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Simon Holmes à Court
Accelerating transformation

46 min 2 sec

Simon Holmes à Court began his career as a software engineer in Silicon Valley during the first dotcom wave, then spent over a decade in precision farm water management. Holmes à Court was a driving force behind the country’s first community-owned wind farm, Hepburn Wind. He is an energy analyst, clean tech investor, climate philanthropist, and director of the Smart Energy Council and the Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network. He is also the founder of Climate 200, the community crowdfunding initiative that rallied for climate, integrity and gender equity at the 2022 Federal election, helping to elect seven new independents to the Australian Parliament.

Marian Wilkinson is a multi-award-winning journalist whose career has spanned radio, television and print, covering politics, national security and climate change. She has been a foreign correspondent in Washington for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age and executive producer of the ABC’s Four Corners. As environment editor for the SMH in 2009 her joint Four Corners production, The Tipping Point, reporting on the rapid melt of Arctic Sea ice won a Walkley Award. Wilkinson has authored four books including, The Carbon Club: How a network of influential climate sceptics, politicians and business leaders fought to control Australia’s climate policy (2020).

Championing Australia’s clean energy transition, long-term energy analyst and renewables investor Simon Holmes à Court is determined to accelerate action on climate change. Holmes à Court is also the founder of Climate 200, the community crowdfunding initiative aimed at supporting candidates with a science-based approach to climate change in the 2022 Federal election.

We caught a wave, we didn’t create this wave, this wave was ready. But when the wave came, we and the independents movement were able to catch that wave and ride it all the way into the shore almost flawlessly.

– Simon Holmes à Court

Familiarity is the best antidote to drummed up outrage.

– Simon Holmes à Court

It’s amazing what Australia has been able to achieve during the last nine years of negative energy policy, basically designed to slow down renewable energy.

– Simon Holmes à Court

It’s a very uneven playing field at our elections, we have electoral rules that set out terms of engagement for elections and those rules are written by the winners.

– Simon Holmes à Court

[Climate 200] only [has] three [values], which is a science-based response to climate change, restoring integrity to Parliament, and lastly, the treatment and safety of women.

– Simon Holmes à Court

[Australia has] gone from about 9 per cent to 34 per cent renewables in the national electricity market over the last 12 years and over the next 8 years we’ll see that going up … possibly exceeding 80 per cent.

– Simon Holmes à Court

We caught a wave, we didn’t create this wave, this wave was ready. But when the wave came, we and the independents movement were able to catch that wave and ride it all the way into the shore almost flawlessly.

– Simon Holmes à Court

Marian Wilkinson

Hello and welcome to 100 Climate Conversations at the Powerhouse museum. I’d like to acknowledge that we’re meeting on the traditional lands of the Gadigal People of the Eora nation and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future. Today is number 44 of 100 Climate Conversations happening every Friday at the museum. The series presents 100 visionary Australians who are taking positive action to respond to the most critical issue of our time. We’re recording live today in the boiler haul of the Powerhouse museum. Before it was home to the museum, it was the Ultimo Power Station. Built in 1899, it supplied coal powered electricity to Sydney’s tram system right up until the 1960s. So, it’s fitting that in this Powerhouse museum we shift our focus forward to the solutions to the climate crisis.

My name is Marian Wilkinson, I’ve written and broadcast many stories about climate change. My latest book, The Carbon Club, describes the fraught political battles over our climate policy that tore Australia apart for decades. So, I’m excited to have sitting next to me today someone who’s passionate about changing the politics of climate change in our country. Simon Holmes á Court began his career as a software engineer in Silicon Valley. He also became a driving force behind the country’s first community owned wind farm. Simon is also an energy analyst, a director of the Smart Energy Council and advisor to the Climate and Energy College at Melbourne University and author of a new essay, The Big Teal. At the last election, the organisation founded by Simon, Climate 200, rallied thousands of Australians to support and fund community backed independent candidates who wanted action on climate change, integrity in politics and gender equality. Seven of those independents were elected to parliament, upending the political establishment and catapulting Simon into the national media spotlight.

Please make Simon Holmes á Court welcome here today. Simon, you describe yourself as an introverted nerd when you were a kid, you bought your first computer at the age of 10. Where did this early fascination with technology come from?

