Sydney Uni students demand clean energy

October 21, 2006

In a referendum held on Sydney University on September 20-21, 90% of the 3000 participating students voted for the university to reduce its contribution to climate change by purchasing a minimum of 20% clean, renewable energy. Currently the university uses 52 million kWh of electricity each year, all of which is generated by coal-fired power stations.

Eighty-one percent also voted for the university to make transparent its partnerships with the fossil-fuel and nuclear industries.

"The results demonstrate that students understand and are really concerned about climate change and want to reduce our contribution to it", Wenny Theresia, a member of the Student Representative Council's environment collective, told Green Left Weekly.

The referendum was a continuation of a clean energy campaign the environment collective has been organising over the last 12 months.

"We have had two broad strategies", said Theresia. "For the first, we went through the legitimate channels that are supposedly available to students to affect university decision-making. This involved lobbying and negotiation and, as we expected, was extremely limited."

In March, the university rejected a proposal from students for 12.5% clean energy usage and instead allocated $1 million to energy programs — half to energy saving programs (such as an audit of electricity usage) and the other half to research into renewable energy technology.

"While we saw this as a victory to some extent, we were clear it didn't represent a commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions", said Theresia. "We saw it as an attempt to throw money around in order to appease the campaigners and because they didn't want to give us a victory that would build student confidence and power."

In response, the collective relaunched the campaign, continued to organise protest actions outside university senate meetings, and called the referendum. "We explained to students that the referendum is part of an ongoing campaign and isn't just about a vote. People need to get involved if we are to win our demands."

Vice-chancellor Gavin Brown "refused to meet with the environment collective before the referendum, which he is now using against us — saying he wasn't consulted and therefore will not respond to the outcome".

In leaked correspondence since the referendum, Brown has argued the referendum campaign was "one-sided", characterised by lies and that support for it was "marginal".

"We know we're in for the long haul", said Theresia. "Gavin Brown realises he can't ignore us or throw money at us to stop our campaign. The university is relying on the time factor — that activists are only at university for a certain time and they are waiting for us to leave.

"Because of this we are aware that not only do we have to build a campaign but we have to prioritise building a collective, share information, skills and raise awareness generally.

"We have to continue to broaden our campaign by taking up related environmental issues like the proposed open-cut coalmine at Anvil Hill. Stopping this mine could be a turning point for the expansion of coalmining and the movement against it, equivalent to that against the Franklin dam."

The environment collective is organising a "bike block" contingent for the November 4 Walk against Warming rally (details on page 13). For updates and more information, visit <>.

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