Julia Gillard at Green Capital

By Tina Perinotto
19 July 2011 –
Forget the abysmal polls that came out on Monday and walloped the carbon tax. Julia Gillard did.

Addressing the packed auditorium of about 400 people for the Total Environment Centre’s Green Capital forum series for a breakfast that morning at Sydney’s Sheraton on the Park, Gillard looked like she was digging in for a long battle, no great sign of fatigue yet.

The carbon price is a tough sell, she said, but what’s different about this reform compared to any other major reform, she asked?

“Medicare was bitterly contested, it had to be taken away and had to be introduced again,” Gillard said.

There were people who bitterly opposed universal superannuation when it was first mooted, the PM said. “What were they thinking?”

Similarly with industrial relations and Mabo, she said. The sky was predicted to fall in. It didn’t.

“It’s always easier to raise fear rather than sell change.”

“Stay on the reform road,” she urged.

“Retreat is not an option.”

It was an audience already converted, ready to absorb business opportunities and gage how to best negotiate the transition, rather than to stop it. The property industry was there in force: Davis Langdon, Green Building Council of Australia, Leightons,  Investa,  the Association of Building Sustainability Assessors, GPT Group, Hyder Consulting, Landcom, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Stockland, Lend Lease Project Management & Construction, Timber Development Association.

“This is an issue for the boardroom table not the kitchen table,” Gillard said.

The audience seemed to agree.

Later in question time Anthony Hobley, global head of climate change and carbon finance with Norton Rose, said the announcement of the carbon price package had “caused a huge amount of excitement with international clients.”

Tell them to come on down, responded Gillard.

The biggest concern seemed to be that opposition leader Tony Abbott would repeal the carbon legislation if elected.

But Gillard pointed out that even with that scenario it would be 2015 by the time he could hold a double dissolution and the world then might look a very different place; the option to rescind a carbon price might seem very unwise.
The rest of the world was moving to a carbon price; it was untrue that Australia was first.

Left to right: Robert Purves, Clover Moore, John Connor, Tanya Plibersek

The strange thing is that both sides of politics agrees, Gillard pointed out.

“In the public debate much of this plays out as if it’s a choice between doing what I’m advocating or doing nothing.

“In fact we have to recognise that both sides of politics have publicly committed to reduce carbon in our community by 5 per cent on 2020 figures and this debate is really about how and when,” she said.

Leaders like Bob Carr and Margaret Thatcher raised the alarm in the late 80s, Ms Gillard said.

Even John Howard acknowledged it as an issue that needed to be dealt with.

“There is no leader on earth who is getting briefings that  are telling them anything different,” Gillard told the Green Capital audience.

“I won’t let this country surrender in the face of the challenge of climate change.”

A panel discussion followed, led by business and sustainability advisor Sam Mostyn, and featuring Climate Institute chief executive officer John Connor, executive director of Centre for Policy Development Miriam Lyons and chairman Sustainable Business Australia, Robert Purves.

It spurred City of Sydney councillor Marcel Hoff to nail an elephant in the room, or rather an elephant that had bolted to the western suburbs with her observation that the audience that needed to be convinced was not business but blue collar people.

Gillard noted a campaign of fear and misinformation directed to this electoral hot spot, which she said was fed through radio announcers and tabloid newspapers.

Blair Palese of 350.org asked what each guest at the forum could do to overcome this.

Directly challenge the journalists or politicians, Gillard  urged. “If you hear something that makes your blood boil, rather than muttering amongst yourselves go to the source and put it right.”

She referred to the Obama election campaign in the US which focused on the power of the ordinary person and small groups to shift the mood of a nation.

“Ultimately we will keep out there with the facts and already some of the fear campaign is falling away: that  petrol would go up six cents, that Wyalla and Port Pierie would fall of the map, that the coal industry would be going out of business.”

The sweet irony is that Australia has rarely been so well positioned economically and historically, Gillard pointed out.

Yes, there is shorter term risk from consumer sentiment that is worse than before the global financial crisis and weakness in overseas economies, she said.

Robert Purves, interviewed after the forum

“We are not immune to developments in the global economy.”

But on the positive and rational side, Australia is located at the edge of the economic seismic that will create the rise of Asia.

“We are located the right part of the world at the right time.

“Our prospects are much stronger and the weight of the global economy shifts in our favour.”

China recently reported growth of 10 per cent, Ms Gillard said.

In Australia itself, “the fundamentals are strong,” she said.

With climate change the “costs of inaction are greater than action,” she said.