Simon Holmes á Court

I was always fascinated by electricity, by things that moved by pulleys and strings, and I tied them up over the house and had light switches that I’d make and I had a very early interest in engineering. And still, if I come across something that I don’t understand, it bugs me until I’ve either taken it apart or these days, like you can deep dive on Wikipedia or wherever, but I need to understand how things work.

MW

Well, your mother, Janet Holmes á Court was a successful businesswoman and philanthropist, but you also credit her with your early love for the environment that also began when you were a kid. How did she bring you to the environment?

SHC

Probably the first introduction I had was my parents had a passion with planting trees. We have a family farm about an hour south of Perth. And it’s otherwise a pretty sandy area of cleared paddocks all the way down the bottom of the escarpment running south of Perth. And my parents, led by my mother, planted tens of thousands of trees and changed the microclimate in that area. As you were driving down the highway, it’d be blistering, blistering hot. You’d pull into the farm and it was like an oasis.

But every couple of years, my mother would take us down to the south-west of WA where the majestic karri trees grow, some of the tallest trees in the country, and we would stop the car on the side of the road and just get out and be amongst the trees. But on a few occasions, my mother took us back a few hundred metres behind the road on little side trails, and we saw the clear-felling, the clear-felling of that bush and I remember I had a deep sense of both loss, but also that we were being conned; that they had left us a lovely little avenue of trees to drive through, thinking that the forest would go on for miles but you’d go 300 metres back and find clear-felling.

MW

And that obviously has stuck with you over the years. I wanted though, to also mention your father. You can’t escape the media label as son of Australia’s first billionaire. So, let’s talk about that. Your late father was Perth businessman Robert Holmes á Court, he was one of Australia’s most famous and many say most feared corporate figures. Also, though, an outsider with the Australian business establishment. What did you learn from him that you think has stuck with you through your career?

SHC

He was an incredibly hard worker. I probably get my lack of work life balance from him. He had no automatic trust or reverence for the establishment. He was from Zimbabwe or Rhodesia, as it was called at the time. That’s where he grew up and moved to – left southern Africa pretty much as soon as he could, spent a few years in New Zealand and ended up in Perth, no one quite knows why, but by the time he became active in Australian corporate life, he was this unusual man from Western Australia who didn’t seem to understand the conventions, didn’t have a membership to the Melbourne Club or all the things that were necessary or thought to be necessary to work in business. So, he had an irreverence I guess and had a cheekiness or a sense of humour when he was breaking the establishment’s rules, he enjoyed that most.

MW

You’d been at Perth University, I think, and University of WA, you’d flirted with law, politics, quite a few things. But you ended up in America at Dartmouth College when the digital revolution was really taking off, studying cognitive and computer science. How critical was that decision for you and your timing at landing in America then?

Familiarity is the best antidote to drummed up outrage.

– Simon Holmes à Court

SHC

It was an amazing time, amazing time to be there. In that, firstly that college I went to, Dartmouth had a very strong tradition in computer science. I finished that off and it was right at the time that the dot com boom was booming in Silicon Valley. And I got a job offer to go work for Netscape, one of the first browser manufacturers and it began – that was the beginning of five years in Silicon Valley, which was just a fascinating time to be there.

MW

You decided, though, to come back to Australia in September 2001 and at the time you came back, Australia was just entering really the long years of the millennial drought. You took an interesting job then, you went to work for the family company, but in the area of water management and using digital technology to change the way water and stock was managed on the cattle stations of the company. Now, what inspired that idea? And I’m wondering to what you began to learn about the impact of harsh environments on Australia in the future understanding of climate change?

SHC

Well, leaving the US was a tough decision, it was so stimulating to be there and not just the technology sphere, but the arts and the intersection of technology and arts in San Francisco. After the 2000 US election, the Bush Gore and the hanging chads where the election ended up in the Supreme Court. As expats, for the first time we felt that being an outsider in a country was no longer appealing, but that this political system was one that we didn’t want to buy into, that we didn’t want to bring up our – we had one child at that point – and we didn’t want him to be brought up in that culture. So we made a tough decision to leave and go back to Australia, still unsure whether we would be permanently back in Australia or we’d just be there for a year, and we left on the 10th of September in 2001, missing September 11, arriving on the 12th. And when we landed, it felt very much like we’d made the right decision just in that moment.

