Interview: Common Ground
Industrial: A Low Act
Unions: The Number of the Least
Politics: The Smoking Gun
Economics: Microcredit, Compulsory Superannuation and Inequality
Environment: Low Voltage
History: The Art of Social Justice
Review: Work’s Unhealthy Appetite
Culture: A Forgotten Poet
From Green House to Glass House
Interview with Peter Lewis
The debate over climate change has appeared to ramp up in the past few months, why is that?
What we have seen over the past few months is the sceptics run out of ways to pretend dangerous man-made climate change is not a reality. The debate is over and the Australian community is now engaged in a discussion about the likely impacts of climate change in the future and what to do about it. The Prime Minister has painted himself into a corner by being a climate change sceptic as public opinion research shows Australians don't buy his spin and know much more needs to be done.
Has there been a conscious push to mainstream the issue or has the mainstream come to the issue?
Both the scientific community and the environment movement have, I believe, consciously changed the way they communicate recently so as to make sense to mainstream Australia. As a group of people concerned about and campaigning on this issue of climate change, we have had to speak to people about how this is relevant to their lives and move away from the jargon that only really makes sense to those people we know already agree with us.
But, the evidence of man-made climate change is overwhelming and that has also made this a mainstream issue - because it is unavoidable and will and already is impacting on everyone's lives.
Globally, where is Australia in the debate?
Right up there with the United States, which means they are both well behind the rest of the world. The Prime Minister has steadfastly maintained that setting targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would damage Australia's economy but leading economists here and overseas, like the former World Bank economist Nicholas Stern, are lining up to punch holes in that position. The sad situation right now is that the Prime Minister can't seem to be able to admit he was wrong and get on with doing what the majority of Australians want him to do.
As an outsider from the labour movement, what's your impression of the ALP position?
My view is that Labor made a stuttering start on climate change as it had a stronger range of policies than the Coalition but then confused a number of people by appearing to sound just like the government on things like the reality of climate change, the need for a carbon tax and related issues like increased uranium mining. Recently though, Labor has sounded stronger and more definite than ever on the need for greater action, but there are still some things to iron out, such as uranium mining and exports. I don't think as a nation we can consciously argue for action to create a better Australia and safer global climate but then contribute to the development of a nuclear industry that opens the way for nuclear proliferation.
There are obviously key areas of union membership whose futures are tied up in existing energy industry, what do you say to them?
There are great economic and employment opportunities available in a diversified energy sector. In the next five years in Australia, the environment industry, which includes renewable energy projects, is projected to be worth $40 billion to the Australian economy. Australia has smart people with smart technologies ready to go that are already generating new opportunities. If the Prime Minister lifts his foot off the brake, Australian workers will have more choice and more opportunities.
What do you do with workers whose jobs are directly threatened?
There must be funding for the sort of structural adjustment that will occur. Funding for more training and for relocation if that's necessary. In recent years the NSW Government has come up with some excellent ways to protect remaining forests in western NSW for instance and ensure that workers in timber mills were not disadvantaged. This is not rocket science, there are proven ways to protect jobs and the environment at the same time.
The two big political campaigns from the progressive side of politics appear to be IR and global warming - are there common threads between the two?
Absolutely. A happy, healthy workforce operating in a clean and healthy environment is the only way the Australia will continue to prosper. But if you trash workers conditions, turn people into numbers and expect them to thrive in a world with prolonged drought, disease, flooding and intense bushfires, my guess is that society will unravel pretty quickly.
Do you see the two campaigns competing for air or complimenting each other?
Environment issues rarely top the list of priorities in any election campaign but this next federal election is shaping up as one that will be decided on IR and climate change. The unions' Rights At Work campaign has given Labor its best chance of booting the Coalition out of office and the Prime Minister's inaction on climate change can only serve to complement Labor's election campaign and herald the return of progressive politics in this country.
What lessons do you think the green movement can offer unions as we switch our focus to community campaigning?
Ironically, it is the environment movement that learnt from the union movement about grassroots campaigning but the lessons now I think work both ways. The environment is fundamental to our survival, something everyone relies on and the lesson from the community is that it must no longer be treated as just one 'issue' - by government or by environmental campaigners. The same, I think, works for the union movement because maintaining, not undermining, conditions for working Australians is not a single issue but one fundamental to what makes up a healthy community.
Conversely, what lessons have you taken from the union rights at work campaign?
It's clear the unions campaign has been able to identify and exploit the weaknesses in the Prime Minister's tactics. Obviously careful research and planning went into that and serves as a reminder to all campaigners that you must be able to gauge and understand what average Australians think rather than assuming you know from the outset.
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