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Climate Strike Sydney
Karolina Kaczynska

As bushfires rage across Australia, protesters direct anger at politicians

As thousands of people took to the streets to protest the Australian government’s climate policies, we spoke to those involved

It’s been months since Australia declared a state of emergency, but the country is still burning.

The unprecedented bushfires have been raging since October last year, destroying homes, wiping out natural habitats, and claiming lives. At least 24 people are known to have died, the BBC reports, and more than half a billion animals are estimated to have been killed. The dense fumes emitted by the fires has raised air pollution levels to ‘hazardous’ in areas across the country, and has travelled thousand of miles to countries such as New Zealand, where mountains and glaciers have been blanketed by smoke. 

The horrific fires have shocked the world, with many attacking the country’s prime minister Scott Morrison for his slow response to the catastrophe. The PM chose to jet off to Hawaii for a holiday whilst his country burned, leaving many Australians understandably outraged. Morrison has also faced a backlash over his downplaying of the links between the bushfires and climate change, prompting calls for leaders across the world to act urgently to address the climate emergency.

On January 10, Australians took to the streets in protest against Scott Morrison and his government’s policies, to demand those in power take drastic steps to tackle climate change. Thousands marched in cities including Brisbane, Melbourne, and Sydney, where the number was estimated between 30,000 and 60,000 people. 

“We’re confused as to what we can do to help those affected and how to get the attention of those in power to change their approach,” said Anita Ghise, a protester at the march in Sydney. “We feel overwhelmed and helpless. By protesting we make our voice heard, so others will realise that they are not alone.”

She continued: “Most importantly it is a way to start a debate with those in power. When governments fail to represent us – it is our right or even our responsibility to get active and represent our needs.”

A lot of anger was aimed at Morrison himself, who has faced heavy criticism for his slow response to the disaster. “I’m here because I’m angry with how things are going now and how the government is running the country,” said one protester. “Scott Morrison has a responsibility to act now.” 

“Scott Morrison goes on holidays to Hawaii while the fires are raging in our country and then comes back and expects people to shake his hands,” said another. “I’m surprised no one has spat on his face.”

Protestors also voiced their outrage at the government’s climate policies, with many carrying signs with slogans like, “Denial is not a policy”, and, “A good economy means nothing if we’re dead”. Australia is one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases globally, but the government has openly denied that their policies could be linked to climate change. Back in November, deputy prime minister Michael McCormack dismissed such suggestions as the concerns of “raving inner-city lefties”. 

“Australia is at this crossroads where we can see our government’s decisions in the past decade genuinely affect the livelihood of citizens and this beautiful country,” said Ondine Purinton-Miller, who joined the marches in Sydney. “It’s gotten hotter, our reef is dying in front of our eyes all and our wildlife is being wiped out all whilst the government sells off this vibrant, ancient country to foreign interest. It seems obvious, but how much devastation had to occur for there to be a shift?”

“We needed climate action thirty years ago,” said another protester. “Now, we see the effects of climate change with our own eyes. We have the resources to make a change but the only thing lacking is political will.”

After the backlash against his denial of the links between this year’s bushfires and climate change, Morrison acknowledged that it could be one of “many other factors” that are behind such disasters. But he still stopped short of accepting that his government’s policies could have anything to do with the catastrophe. 

“So many people around the world abuse their power and ScoMo is one of them,” said an activist at the rally. “This has to end. We need people who can use their power in the right way. We need to vote wisely.”

Friday’s protests had a number of key demands, including relief and aid for affected communities, funding for firefighters, and land and water for indigenous communities. They also called for an immediate transition towards renewable energy. 

“This march encapsulates how fed up everyone is of not being heard,” said one protestor. “The thousands that gathered, including myself, are over being ignored. What you feel when marching on that scale is how powerful people’s voices are when used together.”

Authorities had advised protestors to postpone the marches due to the dangerous fire conditions and overstretched services, but organisers refused to delay. 

“I think the most we can do right now is to educate ourselves as much as we can about climate change, our government, and individual actions we can each take in our own hands everyday,” said protester Yan Yan Chan. “Every little bit counts, and when we all come together, that’s when change can happen.”