The Mullum Trust

Climate and recovery initiative

23 December 2020

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A case of collaborative, evolving funding, written by Sue Mathews, The Mullum Trust.

Sue is a trustee of The Mullum Trust, a family foundation focussed exclusively on environment. Sue has been a member of the AEGN from day one. Here she shares her latest funding passion and reflects on the critical role of philanthropy in rising to the climate challenge.

Early beginnings

Long, long ago, back in September 2019, John Spierings (then CEO of the Reichstein Foundation) and I had a conversation about what was needed to shift the very stuck dial on climate action in Australia.

We agreed that while the community was concerned about climate change, it was still a second or third order issue, behind economic security – in particular jobs, and the prospects for their children to find reliable work and a decent standard of living. It was clear to us in the climate movement that the transition to a zero-carbon economy would create jobs – indeed that it was the best way to ensure prosperity into the future – but out there most people were not convinced.

An ambitious project

People needed to know that their views and anxieties had been listened to. And people (and, importantly, the politicians they voted for) needed to hear the message about the bright future in a carbon free economy from voices they trusted – from people with the ability to actually deliver those jobs: Business, investors, unions, governments. Remembering the impact that the Garnaut reviews had in the 2000s, we decided to try to create something similar. It would be called the Australian Carbon Transition Commission, and it was seriously ambitious, both in what it hoped to achieve and in the funding needed to pull it off.

We tested the proposal with a range of people we knew in philanthropy and beyond, and grew in confidence that it was worth pursuing. But an appeal from the Mullum and Reichstein foundations to the AEGN membership to raise a couple of million dollars for what was still basically just a good idea was not likely to work. We decided to commission a scoping study from the Centre for Policy Development to refine the idea and develop a plan and a budget. 

The $50,000 needed for that work (which was to include input from people who had worked on similar commissions internationally, a review of work on transitions already done by others and a communications plan) was raised pretty quickly, with funding coming from Mullum and Reichstein, now joined by the Lord Mayors Charitable Foundation and the PMF Foundation. The Centre for Policy Development set to work with an Easter 2020 deadline. But just as the final report was being prepared, of course, COVID-19 was upon us. 

The sudden requirement for a massive stimulus from government opened up huge possibilities for addressing climate change while solving the economic challenge – the  Australian Carbon Transition Commission pivoted to become the Climate and Recovery Initiative, and with a crucial injection of funding from the Myer Foundation, it took off. Instead of a lengthy process of consultation and consolidation of research led by high profile spokespeople, the Climate and Recovery Initiative would go straight to proposals for action that could feed into the economic recovery discussions. The size of the task led the Centre for Policy Development to approach ClimateWorks to partner in some of the work and join a steering group, along with climate investment think tank Pollination and representatives of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and Australian Industry Group.

People needed to know that their views and anxieties had been listened to.

Sue Mathews

Changing priorities

We had approached CPD because of their history of effective engagement with policy makers, and exploring different approaches to the climate crisis, including commissioning Noel Hutley SC’s very influential legal opinion on directors’ duties and climate risk. The Australian Carbon Transition Commission literature review had shown that many ways to deal with climate while growing jobs had already been canvassed: The urgent need now was to get the information to the right people, and to facilitate a conversation between policy makers from a range of sectors about how to use this moment to make them happen – and in particular for governments to recognise that recovery and growth were not only compatible with moving to net zero emissions, but required it. Planning for the full scale commission was put to the side, and all available resources went into developing a policy roadmap for these critical conversations.

They focussed on three key themes:

  • ensuring transition-aligned crisis response measures; 
  • entrenching ‘net zero’ in the broader policy agenda; 
  • and building new processes and models for more co-ordinated and ambitious climate responses.

There have been several (virtual) roundtable events of 40-50 attendees including senior representatives from federal and state government departments and instrumentalities, financial regulators, business and investment peak bodies, unions, corporations, super funds and banks. While the discussions have been ‘Chatham House rules’, the success of the most recent roundtable was captured in an article in the Australian Financial Review on 28 September, titled Business, unions back green blueprint. From the article:

Business groups and unions are proposing a bipartisan blueprint for a nationally co-ordinated COVID-19 recovery plan that would put climate risk and resilience at the centre of economic stimulus measures

The plan was published by the Climate and Recovery Initiative, a joint venture of the Australian Industry Group and the Australian Council of Trade Unions, along with climate groups ClimateWorks and Pollination, and the Centre for Policy Development thinktank. 
A list of heavy-hitters were involved in its development, including former Telstra CEO David Thodey, Reserve Bank deputy governor Guy Debelle, Business Council of Australia president Tim Reed and Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox. 
Senior public servants from state and federal departments, including Treasury, were also asked for input into the blueprint

Australian Financial Review

Working into the future

The Climate and Recovery Initiative will continue into 2021, with significant additional funding having come from an anonymous AEGN member. Roundtable attendees have agreed to continue to convene, and increasing co-operation between state governments is among the visible outcomes. Whether some kind of commission, or other arrangement to advance practical implementation will emerge from the Climate and Recovery Initiative remains to be seen. The need is great for communities, particularly those most affected by the transition, to be able to grasp the opportunities created in a zero carbon world: Generalities about large numbers of jobs need to be translated into actual enterprises, positive examples need to be amplified and the message of the potential for future prosperity needs to be socialised.

I’ve been asked to reflect on lessons for philanthropy from this project. Here are my thoughts so far:  

  • Collaboration between funders (in terms of both ideas and dollars) can produce great results; 
  • Funders can be initiators – you do not have to wait for requests from NGOs;
  • Change happens in many ways in the complex ecosystem that is Australian society; and 
  • Working with apparently unlikely bedfellows can yield results – do not prejudge potential allies.

A joint Centre for Policy Development and ClimateWorks public forum on the Climate and Recovery Initiative was held on 23 November. 

If you would like to find out more about the Climate and Recovery Initiative please get in touch with Sam Hurley, Policy Director at Centre for Policy Development: Or if you would like to know more about the funding journey you can contact me: And watch out for updates on the work and its resourcing through the AEGN’s climate change funder group.

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