School students living in the federal seat of Deakin showed solidarity with others around the world on March 15 when they went on strike over climate change.
School Strike 4 Climate, the Australian organiser, is a student-run group demanding that politicians and policy-makers “take our futures seriously and treat climate change for what it is – a crisis”.
Around 20,000 young people – including a contingent from Deakin schools – attended the protest outside Parliament House in Melbourne’s CBD.
At least some of Deakin’s many schools, both public and private, supported the decisions of students and their families to attend the rally. One Vermont school reported an increase in sick notes.
Their action was carried out in defiance of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, who both deplored the strike.
Aaron Sykes, the principal of Melba College, a government co-ed school in Croydon, said more students would have attended had the march not been held during school hours.
Global public concern about climate change has been on the rise, with the proportion of those anxious about its potential environmental threat increasing from 56 per cent to 67 per cent since 2013.
This increase is cited in a recent study by the US-based Pew Research Center. Anxieties are also spreading in Australia, parts of which broke their maximum-temperature records in January, according to the Bureau of Meteorology.
The heat has also been felt in Deakin.
The average temperature in the eastern-suburbs electorate has increased by 2°C since 1970 – higher than the global average, says Monash University climate scientist Dr Ailie Gallant in a recent publication.
Inquiries among schools and small businesses around Deakin have revealed that residents and families alike have a strong social consciousness when it comes to the environment.
Employees at The Coffee Apple, a children’s toy store in Ringwood East, shared their concerns on the importance of recycling and said they would welcome more sustainability programs.
One citizen, Sarah – a former chemical engineer in the oil and gas industry – criticised the Federal Government for the inadequacy of its energy policy.
This is in light of the government scrapping the National Energy Guarantee last August.
The Government’s current energy policy is geared towards lowering prices and supporting businesses and consumers, even as it insists it is on track to meet Australia’s 2030 emissions target under the Paris climate accord.
As well as the environment, Deakin voters have also been vocal in criticising what they label unsafe roads.
A Mitcham resident, Talany, said it was “always so dark walking home”, a complaint echoed in many other parts of the electorate such as Nunawading and Heathmont.
Over 40 accidents have occurred on unlit roads in Deakin during the past five years, according to VicRoads. In many cases, vehicles struck pedestrians crossing the road.
On another prominent issue, traffic congestion, both Whitehorse and Maroondah city councils support a vigorous program of roadworks, including construction of the contentious East West Link.
The Mayor of Maroondah, Cr Rob Steane, said the project had stalled because of a deadlock between the Federal Government, which supported it, and the State Government, which didn’t.
The sitting member for Deakin, Liberal Michael Sukkar, was involved in last year’s ousting of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Shortly afterwards, a poll showed his electoral support trailing Labor’s 47-53 per cent.
But this doesn’t necessarily mean he will lose. Local residents say they are pleased by his attendance at local events and sporting fixtures, as well as his support for better community services.
The seat has been one of the most marginal in Victoria since its creation in 1937, yet anti-Liberal parties have held it for only three terms in all that time.
To overthrow Sukkar would require a swing against him of more than 6 per cent.
But, with that 47-53 per cent outcome mirrored in a statewide poll, the eastern ‘jewel’ of Deakin may at last be losing its Liberal lustre.