And two days later I was up on one of my family’s cattle stations. Couldn’t be further away culturally and probably physically from the events in New York, and I started listening to what were the problems on cattle stations that needed to be solved. There had been an advertisement at the 2000 Olympics that Telstra put on, showing farmers looking at their water troughs, measuring, seeing how much water there was in tanks on farms and starting pumps from the comfort of the homestead and cattle station managers said we want that technology. So, I hunted around and found out that it actually didn’t exist, it was just a wonderful ad that Telstra had put together. So, we set about trying to work out how to build it and I scoured the country looking for solutions and eventually realised that I would basically have to build it myself.

Now the problem on the cattle stations was at that stage, yes, the drought was on, so the properties were under financial stress, but the resources sector was booming and everyone with a pulse could get a fantastic job up on the mines, a very well-paid job, so it was extremely hard for cattle stations to fully staff themselves and they simply couldn’t afford to have someone to do the traditional bore run, which means getting in a car and driving past every bore and water trough, checking on it. And some of these properties, it takes two days to do that trip. You do it three times a week, maybe have Sunday off if you’ve been on time and then start again the next week and it was too hard to do that to find people to do it. So, we looked to technology, and I built a company around developing technology that would work in those harsh environments.

MW

Well, during this period when you were developing the company, was also a time when the consciousness of climate change in Australia really began to rise and the Labor Party were campaigning heavily on it for the 2007 election. For you, when did climate change become a really pressing issue, do you think?

SHC

I went to the first – one of the first climate conferences in Australia, Greenhouse 88. And I’d love to say that radicalised me, but I was a year 11 student and I think we took the afternoon off and hung out in Melbourne. But it did sit in the back of my mind but didn’t really consume me for almost I think it was 19 years later when I became aware of a project in Daylesford where we have a farm nearby, where a Danish man, Per Bernard had set up a card table in the main street and he was describing his vision. He was from Denmark, where most wind farms at the time were owned by communities, and he thought we should have a community wind farm in Daylesford. He had a wind atlas on the table which showed we were in a really windy area, he had a diagram that showed how a co-operative would work and share benefits with the community and sell its energy to the national electricity market. And he had a signup sheet, and I was probably the 300th person to sign up saying I support the idea.

A few months later, I was called to a town hall meeting where the community was going to decide whether to press ahead with the project and I was completely sold. I went along to the meeting very interested, and I came out accidentally as the chairman of this project. And I thought it would take a year or so, maybe three months to raise the money and nine months to get all the contracts together and naively thought it would be built right away. It ended up being about a five-year process from end to end. But now the wind farms about 12 years old and generates as much power each year as the houses in the local towns use. So, it was a turning point that project that really got me into the intersection between community – it’s community owned, 2000 members – the climate imperative, but importantly the politics and the communication to make the whole project come together.

MW

And I wanted to talk to you about that steep learning curve you went through with Hepburn, because, of course, one of the things you discovered at this time was the power of the anti-wind lobby in Australia, particularly in Victoria. Why was it so strong here, do you think, and has it changed?

SHC

Yeah, that was a fascinating period where the public had very little familiarity with wind farms and were very receptive to misinformation. And there was almost a cottage industry of opposing wind farms. There were half a dozen people who would move around the country stirring up anti-wind fervour and in communities that were, in many cases, quite receptive to the fear campaigns around it. And that was part of the genesis of Hepburn Wind.

Per Benard, the project’s founder, had gone along to a wind farm meeting, a consultation meeting with the community in a town maybe half an hour from Daylesford and he was fascinated and excited that we were going to have a wind farm. There were no wind farms within a three-hour drive of Daylesford at that point. And he went along, and he said that the aggression towards the developer was palpable, and the developer was frightened off and the project was dumped, and the community thought it had a win. He was devastated that that was the community’s first response and that was part of his impetus for rallying the troops.

What was fascinating is as our community became more familiar with the concept of the wind farm and we ran free bus tours to go visit a wind farm. So, the three hour drive up the road and people had picnics under the under the turbines and there was no pile of dead birds, and engineers would come and talk about how they worked, and people would notice that the turbines didn’t sound like jet engines and people could see how they could fit into the landscape and fit into their community. So, our community became insulated from the anti-wind movement. The anti-wind movement largely stayed away from us, certainly on the ground. They were horrible online, but that probably was a good training for me on how to deal with trolls or how to understand how online trolling worked. But also, a great lesson for me that familiarity is the best antidote to drummed up outrage.

