Australian students to walk out of lectures today to protest climate change inaction


Inspired by the recent school climate strikes, university students and staff across the country will protest climate inaction across Australia's capital cities ahead of global strikes next month.

Thousands of Australian university students will skip classes on Friday, as they join a global youth movement calling for urgent action on climate change.

The National Union of Students (NUS) is leading mass walkouts and marches in every capital city to shine a spotlight on what it describes as "the biggest issue of our generation".

"A lot of university students have already been standing in solidarity with the school climate strikers," NUS President Desiree Cai told SBS News this week.

"The climate crisis is the defining political issue of our generation and an existential threat to humanity."

A recent NUS survey found 82 per cent of students voted climate change their biggest concern.

Walkouts will take place in Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Wollongong and organisers said the initiative aims to put four key demands on the Federal Government: no new coal mines or gas fracking, stopping the Adani mine, a full transition to renewables by 2030, and a sustainable jobs guarantee for workers to transition to green industries.

The protest will also urge universities and other higher education institutions to "recognise that they should take a lead in advocating for climate action".

"Climate change is going to affect the way that we work in the future, the way that we live, our quality of life ... it's really scary and daunting," Ms Cai said.

"We need to educate workers to go into renewable industries and use our researchers in order to find new solutions to stop the climate catastrophe."

'This is a stepping stone'

University of Technology student Lachlan Barker, 22, will lead the Sydney march on Friday. 

He said he expects more than 2,000 young people from a number of universities to join in the campaign.

"We’re at the point where we’re about to move into the rest of our adult lives ... and we want to make sure that we’re entering into a world that we’re going to see flourish," he said.

"This is a stepping stone in the path that we’ve got planned for further climate action."

Student union members
Student union members Naomi Hastings, Desiree Cai and Lachlan Barker.

Mr Barker said a "mass mobilisation" of students across Australia are also preparing to gather for global climate strikes on 20 September.

"It’s really important that university students are coming out to show their support and to call for immediate action on climate change," he said.

"We need to make sure there is a more secure green economy and industry for Australia to partake in and that’s something that universities can play a key role in doing."

University staff show support

The National Tertiary Education Union has encouraged its members to attend the rallies and urged universities "not to penalise students who decide to take action."

The National Union of Students is hosting a university walkout on Friday to demand action on climate change.
Students are demanding action on climate change.

"NTEU members strongly support the stand that students are taking," union president Alison Barnes said.

"The Federal Government is still treating climate change as an inconvenience, rather than the most important issue facing humanity today."

The Federal Government is still treating climate change as an inconvenience, rather than the most important issue facing humanity today.

- Alison Barnes, NTEU president

Ms Barnes backed students' calls for increased government funding into climate change research at higher education institutions.

"Given the current funding freeze that universities are subjected to, and that since 2011 public investment in higher education has been slashed by more than $10 million, we would welcome any increased funding across our sector," she said.

"If Australia is to respond to climate change, we need the research telling us how we might do that."

Power plant

In a statement provided to SBS News, Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the government "supports the right to lawful and peaceful protest". 

"The Federal Government provides funding for university research, however decisions about what is researched are a matter for each university, as an autonomous institution, or the independent authority that awards research grant funding, such as the Australian Research Council," he added. 

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