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At first General Meeting in 14 years, students vote to join climate strike

Students vowed they would "strike 'till they win."

Photograph: Aman Kapoor.

Almost 300 students attended a Student General Meeting (SGM) at the University of Sydney today, where they unanimously voted to join the May 21 Climate Strike and build “the widest possible shut down of campus.”

At the meeting, organised by the USyd Enviro Collective, students also unanimously voted to call on Interim Vice-Chancellor Stephen Garton to publicly waive all penalties for staff and students who join the strikes.

“We make history today,” Lauren Lancaster said, noting that it was the first SGM to be called since 2007 and only the third in the University’s history. 

“For so long, we’ve been told by University management and politicians to sit down and be quiet. But we as students have power to challenge and bring down the institution.”

Seth Dias, who gave the Acknowledgement of Country, reminded audiences of the connection between the climate crisis and Indigenous deaths in custody: “Since the start of March, we have seen seven Aboriginal people die in prisons or at the hands of police.”

“As we see people exploiting this continent for profit, we also see death at the hands of the state. It all comes down to one system, one Parliament, and one sect of the ruling class who are fucking us all over every single day.”

Tiger Perkins, who co-chaired the meeting with Lancaster, spoke about the importance of attending climate strikes due to ongoing climate inaction by politicians.

“Our money-grabbing, power-hungry politicians … have made no attempt to shut down the fossil fuel industry. Instead, they expanded it and greenlighted $56 billion worth of new gas projects last year.”

He condemned Scott Morrison’s recent refusal to commit to a net zero emissions target by 2050 — an already modest target compared to other countries — and the Labor Party MP Joel Fitzgibbon’s continued support of coal mining.

“It’s clear that climate responsibility falls to students and workers.”

India Pardoel criticised the Federal Government’s plan to accelerate a gas-led recovery, noting that “Gas is a fossil fuel that emits 117 pounds of C02 emissions [per MMBtu] — just over half of what coal produces.”

They also stressed the need for the publicly-owned renewable energy, given the “precarious” and “exploitative” nature of private systems.

“The reality is that corporate and political interests … will not drive this transition,” Pardoel said, recalling the firing of over 200 workers at a Queensland solar farm, as well as the widespread underpayment of migrant workers.

“We urgently need to build a mass movement that utilises the collective power of workers.”

Lancaster and Perkins then reiterated the demands for the climate strike — First Nations land management, no new coal and gas projects, publicly owned renewable energy, and a just transition to climate jobs.

Video: Jazz Breen

Other speakers included USyd SRC President Swapnik Sanagavarapu, who praised attendees for taking “collective action,” NTEU USyd Branch Professor Associate President Kurt Iveson, as well as several other attendees who spoke when the floor was opened.

The SGM received significant support in the weeks prior. With almost 300 students attending, it reached well beyond the 200 undergraduate students required to reach quorum. 

As the meeting concluded, attendees chanted “build solar, build wind, strike ‘till we win.”

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The SS4C Climate Strike will be held on 21 May at 12:00pm in Town Hall.