Australian Ethical at the Sydney event

20 November 2013 — There were three standout message from Sunday’s climate change rallies across Australia.

One was that 60,000 people turned up in 130 locations – 30,000 in Melbourne and 10,000 in Sydney despite drenching rain. That’s message enough for the green political agenda.

Next was that one of the stallholders was Australian Ethical Investment, and they were swamped.

According to one of the organisers on the booth, none other than chief executive Phil Vernon, all the promotional material ran out before the rally even started at 11am and new supplies needed to be called for.

Interest, said Vernon, was “massive”.

The Melbourne climate rally attracted 30,000 people

It was the same in Melbourne, with information material running out in an hour.

It’s a clever move by a fund manager that claims not only does its returns outperform on ethics but on financial terms as well.

It’s superior marketing that is capturing an audience already engaged, angry about the status quo and looking for ways to stop feeling impotent. Suddenly there was powerful accessible outlet.

By Monday morning, according to Paul Smith, general manager strategy and communications, new members had notched up the biggest growth ever for the fund manager.

“Today we already hit a record number of people who joined our fund, it’s up by about 25 per cent above the most popular day we have ever had before. And November is usually a quiet time,” Smith said.

“It’s a key audience for us. People want action on climate change and one of the things they can do is to invest their super [in something they approve of].”

Smith said Australian Ethical had recently issued a revised earnings guidance that was 121 per cent up on the previous corresponding period and he said the first quarter was equal to 80 per cent of the previous year’s total.

Sure, it’s a small superannuation fund – barely $800 million in funds under management – but it’s the signal that counts.

How long before other much bigger superannuation and fund managers hear the wakeup call?

The third pivot of interest was a message for the Greens, unfair though it might seem.

It came from a small crowd gathered at the Elizabeth Street entrance to the rally point of Prince Alfred Park.

This group was holding up confusing posters that had rally organiser GetUp! in large print accompanied by an exploding wind mill – a climate sceptic/pro-carbon lobby it turned out.

At Tathra, they gathered on the beach

Some verbal jostling between the pro-carbon lobby and some climate action people was under way.

There were the usual one-liners: carbon is a “plant food” therefore harmless, climate change is a fact of life on Earth, and green is the new religion.

The Fifth Estate could not resist and joined in with a few rebuttals: carbon damage as related to quantity; the need to accept science; and the usual sceptic slayer – “Okay, say you are right on climate. Do you think we should continue business as usual, pumping out highly toxic pollutants into the atmosphere and the Earth?”

On all points the pro-carbon/climate sceptic lobby seemed to agree. Their cover seemed to be no more than a thin veneer, quick to peel away.

The real concern it emerged was loss of jobs through loss of Australian manufacturing, the loss of farmland to foreign owners and, recently, the ripping out of orchards.

The Fifth Estate pointed out that there was an economic boom on offer in clean energy and clean tech investment.

Yes, but why were the Greens not supporting Australian agriculture and promoting green jobs, came the retort?

“Not a word from the Greens, not a word,” was the angry cry.

Of course, the Greens are strong proponents of green jobs, but somehow the message is not getting through.

Speakers at the Sydney rally included deputy federal opposition leader Tanya Plibersek, comedian Wendy Harmer and former resources executive Ian Dunlop, who is currently seeking a board seat with BHP Billiton to represent climate risk, and GetUp campaigns director Erin McCallum.

Addressing the crowd in Melbourne were GetUp organiser Sam Mclean,  Australian Conservation Foundation’s climate change program manager Tony Mohr and the Climate Council’s Tim Flannery.

In Adelaide, the line up included chief executive of the Conservation Council, Tim Kelly; in Darwin, Northern Territory Environment Centre director, Stuart Blanch; and in Perth, Greens senator Rachel Siewert, Labor senator Louise Pratt, and MPs Melissa Parke and Alannah MacTiernan.