MW

The other thing that happened, of course, was that you look to a new way of raising money because initially you were raising money on the back of the global financial crisis. Eventually, of course, as you say, the project got off the ground and there was quite an amazing day, I think, when the first turbine was launched. Tell me about that day and how important it was for you.

SHC

It was the 18th of March 2011. I still remember it. We had about 350 people came and sat on a hill about 3 or 400 metres away from where the first turbine of the first community wind farm in Australia was going up. And people brought their picnic blankets and baskets, there was – someone brought a barista van, there was some local musicians brought their instruments. We had a string quartet and some guitar in the afternoon. And people sat there and just very quietly watched as each of the tower sections were put in place, and then the nacelle, the box that sits on top, it went on top, and it was quite amazing. And the first rotor went on. The blades and the hub just happened to be the same day that massive protest in Canberra, the ‘ditch the witch’ rally with Tony Abbott and Sophie Mirabella, making people so angry about fear of what climate action would do and here we were sitting on a hill watching this community response in a much more positive frame. Just the juxtaposition of the two, we saw the news coming through from Canberra and there was such a sense of pride in our community that we had dealt with the uncertainty of change in a much more positive way.

MW

Well, as you say, climate change became very fraught after that, and when the Labor Party left and the Coalition came to power, it did become much more difficult. You by this stage were really advocating on behalf of renewable energy. How important were groups like the Smart Energy Council, like your colleagues at Melbourne University’s Climate and Energy College, how important were they in keeping that vision of renewable energy alive?

It’s amazing what Australia has been able to achieve during the last nine years of negative energy policy, basically designed to slow down renewable energy.

– Simon Holmes à Court

SHC

Well, it’s amazing what Australia has been able to achieve during the last nine years of negative energy policy, basically designed to slow down renewable energy. I mean, we had the renewable energy target was cut back in 2015. We had a government that had a lot of antipathy towards the sector, but yet in that period Australia went from about 9 per cent renewables and we’re 34 per cent today. So even in that environment, the sector did very well in doing what it said it would do. So, I think that’s a real testament not only to so many great people I’ve met in in the industry, but to all the advocates that did, as I did, endless trips up to Canberra to try to talk some sense into MPs that were fighting culture wars rather than looking after the interests of Australia. But that period did give me a great sense of frustration with how politics works or doesn’t work.

MW

You did I think in 2017 decide to leap into some climate politics yourself rather than just try and go and advocate. You decided to get to know the Coalition Energy and Environment Minister of the day, Josh Frydenberg, and to join an organisation that was helping to fundraise for him. Why did you think that might be a good idea at the time?

SHC

Back in 2013 was probably where this journey with the Coalition began. I met with Greg Hunt on many occasions when he was the responsible minister and even when he was in opposition, and up until around 2012, there was bipartisanship on renewable energy. Yes, there was big disagreements on carbon pricing, but on renewable energy, a lot of people forget, and I know you wouldn’t, that it was the Howard government that introduced the renewable energy target. And in 2009 when the Labor government increased the target, I remember Greg Hunt berating Labor that it took them so long, he said you had two years from election till now to increase the target and you did nothing.

In a very short space of time in about 2012 we started to see fractures in support. I think the anti-wind movement might have been a part of that. Certainly, it had activated a bunch of regional MPs and one of the warriors of that movement, Angus Taylor, had been elected and we started to see more than just fractures. We started to see an antipathy towards renewable energy. And I’d been going up to Canberra with various advocacy groups working across the aisle to – and especially with this focus on community energy, that communities could benefit. We could share these benefits and it would have social, environmental and economic benefits in regional areas. And I saw the coalition just slipping away from reality on this issue. And I thought it would be a good idea to get to know my local member. I live in Kooyong, my local member back then was Josh Frydenberg and he was some young, up and coming, clearly very ambitious, in a I think a fairly progressive on these issues seat.

So, I thought it’d be a good idea to get to know him and I spent time with him each year from 2013 trying to help him see the opportunity that we – to be on the right side of history, I knew which way things were going to go, and I think anyone watching would know which way they’re going to go, and they have. And trying to help him see that a viable political path for him was to get on the right side of that history. So, in 2017, I saw that his stature had been growing, and I wanted him to succeed. And I thought it would be a good idea to join his fundraising group, Kooyong 200. But it was it was in my second year of membership to that organisation where I wrote an article that criticised energy policy or steps that he had taken, and evidently he didn’t appreciate that because I was kicked out of the club in less than 24 hours with my membership and donation returned.

