• Secretary's update

Every Student Podcast Daisy Jeffrey

20 April 2020

Student, climate activist and author Daisy Jeffrey joins Mark Scott to discuss the lessons she's learning on her journey to make an impact.

Transcript

Mark Scott

Hi, I'm Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education. Welcome to Every Student, the podcast where I get to introduce you to some of our great leaders in education. Appropriately today, and for the first time, we are talking with a student for our interview. Today I am talking to Daisy Jeffrey, who is a young woman on a mission to save her generation from climate change. Daisy is a Year 12 student at Sydney’s Conservatorium High School and today we're going to talk about her journey, her life at the Con but also the importance of student voice. Welcome Daisy, tell us a bit about yourself. You're in Year 12 at the Conservatorium.

Daisy Jeffrey

Yeah, I'm in Year 12, I am also a climate activist and I play cello, I am seventeen and that is all there is to it.

Mark Scott

There's quite a bit to it. We will get into a bit of detail on it. You don’t get into the Conservatorium unless you are pretty good at the cello, how long have you been playing the cello for?

Daisy Jeffrey

Coming up to ten years now, I have had such an incredible experience, a big shout out to the Arts Unit, I wouldn’t be where I am without the Arts Unit, without the lessons in ensemble playing and without the incredible tutelage that I had the great opportunity to receive there.

Mark Scott

Let's talk a bit more about your educational experience. You're at the Con, are there teachers that have inspired you along the way and how have they done that?

Daisy Jeffrey

Yes, there are teachers who inspire me by encouraging me to push higher. We are really lucky to have small classes at the Con which allow teachers to spend more time on the individual student. Particular teachers that have inspired me are my Modern History teacher Mr Owens and my English teacher Miss Garnsey really are great, really amazing teachers.

Mark Scott

One of the reasons we are talking with you today and one of the reasons you have generated quite a lot of attention is because of your leadership around climate change and climate change is an issue and we will explore that in a little bit of depth. There has been this interesting debate around coverage of the climate issue, student protests and the like around student voice and the importance and the role of student voice in these matters of great public discourse and these matters of great public change. Some would say “you're not even voting yet nor paying many taxes” – why is it important to be listening to student voice now?

Daisy Jeffrey

Because we thought our generation would be the first really affected by climate change but we're actually seeing the current generations across Australia and across the globe experiencing the effects of a changing climate, a rapidly changing climate. For young people, we're looking forward to the rest of our lives and what we're doing now particularly as we grow up and we leave school or we go onto uni we are really thinking about the world that we want to live and what kind of world do we want to leave for our kids. For us we don’t really have a choice we have to be out on the streets, we have to use our voice because currently no-one else is doing it for us and we're not seeing leadership take adequate action to address this ever-changing climate.

Mark Scott

When you say no-one is doing it for you are you concerned that those who are advocating for stronger action on climate change do not reflect the interests of young people who do not talk about the interests of young people enough?

Daisy Jeffrey

When you're talking about people who are advocating are you talking about people within politics?

Mark Scott

I am saying as I heard you there you said we have to speak up because no-one is really speaking for us. I am interested whether your read of politics as it is currently being played and politics is played by adult politicians is not really reflecting the interests or the demands of the voice of young people.

Daisy Jeffrey

I won’t mince words I think it's appalling. In Federal Parliament, there is a reason that some people call it “capital kindy”, the amount of debating and just the petty arguments that go on surrounding personal political gain or just complete denialism when it comes to the science I think is ridiculous. I think it presents a false two-sided debate that is only elevated by part of the media. That's really problematic where we're relying on personal bias and religious beliefs to determine where we go on climate which is a really worrying thing for young people but just also for general society.

Mark Scott

As you have got into this to what extent have you found yourself in a sense reading and studying and thinking and debating yourself around some of the complex public policy issues that underpin all of this?

Daisy Jeffrey

I have learnt an incredible amount just being in the climate movement outside of school it has been a really amazing experience so when I came into the movement on 30 November 2018 all I wanted was action on the science, I wanted climate action and now what I am demanding is climate justice and those two things are different, they're not mutually exclusive but the difference is that climate action frames climate change as a purely scientific issue whereas climate justice frames climate change as a social and political and ethical issue. For me and that change came from talking to First Nations activists, from across the globe talking to people who live in the global south. When I talk about the global south what I am referring to is essentially developing nations. My friend Vanessa she lives in Uganda and she said that peoples' voices across the African continent are just not being heard. For people like me, the climate movement can often come across as quite “white-centric”. When I say “white-centric” it is because the media tends to essentially white-wash our movement and it elevates the voices of white inner-city women such as myself, such as Greta Thunberg who has been amazing, she has been a catalyst for the climate movement. For me what is really important for me to use my privilege to do is to advocate and elevate these voices that would not be heard otherwise.

