DOCTORS, nurses and other health professionals rallied outside Kooragang coal terminal to protest about the lack of government action on climate change and in solidarity with activists staging events in Newcastle for the past week.
Health on the Frontline is “deeply alarmed by the lack of political leadership in Australia on climate change mitigation and the transition to renewable energy”, spokesperson Dr Sujata Allan said after health professionals travelled from as far as Brisbane to support the rally.
Renewable energy such as solar and wind were “the very strategies Australia needs to minimize the climate change health crisis”, she said.
“Climate change is recognized by medical organisations worldwide as a serious threat to public health. By rallying at the Kooragang coal terminal, part of the largest coal port in the world, Health on the Frontline joins a global call for greater awareness about this public health emergency.
“The public debate so far has been about the politics of climate change and energy. We’re rallying to try and bring it back to health and reorientate the conversation.”
Climate change and the air pollution from coal mines and coal-fired power stations were a serious public health threat, she said.
The Health on the Frontline rally was separate to other protests in Newcastle over the past week organised by Front Line Action on Coal, and leading to the arrest of protesters.
But health professionals were in solidarity with protesters about the need for public action.
“The reason people are taking such drastic action as protesting and risking arrest is the level of frustration at years of government inaction on climate change, culminating in the scrapping of the National Energy Guarantee,” Dr Allan said.
“It’s a response to the complete lack of political will to address the issue. Politicians have been looking like they’re acting on climate change but it’s been clearer and clearer there’s no real will to act.”
The significance of Newcastle in the climate change debate as the world’s largest coal port “doesn’t seem to be acknowledged”, Dr Allan said.
“The coal leaves the port and the attitude is, that’s other countries’ problem because they’re the ones burning it. We’re a very rich country but we just seem to be not acting as a responsible global citizen.
”Our government needs to take responsibility for the effects of burning that coal. We know that over 80 per cent of coal reserves need to remain in the ground to avoid runaway climate change and we know that we need to drive down domestic emissions to net zero. However there is a complete lack of leadership in this direction.
“We also know that the elderly, children, chronically ill, and most disadvantaged people in our communities will be hardest hit by the impacts of climate change, such as heatwaves and extreme weather events.
“What will it take for our leaders to wake up to the fact the climate change is a public health emergency, and finally take action to transition Australia away from fossil fuels?”
Health on the Frontline said the impact of coal mining, transporting and burning on Hunter communities was a major concern.
“There are clear public health benefits to reducing our reliance on coal,” Dr Allan said.