Talking to my Federal MP about climate change urgency

Screenshot 2016-06-08 16.31.56 Jaga JagaFor the last twenty years Jenny Macklin has been my Federal MP in the safe Labor seat of Jaga Jaga.

During that time she’s held political offices, been Minister or Shadow Minister of numerous portfolios (Aged Care, Social Security, Status of Women, Health, Education, Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation, Families and Community Services,) and currently, Families and Payments and Disability Reform.

Screenshot 2016-06-08 17.03.13She was the first woman to hold a leadership position in either of the major parties and has been Deputy to three ALP Leaders.

I’ve had various contacts with Jenny over those decades most recently on the arrival of Murundaka Cooperative Cohousing Community in her electorate.

I set up this meeting with Jenny to get the ball rolling on a conversation about the Climate Emergency. My original intention was to go with my primary concerns regarding (i) awareness of the climate change, climate justice and the short timeline for effective action; (ii) all the zero waste, zero carbon, zero pollution “by 2020” commitments that I believe are probably falling over; and (iii) Cohousing as a way of creating right-sized neighbourhood solutions for a more sustainable future and to build local resilience in the face of rapid change. As I had only half an hour I dropped (ii) the zero waste item where my focus is more on the Local and State governments anyway.

As part of my prep I conferred with a few politically savvy, experienced campaigners and well-connected people and in the process, was connected to a personal story of an avoidable tragedy related to climate change that happened in the Jaga Jaga patch. Drawing on that preparation, my approach was to initially contextualise the meeting commencing with the CoP21 experience; then to identify what we both actually care about that drives our respective work and, from there, to take Jenny through a short process that would hopefully achieve my desired outcomes for the meeting. These were to open up with Jenny the potential for a real conversation in her electorate about current and imminent climate change impacts (the emergency), about our not being ready and our need to pick up pace and finally, as part of that, to invite her to visit Murundaka to experience it first hand and meet the Cohousing Australia team in order to better understand what we are doing and why we are promoting cohousing as a good way to build resilience.

We had the meeting on Monday. It was relaxed and friendly and I think productive. Lachlan Poulter, Jenny’s Electoral Officer and Media Advisor, sat in with us.

I explained some of my experience with the CoP21 and that I knew two years earlier that that would be the one for me to go to, to be witness at – the twenty-first in the series. Jenny asked me about my drive so I explained my position on climate justice and my exasperation and inability to tolerate the injustice. Vulnerable, innocent and or poor people are being the hardest hit by impacts that they have little control over – even here in Melbourne; and I talked about the strong campaign for climate justice run by the *Coalition of the Ambitious that fed into the CoP led by the Pacific Island Nations and others; how they pushed agreement to improve the ‘target’ from the much too hot 2ºC down to a less but still too hot 1.5ºC and yet these same people are seeing their islands going under the ocean. …. as their neighbours we should be making them welcome here, … I believe that we have a…. (Jenny said) “responsibility” … exactly. And where is the conversation about less than 1.5º; about much less – the actual restoration of safe climate conditions?

Jenny explained that she had gone into politics with a strong commitment to social justice. We discussed the “passion” word – personally I think that’s for sailing and stamp collecting. For me “Commitment” is a better word for this area of focus, it is not something the other person can flick off as an indulgence quite so easily as “passion”. Plus if you have commitment and the other person doesn’t, does that say something about them?

I drew a diagram starting with Jaga Jaga in the centre as something we both have in common and central to our conversation. I put the CoP21 below that as that had triggered my questions ‘what did the CoP21 agreement (that Australia was part of) mean for Jaga Jaga?’ and ‘what do the impacts of climate change and climate justice mean for Jaga Jaga?’ and this meeting.

