8 Key Lessons From Australia’s Election and How to Move Forward (By An Environmentalist)

8 Key Lessons From Australia’s Election and How to Move Forward (By An Environmentalist)

The election has come and gone and the votes have been counted: it’s business as usual for Australia. After six years governing the country, the Coalition are taking the reins once again and will lead Australia for another three.

Vowing never to pay attention to an opinion poll again, I took some time to reflect on how the outcome of the election dubbed “The Climate Change Election” could go so awry.

Here are some conclusions and key lessons learned from this election:

1. Climate change isn’t a priorty for most

While pre-election polls indicated that climate change would be a deciding factor as to who would win; Australia voting in the political party with the fewest climate change policies shows us that the polling data was wrong. Climate change was just one issue among many concerning Australians. Other issues of concern: jobs and stable employment, lower taxes, cheap electricity, franking credits and superannuation and negative gearing.

Environmental issues only seemed to be top priority for young voters and those who are privileged and educated enough to concern themselves with it, such as residents in the wealthy electorate of Warringah who voted out their climate change denying MP Tony Abbott.

Matt McDonald, associate professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, analysing the poll-defying results writes, “… support for climate action looks broadly consistent with a ‘post-materialist’ sensibility. Here the emphasis on quality of life over immediate economic and physical needs encourages a focus on issues like climate change. But this is a sensibility that speaks to those in higher socio-economic brackets, and principally with higher levels of education.”

If the green community is to be effective in getting climate policies through that will protect the Bight from offshore drilling or stop the Adani coal mine, it will need to step down from its perch and start learning how to communicate to the everyday Australian. It must also consider its audience; communicating to a mining community will be different to communicating to millennials in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

2. Scare campaigns work

Regardless of what you think of negative campaigns, it’s clear they work. The United Australia Party (who spent more than $60 million on ad campaigns) and the Coalition were so successful in using negativity to their advantage (plastering negative ads on billboards, TV commercials, YouTube and digital media and press conferences), they had Australians worrying about their superannuation funds, losing their jobs, losing rights to negative gear their investment properties and so on and so forth. It didn’t help that the Australian Labor Party (ALP) couldn’t articulate its policies.

Some in the ‘conscious’ community have a Pollyanna view of the world forgetting that winning an election requires good strategy: both ‘positive’ and ‘negative’ campaigning can bring desired results. While avoiding negative campaigning to take the high road sounds great in theory, they are necessary. The green movement should take a leaf out of the political party playbook and do the same thing. But instead of running scare campaigns that focus on polar bears losing their homes (because let’s face it, how many people really give a shit?), the focus should be on how climate change can cause income loss and hurt a person’s investments (what people really give a shit about).

3. Teach good sportsmanship

I played lots of sports. I lost lots of matches. When you lose, you admit defeat and congratulate the other team on their win. Then you recalibrate, you assess, you change your game so you win next time. Politics is like playing sports. I understand people are emotional but calling people who don’t think like you or vote like you all the foulest names doesn’t change the result. This is our democracy so accept it. Also we teach kids to have good sportsmanship and adults should learn the same thing. So stop it. No one likes a sore loser.

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Now, there is a wariness in regional areas of ‘elites’ and them looking down on country people breeds anti-intellectualism and resentment. The reaction from the rest of Australia with Queensland after the election results just reaffirms this distrust. If you call regional people backward, racist, redneck or xenophobic you will not endear yourself to them. In fact, they will move further to the right and it will be less likely they will listen to you. That is a silly strategy that so many ‘liberals’, ‘ethical’ and ‘conscious’ people make. So, avoid entering into discussions with the “I’m right, and you’re stupid” attitude. You won’t get anywhere with that approach.

4. Lead by example and inspire others through your actions

Our headquarters are located in regional Queensland where unemployment rates are high, and youth unemployment even higher. When I decided to focus on building up this sustainability-focussed media business several years ago, I knew I wanted to extend opportunities to young people to tackle the youth unemployment issue. So we created three traineeship opportunities and hired some high schoolers.

