GREENS MOTION: Student strike for climate action

Today Mark moved a motion to congratulate students who joined the student strike for climate action in Adelaide on 30 November and gave a commitment to the young people of South Australia that the Greens are listening and hearing their concerns. 


MOTION

That this council—

Congratulates school students who left their classrooms on Friday 30 November 2018 to protest on the steps of state parliament about government inaction on climate change.


Last Friday saw a remarkable gathering on the steps of state parliament. Around 500 students decided to leave their classrooms for the day and attend a protest rally, calling on all levels of government to do more to address the threat of climate change. This generation of young South Australians understands and believes the science. They appreciate the urgency for action, but they despair of the lack of political leadership.

The event last Friday was not unique to Adelaide; in fact, all over Australia, students were striking for action on climate change. Events were held in all the capital cities and in a dozen or more regional centres as well. One defining feature of the Adelaide protest was that all of the voices heard at the microphone were those of young people. In fact, the only adult who spoke was the Kaurna elder who welcomed everyone to country. These young people were articulate, they were passionate and they were determined that politicians should listen to their concerns. After all, many of these young people will still be alive in the year 2100, long after every state and federal politician has shuffled off this mortal coil.

The students were calling for a reduction in emissions. They want to save the Great Barrier Reef. They want strong and binding pollution targets. In short, they want our governments to do exactly what international scientists have been saying for years, that is, that we need to keep global warming below 1.5° Celsius to avoid catastrophic consequences for the planet, for people and for future generations.

What was the political reaction to this student strike? Let's start with the Prime Minister. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was not impressed with students taking time off to protest. He said, 'We don't support the idea of kids not going to school to participate in things that can be dealt with outside of school.' He also said, 'We don't support our schools being turned into parliaments. What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.' One of the organisers of the Adelaide rally, year 10 student, Deanna Athanosos, said Mr Morrison's rhetoric towards the strike made her laugh. She said, 'If you were doing your job properly, we wouldn't be here', and I think that summarised the thoughts of most of the students who were there.

Another of the leaders of the 500 students who were on the steps of state parliament last week was year 8 student, Zel Whiting, and he also took aim at the Prime Minister. He said that he was increasingly frustrated with the government and its lack of awareness or activity on climate change and its dangers. Zel said, 'Mr Morrison says schools are not parliament…Mr Morrison, take a seat. You are about to be schooled.' The students then said very clearly what it is that they expect of their political leaders.

However, it was not just the Prime Minister; other federal Coalition ministers weighed in as well. Probably the most disgraceful display, in my view, was from resources minister Matt Canavan. He said that the only thing children would learn from the protest was how to collect government benefits. To quote from the minister:

Walking off school and protesting, you don't learn anything from that…The best thing you learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue.

I want kids to be at school to learn about how you build a mine, how you do geology, how you drill for oil and gas, which is one of the most remarkable scientific exploits of anywhere in the world that we do.

I think that both those contributions, if anything, swelled the numbers of students who took part in those protests. They were unimpressed, to say the very least. Not surprisingly, this dismissive attitude from federal politicians did not impress the students. As one of their banners read, 'I've seen smarter cabinets in IKEA'. I thought that was a good line, actually. The students did well with their banners.

At the rally students were invited to write letters addressed to the Prime Minister or other members of parliament, and I would like to take the opportunity to read some of those onto the record now. There were hundreds—I certainly will not do that—but I will go through some of them. This one is from Tilly. I do not know how old some of these students are, but I am happy to share these documents. You can tell that they are primary and some secondary students. Tilly says:

Dear Scott Morrison,

You say your doing things about climate change but you are NOT! You need to fix this. It's like you don't understand what's happening to our country and world. I don't want my future to be horrible because of my government. I want to be able to look up to you but I can't.

Stop burning coal!

Well, thanks, Tilly. Another one was from a six year old. The spelling is a bit problematic, but my spelling was problematic at age six as well:

Dear Prime Minister,

Take climate action please for our future.

Love from Yindi Fiebig

6 Years old

I love it how kids always sign off their letters with 'love'. Another one, from Blaire, who is six years old as well, says:

Scott Morrison

Save our earth

From Blaire

Straightforward and to the point. Another one, and this was from five different children: Kira, who is 17; Cedar, eight; Tarni, I think it is, who is two, who I suggest was being spoken for rather than in her own words; and Ashriel, I think it is, who is 13 as well. Their letter to the Prime Minister says:

We share this planet. It is more important than anything else (within reason!)

I find the brackets curious. The planet is pretty important, as the T-shirt says; it is where we keep all our stuff. The letter goes on:

We all will have to live in it for the rest of our lives and our children's lives and for all the future generations. It is up to us to stop climate change, and keep this planet clear so we don't cause our own extinction as well as everyone else—plants, animals etc. You have the power to start this in your area, just as we are starting it in ours. Remember, when you are old and then die, we will be the ones running the world. Do you want us to support you or be resentful of your decisions. Do you want to be remembered, or forgotten like the rest of the politicians? Even if this decision gets you kicked out, you will know you've done the right thing. It is the greater good.

Out of the mouths of babes, Mr President. Another one here, addressed to the Prime Minister:

Dear Mr Morrison,

We are the people of the future

There are people younger then you that know what to do.

Climate change is real and it is happening around us everyday.

If we don't act now there will be no wealth or education or planet.

Another one; I like this one. This is from Jake, who signs his name 'Future Prime Minister':

Dear Scott Morrison,

My name is Jake Prior and I believe in climate change.

Money is not everything SCO MO.

A bit disrespectful there, but anyway:

You should care more about the environment more than you do about money,

Yours Sincerely,

Jake Prior

(Future Prime Minister!)

Another letter here reflects on the fact that we need a just transition away from fossil fuels. I will not read the whole letter, but the single sentence I will read is:

I am not silly enough to think that you could fire everyone in the coal and oil industry. But I believe surely if we put our problem solving to the test, we could find a solution.

That, I think, reflects the modern education system, where problem solving is a big part of how young people are taught. Just a couple more. I thought I would end with two that are directed to the leaders of the major political parties in South Australia:

Dear Steven Marshall I am from goodwood primary school year 5 and want climate action now.

Brief and to the point. There is one for Mr Peter Malinauskas, and I was most impressed that his name was spelt correctly. It states:

Dear Peter Malinauskas,

This is Finley Howland (from Mr Kennett's class).

I will just say that I do love it that the classroom, being the centre of most students' world, that if you identify the name of your teacher then everyone, of course, will know who you are. He goes on:

I've got some advice you should say and do something or anithing about the climate change. You should switch to 100% renewable energy. Thank you for your tour and listening to my advice and THIS is democracy.

I am presuming that Mr Malinauskas may have given a tour to that particular classroom. The letter ends with, 'Kindly regards, Finley Howland'.

There were hundreds of letters that were prepared on the day but I just chose a small sample.

However, what I want to do, finally, is to give a commitment to the young people of South Australia that the Greens are certainly listening to you. We hear what you have to say. We agree with you and we will do what we can in the parliament and in the community to ensure that climate change is treated with the urgency that it deserves. The climate emergency is, indeed, the most pressing issue of our time and young people absolutely have a right to insist that their political representatives act decisively and recognise that action on climate change must be a top priority of government.