Students, Indigenous activists discuss sustainability

July 21, 2007

The global climate crisis and campaigns for environmental and social justice, including the defence of Aboriginal land rights against the Howard government's takeover of Northern Territory communities featured prominently at the Students of Sustainability (SoS) conference at Murdoch University from July 9-13. Some 300 Students and activists attended from around Australia.

The opening workshops painted a bleak picture of the state of the environment today: a worsening water crisis; the risk of exponential rises in global temperatures; rising sea levels and the creation of climate refugees in the Pacific; an expanding coal industry and a government and opposition unwilling to put the environment before corporate interests.

Presentations from members of Newcastle Rising Tide, Zero Emissions Network and Friends of the Earth set out the significant emissions reductions and the shift toward renewable energy sources that will be required to avert runaway climate change. The political solutions and the sort of movement required to achieve this change were discussed throughout the conference.

Indigenous activists from the NT spoke out against proposed nuclear waste dumps within kilometres of their communities and described the growing community campaign that is holding up the government plans in a panel titled "Defending the Heartland". They argued that PM John Howard's NT intervention undermines land rights, and is linked to attempts by companies gain licenses to mine uranium and dump radioactive waste in the NT.

The APEC summit in Sydney in September was raised as an important focus for the student movement, with discussions centred on how to involve students in the protests, which will call for real action on climate change, the withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and workers' rights. Debates over tactics which would best engage the most people in the protest, given the context the special police powers and a lockdown of areas of the Sydney CBD for the summit, were also had out.

The conference concluded with a panel of speakers from Chile, West Papua and New Zealand. Julia Espinoza from New Zealand Socialist Worker related her experiences organising young people through Auckland-based group, Climate Action. Visiting speakers from West Papua discussed the persecution being meted out by the Indonesian government and made an plea for Australians to support their struggle for self-determination.

David Sinclair from the SoS organising collective told Green Left Weekly he was happy with the turnout and discussions. "You can feel pretty isolated with only [your campus] environment collective, but when you get people together who all share the same vision of the future of the environment, it's pretty special."

Two protests took place on the last day. One was at the office of education minister Julie Bishop for her racist comments in support for a nuclear waste dump site in the Northern Territory, which, she said, was "ample distance from civilisation". Other SoS participants gathered on the steps of Parliament House to protest against the destruction of an Aboriginal sacred site on the Burrup Peninsula to make way for a $14 billion North West Shelf gas project joint venture, which includes the corporations BHP, BP, Chevron, Shell and Woodside.

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