Student activists held a snap rally in front of the AGL Headquarters at George St at midday yesterday to protest energy companies profiting from increasing energy prices amidst rising inflation rates and energy shortages that have caused blackouts throughout NSW, QLD, and Victoria.
USyd Education Officer Deaglan Godwin condemned energy companies like AGL for their choice to actively “profit off a gas shortage that they have created through exporting gas offshore”. AGL is expected to make an underlying profit between A$220 million and A$270 million after tax this year.
Godwin added that Indigenous people are some of the hardest hit by the cost of living crisis, especially those in rural communities where prices for essential goods are nearly three times prices in the cities.
“Indigenous people are given cashless welfare cards where they’re not even given the right to control their own money,” Godwin said.
Greens Senator Elect David Shoebridge agreed that other fossil fuels companies were profiteering throughout the energy crisis.
“They’re making out like bandits while ordinary people are working out whether they have the money to turn the heater on during Winter, and keep their electricity and gas running,” he said.
Shoebridge argued that energy resources should be in public hands : “Electricity is a natural monopoly, it belongs to us and it’s about time we built it for at the lowest possible cost for consumers and public ownership.”
He expressed a need for the Federal Government to tax “obscene super profits”, mentioning that although there is a petroleum resource rent tax, companies like AGL, Woodside and Santos have avoided tax by amassing millions in tax credits. AGL has paid only 1.17 per cent in tax from 2014 to 2020,with their income exceeding $83 billion.
Shoebridge described the Greens short-term plan to tax businesses and corporate interests to reallocate funding and provide energy security to low-income households. He added that the government should invest in publicly-owned energy resources in the long–run: “It’s about public ownership, public infrastructure and public transmission lines,” he said.
UNSW Ed Collective Member Emma Terry discussed how workers could respond to the energy crisis.
Terry declared that the profits of businesses came at the expense of worker pay and opposed the idea that workers have a “moral duty” to “save our economy by taking wage cuts and paying more for groceries and energy.”
“Companies like this one [AGL] are holding workers to ransom,” Terry said.
She spoke on the importance of worker power, referencing current strike action taken by nurses and train drivers in the UK and asserted the need to continue this fightback here in Australia.
“You can only grind us down so far. You can only steal from us for so long before we will rise up and take what is rightfully ours.”
SRC President Lauren Lancaster related how the cost-of-living crisis and housing crisis has affected students.
She denounced those who were benefiting from the energy crisis including landlords, energy companies, massive supermarket chains who “jack up their prices and laugh in our faces” and emphasised a need to fight for a pay rise indexed to inflation “and then some”.
Fellow SRC Education Officer Lia Perkins ended the rally by speaking on the housing crisis in NSW and across Australia.
“In Southeast Queensland, a tenants union prevented the eviction of a disability pensioner living in public housing and the NSW Government is attempting to do the same for residents in Glebe,” she said.
Perkins pointed to the selling off of public housing across NSW, pointing to the Sirius Building, a social housing apartment complex that was sold off to create luxury apartments starting at $1.7 million.
Activists marched from the AGL Headquarters to Sydney Town Hall to join forces with the Nurses and Midwives Association, who were on strike for better working and living conditions.
Protesters chanted: “We’ve got an inflation fix. Tax, tax, tax the rich” and “Prices are rising, can’t pay the rent. Overthrow the one percent.”