A reflection on the event based on conversations with panelists and attendees.

On Monday evening the 7th of July, around 150 people attended the first Federal Election and Climate Change forum hosted by the member for South Brisbane and Deputy Premier, Jackie Trad.

Two weeks after the 2019 Federal Election Ms Trad posted her analysis of the outcome on Facebook. It centred, she wrote, “around two issues I care deeply about – action on climate change and opportunity and prosperity through work.”

She lamented an election outcome that could “halt national momentum for serious action on climate change”. And she admitted that the Labor Party, “didn’t convince coal dependent communities that we were as serious about protecting their jobs as we were about climate change”.

The Election result in Terri Butler’s electorate of Griffith must also be of concern to Ms Trad because with a State Election only a year away, several of the Griffith booths that sit within Ms Trad’s South Brisbane electorate saw significant swings to the Greens, and the key debate between the two parties centres on climate change and Adani.

The Forum

Ms Trad followed her Facebook post with an invitation to her electorate to participate in a panel discussion on climate change with a range of experts.

“Since the election, many residents have asked me how we take action on climate change without marginalising the regions, and how we foster an understanding between the South East and the rest of Queensland,” she wrote.

In an email to attendees in the week leading up to the forum, Ms Trad recognised the frustration in the community about lack of action on climate change.

“I know there will be many attending who are frustrated and angry about many things climate related, including the lack of national action on climate change and the Carmichael Mine.”

Audience Expectations

It’s hard to describe the mood on the night. People I spoke to came with different expectations, some left satisfied, others disappointed.

Some described the audience to me as “generous”, others felt there was some suppressed frustration, if not anger.

One participant, Mary, a friend of mine, said before the event, “I want this to be the first in a series of conversations about the climate emergency. If this were an emergency of any other form, we would have the Commissioners of Emergency Services and Police giving us information”.

Others said they wanted to see a clear pathway for action on climate change.

The hall was dotted with displays detailing the Labor Government’s achievement in lowering emissions and those setting out existing and planned renewable projects.

Kevin: “I want to see some indications of a transitioning economy. We know the ideas are out there and I’d like to see a commitment to it.”

Some came for the information.

Hannah: “To learn more about future actions to minimise the effects of climate change”.

Kara: “I’d like to hear Jackie Trad’s strategy for the protection of this area and the environment we have. Also, to have an engaging discussion that moves beyond Adani as the single issue that takes all the oxygen.”

Jenny: “I hope to be more informed about what’s happening to our climate and energy future.”

The Panel

Ms Trad assembled a group of panelists with diverse interests and expertise in climate change. She advised me that the speakers were selected because:

“I wanted experts in the northern and regional economy, transitioning resource communities and climate change, and felt it was extremely important to have other stakeholder groups such as farmers and Traditional Owners represented.” “I invited Dr Amanda Cahill when I read her article online in the Guardian, which was extremely relevant. Cameron Costello as CEO of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation provides invaluable insight from a community transitioning to sustainable jobs while integrating thousands of years of traditional land management knowledge. Finally, I initially invited Georgie Somerset, President of Agforce, but she was unavailable so Agforce selected Tracy Finnegan.”

Jacqui Walters Chair of CleanCo, told us that the Queensland Government’s renewable energy generator has a mandate to put downward pressure on energy prices and to provide leadership around transitioning to renewable energy, and as part of that, to focus on job creation within these industries.

Dr Amanda Cahill, said that she works with communities that are experiencing economic challenges, at their invitation, on “how to create regional economies that are good for people and for the planet”.

Tracy Finnegan South East Queensland Regional Director at Agforce is a farmer involved in regenerative landscape management and carbon farming. She assured the audience that Agforce does not deny climate change but that its members may use different language for it. Farmers she said are at the forefront of adapting their practice to meet the challenges of climate change.

Professor Ian Lowe AO, a scientist and former President of the Australian Conservation Foundation said that he has been working in the areas of energy and climate since the 1970’s. “I was persuaded by the science that the way we are living is not sustainable…that it is risking the continued productivity of the natural system.”

Professor Allan Dale Chair of Regional Development Australia, and expert in regional economics and northern Australia, and calls himself a ‘governance nudger’.

“Policy works well when we really engage together around the complex problems that confront us and bring the right evidence to the table,” he said. And like Tracey Finnegan before him, he assured the audience that people in the regions do get climate change, “they are part of some of the risk that we face,” he said.

Cameron Costello from the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation, spoke about his involvement with the Quandamooka People in providing traditional knowledge to in fire management on Stradbroke Island.

Terri Butler, Federal member for Griffith and Shadow Minister for the Environment, made a brief statement to the forum, saying, “we can’t afford the luxury of despondency: we have to act”.

Most attendees I spoke with thought the choice of panelists was well considered.

Two Queenslands

The expected focus on Adani and coal was addressed indirectly largely through the lens of the challenges facing regional Queensland.

Amanda Cahill, Tracey Finnegan and Allan Dale all agreed that climate change is just one of many pressures on regional communities: in the mix are insecure employment, services losses, an aging population, the lack of digital connectedness, and the sheer pace of change.

While acknowledging that there is often a mutual lack of understanding about these challenges between those living in the regions and city-based climate activists, panelists were largely optimistic about attitudes to climate change in the regions and outlined examples of locally initiated and locally led conversations and actions.

Tracey Finnegan said we don’t need to convince farmers about climate change, rather we need to focus on the opportunities that moving to a decarbonised economy provides.

Allan Dale is optimistic that locally led conversations are in fact moving into what he called, ‘next generation’ thinking about the need for circular economies in agriculture, for example.

