Change, hope and time to act

We asked AEGN members what the federal election outcome means for them, how it will influence their funding and what they recommend on the Project Clearinghouse.   

Please note, the AEGN does not advocate for political candidates or parties and the views of AEGN members are entirely their own. It should also be noted that funding political parties or candidates is not considered a charitable gift from a philanthropic giving vehicle and donations should be made via personal gifting. 

Sarah Brenan, The Hamer Sprout Fund

The prospects for a more decent government willing to move on climate are quite good.

I am relieved, indeed delighted, by the election result. More Greens? Tick. Lots of teals? Tick. Albanese rather than Morrison? Yes, OK, tick — he seems straight, and the ALP team is a capable one.

While I am quite hopeful about the new regime, I foresee shoals ahead.  The ALP is already heavily compromised, having failed to rule out new coal and gas ventures, and with an emissions target that’s too modest. If we’re lucky, the Greens and some teals will push from behind, but they’ll need massive support from civil society because the fossil fuel giants won’t relent; defensive action against development of the Beetaloo Basin, Scarborough and the rest will still be needed.

More positively, the ALP’s Powering the Regions policy suggests support for a gear shift in the Hunter, Gladstone, the Latrobe Valley and other fossil fuel centres; the Rewiring the Nation policy is also welcome. But they are only part of the equation. We’ll still need Greenpeace prodding big businesses to decarbonise urgently, forward-thinking Beyond Zero Emissions showing how to electrify industrial precincts and create new jobs, the Environmental Defenders Office instigating stronger legal obligations, and so on. So I don’t see much change in funding needs coming up. Decarbonisation of transport and agriculture, energy efficiency, a much extended rollout of domestic solar, changes in regulations and standards, there’s so much that has to be done, and in so short a time.

Sarah Brenan

On the environment in general, I am less sanguine. The ALP hasn’t made a really strong push here, and though I have great respect for Tanya Plibersek, she will have her plate full with MurrayDarling business. So those battles will continue.

As to which Project Clearinghouse project to fund — impossible to choose! How about two climate-change proposals: Climate and Health Alliance’s complex, unglamorous “inside-track” work in the health sector — hugely important — and as contrast The New Joneses project, a doco series for the general public titled “Taking green from mungbean to mainstream”. Together, these two projects suggest the range of work that’s needed, from parliamentary chambers and business boardrooms to domestic kitchens and rubbish bins.

Robin Craig, The Jaramas Foundation

We are very relieved the Australian people have given a strong mandate for climate action and nature protection, as well as integrity and respect. Locally for us, due to strong grassroots advocacy, we now have a representative who believes in action on climate. 

We will continue to fund advocacy to ensure the incoming government makes good policy choices on climate and nature. Additionally, we will focus on sustainable land management. 

We mainly have long-term funding relationships with key environmental groups, however, this year we have added the Yunta Wulan Farm Manager project because it combines caring for Country with a self-sustaining business enterprise. 

Robin Craig (right)

Debbie Dadon and The Besen Family Foundation

The election outcome confirmed that climate action is a genuine priority for the voting public and not just an issue to be dealt with in the distant future.

The emphasis in the lead up to the election on the importance of climate action, transparency, gender equity and political integrity was reassuring and, to then see it translate into electoral outcomes was inspiring. Philanthropy networks provide the opportunity to spend time with like-minded people who are concerned with issues of social justice, equity and equality and in the case of the AEGN — the environment — but sometimes you worry that we are preaching to the converted and only represent the minority. The outcome of the election demonstrated that these issues are not minor issues and will hopefully now be prioritised and better resourced by government.

Debbie Dadon

In the short term, the Besen Family Foundation will continue to increase its focus on projects which preserve and protect the environment, water sources and reserves and which enable and support First Nations people to share and apply their knowledge in traditional land management.

However, what may change in the future is an interesting question to contemplate because the Besen family has been focusing on funding in the areas of gender equity and representation, conservation and climate action for many years now. If these issues move from the periphery of government funding priorities and action to the centre does that mean philanthropy should shift its focus to identify other issues that are not being adequately addressed such as affordable housing supply, health and education equality? Or alternatively, are philanthropists best placed to now identify niche areas within their areas of interest that may not be on governments’ radar and share those learnings or trials with government and other funders?

The reality is the dollar power of philanthropy in Australia is significantly smaller than government spending with annual government budget of $590 billion compared with total annual philanthropic spending of $13.1 billion. Philanthropy has proven to have a finger on the pulse of important issues and be able to respond quickly and effectively to amplify those issues so the challenge will be to track developments in the community and environment post-election and identify gaps and opportunities to make a difference.

There are many great projects that we have learnt about through the AEGN Project Clearinghouse, we’ve been impressed with the work of the Wentworth Group of Scientists, the Grata Fund, Bush Heritage and many of the smaller not-for-profits which are running projects on the ground such as Firesticks Alliance and the Indigenous Rangers program run by the Karrkad Kanidji Trust.

Mark Duggan, The Duggan Foundation

I’m confident that as a result of the election outcome we will see a change in focus in many areas. However, I do recognise the challenges faced by the incoming government are huge.

National debt, security, housing affordability, gender equality, health, aged care, a federal integrity commission, Indigenous issues, climate change, the environment — water, land clearing, biodiversity, etc. The list goes on! 

So — I like to be a realist. I’m also an optimist and strongly believe that the only way we can solve these and many other issues is by taking action. The election result gives me some hope that we will see some positive outcomes in these areas. 