Mark Scott

The climate debate in Australia focuses a lot on coal, the coal industry, the jobs of coal miners. Your grandfather worked in the coal industry how has that influenced the way you think through and reflect on the impact of these issues on families and communities and individual people?

Daisy Jeffrey

My granddad came out from the UK in the late 70s with my Hungarian grandmother and my dad, his sister and my granddad’s two step-kids. He'd worked around the world to make coal mines safer and so when he was made redundant his experience, his identity suddenly meant nothing. He was following a pretty dramatic divorce now a single father providing for two kids. For me, I have heard stories from my dad but also from my granddad. My granddad had dementia so when I was in Year 4 and 5 we used to sit down on our sofa at home and he would tell me the same story over and over again. Stories about his time down in the mines and so for him even to the end to still be talking about something he hadn’t done for over thirty years really spoke to me about just how important it was to him and it just had been his livelihood.

For me when we talk about moving from fossil fuels to renewable energy a just transition is incredibly important. I should probably explain what a just transition is because most people don’t know. Essentially it is providing a safe pathway and there are multiple pathways for workers out of the fossil fuel industry and into alternative industries. It is not an easy process, it is not going to leave everyone happy, it is going to be expensive.

I don’t want to sugar coat but the thing is we do need to transition from the fossil fuel industry and what we are seeing right now is that neither major party are actually bringing a just transition policy to the table and that is something that I have talked to the unions about, I have talked to other activists groups about and there is this rift between workers in the fossil fuel industry and the climate movement because of this miscommunication that has taken place.

On both sides are good intentions, there are people who just want to keep food on the table and they want to have a job and they want to keep their identity and some people in the fossil fuel industry are wanting to move from coal, they are not wanting to move from coal but they know we need to move from coal, gas and oil.

There are people on the climate movement who also know that we need to move to renewable energy and so it is about building a bridge over that hostility and finding a way forward together.

Mark Scott

There have always been issues that have caused concern for young people, there has always been in a sense student protestors. It's one thing to protest and join a movement, it is another thing to get to leadership of that movement and for a student at a Sydney high school to be attending international forums and meeting global leaders around this.

Let's explore a little bit about your journey through the climate change movement. You named the date earlier where it started. How did you begin to get involved?

Daisy Jeffrey

I sent a message over Facebook, I sent a message to the school strike Facebook group and I was really desperate to get involved. I heard about the strike about a week before it happened and I got up at the assembly, I mentioned it, I brought a sign-up sheet around my school, I got kids involved. On the day we walked up to Martin Place and we turned the corner and it was the most incredible thing I had ever seen. A bunch of uniforms, kids, really optimistic sweaty, disgusting teenagers together. Of course in schools, you are always going to have the social hierarchies or whatever, but in that moment and in that couple of hours it was all gone, people were standing together in solidarity because they knew and know that we need action on climate. It really inspired me to get more involved. Ever since I have been working my butt off to help the cause, working with students as well as learning different ways of diplomacy particularly in terms of establishing myself in a room full of adults and different audiences. It has been really incredible but we have still got so far to go and sometimes that is a really difficult thing to face the fact that we are still so far from adequate action on climate.

Mark Scott

You ended up in Madrid at the UN Climate Change Conference with a hundred other student climate activists, tell us about that experience.

Daisy Jeffrey

It was absolutely incredible. I was fortunate enough to be offered a place at the conference about three weeks before it happened. I was lucky enough to travel over to Madrid and meet these incredible scientists, top climate scientists in the world. These amazing kids in the School Strike Movement who'd put school on hold, put their education on hold, we are still learning so much but just in a different environment to really see international politics in action which I have to say I was bitterly disappointed by. We were there to witness the world come together and try to actually come to an agreement on what to do in terms of climate action and climate justice and essentially from the young people's perspective and in a sense we had indigenous people and young people where essentially people wanted to shut us out of the conference.

