Michael Cameron

21 June 2012 – GPT chief Michael Cameron has some surprising views on what will drive genuine climate change action – and it’s not a carbon tax. More significant he says, will be the clash between food security and coal seam gas and how the young think, an insight he credits to the influence of five sons and their friends.

In the view of GPT Group chief executive and managing director Michael Cameron, the coming carbon price will not do much to change behaviour in ways that will be beneficial to the environment.

Cameron, speaking to The Fifth Estate during an interview for our ebook project case study on the company’s new head office at The MLC Centre in Sydney, veered off subject of the six star Green Star headquarters, with some insights into some of his broader views on environmental issues.

And for a property chief, they’re surprisingly big picture.

Cameron thinks the carbon price will be ineffective to deal with environmental concerns.

The carbon price, says Cameron, will not only have minimal impact on property, but minimal impact on the kind of change Australia needs to deal with environmental challenges.

“In time it will add a layer of costs and will be added to the rents and outgoings and mum and dads at the end of the day will pay for it,” Cameron says.

“I just don’t see it will have an impact on the environment. It’s just a tax. It won’t force people to use less energy.”

But isn’t the rising price of energy designed to do exactly that?

“Gold goes up every day and people still buy it.”

Instead thinks Cameron the bigger challenge is behaviour and he does not see that there will be any real change in society’s interaction with the environment until there is behavioural change.

To create real change, Cameron says, people need to connect their own behavior with environmental impact, not something imposed, like a tax.

Even a much tougher price than the $23 a tonne starting price for carbon won’t do much, he says.

“I still don’t think it will still have an impact.”

Petrol has gone up significantly, he says, yet there is “not a huge a amount of evidence” to show it has done much to reduce the use of cars.

Cameron says he assumes there will be a change of government “at some point” but won’t hazard a guess as to whether the tax will be unwound.

More significant impact, he says, will come from how Australia handles the bigger environmental challenges that he can see looming over the horizon, such as food security.

“I think a very high level clash between food security and energy production is probably going to dominate the discussion.

“If you look around the world in the medium term the biggest threat  we have will be food production. We’ve reached our seven billionth person.

“There is just not enough food. In Australia we have sufficient land to produce food well in excess of our own requirements, but we also have the ability to mine coal and coal seam gas and most of the time it’s in the same region.

“So we have this massive conflict between the two and that will be a huge challenge for the country as we go forward.”

This is not an issue that impacts directly on the GPT business, Cameron says, but he can see it will affect broader consumer sentiment – such as spending patterns or space requirements in retail property.

Overall Cameron can see Australia will be well armed to deal with the emerging challenges.

On sustainability, Cameron is staggered at the rise in environmental and social awareness that he can see through the eyes of his children – five sons ranging in ages from 15 into their 20s – and their friends, who give him a valuable insight into the thinking of a generation that will drive the future.

In the interview for the GPT head office project ebook Cameron says he considers this connection to young people as a gift that he’s stumbled across and uses to shape his thinking on how the business he runs should be positioning itself for the future.

The most impressive element he says, is how aware the younger generation is of ethical and environmental issues. But as a nation too, he says, Australia seem to be “quite advanced and educated” on sustainability.

At bottom he chooses to maintain an optimistic streak.

“It’s fairly easy to change as well when you’ve got 23 million people. You can be more nimble and react more quickly,” he says.