Prime minister Scott Morrison has been said by Greens MP, Adam Bandt, to be out of touch over his angry condemnation of a nationwide student strike protesting government inaction on climate change. Adam Bandt might not be the most suitable person to say what is right and what is wrong in Australian politics, but on this occasion I think he got it in one.
“Each day, I send my kids to school,” Morrison told parliament. “I do not support our schools being turned into parliaments. What I want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.”
The prime minister wants children to stay in class and not join a worldwide protest about things that “… can be dealt with outside school”.
His was an angry reaction to Adam Bandt, federal member for the seat of Melbourne, who raised the matter of the protest known as ‘The Big School Walk Out For Climate Change’ during Monday’s question time. Bandt told the house he had met with many of the children and believed they were on the right track.
“Unbelievably [the prime minister] is seriously out of touch with young people in Australia and around the world.”
He continued, “Students want a leader, someone to protect their future, but all they got was a hectoring, an ungenerous and condescending rebuke from a man even worse than Tony Abbott.”
In response, Morrison said climate change is a very real and serious issue that demands attention, and that his government is acting on climate change with initiatives such as the emissions reduction fund and the renewable energy target.
“We are committed to these things,” the prime minister said. “But I will also tell you what we are committed to — kids should go to school.”
There seems to have been a seismic shift in this regard compared to the way we, at school nearly 70 years ago, dealt with what was then a serious matter for Australia and its people. The Menzies government passed laws that changed the constitution, allowing the Communist Party to be banned in Australia. Following an appeal to the High Court, which found the ban unconstitutional, a referendum was set for September 22, 1951.
As high school students, we were allowed — even prodded — to attend meetings to hear both sides of the argument. Beyond that, we even established a series of debates about the pros and cons of allowing free choice in political beliefs and party membership. Because nobody else was terribly keen on taking the role, I led the argument in favour of allowing retention of the Communist Party — despite a lifelong dislike of extremism in politics.
By common agreement, I managed to win the debate, something paralleled by the subsequent referendum, but it was a close-run thing. The outcome was 50.56 per cent in favour of the Communist Party, 49.44 per cent against.
While it wasn’t exactly a student strike in which we were engaged, it was extra-curricular, albeit with the agreement of school, teachers and, surprisingly, our local conservative member. Obviously then, from that earlier experience and through familial belief, I believe today’s students have every right to go ahead with the strike action they plan. What is the alternative? Surely not, as Liberal senator Eric Abetz says, “There is a better way. Write to a politician.”
I think not.