By Brendan Rees
Thousands of school students took part in a rally in the CBD in May demanding urgent action on climate change from the federal government.
Around 20,000 people gathered at Treasury Gardens on May 21 to protest for a new approach to clean renewable energy.
Students skipped school to attend the rally with unions, parents, teachers, university students and scientists also in attendance.
Many held homemade signs and shouted slogans including “Stand up, fight back”, and “Hey ho, ScoMo’s got to go”.
Organised by the School Strike 4 Climate, the event was one of 50 marches held across the nation calling on the government to #FundOurFutureNotGas.
The crowd was met by a strong police presence including members of the Public Order Response Team, however attendees rallied peacefully.
Protesters also checked in via a QR system and wore masks in a bid to remain COVID safe.
Several roads were blocked off when a march was held in the city at around 3pm.
Organiser Anj Sharma, 17, from Hunting Tower School in Mount Waverley, led the crowd in an inspiring speech, as she urged Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to “fund our future and not gas”.
“We know that action won’t change the world. We know that this strike won’t solve all of the world’s problems,” she said.
“But we also know that despite being young, we are powerful and we can take action and we can influence the actions of our parliament.”
Ms Sharma, who was born in Delhi, India before arriving in Australia when she was 10 months old, said she owed her passion for climate justice to her family in India who had experienced firsthand the impacts of the “climate crisis”.
“Some of my family also live in a tiny village which does not have the infrastructure to withstand the natural disasters that they are constantly ravaged by,” she said, adding that the monsoon season had impacted their income, food, and livelihood.
“Living in Australia we’re so privileged to be able to say that most of us are not on the frontlines of the climate crisis,” she said.
Joining Anj on a loudspeaker was Ella Simons, a year 9 student who travelled from NSW, who said she was “terrified” of the future “that our leaders are leaving with us”.
“We need an immediate transition to renewable energy now. We are striking for the right of every single person to live,” she said which attracted huge cheers from the crowd.
Following speeches and a performance by a student band, the gathering marched down Spring St towards LaTrobe St and into the city.
Among them was grandmother of two Kathy Kozlowski, 75, from Abbotsford.
“I think it’s so important that we do something about stopping our use of fossil fuels within the next 10 years,” she told CBD News.
“Anything we can do to get people aware of it and to change people’s minds is really important.”
One of the event’s organisers Stephanie Liaw, a year 12 student at Presbyterian Ladies’ College, said she saw it as her responsibility to have her voice heard and “make a difference”, saying “enough is enough”.
“It’s time for the government to prioritise our futures and our people over the profits of select multinational corporations and the fossil fuel lobby. Our message to the government is simple: do better,” she said.
This sentiment was echoed by Francesca Smith, 18, of NSW, who called for an end to the fossil fuel industry.
“These corporations manipulate and coerce locals in their claim for secure jobs and threaten the environment,” she told the crowd.
Meredith Peace, Victorian branch president of the Victorian Education Union, said she was supportive of the students striking from school to fight for their future.
“Certainly, it’s appropriate,” she said, adding climate change would “without a doubt have a dramatic impact on their futures”.
“It’s not good enough and if it means they miss a day at school to come out and campaign then I think that is important.”
PhD student Jemma Moir-Meyer from the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of medical research at Melbourne University said, “I think it’s important that we generate the momentum at the ground level convince our lawmakers and policymakers that we really need to change the direction of our investments.”
“We want to see faster climate action because we’re almost exceeding the 1.5 degrees warming that we’ve set our targets on.”
Deb James, president of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, said it was important to “fight for what is right”.
“Just as young people will experience the worst of climate change … it is workers that will be on the frontline against bushfires, storms, droughts, and heatwaves,” she said.
“The Liberal Morrison Government should be investing in huge projects like Star of the South – which would be Australia’s first offshore wind project … and could generate some 20 per cent of our energy needs.
Mum Alexia Huth of Preston, who marched with her nine-year-old son, said, “I feel like it’s really important for parents to support students who are the ones who are going to bear the brunt of the climate change in the future.” •