Thousands of Australian students have taken the streets to voice their anger at the federal government’s cheques for the gas industry.
The message at Friday’s “School Strike 4 Climate” – the first since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – was clear; no more gas projects and no more coal mines.
Organisers estimated tens of thousands marched at more than 50 locations across the capital cities, smaller cities and towns throughout the country.
Melbourne was the site of the biggest protest, with organisers saying 20,000 people were gathered at Treasury Gardens.
The students have long called for a plan for net zero emissions and more renewable energy in Australia’s power system, but are now turning their attention to the Morrison government’s recent budget.
Last week’s federal budget put more than $58 million towards expanding the gas industry, with the coalition this week also announcing $600 million of taxpayer money would go towards building a gas-fired power station in NSW.
The strike movement is calling for investment in clean renewable energy, secure jobs, and First Nations solutions to the energy issues.
Student Natasha Abhayawickrama fears the government is more focused on helping gas companies than the wellbeing of citizens.
“Together with tens of thousands of my fellow let-down Australians, I am striking from school to tell the Morrison government that they must stop throwing Aussie cash at gas,” the 16-year-old said.
“If Morrison cares about our collective future, he will make it happen.”
The federal government’s budget also had more than $1 billion for initiatives to lower emissions, including for technology development and money for companies to incentivise reductions.
Some state leaders expressed their support for the schoolkids.
Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said his own children had attended climate strikes and the issue was very important to young people.
“As long as they’ve gone through the right processes, I have no problem with (school students attending),” he said.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino said he understood the protesters’ passion and wanted them to be engaged on important issues.
“As a parent and as an educator, at the same time, every day at school is important, every day you miss is significant,” he said.
“So I encourage kids to be active on this issue and on other issues, but I also encourage kids to make sure they’re at school.”
He called on the federal government to show leadership on the national stage.
The Australian students follow a global movement of youth walking out of the classroom for climate action.
The first Australian protests occurred in 2018 and grew to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands a year later.
“What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools,” he said.
The United States is also calling for an end to fossil fuel subsidies from governments, while New Zealand will use this year’s APEC meetings to say they should not be increased going forward.