This led to talk about the climate change impacts. Greg had given me some great leads and material. The links are listed below. I quoted the VCOSS report that said “Heatwaves cause more deaths in Australia each year than any other natural disaster, and have a greater negative impact on population health than any other natural hazard. Over recent years Australia has experienced unprecedented heatwaves, and the frequency and intensity of extreme heat events is likely to increase as our climate changes.” At this point I also brought in the story told by Maggie Baron. Maggie is the sister of a woman and her partner who died together inside their home in Jaga Jaga in the terrible heat wave of 2014.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 6.20.12 PMI also reminded us all about the horrendous heat of 2009 when Melbourne had a record breaking heatwave for two weeks reaching an all-time record for any major Australian city of 46.5ºC (115ºF). The overnight lows remained in the twenties for days.

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 7.40.06 PM

374 people died (ABS). When the state erupted in fires so fierce they broke all sorts of terrible records and another 173 people died (Royal commission) with 414 officially injured. (I don’t know how many dead and injured were residents of Jaga Jaga but all-told that’s 547 deaths, nearly 1000 people directly impacted. Not many media connected those dots. (The Guardian was one that did.)

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 4.48.41 PM

Screen Shot 2016-06-07 at 4.44.50 PMWe are not ready for what’s coming and now we have to play Catch Up in quick time to prepare for what we know is going to get worse. Vulnerable people’s lives are already at stake. We have to work hard and fast to get onto the front foot, build resilience. I explained that I fully expect Murundaka will be one of the beacons in this part of the world as things get tougher. People will be (are) beating a path to our door wanting to know how we do things. I said we already run many workshops but there is more we can all do and we need to be working together.

Jenny mentioned Labor’s ‘Community Power Network Hub’ program and Lachlan gave me a copy. Having now read it a few notes have been added at the bottom of this article.

I mentioned The Neighbourhood Renewal scheme and how that model might be a good example enabling things like climate controls to be installed in the homes of vulnerable people and public housing tenants.

I spoke about the doctorate and the work that is being done to ask (and then answer) the question: Can we restore safe climate conditions? Jenny asked me what I meant by ‘safe’ – I clarified safe was for all people and species and generations and elaborated. It didn’t means hurricanes and bushfires and tsunamis and volcanoes wouldn’t happen. Climate conditions minus the anthropogenic influence of carbon energising and over-heating the big natural systems.

Jenny asked me what I was wanting from the meeting.

I said I wanted to see a proper conversation happening in Jaga Jaga talking about climate change impacts, about building resilience and even talking about restoring safe climate conditions.

And I want Jenny to visit Murundaka and see it for herself which is something she does want to do. I said Cohousing Australia is based at Murundaka and it is trying to promote cohousing throughout Australia and that cohousing is an excellent way to build community, build resilience and tackle climate change. I told her I researched 30 communities overseas last year and I gave her a couple of diagrams. One goes into how cohousing can help communities deal with the negative impacts of dangerous climate change and how it can also address the positive changes in the way we live that can create a different story. She asked me how often we meet and I said about monthly but that I have in mind an event a bit bigger than that and something that she would be a key part of. Jenny is happy to be involved and the question is when. A date was not possible due to the proximity of the election. If Labor wins they will be very busy and it will be a bit further down the track before we can firm this up. If the Liberals win then Jenny will be potentially available for something like this within a couple of months.

The follow-up from here will be an email to Jenny firming this up as much as we can and in that I will include the opportunity to introduce her to Maggie, if not at the event that has been mooted, then perhaps at a specific meeting at her office for that purpose. I’ll respond about the power-hub and any opportunities I can see within it and couch it all in terms of building the groundswell of a real conversation in Jaga Jaga talking about climate change impacts, about building resilience and about restoring safe climate conditions.

Jenny and Lachlan both saw me out and we got a photo out on the footpath.

Screenshot 2016-06-06 16.34.15 jenny and me


Further information and links.

* Wed 9th December, 2015 – Day 3 of CoP21 – The Guardian reported that “A coalition representing more than 100 countries, formed in secrecy six months ago, has emerged at key UN talks in Paris to push for a legally binding global and ambitious deal on climate change. The “high ambition coalition” speaks for the majority of the 195 countries at the crunch conference and consists of 79 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, the US and all of EU member states.”