Mark Scott

Why was that do you think?

Daisy Jeffrey

Because we're troublemakers. We want to make our voice heard. For indigenous people particularly western eurocentric almost colonialist perspective on things, it makes some people feel that they have the right to shut out indigenous voices when indigenous people have been on their land for tens of thousands of years particularly here in Australia we just saw with the fires that people are now looking to indigenous Australians for their cultural backburning. To shut out those voices as well as the people who are going to live in the world that the adults are leaving for us I think was a really dangerous thing to do and it was quite scary and it was very disappointing for us. For us, we left that conference absolutely gutted.

Coming back to Australia it was very hard for us to feel any hope because these countries had not come to an agreement. It was richer countries bullying poorer countries. I don’t know whether I am allowed to say this on this interview but Australia essentially tried to get out of taking action on climate by using the Kyoto credits basically carry over a lack of action. There was a lot of talk about carbon neutrality which is essentially different countries may work really hard to go carbon negative whereas say Australia could potentially keep omitting the same amount of carbon that it always has been. Carbon neutral doesn’t mean zero carbon it just means that we're burning the same amount that we are right now in the future.

Mark Scott

You mentioned the word “hope” and how it was hard to come back full of hope after that somewhat bruising experience in the global political stage. You have been thinking a bit about hope, in fact, you have got a book coming out in April, part of the "On" series published by Hachette now and your title is called On Hope.

Tell us what we can expect when we read that.

Daisy Jeffrey

You can expect a bit of an exploration of the climate movement as well as young peoples voice and what that means. Also particularly the word hope and what that means to young people and what it means when people say that word to us.

Mark Scott

People do say that, they say “great seeing all those young student protestors that gives us hope”. How do you feel when someone says that you give us hope?

Daisy Jeffrey

It really annoys me. I used to appreciate it.

Mark Scott

Why does it annoy you now?

Daisy Jeffrey

It annoys me because you can tell a young person that they give you hope and adults tell us that young people give them hope, that we're going to lead the change but the reality is that we are still in school, most of us can’t vote.

Mark Scott

Do you feel it is like a “buck-passing”?

Daisy Jeffrey

Yeah almost and what we really need is hope is a useless little four-letter word unless accompanied by action so what we need is for adults to add their voice to now and apply their intellect and their courage and we need people to stand with us because unless we build this movement to include people of all ages, of all backgrounds we are not going to get the action that we desperately need to see.

Mark Scott

Do you think seeing all those school students out on the street has had an impact on the climate change debate and discourse in Australia or just the sheer impact of the volume of students and the passionate engagement shown?

Daisy Jeffrey

I think the youth climate movement has been a catalyst in re-orienting the conversation around climate change. I think it's been really incredible to see school students we are used to seeing uni students go out onto the streets to challenge injustice not so much school students.

To see young people particularly with the last strike on September 20th to actually see people of all ages join us at that strike was a real sign that this movement is just going to keep building. However, we are still not seeing the action that we need to see and over the summer holidays with the bushfire crisis and the rain has provided a brief much-needed relief but also cause some serious flooding and this crazy drought and weather that we are experiencing I think has done a lot to reorient peoples' thinking around climate.

Mark Scott

The way I look at it if you go back a decade or more when before you had even started school at the time of the last big drought in Australia the Al Gore movie there was a lot of interest but then things moved on and the debate moved on to a degree but certainly, the galvanizing effect of the summer fires, floods, droughts, extreme on the back of I think last year and the attention that has come through last year it's clearly an issue that a lot of people are talking about now.

Talking about youth leadership and youth voices we can’t let this conversation without talking about Greta Thunberg and her leadership. You came across her at the Global Conference reflect on that experience but also reflect on her leadership role and what she stands for and what she's achieved.

Daisy Jeffrey

I think she is amazing. She is also just a young woman, a young girl who is trying to change the world. She didn’t ask to be the face of the climate movement, in fact, I don’t think she really likes it but she has taken on that burden because she doesn’t have any other choice.

She is constantly mobbed by journalists.

Mark Scott

She's a big global figure now.

Daisy Jeffrey

She is a big global figure and I think that really happened at the New York UN Climate Conference last year. Meeting her was an incredible experience and she is awesome but I just get the sense that she is really tired and it feels sometimes like the world is pushing down on her.

