Swedish student responds to NSW education minister’s threat to punish students who participate in school climate strike
— The Swedish teenager whose lone protest against climate change spurred a global youth movement has told an Australian state education minister his words “belong in a museum” after he warned students against attending an upcoming protest.
The New South Wales education minister, Rob Stokes, appeared on Sky News earlier this week, warning students and teachers against attending rallies planned across Australia for Friday 15 March, as part of the school climate strike movement.
“These are on school days, school children on school days should be at school,” Stokes said during an interview with the Sky News host Chris Kenny.
“You simply can’t strike if you don’t have a job … the law is very clear, this is a notified school day, kids should be at school.”
The Liberal MP also said if teachers did not turn up at school on the day, “then the same sanctions would apply to anyone who misses a day of work without reasonable excuse”.
The Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg, 16, responded to a tweet from Sky News paraphrasing the minister’s warning to students, saying students heard his message but “we don’t care” and that his statement “belongs in a museum”.
The deputy prime minister and Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, delivered a similar message to students about attending school instead of the protest during question time on Wednesday, when asked by the Greens MP Adam Bandt about the strike.
“The children should be in school. They should be learning about Australian history, Australian geography,” said McCormack.
“Who’s going to look out for those kids when they’re out protesting?”
Thousands of Australian students attended rallies on a day of protest around the country on 30 November 2018, demanding action on climate change.
Organisers hope a larger number of students and adults will attend the next protest in March, which will take place a week before the NSW state election and just prior to the likely start of a federal election campaign.
The November protests attracted opprobrium from some federal leaders, with the prime minister, Scott Morrison, saying he wanted to see “less activism” in schools, and the resources minister, Matt Canavan, saying the “best thing you’ll learn about going to a protest is how to join the dole queue”.
Stokes, a former NSW environment minister and vocal supporter of renewable energy, was at the time actually an isolated Coalition voice expressing sympathy for the sentiment behind the students’ climate change protest, while maintaining he did not support the strike itself.
“A passionate generation of young scholars consistently hear a wilful ignorance of scientific evidence and expert advice from many elected officials,” he told the Sydney Morning Herald in December.
It was not the first time he has taken a thinly veiled dig at some of his federal counterparts’ views on climate change. In 2017, Stokes appeared to criticise the former prime minister Tony Abbott’s stance on climate change, warning that “anti-intellectualism” on the issue risked undermining faith in Australia’s education system.
Stokes’ appearance on Sky News followed a front-page story on the News Corp-owned Daily Telegraph in Sydney on Monday, headlined ‘Pupils used as climate pawns’, that contended school students were being coached and given detailed instructions on “how to play truant, make posters and organise ‘marshals’” by “taxpayer-funded eco-worriers” from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.
Monday’s Daily Telegraph front page. pic.twitter.com/sPrWPyfvxr— ben english (@bennyglish) February 17, 2019
The AYCC said in a statement after the publication of the story it was “proud to support the School Strike 4 Climate movement with logistics to keep them safe at their march, leadership training and fielding calls from journalists during school hours.” It is also an administrator of the Facebook group School Strike for Climate Action.
Since Thunberg’s lone protest outside the Swedish parliament, student-led climate marches have been held around the world, while the teenager herself has addressed the United Nations climate conference and the World Economic Forum in Davos.
She has used her Twitter account, where she has more than 194,000 followers, to deliver blunt retorts to politicians before.
Five days ago she responded to similar criticism from Theresa May about British students missing class to attend a 15 February climate strike in the UK by saying: “British PM says that the children on school strike are ‘wasting lesson time’. That may well be the case. But then again, political leaders have wasted 30 years of inaction. And that is slightly worse.”
The NSW education minister’s office was contacted for comment.
by Josephine Tovey | The Guardian