But sometimes, it was suggested, our politicians are missing the opportunity to lead and to have the necessary conversations with their regional constituents.

Reflecting on an article she wrote for The Guardian following the election, Amanda Cahill said that people in the coal mining regions are not denying climate change anymore, they are aware that the price of coal has been falling, and they are ready to talk about transitioning to other industries. But she said, they are not seeing a clear vision for the future, and the mixed messages from political parties, of ‘we can keep coal, and we can move to renewables’ is feeding a sense of distrust. Some, she said, told her they voted for Pauline Hanson, not because they always agreed with her, but because she means what she says and she’s not afraid to say it.

Questions were thoughtful and broad ranging. Panelist were quizzed about land clearing, and tree planting, water management, just transition for workers in fossil fuel industries, and about how to take local action. In some cases, panelists provided detailed examples of new opportunities and projects.

Transitioning from Coal

It wasn’t until the final 15 minutes or so of the forum that Adani was raised directly with the panel.

Ian Lowe received the loudest applause of the evening when he declared that as climate change has reached such a critical tipping point, there should be, “no new coal mines, not anywhere, not ever”.

There was a restlessness in the audience when Jackie Trad responded.

“I agree with you Ian, but I don’t think the community is there…if we went out there today and said we are going to stop [new] coal mining tomorrow, I’m not sure that’s a debate we would win across the whole state,” Ms Trad said.

“Try it” an audience member yelled out.

Referring to the transition of workers in the coal industry, Ms Trad told the audience, “We are recalibrating, we are thinking about how to have this conversation in such a charged atmosphere, because we want to bring people with us.”

“I do not think our action on climate change boils down to Adani…what we have always promised, and we have kept this commitment, is that there will be no public support, no public financing support for Adani. And I think most people will see that they have gone through their own process of trying to raise funds and get insured for their project, and it has put a cloud over the economics of the Galilee Basin.”

And she said, the global economics is moving in favour of clean energy.

And with that, the forum was closed.

It was a long night, but many stayed on to question Ms Trad and the panelists. I spoke to a number of them as they left.

Did the Forum meet expectations?

Feelings were mixed from those I spoke with after the forum. For some it was a promising start, for others, more needs to be done, and with a much greater sense of urgency.

Gabrielle: “It was lovely that contrary or opposing opinions were really welcome and dealt with in a respectful way, and that was a real eye-opener”

Harmony: “Information about land-clearing and new solar and renewable plans was exciting to learn about”

Queenie: “The skeptic in me wonders if this is just Jackie panicking and reacting to what happened in the Federal Election. Nonetheless, we have to talk about it and its good that she initiated something like that, and I think the panelists were the right people to be to be talking about it as well.”

Several people said they have some sympathy for Jackie Trad’s position, that she is caught between a rock and a hard place, but others don’t think the government is doing nearly enough.

Gordon: “Climate change needs urgent action and I’m not seeing, really, an awful lot of urgency”.

Julie: “I feel that the ALP is all in mourning after the election result, but I say it’s because they didn’t stick to their principles is why they didn’t win. It was the ‘Climate Change Election’, but we’re still supporting coal in Queensland.”

Bob: “We have to consider ourselves in a global community…places like India have 50 degrees of heat – it is unsustainable – they can’t live like that.” “We’ve got to turn this whole ship around – we can’t do that while we are selling coal to the rest of the world”.

Kara: “I think more than ever its about two divided communities and its really difficult to bridge them…”

Connecting with community

In brief summaries provided by four of the panelists and by Jackie Trad, at the end of the forum, the common theme was that the conversation should continue and it must be about connecting with community.

Amanda Cahill thought it was courageous of Jackie Trad to convene the forum.

“I think the space has been opened for Labor to start having more courageous conversations about that, because tonight went so well”.

She said even those in the coal industry acknowledge privately that there are issues with the future of coal.

“The question is, how do we create spaces for people to start talking, not just behind closed doors in their meetings …but actually start connecting at the community level… we have to give people the confidence and the grieving space to let go of what has been, so that they can move on to what’s coming.”

Jackie Walters of CleanCo, said the issues are complicated, but that the conversation around communities connecting and having time for proper conversations is important.

Allan Dale told me that it is vital to have conversations around the real tensions between needing to manage climate action and the realities and difficulties facing rural communities.

“If we don’t have the conversations, we will see policy decisions that will have a negative impact on the regions…at the same time, if we don’t deal with climate change, that will have a negative impact on the regions.”

Ian Lowe echoed these comments. “If we are going to solve it, the solution has to involve the whole community”.

“The worry is that the studied inaction at the Commonwealth level means that we’ve got to be working at the local levels. When the people lead, the leaders have to eventually follow.”

Final thoughts from Jackie Trad

Ms Trad told The Westender that, one of the messages coming out of Federal Election from regional resource communities is that they were angry at solely being targeted and blamed for climate change and felt they were the ones who needed to wear all the downside of a transitioning economy.”

“I hope that this discussion is the beginning of many forums of its kind around the state that aid to end the divisive nature of politics around climate change, so that we can work together to transition our state to sustainable resource consumption and energy generation. I think it is vital that the community engages with me and other elected representatives if this is going to be achieved.”

“I also plan to host another local event soon and hope to engage with as many people as I can on this issue.”

Listen to what they said.

Audience Vox Pops

Panellists Reflect

Amanda Cahill

Allan Dale

Jackie Walters

Ian Lowe

Jackie Trad


This story was first published at Jan Bowman’s West End Blogs

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