Tents up on uni lawn as students protest Fossil Fuel industry

by Shannon Schubert | @schubsymphony

Police were called to Melbourne University yesterday when student-run group Fossil Free Melbourne University blocked the entrance to the Administration office.

“The activists locked themselves to concrete-filled barrels in protest of their University’s refusal to divest from the fossil fuel industry,” Melbourne University said in a media release last night.

Due to students blocking each door of the Raymond Priestley building, faculty were unable to enter the building for work.

The group set up tents at 7am on Monday as part of the protest. They have campaigned for divestment in fossil fuels for almost three years, meeting with Allan Tait, the Vice-Principal Administration, Finance and Chief Financial Officer, a few times.

Fossil Free Uni Melb Campsite- April 2016

“We are getting in the way of university administration because they are getting in the way of our future,” said Master of Environment student and protest organsier Anastasia Gramatakos.

“We are fed up with Unimelb’s hypocrisy. How can they possibly fund the very problem that they are teaching their students to fight?” she said.

The group received media attention earlier this week when a group of students ascended the rooftop of a Melbourne University building before removing their clothes to reveal a message on their behinds and backs, “Drop your assets”.

In response to protests Melbourne University said, “The University respects the rights of students to protest as long as it occurs in a safe and respectful manner and does not disrupt other students or university operations.”

“(Wednesday’s) protest clearly disrupts university operations.”

The police arrived at 3pm, warning of besetting and trespassing charges. Kate from FFMU told Catalyst they could not be charged with trespassing unless the University asked the group to leave. Police action discontinued at 4:30pm.

The fossil free movement has gathered momentum over the last few years, with students across Australia pressuring University boards to sell off shares in fossil fuel industries.

Just last year, RMIT committed to an ethical review of its investment portfolio and reporting on its carbon footprint, after students campaigned and presented a thousand signature petition to Vice-Chancellor Martin Bean.

Melbourne University students don’t know how much of the University’s $1 billion endowment fund is invested in fossil fuels. They have tried twice to obtain this under the Freedom of Information Act.

“They tried to put like a five hundred dollar pay-wall behind it and we just decided we didn’t wanna’ pay that,” said student protester Jess.

Less than three per cent of RMIT’s $60 million endowment fund is invested in fossil fuels.

Currently, no University in Australia has fully divested from fossil fuels, Melbourne University admitted, “Over 500 institutions, representing $3.4 trillion globally, have committed to sell their investments in coal, oil and gas companies”.

This week’s protests are a part of ‘Flood the Campus’, a larger campaign including thousands of students and academics nationwide, demanding universities divest of fossil fuels.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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