On the morning of Australia’s hottest day ever, with the Prime Minister in Hawaii, and on the cusp of Premier Berejiklian declaring a weeklong state of emergency across NSW, a group of several hundred protesters cried “Shame!” outside Kirribilli House.
Beginning shortly after 9am, the protest saw an array of speakers from Schools Strike 4 Climate, Australian Parents for Climate Action, Stop Adani, and Healthy Futures decry the federal government’s lack of response to the bushfires ravaging much of coastal NSW.
A number of organisers from September 20th’s climate strike, Aboriginal elders, doctors, climate researchers, and residents of northern NSW displaced by the ongoing crisis spoke about their experiences.
14-year-old Ambrose Hayes, one of the student leaders of March’s school climate strike, passionately expressed the motivation behind the gathering.
“We are seeing conditions get worse earlier in the year than predicted…this wilful disregard for health and wellbeing must be treated like the emergency it is.”
The aims of the protest were stated: firstly, to increase support for Indigenous land management, increase resourcing for the RFS, and to exercise real climate action. This includes no new coal, oil, and gas projects, 100% renewable energy and exports by 2030, and funding for a just transition and jobs for fossil fuel workers and their communities.
Lisa Mumford, a resident whose family home on the Mid North Coast of NSW was saved from the physical threat of the fires, spoke to the ardent efforts of the RFS yet also of her fear ahead of the coming summer months.
“This summer we will be on high alert as the weather gets hotter and fire conditions continually hit catastrophic levels.”
Fiona Lee, who lived in the bush a forty-minute drive north of Taree, was not as fortunate. Speaking through tears, she recounted her devastation at having lost her home earlier last month.
“There had been a fire burning to the west of us for weeks. We enacted our fire safety plan, left early, we were fine. We were lucky.”
Hours later, her husband returned to a vantage point to survey the damage.
“[He] told me over the phone: It’s gone. It’s all gone.”
After leading those assembled in rounds of ‘climate carols’ – Christmas carols with modified lyrics that address the issue of climate change – organisers instructed protesters to walk towards Lady Gowrie Lookout and sit down, where it was then revealed that the demonstration was to mark the launch of a week-long camp out until the Prime Minister’s expected return on Boxing Day.
Organisers then began erecting tents around the Kirribilli Avenue cul-de-sac while legal advice on how to interact with police, who had maintained a heavy presence throughout the event, was promptly given over the makeshift PA system.
A video of a 10 year old protestor being threatened with arrest by police has garnered widespread outrage at the heavy-handed police presence at the rally.
By mid-afternoon a sizeable crowd of protestors remained, among them: Greens state Legislative Council member David Shoebridge, who was arrested and charged with a failure to comply with a direction to move on from police.
Shoebridge, a prominent supporter of recent climate protests and a speaker at last Wednesday’s climate rally, claimed that he had “tried to comply” with police directions at the time of his arrest.
“It’s an incredibly wasteful use of the Police and Court’s time, but this is what happens when the riot squad get their blood up.”
Shoebridge further expressed his support for the young protestors, stating: “I’m extremely grateful to the students for showing the courage and leadership we need in the face of these awful bushfires and the climate emergency”.
The MLC is set to defend this charge in court next month.
Leaving the area, protestors were given fliers for another upcoming climate justice event, a walk across the harbour bridge this Saturday December 21st entitled ‘March on Morrison’.