. 100 placards were hung from washing lines to represent the students who could not attend the rally due to the ongoing pandemic.
The protesters called on the Federal Government to spend economic stimulus money on clean energy initiatives rather than coal seam gas projects.
Speaking at the event in Martin Place was 17 year-old school student, Veronica Hester. She lives in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s electorate, the Division of Cook in the Sutherland Shire. Right after Friday’s action she attended her year 12 graduation, but says she is “unsure what world she is graduating into”.
She said she is protesting to demand the Prime Minister “does his job” by “delivering a safe and prosperous future for all Australians.”
“Gas is a fossil fuel that will destroy the climate and the economy. Only the gas industry, which has several executives on the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission, benefits from a gas-led recovery. Everyone else loses,” she said.
“The government should be investing in industries that create jobs and address climate change, like renewable energy.”
For months, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been teasing a “gas led recovery” for Australia’s post COVID-19 economy. He says expanding the use of gas for electricity generation will be central to avoiding a deeper recession. He said if the private sector doesn’t step up their generation of energy tax payers would foot the bill for a new gas-fired power plant in the Hunter Valley.
But the plan isn’t without its critics. Former prime minister Malcom Turnbull condemned Prime Minister Morrison for refusing to embrace a 2050 net zero emissions target and called the gas power station plan “crazy stuff” and “a fantasy”.
16 year-old Natasha who is in year 10 also attended the Martin Place action. She worries about how the impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect those in already disadvantaged areas. But she thinks change is possible and wants young people to feel empowered in the fight for their future.
“You do have power as a young person, you can make a difference. Even though you can’t vote you can talk to your MP and you can talk to people in power, you can bring it to the streets,” she said.
“We can create change, and when we’re united as young people we do create change.”