Thousands of people converged on Canberra for the opening of parliament on February 4 to demand the federal government declare a climate emergency.
The rally was part of a week of events organised by the People’s Climate Assembly. Participants came from across the country, including fire affected communities and towns on the frontline of the battle to stop coal expansion.
In Canberra — which has topped global toxic air quality rankings in recent months due to bushfire smoke — protesters could see plumes of smoke emanating from the south where fires continue to burn.
The size of the rally was a clear indication the climate crisis is hitting people hard and many wanted action from the government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, however, decided to spend his time in air-conditioned rooms avoiding questions about climate change and using the coronavirus crisis to whip up racism as a distraction from the sports rorts scandal that engulfed his cabinet.
At the rally, First Nations activists involved in struggles against mining and the destruction of rivers spoke out against the government. They vowed to continue fighting and called on the community to support them.
Labor shadow energy minister Mark Butler also spoke, alongside a smattering of Labor MPs, attacking Morrison for blocking discussion in parliament on declaring a climate emergency.
His speech was met with applause and anti-coal chants, as sections of the crowd reminded him of Labor’s pro-mining policy.
New Greens leader Adam Bandt rallied support for his party’s Green New Deal proposal, which involved mass public investment in new technology, infrastructure and public services to create sustainable jobs, while former Greens leader Bob Brown called on people to take direct action against the mining industry.
United Firefighters Union national president Greg McConville said the government must transition Australia away from fossil fuels if it is serious about dealing with the devastating fires.
Representatives from Uni Students for Climate Justice, Extinction Rebellion and School Strike 4 Climate also spoke.