Defeated Climate Campaigners Lick Their Lost Election Wounds
Did environmental groups fail to read public sentiment? And did they, in fact, help Australia’s Coalition Govt to victory?
Like many Australians, green groups were surprised by the federal election result.
The Climate Council, Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society all invested significant resources in the weeks leading up to the May 18 poll.
Underlying much of their campaigning was the belief that the majority of voters wanted stronger climate action.
But the results did not seem to bear that out.
Did environmental groups fail to read public sentiment? And did they, in fact, help the Coalition to victory?
‘Lecturing people in the community’
Former Greens leader Bob Brown led the now-infamous Stop Adani Convoy from Hobart, through Melbourne and Sydney, right into Central Queensland.
It was the epitome of what some describe as trying to “drive change from out of town”.
One of Australia’s leading social researchers, Rebecca Huntley, said the Stop Adani Convoy strategy was bound to fail.
“People from outside the area coming in — that just pisses people off,” said Dr Huntley, who heads up Vox Populi Research.
Paul Williams is a senior lecturer in politics at Griffith University in Queensland and is one of the country’s foremost experts on elections in that state.
He said the Stop Adani Convoy probably cost Labor at least “tens of thousands of votes” in Queensland, if not “hundreds of thousands”.
“That doesn’t mean the Queenslanders are in love with Adani — they’re not,” said Dr Williams.
“Adani became totemic — it was a totem for development and for blue-collar job creation.”
Here’s what we know — and still don’t know — about Adani’s Carmichael coal mine project in central Queensland.
The chief of Farmers for Climate Action grew up farming in Western Australia and now spends her time campaigning and organising all around the country, including in rural Queensland.
But she agreed the convoy was counterproductive.
“I think the polls would reflect how successful that strategy was,” she said. “It’s very hard to drive change from out of town.”
Many in the Coalition have also credited the Stop Adani Convoy for helping them win seats in Queensland.
Ms Morgan-Schmidt said the strength of any social movement “comes from within and from being part of that community”.
“We need to really talk and connect with people where they are,” she said.
Kelly O’Shanassy, chief of the Australian Conservation Foundation, agreed one lesson from the election was that environmental groups needed to do more local organising.
“I think that change — when you’re talking about change in a specific community — needs to be done within that community,” said Ms O’Shanassy.
The Climate Council’s Amanda McKenzie said the Stop Adani Convoy was a mistake, and her movement needed to convince people that their community could benefit from the change they were calling for.
“We are advocating for substantive changes across the economy in all sectors. So you need to do a lot of work in bringing people along,” she said.
Green movement criticising Labor policy
Throughout the campaign, Labor walked an uncomfortable line on Adani. It tried not to openly support its proposed coal mine but also insisted it would not stand in its way.
But on many other issues, the environmental movement did not entirely embrace Labor’s plans either.
Less than two weeks from polling day, Labor announced a radical plan to establish a new Environmental Protection Authority and rewrite federal environment laws.