Environmental activists protest Australian climate policies
A total of 27 people were said to have died on the bush fire incident, while around 2,000 homes have been destroyed with an estimated billion animals have been affected.
The activists are calling on Prime Minister Scott Morrison -led government to act on the climate crisis and do more to stop the bushfires that continue to ravage large swathes of the country.
The protests, organized by national student organization Uni Students for Climate Justice, took place in nine cities including Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth, indicating widespread public discontent after months of increasingly deadly fires.
Organizers put the number between 50,000 and 60,000 people.
“The bushfires are devastating communities and our government is not doing enough to stop it,” According to the protesters, “The Morrison government needs to act before it’s too late, before we reach a tipping point before these impacts get worse than they already are.”
Protesters carried signs that read “Koalas Not Coal,” “Change the System, Not the Climate” and “Sack ScoMo,” with many directing their anger at Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has faced heavy criticism for what they see as a lackluster response to the fires and for his climate policies, as well as support for coal mines.
Tens of thousands of Australians rallied across cities as deadly climate-fuelled bushfires swept across the continent.
“We’ve had decades to deal with it and successive governments have done nothing. The Earth is a finite resource. You can’t have an economy on a dead planet,” said Kris Stevens, who traveled to Sydney from the city of Dubbo in New South Wales (NSW).
The protesters pushed for five main demands, including funding for firefighters, relief and aid for affected communities, land and water sovereignty for indigenous communities, an immediate transition toward renewable energy, and a “just transition” for workers in the fossil fuel industry.
State and federal authorities have been scrambling to respond, with thousands of firefighters on the ground and billions of dollars allocated in federal aid. But climate activists say it’s not enough.
“We’re protesting because we’re outraged about our government’s criminal negligence about the bushfire crisis, exacerbated by climate change,” said Uni Students for Climate Justice on its Facebook page. “We are protesting to give a voice to the tens of thousands of people who want real action on climate change and real funding for relief services.”
Photos show exhausted Australian firefighters on break from battling bushfires Authorities had urged protesters to postpone the marches due to dangerous fire conditions and limited resources.
Victoria Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen said the police force was already stretched thin and fatigued, and the protests would be a “distraction” and a “resource drain” on a day forecast to be hot and dangerous.
The organizers pushed back, posting on Facebook that the police, the media and the state government were “trying to paint ordinary people — who are fed up with their lies, theft and criminal negligence — as being a drain on emergency services.”
Pressure on Morrison
Morrison has faced growing anger and frustration from the public as the fires continue to spiral out of control.
He was widely criticized for taking a vacation to Hawaii as fires raged in NSW last month. During a visit last week to the fire-ravaged town of Cobargo, the Prime Minister was heckled by furious residents who had lost their homes. “You’re an idiot,” one resident shouted at him.
He has also been accused of initially playing down the severity of the fires.
“The strategy up until Christmas was to downplay the importance of the emergency, to make it seem like another episode of fires … nothing to see here, move on,” said Frank Jotzo, Director of the Centre for Climate and Energy Policy at Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy. “That really jarred with the very obvious never before seen dimensions of this disaster and it would really grate with anyone who had a direct experience of these fires.”
“The government has simply looked uncaring, and it looked like the political position of the government, including with regards to its position on climate change, seemed to be more important than even the acknowledgment of the magnitude of the disaster,” said Jotzo.
On kangaroo killing field, from horror to hope for Australian animals devastated by wildfires
Morrison has defended his government’s response to the fires and set up a National Bushfire Recovery Agency to coordinate the response to rebuilding communities.
His administration has allocated 2 billion Australian dollars ($1.4 billion) in federal aid, to help rebuild vital infrastructure like schools and health facilities struck by fire.
The Prime Minister earlier said up to US$4,200 will go to each of the volunteer firefighters battling blazes for more than 10 days.
Other relief measures include compensated pay and extra leave for volunteer firefighters. Cash payments of 1,000 Australian dollars ($690) are also available to those who have lost homes or loved ones in the fires.
The federal government has also sent in military assistance like army personnel, air force aircraft and navy cruisers for firefighting, evacuation, search and rescue, and clean-up efforts.
“The tone and nature has really changed over the last week or so. There is now a clear acknowledgment that it is the absolute top priority for the federal government in Australia,” said Jotzo.
Activists on Friday, however, said the recovery fund was “totally inadequate” and called for the fire service to be fully funded.
“It’s scandalous that we have to rely so heavily on volunteers and charity to stop whole towns from being wiped out! We demand full funding for our fire services,” Uni Students for Climate Justice added.
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