An article by Greg Foyster Heatwaves hurt disadvantaged Australians the hardest written for the ABC March 2014 contains some alarming maps correlating infra-red data identifying hotter areas with social economic data identifying poorer areas.

Hotting Up Greg’s Big Issue article (p.14) about killer heat-waves and extreme weather patterns and Maggie Baron’s story (p.17) about losing her sister in the January 2014 heatwave. Maggie’s sister had a mental illness and lived in public/social housing in Heidelberg West – near Olympic village.

A good VCOSS study on heatwaves and vulnerable people in Victoria: Feeling the Heat – Heatwaves and social vulnerability in Victoria

Community solar for social housing/renters. A good example is the Darebin solar savers program,  [NB Murundaka is now also a case study of community solar.] Pgs 34-35 of Environment Victoria’s ‘Six Steps to Efficiency Leadership’ report explain how to do this, with a case study of Darebin Solar Savers.

Labor Policy

Jenny had also asked Lachlan to give me a copy of the Community Power Network Fact Sheet one of Labor’s 100 Positive Policies, which puts $98.7 million to support the creation of up to ten Community Power Hubs in the areas of most need. Looking specifically at social and community housing, rental properties and apartment-style living this goes some way to recognizing certain barriers and taking relevant action.

NB In my view the Policy shows that Labor still profoundly underestimates the reality of the impacts that the science is indicating and evidence is now supporting, the enormity of the climate change threat and the virtual head-in-the-sand approach, our country’s appalling lack of readiness and the now pronounced urgency for action. This is why we need to open up the conversation in Jaga Jaga and every electorate.

I also picked up Labor’s “Climate Change Action Plan” Fact Sheet. Labor states it accepts the science, endorses the commitment by the world’s nations in Paris in 2015 to keep global warming well below two degrees Celsius as well as a more qualified commitment in the agreement around 1.5 degree threshold and understand “particularly damaging to economies and environment … more extreme weather events …. Heightened instability in our region”. All good.

BUT their ‘best plan ’ – that they describe as ‘the most economically efficient way’ – aims to deliver only 50% renewable energy and that not until 2030. In my view they do not have, as they say they do, a ‘plan to combat climate change’ and the plan the do have is not ensuring workers and business ‘are in the best position to benefit from the huge investment and job opportunities’. Again, this is why this conversation has to be cranked up.


This is not about Labor or any of the Capitol ‘P’ Political parties who are all falling short of what’s needed on the topic of climate change. This is about getting the correct information out there, giving all the parties the opportunity to step up to the actual challenge (and opportunity) we face, realizing the consequences are not just political and there is no carpet under which they can be swept. It’s about recognising that those who are awake to the danger need to be inspired that real action can bring real change, that there is a way through this and that the leadership has to come from us and that there’s not a minute to lose. To snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and to reclaim the chance to create the safe climate world we want to live in I have to agree with the Save The Planet party. There can be “No Compromise on Global Warming”.

First we need the space and time and support for the calm, truthful and fruitful conversation to commence.



About Giselle Wilkinson - 4allsentientbeings

Environmental conservation, community and cooperatives have been enduring threads in my life. Promoting sustainable lifestyles and more lately, focussing on restoring a Safe Climate, is work expressed predominantly through organisations such as The Sustainable Living Foundation (which I co-founded in 1999 - current President) and the others listed as links below. I am some way into a professional doctorate with MIECAT on "Mobilising Whole Communities to Restore a Sustainable Environment" and have in recent years moved into MURUNDAKA – a (more) sustainable, (more) affordable co-housing community / housing cooperative in Heidelberg, Melbourne (for which I gave up my co-op house of 19 years including veggie garden and small orchard) and it's great. I'm also a mum of two grown up daughters and have five step children.
This entry was posted in Climate Change, Cohousing, COP21. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s