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“Climate justice, workers’ rights, one struggle, one fight”: Activists rally against gas-fired recovery and staff layoffs

Over a hundred activists gathered at Town Hall today on unceded Gadigal Land to rally against the Liberal-National Coalition’s proposed gas-fired recovery.

Over a hundred activists gathered at Town Hall today on unceded Gadigal Land to rally against the Liberal-National Coalition’s proposed gas-fired recovery, demanding a just transition for workers, investment into 100% renewable energy and sustainable green jobs.

The key demands of the rally, which was led by ASEN, Uni Students for Climate Justice, and Workers for Climate Action, were for First Nations justice, which included no mining or fracking on Indigenous lands, 100% publicly owned renewable energy by 2030 with jobs guaranteed for workers, a divestment and just transition away from all fossil fuel projects including gas, and support for communities.

Aunty Rhonda Dixon, a Gadigal-Bidjigal-Yuin elder, gave a Welcome to Country and highlighted the profit motive behind the destruction of Indigeous lands. “You can’t drink money”, she said, calling on unions for support to “fight for our lands and our waterways and our human rights.” A United Workers Union contingent of about 15 workers and organisers were present, and contributed to a central message of the protest that climate justice and workers rights was a united struggle.

The climate rally, called by the Australian Student Environmental Network (ASEN), comes a week after a protest took place in Martin Place demanding an end to the controversial Narrabri gas project. Despite a decade of public opposition, Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley recently approved the $3.6 billion project proposed by energy giant Santos, which will cause significant damage to sacred Gomeroi land in the Pilliga Forest.

Speakers at the rally emphasised that Scott Morrison’s announcement of a ‘gas-led recovery’ to boost the economy as part of a COVID recovery plan would do nothing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or significantly create new jobs.

UNSW student and ASEN representative Mirima Goldman called the recovery plan ‘a complete scam’ and stated that: “If as little as 3% of the [fracked] gas is released as fugitive emissions, it will have the same global warming impact as coal”. Goldman recounted visiting the Surat Gas Project with ASEN where she heard “story after story of families being bullied off their properties by gas companies” and experiencing disastrous health impacts. 

Outgoing NUS Ethnocultural Officer Vinil Kumar gave a speech stating that “if there’s ever been a year that has exposed the depravities of the capitalist system, it’s 2020…Because they don’t give a damn how many people choke in the major cities so long as they can continue to make money off the fossil fuel industry.” 

Following the climate rally, a number of protesters joined a rally at Belmore Park in solidarity with Coles Smeaton Grange workers who are currently locked out of their jobs for three months for striking over pay and conditions. The rally, which was organised by the United Workers Union, called on the public to boycott Coles in support of the 350 families who have been affected by the lockouts. The workers gave speeches demanding a fair redundancy and their right to keep their jobs. The rally then took to the streets, with hundreds of protesters marching down Parramatta Road for a sit-in. Cries of “climate justice, workers’ rights, one struggle, one fight” could be heard in the streets.

Sydney Branch Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Paul McAleer, emphasised that Coles Smeaton Grange workers were at class war, declaring that “we went into this struggle as workers, but we will come out of it as soldiers.”

The Australian Student Environmental Network is an Australian network of students and young people committed to taking action for environmental justice and sustainability. You can follow their Facebook page to stay updated on future events and protests!