On Friday, thousands of high school and university students, with the support of Indigenous leaders and a heavy union presence, descended on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s doorstep at Kirribilli House in Sydney to send him two messages, as they have every year since he took office.
The first was to meet a list of demands the federal government should incorporate into its climate policies.
The second was “fuck you”.
These protestors came together to form one of 36 Global Climate Strikes taking place in capital cities around the world. But they were quick to point out they aren’t like their counterparts, who have for the most part been spared from the barrage of “unprecedented” extreme weather events that have claimed countless homes, and dozens of lives across Australia over the last decade.
Most recent to join Australia’s swelling population of climate victims were those who suffered in the aftermath of recent floodwaters that devastated much of the northern rivers of NSW and south-east Queensland at the end of February. One of them was Ella O’Dwyer-Oshlack, a 13-year-old Lismore resident, who travelled to Sydney with her parents to speak at the strike.
“I’m a climate refugee,” O’Dwyer-Oshlack said. “As you all know, Lismore recently had a megaflood, and my house – which I was born in – and my school and my town have been severely damaged. This is a climate disaster.
“And [Morrison] didn’t even have the guts to come and talk to us when you visited Lismore. You went and mopped a basketball court that already looked clean. You should’ve come to my house to mop the floors, because they really needed it, and the extra help would’ve been nice,” she said.
At the centre of the protestor’s efforts on Friday were three non-negotiable demands: that the federal government would commit to making all renewable energy projects public assets by 2030; that there would be a just transition that guaranteed green jobs to former fossil fuel workers as well as land rights and jobs on Country for Indigenous people; and finally that there would be a total ban on new coal and gas projects.
Each of the strikers who spoke to VICE said that, if only one of their demands could be met, they would want it to be this final point.
One of them was Shanaya Donovan, a Dharug and Gumbaynggir woman from Western Sydney who acknowledged Country before the speeches were heard at Sydney’s strike. She told VICE that she was there, first and foremost, as a First Nations person protesting the recently approved $600 million Kurri Kurri gas plant, as well as Santos’s controversial $3.6 billion Narrabri gas project.
“They are going to impede on the sovereignty of First Nations people, you know. We’re here because Scott Morrison is continuing to not listen,” Donovan said.
“If it could only be one thing, though: just cut it with the gas plants and the coal plants. The real issue is the big companies that are pushing all the emissions into the air. That’s what causes the climate crisis.”
The Morrison government, however, hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down. If anything, things are headed in the opposite direction at a devastating pace.
Earlier this week, The Australian reported that Energy Minister Angus Taylor will accelerate seven new fossil fuel projects. Taylor tried to justify the move by turning attention to the gas crisis crippling Europe, where prices are currently up some 300 percent as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
It’s a move that will pour close to $50 million worth of grants into accelerating “priority gas infrastructure projects” across Queensland, NSW, and Victoria. Unsurprisingly, the plan was described by United Nations chief, Antonio Guterres, as “madness” that could risk “mutually assured destruction”.
Taylor’s gas acceleration pledge is just a drop in the ocean of fossil fuel-related controversy filled by the Morrison government since they took office back in 2019.
Under Morrison’s leadership, the federal government has not only been slow to act on the most basic of climate mitigation tactics, but it has actively sought to contribute to Australia’s uninhabitability.
And the Narrabri gas project has become a portrait of the government’s efforts. In October last year, documents obtained by The Guardian showed the NSW government had just months earlier urged the Prime Minister to remove the project from the federal government’s “fast-track approvals” list, for fears giving it the green light would “undermine public trust”.
Everyone at Sydney’s Global Climate Strike on Friday, though, wanted Morrison to know that any and all public trust in his federal climate policies – and his leadership more broadly – evaporated long ago. The sentiment among these young Australians was unequivocal.
“When I say ‘Fuck you’, you say ‘ScoMo’,” they cheered. “Fuck you, ScoMo,” they erupted.
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