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Joan Staples, BJR Family Group

Tagged in: Sustainable economy, Advocacy, National

Joan Staples’ knowledge of Australia’s environmental movement is deep and wide. As the Australian Conservation Foundation lobbyist in Canberra during the Hawke Government, Joan has devoted decades to advocacy and policy for the NGO sector. More recently she joined a team of trainers who are helping to bolster the skills of senior environmental activists through The Change Agency’s Community Organising Fellowship.  

Joan’s philanthropy, through the BJR Family Group, uses a nationwide focus to support smaller groups undertaking high impact advocacy.

Joan recently shared her thoughts about the impact of the bushfires and COVID-19 on the work of the environmental movement.

How have you responded to COVID-19 and the bushfires? Are you increasing, decreasing or maintaining your funding levels?

JS: We’re a very small group. At first we thought we might have to drop our funding level but at the moment we’re quite happy to keep with what we’ve been doing.

Importantly for us, this is such a valuable political moment. The recovery package might be designed for COVID-19 but it can also address climate change.

Our strategy is to support advocacy efforts that are looking for structural change, so we’re very targeted in that we often support smaller groups doing significant work at a particular moment in time.

We saw a huge shift in public opinion after the fires, but for a while COVID-19 seemed to remove any mention of climate change.  I’ve felt a sense of relief over last few weeks as climate came back on the agenda in the context of the recovery package. To see our think tanks like Climate Works and even the Australian Industry Group come out in support of a recovery package that’s climate-related makes me feel that we’re getting back on track with advocacy.

The thing we have to remember is that change is not linear. It goes in leaps and bounds.

What are you hearing from your environmental grantees about the impact of COVID-19 and the fires?

It varies enormously. Most of them feel they’ll take some sort of hit but some are also reasonably positive. People recognise that we have to keep going so it tends to be a mixed bag of responses. The main thing is that we’re not going away!

Many groups have had to learn how to campaign without being able to have face-to-face meetings and there’s an incredible amount of cooperation going on across the movement to link the whole movement up. In the last 15 years there’s been huge change from people working in siloes to working in cooperation with each other.

The fires presented a very significant political opportunity then when COVID-19 came along, at first, we thought that progress had gone, but it hasn’t. I think about change as a spiral and we’re still bringing climate with us.

It’s important not to focus entirely on the federal government – the states are really important and there’s so much good work happening to change policy in the states.

At the recent Smart Energy Council’s Stimulus Summit: A Renewables-led Economic Recovery  more than 2,500 people joined online to  listen to the many wonderful presentations, such as those by  Beyond Zero Emissions and Climate Works, but they also had the state energy ministers and they were very interesting. All the state ministers are moving on climate and I thought it was a very important advocacy event because rarely would those ministers have to justify themselves to a group of 2,500 people really interested in their work.  

Making the most of our current situation, do you have a recommended book or movie to enjoy in isolation?

I was so happy to see that Bangarra Dance Company had put their production of Bennelong online. It was the Opera House production and it was just terrific.

The other thing I’m enjoying is Barry Cassidy’s new One Plus One series. He’s been exploring leadership and that’s very important at this particular time.

The pandemic has impacted how we live, work and interact with each other. What’s one thing you hope we’ll do differently on the other side of COVID-19?

I hope we’ll continue to have major webinars such as the one I described where thousands of people  from around the country are all able to participate in a significant event and ask questions without having to get on a plane and waste all that airline fuel. I think we must encourage those opportunities and keep going.