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Fighting Fire with Fire...or damp squib?

Oh what a different rally Sydney's "NSW is Burning, Sydney is Choking - Climate Emergency Rally!” was compared to the Schoolstrike4Climate protest of 20th of September this year.

As well attended as both events appeared to be, the Uni Student’s for Climate's march and the sentiment around it has taken a far more agitated turn. 

And why would that be?

Firstly, Sydneysiders are literally sick to death of the pall of toxic bushfire smoke that has plagued the city for the last three weeks, so the public ire about what almost everyone ~ including two former prime ministers and former NSW fire chief Greg Mullins ~ is calling a climate change apocalypse. is peaking. With bush fires burning across the state, much earlier than the traditional fire season, and with far more ferocity and damage, the ire is a lot more palpable and concern about another three months of the same ahead is even more rattling. 

Secondly, and most importantly, in the face of these conditions and the ongoing losses and exhaustion that victims and the overstretched fire services are experiencing, and the health concerns of a city that at some times is experiencing pollution over 11 times the safe limit, the public is simply aghast at the inaction of the Federal Government. 

Thirdly, and crucially too, yesterday's voices on the podium ~ and in the crowds ~ are the voices of adults from all walks of life, who, unlike the schoolchildren of September, cannot be simply patronised by the right-leaning politicians and media around the world as being brainwashed and orchestrated by others. 

This protest therefore brought together a far wider range of voices compared with previous events. The movement inspired by Time's Person of the Year 2019 is no longer kids play.

Indeed, the climate emergency is no longer an abstract concept in New South Wales or all of Australia. It is something being felt on the ground, and the voices are rising.

Introducing Greens MP David Shoebridge, rally organiser Chloe Rafferty, representative of Uni Students for Climate Justice bellowed, “… We are here today because of the criminal inaction of the Morrison Government, and the State Liberal Government, in the face of the climate crisis and the bushfires that are ravaging our state”.

Shoebridge efficiently then introduced the First Peoples ecology activist and artist ‘Uncle' Bruce Shillingsworth, who proclaimed, “Why are we here? We are here because we care for the world we live in! We are here because we care for our environment. We are here because we have had enough!  First peoples have been living on this continent for 60000 years plus, look what’s happening in the last 230 years in this country?" To the first of many resounding crowd refrains:


"We as grassroots people are going to fix the problem we are in, we as grassroots people are going to unite, we are going to build a movement that no-ones going to stop! Our First Nations people have protected the land, the waterways, the owls and the birds, and I want to thank the firefighters!"

Uncle Bruce acknowledged all the various First Peoples around Sydney and went on to welcome all people who have come from overseas and now live in Australia, “welcome! Welcome! Welcome! … we are here, we are the now, and we are going to make the change!”

Next up was Fire Brigade Employees Union State Secretary Leighton Drury, who said, “our members are saving lives, property, wildlife, stock and pets. Our members are spread thin and responding to their day-to-day work, some 600 false alarms a day (due to the haze), and it's this New South Wales Government… who have failed, absolutely failed the community, and failed to invest adequately in the fire services… there are now fewer professional fire fighters employed now than in 2011”...


Drury continued, “ after almost a decade of denial about the environment changing has lead us to this…We’re doing our job. We need a government that does theirs better.”

"We need a policy and budget that reflects what we do!" said Secretary Drury.

David Shoebridge thanked Drury and the all firemen and volunteers 'saving lives and property’ and then introduced Kya from Extinction Rebellion who shared the personal experience of loosing her northern NSW family home to a fire that devastated 80 of the 700 plus homes now incinerated. Of this, Kya’s biggest regret is seeing the world heritage ancient Gondwana rainforests that she enjoyed as a child, burning down.

Kya added, “Whats really scary is that we are already experiencing the climate change feedback loops that we have been warned about here in Australia right now… and on and on it goes and points to a future that scares the crap out of me. We are truly living the climate emergency right now... and its not being taken serious because there is massive denial in this country…”


“…and it's clear the government is not going to change their course by choice…its time to get out on the streets and support actions like this en masse and regularly…its time to join in the “non-violent/direct-action” movement.”

Chloe Rafferty was up again, making now familiar calls for stopping the Adani coal mine in Queensland; keeping fossil fuels in the ground; a government commitment to 100% renewable energy that remains in public hands; and stopping fracking in the Northern Territory. "Only we the majority have the power to hold the rich and political elite accountable," Chloe declared.

“In Australia there is no shortage of people to blame (for the climate crisis). ” How dare Scott Morrison take a private jet to drink champagne with the Murdocks, while flying over the fires? …the situation with the fires and the climate crisis in general cannot be a move to despair, its a call to action, and the only appropriate response is to take to the streets today and demand that this decrepit system be replaced with a society run for human need and not for profit."

Taking over, David Shoebridge further chastised Morrison’s inaction on the fires and his inappropriate and questionable release of the draft Religious Discrimination Bill and praised the City of Sydney for its proactivity in fighting climate change, a segue for introducing Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Miller.

Miller's slick delivery reminded the 20,000 strong crowd that the City of Sydney is listening and acting on the wishes of its public through its declaration of a Climate Emergency and the channeling of vast funds towards renewable energy in the community. Jess’s biggest shot across the bow was a reminder to the Federal Government that governments belong to people.

Green's MP David Shoebridge introduces Sydney Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Miller.

After a somewhat rambling but no less rousing speech by Dr Janet Rowden from the Nurses and Midwives’ Association who chastised the Government for ignoring policy directives the nursing profession is trying to formalise, Aboriginal socialist firebrand Gavin Stanbrook took the mic and gave a most impassioned speech criticising the government's inaction and gross undersupply of the fire services who have only uniform to use for days on end and "piece of crap" masks.

Aboriginal socialist firebrand Gavin Stanbrook fires up the crowd...

Recognising the plurality of the crowd and participating speakers, Stanbrook even called on “office workers” as a force to be reckoned with, however this journalist and architect does wonder where the ArchitectsDeclare movement were, and why many other professional bodies who have claimed to stand behind climate science and for change were also conspicuously absent.

What is it going to take to get the mass action this event's activists are calling for to actually occur, and to actually have an effect? Ranked the worst out of 57 countries on climate policy, Australia has a long way to go to make up for its change of course over the last few years. After over a month of bushfires and government inaction, if this relatively subdued public turnout and lack of actual action from politicians is not the rock bottom of the climate emergency in New South Wales, then I don’t want to know what will be.

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