Shane Rattenbury: Can people power make a difference?

Speaker of the ACT Legislative Assembly and Greens Climate Change spokesperson Shane Rattenbury writes:

It is often said the public have a low tolerance for many politicians and political processes that can sometimes appear to deliver few positive outcomes for the people who they represent. As someone who’s worked on climate change for the last 10 years, I know that this is one issue where many have felt disempowered and frustrated at the lack of action.

But I continue to believe that people can make a difference in the political process, and the community does have an important role to play. One recent example I’ve seen of this, against a backdrop of minority government here in the ACT, is the successful campaign run by Canberra ♥ 40% to secure a 40 per cent greenhouse reduction target for the ACT. This has got me thinking about the opportunities that occur at a Federal level now with the newly installed minority government, and a cross bench of Greens and independents.

It’s true that the recent Federal election campaign was almost universally characterised as being dull, lacking inspiration and overly scripted. For many it helped cement their cynicism towards the political process. Mark Latham’s encouragement to vote informal in his 60 Minutes election special was perhaps the embodiment of that sentiment.

But then came the sudden realisation that the game had changed as we were headed towards a minority government. There was an immediate focus on more substantive policy issues and a conversation about parliamentary practices.

The minority government scenario also opens possibilities for citizens to engage. Not only will backbenchers be able to put forward private members business, the capacity of the community to influence the political debate will be enhanced. New voices now stand a better chance of being heard.

When the ACT Greens and ALP signed our Parliamentary Agreement in 2008 to enable stable minority government, a key commitment was to legislate a greenhouse target. What is exciting is that the people of Canberra had a strong view about what that target should be.

Canberra ♥ 40% came together as a group of community organisations and concerned Canberra residents to secure an ambitious, but achievable, CO2 emission reduction target of 40 per cent by 2020 for the ACT.

Their approach was simple – to communicate to the ACT Government what they, the community wanted, and were prepared to do to support a 40 per cent target. They designed a catchy logo, made t-shirts, organised a petition, and ran public meetings and media opportunities. And they talked – to everyone they knew and, more importantly, to people they didn’t know.

As a result, next week, the Assembly is set to debate and pass a world-leading target that will put Canberra at the global forefront, and citizen action helped get us there.

So the moral is – go for it! As Margaret Mead has said: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I look forward to seeing the next community campaign emerge – now is certainly a good time to engage with our parliaments, both ACT and Federal.

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