Climate activists gathered outside the office of Peter Batchelor in late March. Batchelor is Victoria’s Minister for Energy and Resources and was due to attend the Victorian Coal and Energy conference to spruik plans for new coal projects in Victoria.
The picket was organised by Melbourne Uni’s Climate Action Working Group (CAWG). Representatives from The Greens, the United Fire Fighter’s Union (UFU), the Climate Action Centre, the Solar Systems campaign and Friends of the Earth spoke.
The government’s CPRS was a key issue of the protest. Brian Walters stressed the low emissions targets set by the scheme, and explained how the policy will make it impossible for future governments to ratchet up the target. Concessions for heavy emitters was another point brought up by Walters. “We’re actually encouraging the expansion of major carbon pollution by this scheme,” he said.
Peter Marshal from the UFU explained the firefighters’ support for the climate movement, saying, “the real extremists in this country are the politicians and corporate interests who would do nothing in the face of potential apocalypse, or at least one of the worst ecological and economic disasters our species has ever seen.”
Australia’s continued reliance on coal power, as demonstrated by the planned construction of 12 new power plants and the refusal to begin to phase out older stations, was another focal point. Damien Lawson from the Climate Action Centre told the crowd that Hazelwood power station in the La Trobe Valley is “the dirtiest power station in Australia… it’s an industrial dinosaur from decades and decades ago.”
Mark Ogge from Beyond Zero Emissions explained how Australia could move to renewable energy and a zero emissions society without major difficulty, and that political will is the major problem. The point was further stressed by Chris Breen from the Solar Systems Campaign who pointed out that “the same week that Solar Systems was sold, the Brumby government gave $363 million to build a new roof for the Tennis Centre.”
Friends of the Earth speakers, Dr Jim Green and Madeline Hudson, spoke against nuclear power and the proposed nuclear waste dump at Muckaty in the Northern Territory. “This decision is a politically based decision… it is not based on science, environmental or ethical considerations,” said Hudson.
The picket was celebrated as a success by the organisers and was a good first step for the newly-formed CAWG and the Melbourne climate movement in general. It was an important reponse to the recent approval of the HRL coal plant, and an important part of continuing opposition to the CPRS. The participation of the UFU in particular is important and can lay the basis for further collaboration with them and other unions. Bringing the climate movement together on the same platform as unions in crucial. The picket showed that student organisations like CAWG can play an important role in bringing these forces together.

By Pete Sowter

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