Politicians in the hot seat on climate change

By Donna Kelly

(Anna Burke, Janet Rice, Ken Coghill, Carolyn Ingvarson, Josh Frydenberg, Claire Maries and Graeme Pearman)

21 August 2013 — Politicians from all political parties, ranging from Labor’s Anna Burke to the Liberal’s Josh Frydenberg, were put on the spot in the run-up to the federal election by a lively community forum at Surrey Hills in Melbourne’s east.

Lighter Footprints convenor Carolyn Ingvarson said the organisation, worried about climate change, had decided to take matters into its own hands, drawing 300 people to its 16 August forum.

“In the face of well-demonstrated challenges for local people and the world at large, we aim to reduce our own carbon footprints, and to work collaboratively to achieve positive responses to climate change at local, state and national levels,” she said.

Ms Ingvarson said the forum proved that “people had become frustrated with current major party policies and were intent on doing something about it”.

(The packed hall)

“People had a chance for face-to-face discussion with politicians, to go beyond the slogans and grapple with the very real challenges facing us, our children and grandchildren.

“Scientists tell us emissions must peak this decade and then fall sharply. Are our politicians and major parties up to our greatest challenge?”

Ms Ingvarson, sister of Peter Newman, a professor of sustainability at Curtin University, said all politicians were invited to make a final statement at the end of the night.

Following are the statements:

Anna Burke, Labor candidate for Chisholm

“I think you’ve demonstrated it [climate change] is an election issue and we need to continue to talk about it. We need to ensure we are having the conversations to make the change happen or we won’t have a future for our kids.”

Josh Frydenberg, Liberal candidate for Kooyong

“Public attitudes on climate change have transformed over time. There are a lot of different pieces in this jigsaw and certainly I am learning more and more about.  It is not going away certainly as long as I live and as long as everyone in this room is around. We have to deal with the reality of climate change and we have to find a practical way to try to reduce our carbon footprint…My job is not to represent a particular party… your voices need to be heard by me, and that is why tonight is so helpful for me.”

Janet Rice, Lead Greens candidate for the Senate in Victoria

“We have to deal with the reality of climate change. …we’ve got to make our democracy work for us…by getting people voting on this issue.  …we need to have an urgent transition to a clean energy economy, and we need to be treating this climate emergency with an emergency level response.”

The wake up call that lead to Lighter Footprints

Ms Ingvarson said as a former biology teacher she had always been aware of greenhouse gas “and we were headed in the wrong direction” but seeing the movie, The Inconvenient Truth in 2006 made her realise it was time to stand up and be counted.

“I put a little ad in my local paper and said if anyone feels terrified like me but they are not sure what to do about it, come and have a drink,” she said.

“And 12 people turned up and we had a drink and decided to form a group.”

Seven years later, Lighter Footprints has about 800 members on its books with “a constant support base of 600”.

“It has no structure, we are not incorporated although we think about it at times because people want to give us money.

“But I don’t think we need money – many of us are in privileged positions like me, with super and retired, and I can keep doing things. “At our monthly meetings everyone throws a bit of money into the hat. And I have just taken at an ad in the local Leader newspaper which was $2600 and sent out an email with our bank account details. And it’s starting to fill up.”

Ms Ingvarson said the latest forum had been amazing in its ability to attract 300 people “to a climate change action group meeting in the dead of winter”.

“It was packed and there was a real buzz,” she said.

And she said while the group was based in the suburbs of Melbourne and was busy lobbying its local politicians such as Josh Frydenberg, the current member and Liberal candidate for Kooyong, there was also a national focus with involvement with Australia’s bigger climate change action groups.

“Lobbying with the local MPs does have an impact and we are also working with the council on sustainability, but we are also working with the Climate Action Network Australia and I am on its board.

“(And) we have had 92 letters to newspapers published in the past 18 months.”

But asked if Ms Ingvarson is more buoyed about the future than when she started in 2006, the answer is “no”.

And she believes with the Liberals looking like the September winners it’s going to take, literally, an almighty hand to stay anywhere close to on track.

“God help us,” she said.

“All we have done is likely to be ripped out…but oh, yes, we keep going. We keep planning the next whatever. Although once the election is over we might sit for a minute.

“But we have been meeting every fortnight, year after year, and you have to keep putting yourself out there.”

21 August, 2013