Students take action for sustainability

The annual student environment conference, Students of Sustainability (SOS), was held at Monash University from July 6 -10, attracting 450 participants to workshops on climate change, activism, Aboriginal rights, uranium mining, and other social justice and environmental issues.

Several protests were held on July 8, to take action on issues discussed at the conference. Early in the morning, 50 people rallied outside the Melbourne County Court to support activists who were facing court on charges after the anti-G20 demonstrations in Melbourne in 2006.

Protesters said the charges were designed to intimidate people and discourage future protests against war, racism and corporate greed.

One of the activists faces charges of riot, affray and criminal damage. She has pleaded not guilty and says all she did was yell and wave a flag. Two other people face charges of aggravated burglary after an occupation of a corporate office during G20. If found guilty, they could be sentenced for up to 25 years.

A further 150 people, including traditional owners, held a colourful and loud protest outside BHP Billiton headquarters in Melbourne against the proposed expansion of BHP's Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia.

The mine already uses 35 million litres of water a day drawn from the Great Artesian Basin. Kokatha custodian Rebecca Bear Bubda Wingfield described the mine expansion as "environmental genocide".

She told the July 9 Age, "The international mining industry needs to see and accept the dangers of uranium mining. It affects our water, our animals, our food chain and our precious medicines and plants and flowers."

The protest then marched through the city to the office of federal ALP resources minister Martin Ferguson to protest against his government's approval of a nuclear waste dump on Aboriginal land in the Northern Territory.

Later that day, an action protesting the racist NT intervention, introduced by the previous Howard government and continued by Rudd's Labor, was held outside Indigenous affairs minister Jenny Macklin's office in Heidelberg in Melbourne's north-east. The action continued inside the local Centrelink office to highlight the unfair quarantining of welfare for Aboriginal people.

After a short, peaceful occupation of Centrelink, police removed protesters. One person was arrested and another taken to hospital with cracked ribs.

Throughout SOS, the issue of green jobs and an alliance between workers and environmentalists was discussed.

Conference participants travelled to the Hazelwood coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley and met with workers who have been on strike for the past 13 weeks over pay and conditions. They have maintained a 24-hour picket at the power station gates.

Hazelwood power station is the most polluting station in the industrialised world and accounts for about 5% of Australia's total emissions. It was due to be shut down in 2005, but the state government has extended its operating licence to 2031.

The 13 striking workers are emergency services officers employed at the power station by contractor Diamond Protection. They are demanding equal wages to ESOs employed by other Latrobe Valley power stations. Hazelwood ESOs are paid 30% less.
The conference delegation offered their support for the workers' struggle.

Victorian Mining and Energy division organiser for the Construction Forestry Mining Energy Union, Dave Kerin, spoke to conference attendees and told them that to stop climate change, "short cuts won't work, it is crucial to build this [worker-environmentalist] alliance, there is no other way. Greens must become reds."

Some of the workers spoke about the effects of electricity privatisation in the 1990s, when many lost their jobs, house prices plummeted and the area faced a deep economic depression. They said they were worried that similar things could happen if the coal-fired power stations in the region were closed.

The activists emphasised that they want to build a strong alliance with workers in polluting industries to win a safe climate future and thousands of green jobs.

Before returning to the conference site, the conference delegation was treated to a vegetarian barbeque by the striking ESOs.

Some of Hazelwood workers then attended the last day of SOS and took part in a forum about building solidarity between environmental campaigns and other social justice and union campaigns.