Exploring Australia’s political revolution on Geelong’s community radio

In this interview on Rob Cameron’s Front Page on 94.7 The Pulse at 10am on 6 May 2024, Mik Aidt discusses the need for independent representation in politics, specifically in relation to climate action.

The host and guest highlight the importance of climate activists being politically engaged during elections and advocate for the emergence of community independents who prioritise the interests of the community over party politics.

Their conversation also touches on the mental health impacts of climate change and the need for politicians to address this issue. An upcoming community meeting is mentioned, along with the goal of educating the community and creating pressure on elected representatives.

Transcript below.

Transcript: Monday’s Front Page with Rob Cameron

Interview with Mik Aidt, The Sustainable Hour co-host

Rob Cameron: “You’re listening to Monday’s Front Page on 94.7 The Pulse in Geelong. It’s exactly 10 o’clock on this beautiful Monday morning, and we’ve got a lovely week of weather ahead. It’s almost spring-like in autumn, with sunshine everywhere and pleasant temperatures. It’s just delightful to be alive in our great city.

For those of you who listen regularly, you know there’s a theme here: supporting community representation through independent representation. We’ve had regular contact with Sue Barrett, who was Zoe Daniel’s campaign manager at the last federal election. Zoe Daniel went to Canberra and made a significant difference, as did Dr. Monique Ryan from Melbourne. There are seven other new independents around Australia supporting Andrew Wilkie and Helen Haines, who’ve been there for some time. I’m a big fan of the work they do, and I’ve been wondering if there’s a place for this in Geelong.

A good friend from The Sustainability Hour, Mik Aidt, thinks so as well. Mik , welcome to the show. It’s really good to have you on board.”

Mik Aidt: “Thank you, Robert. It’s a pleasure to be here.”

Rob Cameron: “Your show is much loved and does great work, especially on The Sustainability Hour. You challenge people’s thinking, bring alternative views, and it’s having an impact. Now, tell us about the plan coming up this Thursday night in Geelong and how it all started.”

Mik Aidt: “We know elections are coming, and it’s interesting… – I’ve been part of the climate action movement in Geelong for over 10 years, and every time it’s election time, I’ve wondered why all the people advocating for climate action seem to retreat and stay quiet. To me, it’s absurd because the most important thing for climate action is what happens in parliament. We need laws, legislation, and planning to come from the top down. So why is it that, during elections, climate activists aren’t on the streets telling people who to vote for?

The reason is that they don’t want to be seen as political. Climate change should be apolitical, and some organisations are worried about losing funding from councils or state bodies if they’re perceived to support a specific political party.

I understand that, but what then? What do we do? The meeting on Thursday at the Geelong West Town Hall aims to answer that question: If we want stronger climate action in parliament, what options do we have?

One option is to contact our local MPs. In the Geelong region, we have two, both Labor: Richard Marles and Libby Coker. We could bang on their doors demanding more climate action. Interestingly, eight or even nine out of ten people in Geelong want more climate action. This is what the community wants but isn’t getting.

The meeting came about because 200 people wrote letters to Libby Coker and Richard Marles requesting a meeting about this issue. The proposed date was 9th May at the Geelong West Town Hall, but both MPs declined. So, should we cancel the meeting? No. Because there is another option, which excites me: the emergence of Community Independents.

These are people who stand up and say, ‘If you vote for me, I’ll represent the community, not a party, or the fossil fuel industry. I’ll follow my conscience and listen to the community.’ The independents have a real influence in parliament, like David Pocock, who often holds the balance of power in the Senate. Imagine if we could achieve a minority government, with neither of the two major parties having a majority. In such a scenario, Labor could negotiate with the Greens, but history shows they won’t. Instead, they would negotiate with the independents, as they did ten years ago during the Labor minority government…”

Rob Cameron: “That was one of the most productive periods in their lifetime!”

Mik Aidt: “Yes, a minority government is worth striving for, but we must be strategic and get more Community Independents elected. We have seven now, maybe we need fifteen.”

