Thousands of Australian students have taken part in climate strikes across the country, voicing their anger at the federal government’s support for the gas industry.
Strikes on Friday – the first ‘School Strike 4 Climate’ events in Australia since the start of the coronavirus pandemic – were held in all capital cities, with the Sydney and Melbourne actions drawing particuarly large crowds.
Events were also held outside the capital cities, with strikes in places ranging from Alice Springs and the Gold Coast, to the regional centre of Ballarat in Victoria and Western Australia’s Margaret River.
The School Strike 4 Climate students have long called for a plan for net zero emissions and more renewable energy in Australia’s power system, but have now turned 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 the Kurri Kurri gas-fired power station in NSW.
Western Sydney student Natasha Abhayawickrama, 16, 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 ahead of Friday’s actions. “If [Scott] Morrison cares about our collective future, he will make it happen.”
Alexa Stuart, 17, grew up in Newcastle and is calling for the government to invest in “jobs of the future, not the past”.
“I have grown up in a region dominated by fossil fuels – living in Newcastle, on the edge of the world’s largest coal port,” she said ahead of the strike. “This investment of public money in gas is not only a danger to us in exacerbating the climate crisis, but it’s also not needed and not a good investment.“
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.
The first Australian “School Strike 4 Climate” protests occurred in 2018 and grew to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands a year later.
At the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed and condemned the strikers’ actions.
“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.
The International Energy Agency said earlier this week all future fossil fuel projects must be scrapped if the world is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and to stand any chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees.
With reporting by AAP.