MW

Now, in some senses, I think your response was Climate 200. There’s been a lot said about Climate 200, but what exactly is it?

SHC

So, partly – that was one of many experiences that helped shape me, but I saw that change from within would be the most effective pathway and that’s how I had engaged up until it was made very clear to me on a couple of occasions that that path was not going to work. At the same time, I got to see the independents at work. I hadn’t paid much attention, Cathy McGowan had been elected through this community independents model in 2013. It actually started a year before in 2012 so we’re now at the 10th anniversary of the community independents model. And I watched, but not paid too much attention to the independents on the crossbench in the 2010/13 Parliament, particularly Oakeshott and Windsor.

They did what they thought was right to do, they took a principled stand, a moral stand and played a very significant role in the Clean Energy Future package and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and a Clean Energy Finance Corporation are with us today, clearly the carbon price isn’t. But I saw how those independents and the ones after had been repeatedly the conscience and the backbone of Parliament, particularly on the refugee issues. It was the independents that gave us the medevac legislation, the independents played a major role in getting kids out of detention. I got to see through some work I did in the refugee movement, just how effective independents can be in effecting change and started to develop an understanding of this community independents movement which I’m in boots and all now.

MW

What could Climate 200 contribute to that that was unique?

It’s a very uneven playing field at our elections, we have electoral rules that set out terms of engagement for elections and those rules are written by the winners.

– Simon Holmes à Court

SHC

So, it’s a very uneven playing field at our elections, we have electoral rules that set out terms of engagement for elections and those rules are written by the winners. They’re written by those who have power and wish to retain power and they’ve been very effective. And the party structure brings other benefits to it, but they’ve been, those structures have been very effective in keeping a playing field constrained mainly to two major players, the red team and the blue team. And the ball passes back and forth between these teams every few terms. And it’s been us for the last 70 plus years. Yes, there have been some incursions and it’s great to see the longevity of the Greens and the Democrats were once a great force in making this a better game, but the odds have always been stacked against newcomers coming to this political machine.

I saw this movement where communities were selecting their own leaders and saw how they could run effective campaigns, but saw an opportunity to help those communities, help them run campaigns with the professionalism that the majors could afford due to the benefits they have, so that if – the theory being that if they had access to assistance, whether that’s advice or fundraising assistance, then they would be able to compete on a more level playing field with the majors.

So, I did a small trial of this in 2019, I didn’t know anything about elections at the time, and I came in way too late. We started Climate 200 six weeks before the election. Now almost all the expenditure for an election has to be booked in months or weeks in advance of that so it was it was too little, too late. But I learnt a lot and I proved that there are Australians who are prepared to contribute to a project like that and that with the right support we can level the playing field somewhat. So, that was a learning experience in 2019 that really set us up for the election we just had.

MW

2022 obviously it was a huge election for Climate 200. Just briefly, what do you think was the big change you made with Climate 200 that made it so much more successful in both raising money and providing support for candidates in that election? What did you do differently and were you a more sophisticated and professional organisation?

SHC

Absolutely, in 2019, it was basically just me hopping on the phone, calling people I’ve met through philanthropic networks with this crazy idea and very rapidly trying to understand how to help campaigns. Like so many people who advocated in this space, I was very disappointed that it wasn’t the climate election that we all hoped for. I’d finished the compliance activities and I put Climate 200 bed thinking that maybe that was it.

About the beginning of 2021, I felt there’s a different mood in Australia. There is increased frustration with the lack of action on climate integrity, two issues – the two issues that Climate 200 was formed to address. And I engaged a couple of political experts to do a review for me, the parties to do a review. So, if we’re going to be engaged in politics, let’s do a review, learn what we did wrong and what we could do better. As this review was being undertaken, Cathy McGowan and some friends ran a conference called Getting Elected and they’re focussing on community independents. They had about 350 people from 81 communities turn up to this online event and I saw that the community independents – more so than just independents, but ones that were chosen by their community, supported by their community with deep social links into those communities could be a very, very powerful force and were already had great momentum.