Rob Cameron: “Voters are fed up with politics as it is, and the change to above comes from below – grassroots politics. But we only have a say at election time, and that’s the problem.”

Mik Aidt: “You’re right, Rob. Labor stood up on election night and said ‘The Australian people has voted for climate action.’ But here we are, two years later, exporting more coal than ever before. They’ve opened four new coal mines in this government term, and fracking for gas continues. Food prices are rising because of climate-related instability, and farmers are struggling with changing weather. Meanwhile, the community is bearing the brunt with flooding and extreme weather events. This frustration is what’s driving our meeting on the 9th of May. People want to speak to politicians, but they’ve said they’re too busy to come. So, it’s morphed into something different.”

Rob Cameron: “So, on Thursday night at 5:30, what will people expect? Even those just wanting to sit in the back corner and listen, what should they know?”

Mik Aidt: “It’s an open question, and the audience will have the chance to vote on their phones. We’ll get a feel for the atmosphere in the room, gauge how committed people are, and present different ideas. One question is whether we should form a ‘Voices of Corangamite’ or ‘Voices of Colac’ movement. The community needs to decide that collectively, not just one or two people.

Sue Barrett is a great example of someone who makes things happen, but she didn’t do it alone. She was in the centre of it, yes, but she had hundreds of people with her on that journey. It’s important that the community leads this. The 9th of May could be the day something significant is born.

I won’t say Voices of Corangamite will be established that night, but we’ll gauge interest and see if people are excited or think it’s too challenging. Do we need more independents? Absolutely!”

Rob Cameron: “There’s another important thing that will come out of this… There’s a lot of talk, mainly driven by the two major parties, about how a Community Independent is created. They’d like to have us believe that Simon Holmes à Court throws a lot of money at someone and he’s the puppet master. Now, Sue Barrett has explained on this show, ad nauseam, how it actually works, and it’s an opportunity for people to hear it again. It doesn’t happen like that. A Community Independent is genuinely selected by the community, and people need to understand that. They’ll find out on Thursday night if they come along, won’t they?”

Mik Aidt: “Exactly. It’s not like someone says, ‘Oh, I want to run,’ and the community says, ‘Okay, we’ll support you.’ It’s the other way around: You gather a hundred people – it’s almost like a pre-election – you might have three people in the room who are considering running, and these hundred people decide which of the three they’ll support.”

Rob Cameron: “Zoe Daniel was one of about 12 or 14 interviewed by an independent panel before being selected, and Monique Ryan went through a similar process. The system works because it’s driven by the people, not by the candidate. That’s an important difference.”

Mik Aidt: “It’s also exciting from an international perspective. Elections happen all over the world. I follow politics in Denmark and America, and I think this Australian model is very unique. If we’re successful, it could be copied elsewhere. It has the potential to influence climate action globally.

If we invent a new style of democracy where the community is genuinely heard, it will have a significant impact. The community is currently bearing the cost while the fossil fuel industry continues to profit from our consumption. Sometimes, they don’t even pay tax. Our politicians are slow to admit this, but people can see it clearly.”

Rob Cameron: “Indeed. Now, the other people coming on Thursday include Sue Barrett. She was heavily involved in the March for Justice campaign after Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins’ work. Her passion is evident, and her husband was also involved. Together, they created the opportunity for Zoe Daniel to go to Canberra.

People who may not be up-to-date with the news can Google these independents and see the body of work they’ve done. They’ve managed to force the government into legislative changes, like with the HECS debt issue. That wouldn’t have happened without Monique Ryan and the independents pushing the government.”

Mik Aidt: “This is where the exciting part comes in – it’s a change of values. It’s deep in my heart to talk about values in this country. One value I bring from my culture is honesty. Who talks about honesty in Parliament? The Community Independents do! They talk about integrity and honesty, and transparency, instead of deals done in dark corridors.”

Rob Cameron: “Exactly. One thing I love on Netflix is ‘Borgen’, a wonderful show about the inner workings of parliament in Denmark. It’s always a minority government because of the structure, and that’s considered democracy.”

