Climate Protest Goes Ahead Despite Criticism From Authorities12 January 2020
Thousands of Melburnians gathered at the State Library on Friday to demand immediate climate action.
Despite persistent rain, protestors filled the steps of the library and overflowed onto Swanston Street and La Trobe Street, before marching through the city. Around 30,000 people attended the march according to organisers Uni Students for Climate Justice.
The student activist group was responsible for similar protests across the nation, with an estimated 100,000 Australians calling for decisive action on climate change amidst the ongoing bushfire crisis.
Shirley Killen, a member of Uni Students for Climate Justice, said the turnout in Melbourne was “incredible”.
“I think it’s really a testament to the strength of everyone who came and their determination to see real action on the bushfires and climate change more generally. And the energy was really great even with the terrible weather,” she said.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Acting Assistant Commissioner of Victoria Police Tim Hansen called for the protest to be postponed due to increasing fire danger around the state on Friday.
Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville also criticised the timing of the protest, arguing against “police having to pull people out of [fire-affected] communities to come in and manage a protest”. Premier Daniel Andrews claimed that the protest was “diverting police resources”.
A Victoria Police spokesperson later confirmed that no police members would be pulled back from fire-affected areas.
Claire*, a Monash University student, said she chose to attend the protest despite the criticism from Victorian authorities.
“There’s police at Crown Casino every day, and there’s police in New Year’s Eve, and there’s police a couple of days ago at Fed Square arresting people for jaywalking,” she said.
“So really I think there isn’t an issue of where the police should be, it’s just an example of trying to squash people.”
Killen also commented on the police presence. “[It] was very substantial which we have come to expect with protests of this size, but the event went very smoothly and was peaceful and non-violent.”
“So the numbers of police weren’t really justified in my opinion,” Killen said.
Adam Bandt, the Greens’ federal member for Melbourne, also attended the protest. He began his speech with a message to people from fire-affected areas: “We are with you and we want to stop the country you love from burning.”
Bandt criticised the Morrison government’s climate change policies, saying, “Scott Morrison has done everything in his power to make this fire worse, and to make this catastrophe happen.”
Jerome Small from Victorian Socialists also spoke at the rally, calling for more protests to spark action on climate change: “The movement that we need, needs mass civil disobedience.”
The University of Melbourne Student Union (UMSU) Environment department said they supported all students attending the protest.
“Our department stands with all those that have been feeling the effects of the bushfires. It’s clear that the scale of these fires is due to climate change,” said Sophie Kerrigan, UMSU Environment Officer.
“We need to demand that our government takes swift and effective actions to curb climate change’s current trajectory and support communities that are already suffering from the climate crisis.”
Kerrigan also said the department would hold a bushfire relief event during Orientation Week.
Uni Students for Climate Justice has announced another national rally, including a second protest at the State Library next Saturday, 18 January.
More to come.
*Interviewees didn’t provide full names.