In my previous life, I had worked in employment and disability services helping some of Australia’s most disadvantaged get jobs, so I am greatly aware of how a job can bring financial security, a sense of meaning and purpose and can help transform someone’s life. Working with “low socioeconomic” people in this job was a humbling experience, especially having spent most of my career working in the corporate sector with Type A personalities. The couple of years spent in this industry fuelled my passion for social justice. It’s also why we hired someone with a disability for an administrative position; “giving people a fair go” is what it’s all about.

Now I also care about diversity so we have a gender-diverse, ethnically-diverse team. I care about sustainability so our headquarters runs on an off-grid solar system on a farm that is certified organic. The moral of these stories? Lead by example, put your principles into action and talk about it with people who aren’t in your inner circle so that they may feel inspired to take action too.

Writer Paulo Coelho said it best when he said, “The world is changed by your example, not by your opinion.”

5. Get out of the ‘eco’ chamber

I’ve watched as time and again, ‘eco’ progressives living within pockets of the cities and other regions, or hanging out in online communities, stick with themselves all whilst trying to attempt to “influence” other people from their “safe spaces”. Judging by the election results and what’s happening in politics right around the world, tribalism isn’t working for anyone, all you’re doing is preaching to the already converted and it’s also causing severe political polarisation. Algorithms aren’t helping the situation, keeping environmentalists locked into their online community bubbles.

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To be effective in influencing people, you need to understand other people outside the “tribe”; learn what motivates and drives them so you can effectively communicate to them. The beauty of a diverse society is that we are all different and it shouldn’t matter if someone has a different opinion – that is to be expected if you truly believe in diversity! So when communicating with someone about environmental concerns, social justice or climate change issues, keep in mind “what’s in it for them?” and tailor your message accordingly.

6. There is a “silent majority”

The voices we most often hear on social media are from those that are willing to openly discuss and publicise their viewpoints; those who aren’t afraid to deal with the consequences and criticism that may come their way. However many people prefer to keep their views private, particularly if their viewpoint is unpopular and they know they will have to endure the wrath of others in a politically-correct social environment.

Given my role of this fast-growing media site, I have been privy to many “off the record” conversations; and if this experience has taught me anything it is this – that many people are unwilling to discuss publicly what they are so willing to discuss privately.

I observed this same phenomena when Trump was voted in; it seemed no one would admit to voting for him even though it was clear that so many people had. I observed this last year when we published an essay on the gentrification and whitewashing of the eco movement, and were inundated with private messages from people agreeing with its author but afraid to do so openly due to the public outcry from white, millennial females in the community.

If the green movement is to advocate effectively, it will need to remember that those who shout the loudest, or are willing to publicise their views, do not necessarily represent the majority.

7. Hone your advocacy skills

Let’s face it, if we were better social and environmental advocates, the election result would have been different. It’s tempting to give up, but this is the time to analyse what went wrong, review strategy, work smarter and do better.

One way to do this is to improve your advocacy skills. Make sure to read our post “10 Advocacy Dos and Don’ts to Help You Become a Better Environmental Advocate” as it is a comprehensive guide that will help you do just that.

8. Enough with the moralising, it just creates an ‘us’ and ‘them’

There’s a habit in this community of people acting holier than thou, moralistic, and treating everyone else as though they are ignorant and dumb. I’m probably guilty of this myself maybe; I hope not. Just remember that facts don’t always change people’s minds. People have layers of identity and you need to find common ground first before trying to influence them on anything. Let’s face it, why should they care about the things you care about? Why should they trust you?

And just because people don’t accept your evidence or vote the way you do doesn’t make them bad people. It’s okay if they’re voting out of fear. It’s okay if they’re protecting their hard earned investments. It’s okay if they’re not willing to make the sacrifices you’re willing to make for a more sustainable or ‘equal’ society. They are human – as are you. They just have a different set of beliefs and priorities to you and as I’ve said earlier, that’s okay. We should still treat each other with dignity and respect if a kinder, better world is what we say we want. After all, shouldn’t we “be the change?” We need to be consistent with practicing this or else nothing will actually change.

One of the world’s brilliant marketing minds Seth Godin said, “People like us do things like this.” Over the last several years I have been concerned with how the green community has become an exclusive social class that Godin refers to. For the green movement to bring people into the fold, it needs to be more inclusive.

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Feature image via ABC News.

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