Canberra's climate change failure

Issue 

The federal senate was bogged down in debate about Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) in the last week of November. The proposed scheme, already condemned by most environmental NGO's and climate action groups as a sham, was "browned down" even more after the Rudd government accepted a series of Liberal Party amendments.

The dirty deal has led to a change in the position of the Australian Conservation Foundation, which had backed the flawed CPRS since May. On November 25, the ACF said the CPRS "deal is an inadequate response to climate change and will hold back Australia's transition to a clean economy".

ACF executive director Don Henry said: "ACF is disappointed with this package and thinks the Senate should not pass it unless it is significantly strengthened."

In contrast, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), another prominent backer of the carbon trading scheme, has maintained its support. On November 25, it said the watered-down CPRS "must be passed as soon as possible".

Barry Healy, a community climate change activist and Socialist Alliance member, took part in a lobbying action in Canberra on November 16, which was jointly organised by Get Up, the ACTU's Union Climate Connectors and the ACF.

He spoke with Green Left Weekly's Alex Bainbridge about the experience.

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How did you come to be involved in this activity?

I volunteered as a Union Climate Connector (UCC) a few months ago, when I first received an email from the ACTU.

Then, around the end of October, an email came inviting volunteers to go to Canberra to talk with politicians about climate change. We were asked to give reasons why we should be chosen to go. I presented my activities as a grassroots climate campaigner.

I was really happy when I was chosen, but on November 13 an email came around with the "key messages" that we volunteers were supposed to convey, which included "strengthening the CPRS".

How did you feel about that?

Less than happy. Like all the rest of the community-based climate movement I totally oppose the CPRS as a phony response to climate change. So, I assumed there would be a fight about this in Canberra when the volunteers received their training as lobbyists on November 15.

As it turned out, I needn't have worried.

About 30 volunteers came from all around the country. They were from the Climate Project, Get Up community activists and UCC. The organisers were mostly from Get Up, with at least one ACTU representative and some ACF representatives.

We were trained to rapidly present our personal stories about why we were active about climate change in about one minute. Then we were trained in how to put the "asks" to the politicians and try to get a commitment from them.

What did the 'asks' consist of?

Getting the politician to say publicly that they support clean energy jobs, a strengthening of the CPRS and for the politician to mention in parliament that we had visited them.

During the discussion period in the main group I put my hand up to say I opposed the CPRS, but didn't get the call. But when I got together with the other people in my lobbying team, I discovered the majority of them were as opposed to the CPRS as I was!

When it came to the day, we never really got a chance to do the "asks" anyway. Nearly all the politicians talked straight over the top of us.

What were your overall impressions of the lobbying drive?

Well, something a Get Up person let slip when I mentioned the rumour I'd heard in the corridors of a Liberal conscience vote on the CPRS was that the majority of the ALP caucus are against it as well but are being held in line by intense ALP machine pressure.

That spoke volumes. I believe many politicians know there is a climate emergency, but won't say so publicly.

Doesn't that mean lobbying is useless?

I strongly believe in democracy and I don't think that our present constitutional structures are democratic enough. .

But while I have no illusions in lobbying politicians, I believe that if we have to engage with what exists, while working to change it.

The take-home message I got from Canberra is that without a mass movement for stopping climate change, our political leaders will avoid the truth and do nothing.