27 September 2012 – Guess who came to dinner with The Fifth Estate?

No less than:

  • Christine Milne, Senator and Leader, The Australian Greens
  • Mike Rann, former Premier of South Australia, chair of Low Carbon Australia and recently appointed Australian High Commissioner to the UK
  • Tanya Cox, chief operating officer of DEXUS Property Group and  board member Low Carbon Australia
  • Peter Verwer, chief executive, Property Council of Australia
  • Monica Richter, sustainable Australia program manager, Australian Conservation Foundation
  • Bruce Hawker, political campaign strategist and managing director and founder of Campaigns and Communications
  • Michael Zorbas, Grocon head of strategy and communications, and facilitator for the evening
  • Chris Briggs, newly appointed advisor to Senator Milne, (previously with the Office of Environment & Heritage NSW government.)

Held at the Rockpool Bar and Grill in Sydney last Friday night the dinner, kindly sponsored by DEXUS Property Group, was one of revelations and sobering thoughts about sustainability in this country.

Our subject was how to re-ignite the political agenda for sustainability, especially in the built environment, given that so many political elements around the country are at various stages of extinguishing it.

Our case was that despite the carbon tax, the recent period has been possibly the worst on record for destructive actions on climate and sustainability.

At state and federal levels there has been the ditching of multiple programs and promises:  the loss of the $1 billion tax break for green buildings, the loss of rational urban planning and  farmland in favour of mining and urban sprawl; in NSW even the loss of resilience planning for sea level rises.

But is this a fair assessment? Do the people who work within politics, such as Senator Milne, or Mike Rann or Bruce Hawker, not to mention Peter Verwer as an industry lobbyist and Monica Richter who is in the thick of the broader environmental movement, agree with this scenario?

Associate editor Lynne Blundell is writing our report on the evening’s discussions, which will be published in an ebook soon, along with photos of the evening.

Here’s a taste:

Christine Milne proved an engaging speaker with a sharp mind.  Her command of the carbon trading scheme – “it’s not a tax” – was  impressive.  And so was her certainty that it’s a very good result, with great potential for Australian companies if they take the time to absorb the opportunities.

Milne also showed she understood  much of the the property world and its sustainability related battles.

In person there was no hint of the dogmatic about Milne – an accusation often levelled at her by media critics – unless it’s the quiet refusal to budge on logic or fact, or values.

The net impression is one of charm, And reassurance that Bob Brown was spot on – as usual – when he promoted her as his successor in The Greens.

Mike Rann is clearly one of the unsung heroes of the sustainability revolution. His achievements as former premier of South Australia could  be a template for many other areas of the country. When he became premier he faced a state that was losing jobs,  population and viability. So he set long range plans for South Australia to become more sustainable than any other state or territory in the country. He set performance benchmarks, a reporting framework – and accountability.

Not many people know Rann was an activist with Greenpeace in New Zealand.

As chair of Low Carbon Australia Ltd Rann has presided over a huge program of transformational change using LCAL’s financial clout.

The Fifth Estate still can’t shake off the disappointment that he will soon relinquish this important role when he becomes Australian High Commissioner to the UK earl next year. An honour, we know, but a loss to the environmental landscape.

Our other guests were also great to listen to in this informal setting.

Bruce Hawker had sobering thoughts about the reality of what drives politicians and how particular policies rise to the fore. As a political strategist Hawker has played first hand in the battle of competing agendas and he was generous in the sharing of these insights.

Peter Verwer, more often than not in the fray of lobbying in Canberra, is closest to understanding of the political fortunes of the property industry.  He  had a positive story to tell. As usual Verwer also shared some surprising and entertaining views, especially about the sustainability trajectory in Australia.

Tanya Cox, as chief operating officer of DEXUS, contributed an all too rare insight into the other reality for the property industry, the kind faced by a major listed company that seeks to operate at the top of the corporate performance table, at the same time as setting new benchmarks in sustainability. 1 Bligh Street, Sydney, for instance, which was developed and is part owned by DEXUS, where our evening kicked off.

Monica Richter had already shared some great insights into her role with the Australian Conservation Foundation and close association with the commercial property world in her recent interview with The Fifth Estate.

Richter contributed some encouraging views  during the evening, especially on the work underway from business and community groups.

Michael Zorbas attended as facilitator but  managed some sharp insights from his perspective with Grocon, a company that also has global sustainability leadership in its sights with its Pixel building in Melbourne and its construction of 1 Bligh Street.

And Chris Briggs, as new adviser to Milne, preferred to be an observer of the conversation. Our sources at his previous place of employment, the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage, tell us that not a bit of his observations will be wasted.