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Adjournment Speech: Climate Change

Speeches in Parliament
Lee Rhiannon 19 Apr 2016

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (22:02): Tonight I spoke to members of Fossil Free UNSW. They answered my phone call from the UNSW council chambers in the university's chancellery. They are occupying that section of the university. I congratulate these students. They are taking the action that MPs in this parliament should be giving leadership on.

Our planet is overheating, and coal is a key culprit. In Australia coal is the key problem. We know that around the world fossil fuels are driving climate change at an incredibly fast rate. Back in this parliament we see Liberal, National and Labor MPs taking fuel donations. They are approving coalmines. They are inviting representatives of these companies to their fundraisers, and too often MPs of those parties are then taking jobs in the fossil fuel industry. The relationship is insidious, particularly when we consider the consequences of climate change that are already rolling out.

But the people's fight-back is inspiring. I would like to share with you what the students occupying the UNSW chancellery have said. In their official statement they say:

'UNSW must choose our future over the fossil fuel industry. I pledge to take bold action if UNSW does not commit to divest by 15th April 2016.'
That is why a number of these students are occupying the building as we speak. Their occupation has gone on for more than 36 hours. They say-

Our movement is escalating. Students and staff at UNSW are part of a national campaign to move Vice-Chancellors to make the right decision and dump their fossil fuel investments.
UNSW is actually my old university, and I was on the council for a period, so I know the room where they are. I do urge the Vice-Chancellor, Ian Jacobs, to meet with the students and to work with them to achieve the divestment-to be on the right side of driving action on the critical issue of climate change. It surely should be his priority.

This action at the UNSW is part of national and international actions that are happening at campuses around the world. It is called Flood the Campus in Australia, and they are calling for a divestment from coal, oil and gas. In Queensland, the University of Queensland's chancellery was occupied yesterday, and I understand that the vice-chancellor there agreed to talk to students about divestments. Already at the Australian National University and Monash University there have been partial divestments. Again, I congratulation students and staff who have taken such important action.

As I said, this is rolling out around the world. I understand that there are over 60 universities who have moved to divest-some of them are the Edinburgh, California, Oxford, Glasgow and Stanford universities-again as a result of people coming together and putting pressure on the senior management at those universities. Right now I understand that many universities around the world are taking action in solidarity. I have spoken of some here. Overseas I understand that New York, Colombia and Harvard universities are taking this action.

It is significant that in a few days time countries will sign the Paris Agreement to ensure that our temperature does not rise to the dangerous levels that have been predicted if nothing is done. While there were many aspects that were unsatisfactory about the Paris Agreement-it did not take the fossil fuel industry on, as it should have-it is still a warning to the fossil fuel industry that its time has come. Yes, this industry has made a great contribution to our societies and our economies over many decades, but we now know the problem. We know there is another way. That is why these students-as students have done over many decades, over centuries-are again leading the most important movement that we have today.


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