A Power Shift: from the grassroots to the government

Lack of political clarity has held back the climate movement’s ability to galvanise opposition to Rudd’s climate policies and mount an effective challenge to the government. Power Shift, a “youth climate conference” that drew 1000 people in Sydney this month, was an example of the worst of these problems. It was exactly what the climate movement didn’t need.
The thinking behind the conference, organised by the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), was that its politics didn’t really matter. What mattered was big funding, a series of gimmicks and vacuous slogans about young people being able to make change. The result was a platform for some of Australia’s worst polluting politicians and businesses to spout their greenwash. The conference accepted $10,000 from South Australian Premier Mike Rann, who is pushing for construction of the biggest uranium mine on earth, $10,000 from PacificHydro, a renewable energy company that makes their money from carbon offset scams, and $5000 from Westpac, the single largest shareholder in BHP Billiton. It is also an open secret that there were “silent partners” for the project who had influence over the conference program. Donna Jackson from the Australian Nuclear Free Alliance described her experience at the conference: “Without taking anything away from the young people who came, the undertones of corporate sponsorship … were very concerning. I’m angry that uranium Premier Mike Rann could buy himself a keynote speech while Australian Indigenous people were under-represented.”
These polluters are still refusing to change their practices. Allowing them to promote the idea that they have something to do with the solution to climate change is an absolute disgrace. We should be protesting climate criminals like these—not inviting them on stage.
In the minds of the organisers however, there was a vision. Power Shift’s primary bankroller was GetUp!, who put $25,000 towards the conference. GetUp! believes that a marginal seats strategy called “Repower Australia”, is the key to action on climate change. The conference was an attempt to mobilise an army for this effort. Marginal seats campaigning, for instance the union Your Rights at Work campaign, had some use in bringing down the Howard government. But conference organisers failed to explain how this was going to work now Labor is in power. Climate campaigners can hardly threaten to campaign for the Liberals if the government does not pick up its game on climate.
The World Wildlife Fund and the Climate Institute—fresh from their appalling decision to lend Rudd’s CPRS their support—were also major backers. No surprise that their CPRS stand wasn’t mentioned.
Cutting through the greenwashing is a key task for the climate movement. Sadly Power Shift was a backward step in that process.
By James Supple

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  1. Not having been at the conference I couldn’t comment on what GetUp have planned for their marginal seats campaign.

    But, wouldn’t they target marginal left wing federal seats that have a (slim) chance of going to the Greens?
    Certainly the Greens could pick up one in the inner west. It possibly could help the Greens get the Senate spot in NSW as well. A strong 10% Green vote even in a safe Labor seat is better than a 5% one.

  2. It’s true activists could target seats the Greens have a chance of winning–in fact Greenpeace is doing this already by campaigning in the inner west in Sydney through this year. But if GetUp is going to simply campaign for the Greens it raises the question–are they going to campaign for the Greens across the board? Are they going to endorse the Greens? A more serious challenge to Labor from the left across the board electorally would be a good thing.
    The only other option involves campaigning for Liberals in some areas. GetUp’s orientation in the last federal election was more along the lines of so-called “tactical voting”–looking for any marginal seats where the government is at threat from Liberals, Nationals or Greens as a way to pressure them. As yet GetUp’s exact strategy for the next election is not clear. But they have a fetish for marginal seats campaigning and material they circulated at the PowerShift conference talked up its “power” on the electoral process. In fact we need an extra-parliamentary process if we are going to put real pressure on Labor–one which is mobilising now before we get to the election.


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