Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets on Friday afternoon to protest the federal government’s stance on climate change action despite claims from authorities it will draw police resources away from fire affected areas.
Planned protests by a group of university students demanding greater action on climate change have been organised in cities across the country with organisers accusing Victorian police of using scare tactics to intimidate people away from the demonstrations.
Anneke Demanuele is the Victorian convener of the organising group, Uni Students for Climate Justice, and has defended the protests accusing the police of sensationalising the debate.
“They’ve spent more time talking to the media about it than us ... we have had one conversation,” she said of Victorian police denouncing the timing of the protests as authorities face difficult bushfire conditions on Friday afternoon.
“Overall I think this is a distraction to make people feel intimidated,” she told Yahoo News Australia. “They want us to talk about the couple of hundred police at these demonstrations and not the climate crisis we’re in.”
Protests will ‘lose’ climate supporters: Vic Premier
On Wednesday, Victorian police held a media conference saying they were “duty bound to provide a well resourced police contingency in the event of a public protest”.
Scheduled for 6pm in Melbourne, the protests will likely cause disruption during peak hour times and police need to “make sure it’s undertaken as safely as possible,” Acting Assistant Commissioner Tim Hansen said.
“People’s frustrations do spill over when their movement around the CBD is hindered, and it can from time to time result in either threats of violence, or violence itself.
“We do not have an option of whether or not to be there,” he told reporters.
Despite giving the green light for the state’s public servants to leave work to join a major climate protest in September, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has taken a dramatically different stance on today’s protests.
“I know the science stacks up, I don’t disagree with them,” he told 3AW Thursday.
“But I tell you what, you lose me and you lose a lot of other fair-minded Victorians who believe in climate change when you have a protest when you’ve been told point blank that you are diverting police resources.
“We should have police and all our emergency services out there saving lives tomorrow not dealing with protests.”
When asked by Yahoo News Australia, Victorian police would not indicate how many police would attend the protest but in a statement issued to The Age this morning, a police spokesperson confirmed no police members would be pulled back from the bushfires to police the protest.
The comments from the state Premier have sparked heated debate online about whether the protests should go ahead, but organisers believe the drama will ultimately boost overall numbers considering a late jump in attendance on Facebook.
Authorities often use the 'diverting police resources' line to dissuade & guilt trip protestors. Last year in Qld, a judge strongly implied I was personally responsible for the proliferation of murderers in the state (!) - bec there were police at the protest where I was arrested
— Luke Buckmaster (@lukebuckmaster) January 9, 2020
In April of last year, 100,000 workers rallied in Melbourne in support of the Change the Rules campaign. It shut down far more area than any climate protest has. @DanielAndrewsMP himself attended. The police presence was minimal. What's different about tonight?
— mclean (@mcccclean) January 9, 2020
Do not let disingenuous arguments about stretching “emergency services” discourage you from attending #SackScoMo rallies today. Firies don’t police protests, cops do. The same cops who intimidate and assault ordinary people for raising their voice in dissent. Remember IMARC? pic.twitter.com/NvmubjJF0r
— Blinderman 🌱🌏 (@QuacksD) January 10, 2020
Speaking to Yahoo News, organisers said they will not be intimidated.
“We need action on climate change now and the government, including the Victorian government, want to intimidate people away from demonstrations,” Ms Demanuele said.
“We’ll cancel the demonstration if they cancel the approvals for the Adani coal mine.
“We’ll cancel the demonstration if they cancel the approvals for drilling in the bite,” she said.
Thousands expected to turn out
On Friday morning, the Facebook event for the Melbourne protest had 15,000 people who clicked attend while a further 35,000 said they were “interested” in the event.
Meanwhile the Sydney protest had 12,000 people who registered to attend and 29,000 interested. There are smaller events scheduled for cities around the country.
“Out of control emergency bushfires are sweeping across the state – destroying thousands of hectares, houses, and lives,” the event page says.
“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.”
Those organising the protest are demanding that all firefighters are paid and fire services receive more funding.
They are calling for “genuine relief and aid” for fire ravaged communities and the for the federal government to begin “the immediate rapid transition away from fossil fuels.”
Protest organisers also want to see Scott Morrison removed as prime minister.
Since the event was arranged, the federal government has announced a $2 billion fund to rebuild fire-affected towns.
Despite heightened public pressure during this bushfire crisis, and scathing criticism from the world’s press, the federal government has made no change to its highly criticised climate change policy.
The government has continued to defend itself against accusations it denies climate science, despite Liberal MP Craig Kelly doing just that on British television this week.
Meanwhile senior Liberal senator Gerard Rennick continues to endorse a wild and spurious conspiracy accusing the Bureau of Meteorology of changing temperature records to fit a "global warming agenda".
Social media debates timing of protests
On the Australian forum on social media site Reddit, users debated the merits of the protest with many rejecting the notion they deserve criticism for diverting police resources.
“How is this insensitive? These marches are inherently in support of those affected communities, highlighting the poor crisis management by the federal government,” one user wrote.
“I empathise with you, protesting in Melbourne when Dan Andrews has done a good job seems silly,” another conceded. “But this is bigger than him and a lack of action on climate change will quite literally kill millions. Get out there and add to the number of protestors.”
Others thought the protests, and the ongoing anger at the prime minister, were not the appropriate solution.
“Personally I don't believe this is the appropriate solution. Could he have don't more? Absolutely! Is his stance on climate change concerning? Definitely! But the problem is the Australian government's entire attitude towards climate change,” one user said.
“Scomo just seems like an easy target to point fingers at.”
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