28 March 2013 –On white rabbits, bad rabbits and a plaintive plea for a great media campaign
When we launched The Fifth Estate four years ago, it was with a promise to be optimistic. We were referring to the need to keep positive about holding back climate change, minimising the damage.

But the Victorian Government’s recent climate adaptation strategy has taken optimism to a whole new level. We should look on the bright side, it says: marlin fishing as the waters warm off Victoria; rising demand for green roofs and white roofs. Not to mention fake turf.

So which bottle were these Alice in Wonderlanders drinking from at the tea party down the rabbit hole? The one that makes them feel “really big”, we’re guessing.

Meanwhile, poor Sustainability Victoria continues to get hammered by the cuts. Its budget is down from $90 million pre-changeover in government to $50 million today.

Luckily, it has some bright sparks fanning the flames of action, despite diminishing resources (see some recent announcements in Jobs News). Sadly, programs have been reduced and it’s no secret that Treasury would like to draw it into its clutches.

But there are signs of hope with the recent leadership change, as Denis Napthine replacing Ted Baillieu as premier. Our friendly white rabbits, who mingle with the Tea Party from time to time, tell us that some of the staffers from former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello’s office, such as new Victorian Treasurer Michael O’Brien, are making their way into the government fray and starting to have a bit of rationalist impact.

For rationalist impact, you really can’t go past the Productivity Commission.

The PC, a first cousin of the Institute of Public Affairs, is about as “economic rationalist” as you can get. Sadly, though, the IPA missed the true meaning of rationalist, as in “rational” and something to do with “reality”, and completely bypassed “economic” when it got blindsided by the mega-bling pouring out of Gina Rinehart and the mining industry, and took up the anti-climate change agenda.

No such danger with the PC – its agenda is firmly business and the economy. So anything that interferes with that is a barrier that needs to be removed.

It just so happens that climate change is such a barrier. You can’t argue with diminishing returns on prime waterfront property as it gets inundated, or with businesses and farms that lose money because they can’t function in extreme temperatures.

o    See our report on its latest policy for climate action Productivity Commission calls to drop stamp duty as part of climate adaptation

Media Strategy

Remember that silly ad with the tag line, “Where the bloody hell are you?”

It was meant to be a promo for tourism, selling Oz, but it ended up being a poignant call from the wide, empty brown land. Sad, really.

But here’s another poignant call: Where the bloody hell is the sustainability and climate change media strategy?

America’s Tea Party has a media strategy; The Heartland Institute has a media strategy and the Institute of Public Affairs has one.

So does the mining industry. Remember all those lovely ads about what a caring, sharing entity the mining industry is? Thank marketing whizz Neil Lawrence for that tear-jerker.

On Friday afternoon, after Green Cities 2013, in a catch-up with Tom Roper, president of the Australian Sustainable Built Environment Council (ASBEC), it suddenly became obvious how bereft this sustainable property industry of ours is of a decent advertising and public relations campaign.

Roper was talking about the great new research project ASBEC has underway over the next 12 months – setting carbon reduction targets for the built environment.

Not so long ago, ASBEC released its impressive road map for a more sustainable residential industry. It was great analysis, and inspirational, in the sense of how urgent and desperate the need is to green the housing market.

But what impact will these documents have?

Will the politicians listen? Will they put forth a new agenda to implement the suggestions?

We’ve just seen Prime Minister Julia Gillard use the mandate she has to get rid of the name of the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency [and to lead Labor to a dreadful defeat at the Federal election, it seems].

The name, mind you. Not the functions, but the name.

So the signal is…what? No more climate change?

By signal, we mean it’s a public relations exercise – a sign that there’s no value in a department that tackles climate change.

Better to merge the functions with some other godforsaken acronym of a department linked to business and technology because, as we’re now told, the solution for climate-change issues is economic.

Gillard has reasoned that there’s no value in promoting action on climate-related concerns.

By contrast, the climate deniers think there’s great value in promoting an anti-climate agenda. They’ve spent squillions, thanks to the bleeding coffers of Gina Rinehart and Co., to give us the greatest lot of hilarious comedians and buffoons as entertainment. Along with Bjørn Lomborg, Lord Monckton and Ian Plimer.

They make great copy. Especially in The Australian, which, sadly, seems to miss the irony in what these guys are saying.

Yes, yes, we have our stars and they get a mention occasionally. Very earnest, very serious. Not terribly entertaining. If it’s Cate Blanchett, who is entertaining and talented, she will get a slap down.

What we’ve got here, as the man in the mirror glasses said in Cool Hand Luke, is a “failure to communicate”.

It’s this media strategy that will drive the groundswell of public opinion that will make governments grow some teeth on climate issues.

Because they won’t act unless they have to.

ASBEC is actually our entire built environment industry. Think about the firepower it has between its teeth.

None of the companies that make up the ultimate members of this powerful team would build an office tower or residential apartments without a marketing strategy.
But for the collective built environment?

Nothing. Nada.

The Institute of Public Affairs and The Heartland Institute, and the tobacco industry that advises them, must be choking on their Bollinger with laughter.

No-one who has wanted to change the course of history would dream of doing it by using only economic tools.

You need to win the hearts and minds of the people, which in turn empowers politicians to take action. Because no amount of personal action in your own patch, no matter how worthy, how pure, how perfect, can possibly turn around this weather Titanic.

We need the full rowing team aboard. We need the captain, the oarsmen and women, the coxswain, all pulling together now.

Where is climate change’s Neil Lawrence?

Neil? Are you busy? Come on over… We might not be able to pay too much but we’re much nicer people.

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