Mik Aidt: “We’ve never known anything else in Denmark.”

Rob Cameron: “And it’s genuinely democratic. If you look at American politics now, that’s where we’ll be in three to five years unless changes are made. Now’s the opportunity to change it. If you’re concerned, come along on Thursday night. Sit quietly in the back corner and listen if you prefer, but get educated about what the future might look like. It’s important.”

Rob Cameron: “It’s a community meeting in the sense that it’s free, and the doors are open. Just head to Parkinson Street, Geelong West Town Hall, at 5:30 on Thursday. Tell us about the other three guest speakers.”

Mik Aidt: “There’s Jeanne Nel, an academic and scholar with a background in law. She’s deeply concerned about the mental health impact of climate change, especially on children. After a catastrophe like flooding or a bushfire, the physical cost is evident, but the mental health impact is often overlooked. Studies show that 40 times more people are affected mentally than physically from such events.

Jeanne has written a letter, which is now being sent to our elected representatives through the ‘letition’ system – a combination of a petition and a letter. That’s how we know that 200 people have contacted Libby Coker and Richard Marles about climate change. Jeanne’s May letition letter addresses the mental health impact of climate change on young people, urging politicians to take it seriously.

Just like we’re talking about domestic violence and that the politicians need to understand, this is actually a really, really serious problem in this country. The same with the impact of climate change on young people. There’s some terrible statistics that came out from some research in Tasmania that showed that one out of four children in the age between 10 and 14 actually don’t believe that there will be a world when they grow up. …What?! How bad is that?! And I think we need to talk about that in the open. We need to talk with our children and our politicians need to show some leadership that, ‘Of course it’s not going to be like that! We are in charge, we are going to make sure that we will be safe.’

As things are going at the moment… when the young people look at the graphs of how things are going, when they open their tv, or see what’s going on on the news, I don’t think anyone feels safe at the moment.”

Rob Cameron: “That’s so important. Tell us about Jenna Wade.”

Mik Aidt: “Jenna Wade has been a community organiser in Norlane for a long time. She’s part of the Women in Local Democracy (WILD) movement and has organised meetings to promote political engagement. She has young children and is deeply concerned about their future. Many people who get involved in climate action are parents who look at their children and think, ‘How can I look them in the eye if I’m not pushing for change?’

We can put solar panels on the roof and do other things at home, but there are many things we can’t do, like deciding whether more coal mines open or not. That’s up to parliamentarians, which is why elections are crucial.”

Rob Cameron: “They certainly are. Lastly, Robert Patterson – you mentioned the letition system….”

Mik Aidt: “Yes, letition.org. He’s a co-founder, so it was natural for him to join. He’ll present the Letition-system as another option, not as an alternative, but as a way to mobilise the community when it’s not election time – and create pressure on our representatives.”

Rob Cameron: “Perfect. So, people just need to head to Geelong West Town Hall at 5:30 on Thursday – ‘Powerful Together’ is the banner above that – and let the organisers know they’re coming – a big night.”

Mik Aidt: “You can Google ‘Geelong West Town Hall’ and ‘climate,’ and it’ll come right up.”

Rob Cameron: “Excellent. Come along, listen, and educate yourself. I always say on this show, I don’t care how you vote, as long as you’re educated and can explain why you voted a certain way. Don’t just say, ‘I read an article in the newspaper and it sounded good,’ or ‘That’s how I’ve always voted.’ Please, educate yourself.

This is one way to do it. You might come in not knowing much and leave feeling inspired, or even leave unhappy, or you might be as excited as Mik is, but at least you’ll be informed. Sue Barrett is a passionate speaker who’s already proved her commitment to change. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy hearing what she has to say.

Mik, thank you for your time. We’ll see you on Thursday night, and hopefully, many others will join us. It’s something that needs to happen, and I’m glad you’ve taken the step.”

Mik Aidt: “Thank you, Robert, for featuring this on your programme.”

Rob Cameron: “Absolutely. It’s worth talking about.”

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