John Hewson, with Anna Rose, centre, and Louise Adl

4 May 2012  –If you think the  political world is stacked against sustainability right now, go to a book launch by a former Liberal Leader John Hewson, a strong climate change supporter. Listen to the author, young climate campaigner Anna Rose, who her publisher Louise Adler of Melbourne University Press  tips could well be a future Prime Minister of this country.

On Tuesday night at Gleebooks in Sydney, both were inspiring: one for his staunch belief that private enterprise can pick up where the government leaves off, and the other for her passion and appeal to calm logic.

Speaking to The Fifth Estate ahead of his launch of Rose’s book Madlands, based on the ABC program, I Can Change Your Mind About Climate Change, Hewson painted a bleak picture of the political landscape, driven by the anti climate change lobby.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard would soon be replaced by either Kevin Rudd or Bob Carr, largely because of the carbon price (“not tax”). She would first dumb down, or delay the carbon price in next week’s budget; Tony Abbott would win the next election, largely because of the carbon price and he would repeal it when he came to office, because he said he would.

Hewson didn’t mention talk of axing of the tax breaks for green buildings program, but you get the drift.

Despite all this, Hewson was a study in optimism. He praised the passion and inspiration of young climate campaigners such as Rose whose generation would bear the brunt of past behaviors, and he believes the private sector can pick up where the government leaves off.

“I’m a great believer in the private sector,” he told the packed audience. In his heyday he was such a keen economic rationalist Paul Keating called him “the feral abacus”, he said.

Today he’s still a great supporter of private enterprise.

Through the Climate Institute Hewson is part of a project to rank the top 1000 pension and superannuation funds in terms of their carbon intensity of their operations and their investments.

That’s about $65 billion of clout and Hewson says, “if only 5 per cent of that can be harnessed, who needs politicians?

“Five per cent of that money sent to alternative energy would underwrite the technological revolution we’re talking about. It would be more than enough to drive an appropriate response to climate change.”

“We don’t need government. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to have the governments on side.”

Hewson has been interested in climate issues since the 80s when forecasts of more frequent and severe storms started to surface.

His spurred a “whole series of business opportunities.” he became involved in investments such as household garbage recycling to extract methane, energy efficient light bulbs, the largest bio diesel plant in the world, in Singapore, and work to reduce the energy consumption of energy guzzling data centres.

“As it happened nobody was particularly interested in those opportunities and [through the National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development] we brought Al Gore out to Australia, he said.

“He was dispensed with at the time as an failed politician, an entertainer. But he gave a speech in Sydney that was effectively An Inconvenient Truth and we urged him to disseminate it and which he did.”

There is an enormous task ahead of the government and with all the reports that have been presented there should be a sense of real urgency on the issue, he said.

“I believe for instance we should be aiming to reduce emissions by 20-30 per cent by 2020 and by 90-100 per cent by 2050, which is somewhat higher than both sides of government. There’s a sense of urgency that’s missing.”

Scientists have done what they rarely do, he said: agree with each other, and they’ve done that because of the “very nature of the problem the magnitude of the problem and the urgency of the problem.

“I can understand the sceptics, I had a party full of them and they tend to want the last 5 or last 1 per cent to be absolutely proven and that annoys me more than anything else.

“But I haven’t given up the fight. You’ve got to think how we can accelerate the debate and the response.

“Business has massive potential, he says. “We don’t need the government.”

Value of calm passion
Anna Rose for her part personified the value of passion and calm commitment. Asked by her publisher, Melbourne University Press chief executive Louise Adler how she could remain so cool in the television documentary, in the face the refusal of her opponent climate sceptic and former politician Nick Minchin to concede almost any point, said she focused on the viewers, not Minchin.

There was no point talking to a man who was an ideologue through and through, Rose said.

Most of his answers were prefaced with the words, “as a politician…” said Rose. “It was never about the science,” she said.

Rose’s ability to focus on a core constituents and not be swayed by the noise at the forefront, is probably what led Adler to say Rose was Prime Ministerial material.