Frustrated and fearful school students say they hope to find solace and solidarity at today’s School Strike 4 Climate – the first to be held since COVID-19 hit.
By Clare Peddie
Organisers are hoping up to 3000 students and others will attend the rally in Victoria Square, but the Education Minister has told them they shouldn’t be skipping school.
Teen activist Audrey Mason-Hyde feels “pretty unhappy” about the state of affairs, especially federal government policies and fossil fuel subsidies.
“We want to see more money being put into our futures and our kids’ futures, for a sustainable and renewable future in this country rather than gas and oil projects, which they’re currently putting money into and putting even more into as of the federal budget,” the 15-year-old from Unley said.
Audrey Mason-Hyde, left, prepares for the School Strike 4 Climate with fellow participants Tom, Rowan, Rosie, Anjali, Tabitha, Imogen, Maria, Grace, Charlotte and Alice in Victoria Square. Picture: Brenton Edwards
Audrey, a Year 11 Glenunga International High School student, is one of the organisers of the Adelaide arm of the national activist movement behind, meeting weekly to plan events and lobby decision-makers.
“All of us came from a place of not feeling like we could make change before we were in this group, and feeling helpless in a lot of ways,” Audrey said.
“Being part of a group that does do things, and is a community, that in itself is a triumph.”
Tom Webster, 16 of Beulah Park attends Eyensbury College and wants the government to “stop throwing taxpayer dollars at fossil fuels” and invest in renewables instead.
“We know over time that we will start shifting the public’s minds on these issues,” he said.
“And it’s when we shift enough minds that you truly see change, because when people change their minds and they hit the polls, they will tell the government what they want.”
Thousands of students took part in the 2019 School Strike 4 Climate protest and march for the global day of action on climate change on Friday, March 15, 2019. Picture: Brenton Edwards.
Both students said most schools supported climate action and student protest. “They agree that the science is unmistakable and as young people, it is important that we take on the issues we are passionate about in order to become better global citizens,” Audrey said.
But Education Minister John Gardner said the students should be at school.
”Each day spent in school is an opportunity to enhance a student’s learning; each day absent represents missed curriculum and lost opportunity for learning,” he said.
“Every student has a right to engage in political activities, but in my view it would be more meaningful for students who take part in a protest such as this to do so out of school hours, in the students’ own time.”
The Education Department said schools would “follow their normal processes for unexplained absences of students and will respond to any parent enquiries at the local level”.
Catholic Education SA said: “Each individual school will make its own decision about whether or not they will encourage students to attend the rally.”
“Catholic schools have a strong focus on ecology and encourage students to care for God’s creation in practical ways that have a real impact,” Assistant Director Monica Conway said.
“For this reason, many of our students are passionate about taking a stand on climate change and the need for sustainable practices in our schools, workplaces and homes.”
The Association of Independent Schools of SA also said it was a matter for individual schools.
Strike action will take place in capital cities, regional centres and country towns across the nation.
The organisers are the School Strike 4 Climate network, with support from First Nations communities, unions, parents, and individuals.
They want the Morrison Government to stop funding gas and coal projects with taxpayers money and instead invest in clean renewable energy, secure jobs, and First Nations solutions to protect Country.
National spokeswoman Natasha Abhayawickrama, 16 from Tara Anglican School for Girls in Sydney said the Federal Government appeared to be “far more concerned with lining the already-bursting pockets of multinational gas companies” than protecting the climate, land, and water.
“Their money-making agenda – only satiable at the expense of vulnerable Australians’ wellbeing and prosperity – are fuelling the climate crisis … the same crisis that is devastating our natural resources, destroying our health, and creating very few jobs for our population,” she said.
“So on May 21, together with tens of thousands of my fellow let-down Australians, I am striking from school to tell the Morrison government that they must stop throwing Aussie cash at gas. If Morrison cares about our collective future, he will make it happen.”
School Strike 4 Climate is at Victoria Square today, Friday May 21, from 11am.