When we were at the conference she kept trying to elevate other voices. She would go to a press conference and she would bring voices from the global south that wouldn’t necessarily be heard to try and elevate those voices and get those stories out into the world.

The media, Greta would say three words and everyone would tell these absolutely phenomenal horrific stories and then you would look at the newspapers or the online article the next day and the only three words that you would see would be from Greta. There was one press conference where Greta admonished the media for how they had been reporting on her instead of the other activists and then everyone else told their story and the next day the only thing they reported was her.

Mark Scott

You look at that and you look at media coverage of that and you look at media coverage of these kinds of events in Australia does it wear you down? How do you keep your confidence and optimism? You've got a determination for change do you find having to rally yourself to be optimistic for change and having hope yourself that indeed we can come to terms with some of these intractable issues.

Daisy Jeffrey

It is difficult to have hope all the time but I find hope in the other kids who are part of the climate movement I think we all help each other and I think the idea that we're all working towards this. When someone new joins the movement or not necessarily joins the movement but publicly says is advocating for action on climate that gives me hope the fact that people are still joining this movement. The fact that we have it is very easy to dismiss the idea of something particularly climate change from your mind when you're not directly being affected by it. If you, in this moment right now, are safe and you are not feeling the impacts it is very easy to just dismiss it whereas I think over this summer because so much of Australia was drastically affected by the multiple crises that we have had but particularly the bushfires we are now seeing Australians stand up and say actually no we really do need action.

Mark Scott

I've been reflecting that is what will make this year interesting. Even last weekend I felt around Sydney was the first weekend we had in summer with blue sky, it was warm, there was no smoke in the air, the rain had fallen, the dams are full around Sydney again and you just wondered whether in fact with those visible signs of the earth under stress moving away whether peoples attention of the issue moves away or not or whether, in fact, this summer proved to be the summer that really changed the discourse and the engagement, I suspect time will tell us that.

Talking about the year ahead it is a big year for you. Every parent, every adult would say to you Daisy it's your HSC year and it is all ahead of you how do you juggle this kind of passion, commitment and the important work that you are doing within a sense that responsibility that the HSC and you have got to give that a great crack as well? How are you juggling all that?

Daisy Jeffrey

I'll be honest it is impossible. It suddenly feels that way. However, having said that I've got HSC and I have activism. I know some kids have HSC and 20 hours of sport every week.

Mark Scott

Or Facebook?

Daisy Jeffrey

Yes, I had to put restrictions on my social media and all that sort of thing to help myself stay on track but I think it's really about trying to find a balance. For me, there is some more nitty-gritty logistic things that I have stepped back from this year because there are so many kids in the climate movement who are amazing and capable of taking those tasks on and I just simply don’t have the time. I do want to do well in my HSC however I also have to keep advocating for climate justice. I am still navigating that. I am in my fourth week of school right now so I am still trying to manage as time goes on.

Mark Scott

What about afterwards? Everyone asks every HSC student this question. You get through the HSC, you do wonderfully well, then what opens up for you? Do you have thoughts about that?

Daisy Jeffrey

I feel like this happens kids are treated like they're babies up until they're sixteen, you don’t know what you are talking about, you don’t know what the world wants from you. The moment we turn sixteen everyone is like what do you want to do for the rest of your life?

My only really clear picture is that I want to help people so whether I do a Bachelor of Arts in Politics/Economics/Philosophy at uni, whether I take a gap year it's all on the cards. The one really clear picture in my mind is that I need to help people. However I can do that is what I will have to figure out over the next few months, couple of years.

Mark Scott

Daisy Jeffrey, student leader, activist, author, HSC student, thanks for joining us today on the Every Student Podcast.

Daisy Jeffrey

Thanks for having me.

Mark Scott

Thank you for listening to this episode of every student. Never miss an episode by subscribing on your podcast platform of choice or by heading to our website at education.nsw.gov.au/every-student-podcast or if you know someone who is a remarkable innovative educator who we could all learn from you can get in touch with us via Twitter at NSW Education on Facebook or email everystudentpodcast@det.nsw.edu.au. Thanks again and I will catch you next time.

End of transcript.

Mark Scott

About the Secretary

Mark Scott is Secretary of the Department of Education. He has worked as a teacher, in public administration and as a journalist and media executive. He is committed to public education and learning environments where every child can flourish.

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