O-Week Climate Event Cancelled After Student Outcry
By Rebecca Zhong
‘Climate Sessions Vol. 1’, scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, was cancelled at the last minute after students objected to the inclusion of a speaker from Sustainable Population Australia (SPA), Jenny Goldie. ‘Climate Sessions Vol. 2’ went ahead as planned on Thursday afternoon.
Observer understands that the decision to remove Goldie was made on Tuesday morning, after Environment Officer Grace Hill had posted a statement to the Environment Collective Facebook page condemning the decision to include Goldie in the event late on Monday night. Hill updated the post around 9 AM on the following day, stating that she had been informed that Goldie would no longer be appearing at the event.
Jenny Goldie is the former National President of SPA, and the organisation’s current Vice President. On its website, SPA is described as a “non-partisan, special advocacy group” with an objective of “[encouraging] informed public debate about how Australia and the world can achieve an ecologically, socially and economically sustainable population”.
In the Environment Collective Facebook post, Hill expressed her opposition to “the anti-immigration position of SPA”, and was critical of the organisation’s activities in “promoting the idea that population is the driver of environmental degradation”. In relation to refugees and Australian immigration policy, “[SPA’s] arguments lead to racially discriminatory conclusions,” Hill wrote. She said she believes that, although SPA was “not part of the political right … the right and far-right in Australia have a history of piggybacking on populationist politics espoused by groups like SPA.” One such “piggybacking” group, according to Hill, was Australians Against Further Immigration (AAFI). Hill asserts that “the presence of people is not inherently destructive to the environment”, but rather that it is the way that society is structured – “according to the logic of profit” – that is the problem.
In a press release, SPA claims that Hill’s post was defamatory to both Goldie and SPA. In a statement to Observer, Goldie said that “SPA rejects all accusations of scapegoating refugees and immigrants.” SPA said that it recognised the topic of population “remains controversial for some,” but argued that it “remains a legitimate concern for many in the environmental movement and … requires ongoing discourse and round table discussion.”
SPA also asserts that it “has distanced itself from AAFI due to the fact that AAFI presented as anti-immigrant, which SPA is not.” According to Goldie, the predecessor group for SPA “dissociated itself” from AAFI due to the divergence in the groups’ agendas. SPA also claims it “has demonstrated an enviable track record of working with a diverse multicultural demographic.”
The event was cancelled on Facebook at around midday on Tuesday, less than two hours prior to its planned start. According to an SPA statement to Observer, Goldie was invited to the event in mid-January, and an O-Week organiser had contacted her by email on Tuesday morning to cancel the appearance. However, she only learnt of this decision, and the decision to cancel the event entirely, shortly before the session was to take place.
The event was not organised by ANUSA, but rather by Chris Warren, a member of Climate Action Canberra who was also scheduled to speak. According to ANUSA President Lachy Day, ANUSA was approached by CAC, which is a group external to the University, with an offer to run the sessions. The sessions were advertised as “ANUSA’s Climate Sessions”, with no mention of an external organiser. Warren told Observer that he had discussed the decision to cancel with Day, who allegedly refused his request for both sessions to go ahead. When asked if ANUSA had overseen or approved the list of speakers, Warren said that he was “not sure whether ANUSA ‘approved’, but they accepted our suggestion.” Hill told Observer that, as Environment Officer, she was at no point involved in the organisation of the event or consulted about the list of speakers.
Day confirmed that the event was cancelled by the O-Week team on Tuesday, but denied that any decision was made to remove individual speakers. He told Observer that “some statements [that] have been made on social media about this … is incorrect”. Day defended the decision to cancel the event, stating that “ANUSA believes cancelling the event was the right decision and in the best interest of students.”
According to the now-removed event page, the Climate Session was intended to allow students to hear experts “break down the basics of climate change, from its impact on the environment to population aspects.” Other speakers who had been slated to present on Tuesday were Helen Oakey from Conservation Council ACT, and Professor Sotiris Vardoulakis from the ANU National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health. Both Oakey and Vardoulakis presented at Thursday’s event instead, alongside Anna Herring from the ANU Department of Applied Mathematics, and Tom Swann from the Australia Institute.
Warren told Observer that he believes that the event was also “disrupted” by the wrong date being advertised by ANUSA, and that the audience that attended the second event was “much reduced” from what he anticipated. He stated that ANUSA has indicated that a catch-up session may be possible, although nothing has currently been confirmed.
Contributing reporting by Adelle Millhouse
An earlier version of this article misstated the time that Environment Officer Grace Hill updated her Facebook post
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