Mark Duggan

Without doubt the climate change and environmental policies of the Labor government are stronger than what the Coalition were promising, so on this front we have had a win. I look forward to seeing some positive results but also recognise that the challenges we are facing are real and need urgent action. 

I’m very pleased to see some excitement, new energy and new ideas in Canberra!  

We have our areas of focus and will continue to fund these. I don’t see any need to radically change the way we fund at this stage. 

Green Collect has recently been put forward by Ali Limb and they seek to raise $220,000. It ticks a few boxes for me. It’s a practical solution to reducing waste, recycling and providing a positive environmental impact. Plus it provides opportunities to help people facing mental ill-health, homelessness and refugee resettlement issues. They need the funds this financial year — so please check them out and contribute if you can. 

Jim Phillipson, Rendere Trust

The election provided an exciting demonstration of the political power wielded by well-informed voters at the ballot box. Thirty years of robust scientific evidence alone has been insufficient to drive adequate responses by governments — change happens once there is a groundswell of public demand.   

 My latest endeavour aims to achieve a similar groundswell of public support and demand for action for Australia’s other, intertwined, unfolding environmental catastrophe — precipitous biodiversity declines. Current legislation is entrenching widespread biodiversity losses and responses are woefully inadequate. Australian ecosystems are showing signs of collapse and despite often knowing what response is needed, extinctions continue in large part due to a lack of political will. In just over two decades (1995–2017) the population sizes of Australian threatened birds have declined by a third, mammals by half and plants by almost three quarters.  

Jim Phillipson and family

Australian biodiversity desperately needs a champion. To meet this need I have been working with a small group of philanthropists and leading Australian scientists to develop a Biodiversity Council 

The Council will be the peak scientific voice for Australian biodiversity, backed by a council of leading scientists and prominent Australian universities. It will work to amplify science and Indigenous knowledge about the importance of biodiversity and what is needed to conserve it; engage with the public, governments and industry directly and through the media; and call out inadequate policies and planning and regulatory decisions. The need for financial independence from government is paramount in order to allow scientists to speak freely and honestly at all times.  

If you share our vision for an independent voice for biodiversity we are looking for seed funding to launch the Biodiversity Council, begin its important work and to map a path to financial independence.  

For more information contact  

Tony Isaacson, Isaacson Davis Foundation

This election outcome is a rare opportunity and some great early actions.

See ‘Vehicle or destination?’ Parties down, policy up in John Menadue’s Public Policy Journal.  

I don’t think it will change how we fund unless we direct more to “political” causes in the future. 

We are thrilled by the progress that Biolinks Alliance is making with their Spring Plans Watershed Repair Project, negotiating with Parks Victoria (Biolinks is far more patient than I would be, which is one reason we need them) and the Taungurung First Nations People, and commencing the work’s stage. 

Tony Isaacson

It’s a landscape-scale restoration pilot project, which will provide immediate local benefits and demonstrate a way forward for others. It’s a local hotspot for Threatened Woodland Birds, including the critically endangered Swift Parrots. 

The project will repair landscape health and build resilience to climate change in places damaged by colonial greed and the pressures of land clearing — $231,000 has already been raised, with only $119,750 left to complete the multi-year project. We are donating again this year. 

The Spring Plains Watershed Repair Project is doing things that bureaucracies and governments don’t seem able to manage, fund or get done.

Sue Mathews, The Mullum Trust

A great weight has lifted: working on climate need not feel like wading through molasses day after day.  

Now we can focus on policy and technological solutions to speed change and boost government efforts, as can those community representatives whose voices in the media have helped bring about this result.  

While around 70 per cent of Australians thought climate change was important, it barely figured in the 2019 election, and some said Labor’s relatively ambitious target contributed to its loss. What changed? 

Bushfires and floods focused electors’ minds — but the work that had been done by our NGOs helped create the climate for change that enabled them to interpret those events and the desperate urgency of action by governments to address it. 

Sue Mathews

The NGOs were able to play that role thanks to the generosity of funders. Between 2019 and 2022 the thoughtfulness and effectiveness of the work being undertaken by the climate NGOs increased very significantly — and funders responded.  

As an AEGN member I have learned an enormous amount about the nature of the climate crisis and about the many ways change can happen, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.  

I believe we have been part of a virtuous circle, as the increasing sophistication of funders has enabled greater sophistication within the climate movement, and vice versa. 

But we still need to resist, loudly and powerfully, those in government and business urging new fossil fuel developments — gas projects at Scarborough and the Beetaloo Basin in particular. 

There’s no time to waste, so my one choice from the fantastic range of projects currently on the Project Clearinghouse is: A transition plan for Western Australia’s gas industry and its work force posted by an anonymous AEGN member.  

The election of May 2022 could be a truly transformative moment for Australia — what we as funders do next can help make it so. 

Ann McGregor, Melliodora Fund

The election outcome is marvellous, giving me hope for our future.  

The success of the teal independents shows how effective community organising and philanthropic funding can be!

The election outcome won’t change how we fund; nature conservation still desperately needs more resources and priority attention by governments.

I would recommend the Project Clearinghouse project for the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, Defining water requirements to sustain Murray-Darling Basin rivers in a changing climate. We recently visited the Goulburn and Murray Rivers with Environment Victoria and saw and heard about the plight of the rivers and the continuing overharvesting of water for irrigation.

Ann McGregor

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