So, it was a very successful election for us, but only as part of a huge movement that had momentum. Momentum which I think kicked on significantly by the conditions of the pandemic, meant that people spent time at home more focussed on their communities than before. And were organising over Zoom every night of 2021 there were meetings and public forums, strategy sessions, working out how to develop this movement. So we were just one cog in this community, independents movement.

Another turning point, though, is in March of 2021, the I guess, culmination of the events around the treatment and safety of women, particularly in Parliament House, but half a dozen, maybe even a dozen cases culminating in the March for Justice. A friend and later member of our advisory board, Julia Banks, contacted me and said, ‘This climate integrity thing is great, but the rich vein of frustration in Australia right now, every woman and most men are white hot with anger at not just the events but the handling of the events by the government.’ So I was quickly convinced that we would add treatment and safety of women to Climate 200’s values.

So, we only have three, which is a science-based response to climate change, restoring integrity to Parliament, and lastly, the treatment and safety of women. Those three values are sort of guiding principles of – if a campaign has those features, then we’re really interested in supporting them.

MW

I do have to go to election night 2022, because I know you were on a number of TVs that night, but personally, how did you feel? Did you feel Australia could change from its binary approach to politics and especially climate politics?

SHC

I had protected myself against having too high hopes. Our polling five weeks out gave us great confidence that the seven campaigns that ultimately won were on a track to winning a win. When you first start polling an independent, they might only have 8 per cent of the vote and then you see it as name recognition and people understand them and understand their values and what their positions are. You see that climbing up through the teens up to 20 per cent and it’s got to get to about 30 per cent by election day and we saw that there was a clear trajectory there and it kicked up after the election was announced and people started paying attention.

So, the numbers told me that we would very likely have success that night, but I had steeled myself against any expectation having been let down so, so much in in 2019 and other elections, that people tried to turn into a referendum on Australia’s response to climate change. I was in Kooyong that night when we started seeing results come through for booths that we thought would never shift and seeing 8 per cent swings in those booths, it quickly became apparent that that excitement was warranted and we just kept hearing results coming from around the country. And the seven that we thought would win on election night did win all seven of them, so amazing result.

What was even more exciting is that there were six other community independents around the country who came second, and most of those are interested in running again and we’ve seen in so many places, it’s actually the second attempt where people get over the line. So, this is not an overnight success, this movement started a full decade ago with Voices of Indi and the selection of Cathy McGowan as their candidate. But this is absolutely not the end of the road we’ve got so many who came close and then at the latest Community Independents Project Conference, there were people from 100 electorates present who are interested in adapting and adopting this model to their community’s needs.

MW

I feel in so many ways that that campaign was for you the right time in history, and I wanted to ask you about the role of social media, obviously, the role you yourself took, but also Climate 200. One of the things I’ve been told is that Climate 200’s social media advertising was some of the most successful of that campaign outside the major parties. And one Facebook ad you had in particular had huge resonance, it was called Kids Deserve a Better Planet. I don’t know if you even remember it, but according to RMIT, it was one of the most successful Facebook ads of the campaign. Does that surprise you?

[Climate 200] only [has] three [values], which is a science-based response to climate change, restoring integrity to Parliament, and lastly, the treatment and safety of women.

– Simon Holmes à Court

SHC

No, I’ve got a lot out of social media. I often hear, you know, journalists and politicians call Twitter, for example, a sewer, or a cesspit. But I’ve found it an incredible place for organising, for meeting people who you otherwise wouldn’t have an opportunity to meet, for access to leaders, to major journalists, to opinion makers and shapers. If you’ve got something to say and you can back it and be convincing, with it, it is a fantastic place to build community. And that was one of the big differences between Climate 200 2019 and 2021 is that we went out to the public and made it a massive crowdfunding campaign.

So, more than 11,000 people ended up donating, we had people from every one of 151 electorates in Australia contributing and it became an army of supporters online who would support the candidates in their online. So, we had recruited this great big online army but then for social media, for the advertising, as you said we did focus a lot on creating good content and we worked with some experts on how to target that content, make sure it went not only to the target seats, but to persuadable people in the targeted seats using all the best and worst of what Facebook gives you in that tooling.

