Two thousand people rallied Australia-wide last week, marking World Environment Day on June 5. The participants were overwhelmingly young and very lively and energetic.
As Rachelle Scoular of St Mary's High School said at the 300-strong Wollongong rally, "We're the next generation that is going to be affected by the environmental crisis. We're the ones that have to get active. Tomorrow is too late." This reflected an enthusiasm felt at rallies right around the country — a sense of empowerment that is reinforced when people gather together, raise concerns and make demands.
The Wollongong rally illustrated well the widespread concern for the environment in the Australian community, as well as people's willingness to get involved. The colourful and vibrant march and festival were organised by a committee of university students, community organisations and local green groups, and involved most of the high schools in the area.
The Environmental Youth Alliance national theme "Young People and Communities for Environmental Justice" was reflected in the attendance. There were people from a wide range of cultures and ages and a dance performance by the Wollongong High School of Performing Arts.
The local theme was "Save Our Coastline", highlighting three local campaigns to stop the marina development at Shellharbour, stop the tunnel being built through Scarborough and stop the development of Port Hacking.
Marie Petersen, addressing the rally on behalf of the Shellharbour Beach Preservation Group, said, "To win the campaigns to save the coastline we have to rely on people in the community. The major parties aren't going to help us; we need an independent campaign."
All speakers mentioned the need for an inclusive and active environment movement. Sarah Harris from Resistance said this movement needs to be global, independent and democratic. "People in the community need to make the decisions about the environment and actively campaign for solutions."
Roy Kenny from the local Koori community told the crowd, "The environment movement is a political movement, but not in economic terms. The environment is our life. It's unfortunate we have set aside only one day to think about the earth."
The question of jobs versus the environment has been contentious in the Illawarra region. Andrew Wiley, a union organiser in FIMEE/AWU, took up this theme: "Jobs versus the environment is a myth ... we need to actively build links and unite the environment movement and the trade union movement ... more jobs equals green jobs, not environmentally destructive development."
A World Environment Day rally in Adelaide drew upon similar ideas. There Davey Thomason of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) spoke of the history of trade union green bans to stop environmentally and socially destructive development.
This strategy has recently been put into practice by the CFMEU in protecting the ecological and Aboriginal heritage values of Hindmarsh Island.
Sarah Milera, representing the Ngarrindjeri nation, spoke of the benefits of cooperation between the unions, environmentalists and her own people in defending Hindmarsh Island.
In Brisbane, the Courier-Mail sought to belittle the WED march with a headline reading "Environment no big attraction". Rally chairperson Lynda Hansen replied that the march and eco-fair had attracted hundreds of people during the day.
"World Environment Day gives people the opportunity to get involved and informed on current environmental issues. We cannot rely on the two-party system to take on these issues", she said.
"Next year we hope to unite all the social justice and environmental groups and build an even broader coalition."
The Brisbane rally heard speakers from the No Kuranda Skyrail campaign, the Esk Coalition Against Radioactive Dump, Environmental Youth Alliance, the Queensland Greens, Resistance, 4ZZZ, the pro-marijuana HEMP group, Animal Liberation and Green Left Weekly.