Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


New ways forward for climate action

  • 24 May 2019


Here's a secret about political communication. Immediately after an election, no one really knows why the winning party got more votes, but everyone still rushes to explain it in a way that helps their cause.

It's all propaganda to win the post election 'narrative' before your opponents do. Interest groups will fire off press releases proclaiming a 'decisive victory' of one or two percent means the government now has an 'overwhelming mandate' to implement their preferred policy. If Labor had won, the climate movement would have claimed a mandate for stronger policy to cut emissions. Now the Liberals have won, the coal lobby is claiming a mandate to open the Adani mine. Go figure.

So where does all that leave us? Exactly back where we started three months ago — with some actual data on what Australians think. One independent and reliable survey on Australians' attitude to climate change is the Lowy Poll, and it shows that concern about global warming is the highest it has been in a decade. In other words, most Australians still want action and the government is still ignoring them.

There's a lot to say about the election, and much nonsense doing the rounds. Here's a summary of what went wrong and some ideas for communicating climate change over the next three years.



First, the election probably wasn't won or lost on climate. Scott Morrison scared his way into power with a focused campaign on Labor's ability to manage the economy. Preferences from Clive Palmer and Pauline Hanson got him over the line. Second, previous Labor leaders to win from opposition were charismatic and had high approval ratings. Bob Hawke and Kevin Rudd were media darlings at the beginning, then had spectacular falls from grace. Shorten never had that likability in the first place. Perhaps Labor had the right strategy, but the wrong factional stooge?

Third, Labor didn't do a great job of selling its climate policy. A lot of communications research points towards leading with a story about renewable energy and then talking about cutting pollution. With the extreme weather and Murray-Darling fish kills over summer, the time was ripe to talk about climate change more directly.


"Greenhouse pollution has been rising for six years under the Coalition ... their policy is a failure. Yet polls found 38 per cent of voters didn't know which party would be better for reducing emissions."


That was the right approach, but Labor should still