But we had very much – I mean Climate 200 didn’t have an office we lived online through this massive crowdfunding campaign. Supporting all – each of the campaigns was an independent satellite and in the end, we provided probably 30 to 40 per cent of the funding so the minority but helped to increase the chance of riding this wave in. So, we talk a lot internally about we caught a wave, we didn’t create this wave, this wave was coming, we just had an inkling that it was coming and we built a great surfboard and we put it in the water and we were paddling at the right speed at the right time. But when the wave came, we and the independents movement were able to catch that wave and ride it all the way into the shore almost flawlessly.

MW

I’m going to ask you now to put on your hat as energy analyst. We have got a new majority Labor government in Canberra, they have, as you say, upped their emissions cuts, but there is a long way to go. Chris Bowen himself, the minister has said that it’s estimated we need to install something like 47-megawatt wind turbines every month until 2030 and something like 22000 500-watt solar panels every day to meet our 2030 target, can Australia do it, do you think? Can we get to cut our emissions as much as we need by 2030 to get to net zero by 2050?

SHC

In the electricity sector, we are doing extremely well. As I mentioned before, we have gone from about 9 per cent to 34 per cent renewables in the national electricity market over the last 12 years and over the next eight years we’ll see that going up to nearly, well possibly exceeding 80 per cent. Victoria has set a target of 95 per cent by 2035. I think the national grid will get to that point and we’ll gradually see announcements that are starting to approach what the science demands.

I’m an impatient incrementalist. I think we only get to targets in the political environment if we are incremental, but we have to do them quickly and we are speeding up the rate at which we are phasing out coal and ramping up renewables. I have no doubt that those targets, you said before, are not that different to what we’ve done in the best years of the renewable energy industry in an environment where the government was trying to slow it down. So, if we have a government that is trying to put wind at the back of the industry, I have no doubt that we’ll get there in the electricity sector. But electricity is only one third of our emissions. We don’t have a transport emissions policy, we don’t have emissions policy for the mining sector, for agriculture. We’ve got a long way to go so very keen to see what Minister Bowen has in store.

MW

The Swedish activist Greta Thunberg once said that ‘In the climate crisis, hope is something that you have to earn.’ So, looking back on the last year, do you think you’ve earned a bit of hope for the future?

SHC

One of the first meetings I had with the group who ran the Mackellar campaign that selected Sophie Scott to run and successfully she was elected in May, on one of those first meetings I spoke to a volunteer who – it was over Zoom and when it was her turn to speak she said that she had spent the last few elections sitting at home, despairing at the Morrison government wasn’t doing this or the Abbott government wasn’t doing that or sitting at home complaining that the Murdoch media was doing A, B and C, and she said that getting involved in the movement for her was active hope.

And that phrase just burned into my memory at that point, active hope. And I kept seeing it pop up all over the campaign and on Election Day, there were 20,000 volunteers across the country working on 23 campaigns that we were in contact with and probably another half dozen more around the country. But more than 20,000 people had active hope through the campaign and then to have success with validation that what they were fighting for was important to enough people. Just the changes we’ve seen in the last six months, particularly the issues that we campaigned really hard on, is improving Australia’s climate targets. We got a long way to go, but gee we’ve moved a fair way and we’re seeing that ripple out too.

In Victoria at the last state election, the Liberal Party opposed to Labor’s targets and the Nationals wanted to build a new coal power station. Fast forward to 2022 and within a month of the federal election the Libs did a backflip and supported Labor’s targets and actually matched them on climate. So, we think that we had – one of the sayings we had at Climate 200 was ‘winning every way’. That it wasn’t until the pressure from Sophie Scott came on in Mackellar that the PEP 11 project to drill for oil and gas off Sydney’s northern beaches was cancelled. It wasn’t until there was great pressure from this movement that the refugees were released from the Park Hotel Prison in Melbourne, the ABC had half of its funding restored. So, we saw just having pressure on previously safe seats made a huge difference and the fact that this movement continues to grow and Climate 200 is here to support that movement gives me a lot of hope, gives me active hope.

[Australia has] gone from about 9 per cent to 34 per cent renewables in the national electricity market over the last 12 years and over the next 8 years we’ll see that going up … possibly exceeding 80 per cent.

– Simon Holmes à Court

MW

I’d like to thank Simon for his wonderful conversation today. Could you please all give Simon Holmes á Court a round of applause. To follow our program online you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and to visit the 100 Climate Conversations exhibition or join us for a live recording, go to 100climateconversations.com.

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