Tens of thousands of students plus some adult supporters (The Fifth Estate included) turned out on Friday, a school day, to protest inaction on climate change.
The mood was fierce at Sydney’s protest at Town Hall. These kids are fed up and want change, and so they should.
The students are campaigning for the transition to 100 per cent renewables by 2030, stopping the Adani coalmine and all new fossil fuels.
But a number of senior government politicians condemned the decision to protest during school hours.
New South Wales education minister Rob Stokes surprised many when he told Sky News in the lead up to the rally that it is against the law for students to strike.
“These are on school days, school children on school days should be at school,” Mr Stokes said.
“You simply can’t strike if you don’t have a job … the law is very clear, this is a notified school day, kids should be at school.”
It’s a vast departure from previous years when Stokes fearlessly took a pro-climate, pro-renewable energy stand, despite the dominant anti climate agenda among his political peers – perhaps forced by his ministerial duties (not to mention the coming election.)
Interesting that some private schools stood alongside public schools we hear to encourage their students to strike.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian agreed with Stokes and said a strike during school hours was “grossly irresponsible.” She also criticised opposition leader Michael Daley who told students that we are at a “crossroads” on climate and backed the strikers.
“Education is also bigger than the classroom. It is based on life experience. That is, in part, the importance of being confident and passionate enough to form beliefs and being prepared to stand up for them,” Daley said.
“They don’t have a microphone or money like the big end of town. But they do have their democratic right to assembly. I support that right to protest especially when it comes to climate change and our fragile environment.
Federal education minister Dan Tehan said the strikes were orchestrated by professional activists and children were missing valuable class time.
Conservative businessman Maurice Newman said worse, that the kids were pawns of people trying to bring down the capitalist system. We pointed in last week’s editorial to the dominant message from the most conservative forces on the planet, the banks and financial regulators that say climate change is the biggest threat to the financial system and economy.
Tehan said the kids should strike on school or on weekends,” (When not as many people would notice.)
Finance minister Mathias Cormann warned adult activists not to use children as “pawns”.
“They should not be used as pawns by professional adult activists as part of a cynical political strategy,” he told Sky News.
“Australians will take a very cynical view of professional adult activists using and abusing kids for their purposes during school time.”
“During the school time kids should be in school.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said he wouldn’t mind if his three children took part in the protests.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the strikes should have been on a weekend.
“I honestly believe a weekend would have been a great opportunity for not just students, but for families and the broader public in general to support issues around climate change,” she said. (Again, not as many people would have noticed, so less impact.)
South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said striking during school hours was “outrageous”.
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan supported the strike and said it was “good thing” that young people were passionate but would have preferred the strikes were on the weekend.
Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman said he would prefer students to be at school.
At the time of the last school climate change strike in November 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison urged students not to strike and Resources Minister Matt Canavan said that the only thing striking would teach the children was how to collect government benefits.
Schools took various approaches to the strike, with some marking children absent for attending the strike whereas others encouraged students to take part. Some schools left it up to parents to decide if children were allowed to go.
– Poppy Johnston and Tina Perinotto.