Thousands have rallied in Australia’s capital cities to demand action on climate change and condemning the government’s handling of the ongoing bushfire crisis.
Large numbers of people are already gathering in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane armed with signs and placards, many baring the #sackScomo hashtag, in a dig at Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
Organisers, Uni Students for Climate Justice and Extinction Rebellion, are hoping to beat the November climate rally protests – which saw about 20,000 descend on the Sydney CBD alone.
“Out of control bushfires are sweeping across the state – destroying thousands of hectares, houses, and lives,” organisers said on Facebook.
“These fires, heatwaves, and droughts are not just unprecedented – they’re the direct result of decades of climate destruction at the hands of fossil fuel loving politicians. The climate crisis has compounded hundreds of years of land mismanagement since invasion and decades of profiteering on water which has left much of the country in drought.”
Firefighter Jim Casey, who is also a member of the Firefighters for Climate Justice group said: “we need to talk about the elephant in the room”.
“The volunteer firefighters – we need to pay them,” he told SBS News at the Sydney rally.
“I’ve been a professional firefighter for more than 20 years in Sydney and Canberra. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
The protesters are calling for pay for all firefighters and “genuine relief and aid for affected communities”. They’re also seeking an “immediate rapid transition away from fossil fuels”.
In Sydney, several thousand have rallied outside Sydney Town Hall, despite warm and smoky conditions – many holding #sackScomo signs.
In Brisbane, Dylan Peters told SBS News he had gathered to stand in solidarity with fire victims.
“We are a state that is mining the most,” he said, referring to Brisbane.
“We need a transitional policy.”
Meanwhile, in Melbourne, rain and wet conditions have not deterred protesters, with large numbers turning up in the CBD.
Earlier, Victorian police said authorities were not being pulled back from bushfires to police the protest.
“We have deployed hundreds of resources to support officers in bushfire-affected areas and this commitment remains unchanged,” she said.
“However, we are frustrated by the timing of this protest and it will impact on other proactive initiatives and operations we have in place.
“It also means we now have to redeploy some of our officers who have only just returned from the firegrounds to the protests.”
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who urged protesters to postpone the event, sent protest organisers a stern warning on Thursday, telling ABC Radio “they risk losing support from those like him that believe in climate change”.
These warnings had been previously voiced by Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville, who on Wednesday said she was stunned to hear the protests were going ahead.
“This is a really reckless and selfish thing people are doing. “There is a time for protests. It’s not this Friday,” she said.
“I don’t want to see police having to pull people out of (fire-affected) communities to come in and manage a protest.
But the students have renewed their determination to stage their event.
Earlier on Thursday, the protesters released a statement saying they are holding fast under government and police pressure.
“Protesters are not to blame for the lack of emergency services – state and federal governments are the ones who have cut millions in funding to fire departments, while they give billions in tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industries,” said spokesperson Anneke Demanuele.
“We’ll stop the protest if the Liberal and Labor governments stop supporting the fossil fuel industry.”
More than 14,000 had Thursday evening indicated they will attend the rally on the Facebook page for the event.
The Melbourne protest is one of a number of planned rallies around the country on Friday and Saturday.