Today at the National Press Club, investor and philanthropist Simon Holmes a Court.
After working to transform Australia’s energy sector, Mr. Holmes a Court wants to transform the parliament. He’s the founder of the Climate 200 group backing independent candidates at the coming election.
Simon Holmes a Court with today’s Press Club address.
David Crowe: Director of the Press Club
Good afternoon, everybody and welcome to the National Press Club this afternoon for our Westpac address. My name is David Crowe, director of the Press Club, also the chief political correspondent at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. And a welcome to our guest today Simon Holmes a Court who’s been making waves in Australian politics as the founder of Climate 200, the group that is fielding or supporting candidates at the coming election on an independent platform on climate change and integrity and other issues.
Simon’s background is that he has been involved or active with Climate 200 for a couple of years now, including at the last election. But before that, of course, he is a descendant of the famous Holmes a Court family and began life, I think, as a computer programmer in Silicon Valley after his studies. And then after that point worked in, I think it was his own startup company, active in agriculture, and then turned his sights on renewable energy, and eventually set up Climate 200. He, in a recent profile, revealed that he had told his wife Katrina and their four children that he would probably be putting $200,000 of his own money into Climate 200 So I guess that’s politics, where you put your money where your mouth is.
Please welcome Simon Holmes a Court for his address today.
Simon Holmes a Court
Thanks a lot, David, for that kind introduction. I start by acknowledging that today we meet on the lands of the Ngunnawal people and I pay my respects to their elders past and present. I extend my respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people here today. The resilience and wisdom of your culture is perhaps our nation’s greatest treasure.
Let me also welcome former independent Member for Indi Cathy McGowan, the pathfinder and inspiration to the community independents’ movement, and the former independent Senator for South Australia, Tim Storer. I also acknowledge Meg Lees, the the former leader of the Democrats and a member of Climate 200’s Advisory Council.
It’s a great honour to stand here today. An opportunity like no other. And it’s a challenge. Speaking of which, a little bit later, I’m going to detail a challenge for the major parties on campaign funding, a challenge they can fix with the snap of their fingers as we approach this upcoming election.
Australian politics is broken
That’s the problem. That’s why we’re here today. Australians are generally a positive people. Yet engaged Australians are deeply frustrated that we’re not making progress on the issues that matter. We are frustrated that so often our government is found to be either lying or incompetent. And sometimes both. We have a government more interested in winning elections than improving our great nation. We have a government that seeks power without purpose.
But first, let me give you three examples that are greatly frustrating engaged Australians. We are frustrated about climate inaction, we are frustrated about corruption in politics, and we are frustrated about the treatment and safety of women.
Let’s start with climate change. In February 2019, just three months before the last federal election, the Coalition’s lack of climate policy was an embarrassment. Desperate not to go into the election empty-handed, the Coalition announced a $3.4 billion Climate Solutions package. $3.4 billion. Sounds like a lot of money, right? Well, 1.4 billion of that had already been allocated to Snowy 2.0, announced two years earlier. The remaining $2 billion was essentially Tony Abbott’s Emissions Reduction Fund rebranded as the Climate Solutions Fund. Initially, the government said it would invest that $2 billion over 10 years: $200 million a year in emissions reduction. But when the budget was announced, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg stretched that decade to 15 years, with only $199 million allocated over four years.
So, in essence, more than three quarters of that annual spend evaporated in an instant. And weeks later, in the heat of the election campaign, the Treasurer announced $260 million for a level-crossing removal project in his own electorate. Yeah, a piece of pork barreling received more funding than the government’s signature climate policy. Right.
But it gets worse. Here we are, three years on, and not one cent of the Climate Solutions Fund has been spent, not one cent. Yet right now our government is spending millions, something like $7 million a month at the moment, on the Positive Energy greenwashing campaign, telling us that Australia is doing great on emissions reduction, a bold-faced lie. This is taxpayer funded election advertising disguised as information.
The truth, by the government’s own numbers: real emissions have fallen by less than 1 percent between 2013 and 2020. And outside of the electricity sector and the government’s plans, emissions are flatlining, not falling, through to the end of this decade. The government’s plan to reduce emissions is a joke that nobody finds funny. And nor should they, because it is consistent with the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and the 64,000 full-time jobs that it supports — which is more than are employed in the coal mining sector.
It’s also consistent with increased intensity and frequency of bushfires, like those we saw in the Black Summer. Now, many conservatives are aghast at this. We’re abrogating our responsibility to conserve nature and passing on a massive debt to our children. And what’s more, we’re missing in action on the biggest economic and business opportunity of this century. Climate action means huge new industries. And this transformation definitely is a race, because we’re not the only country that’s endowed with abundant, cheap, clean energy and the minerals needed for the 21st century.
For example, few realise the role that Australia plays in the electric vehicle revolution. More than half of the critical minerals in every Tesla that zooms around the world’s streets comes from Australia. But Australia makes just cents on the dollar on those minerals because our government has ridiculed electric vehicles, and they’ve sent our manufacturers overseas. We’ve failed to invest in mineral refinery and battery cell production. So most of the economic value of these Australian minerals is being captured overseas by countries with much more long-sighted governments.
This time last year, BMW struck a deal hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth, with the United Arab Emirates to buy green aluminium. That aluminium is produced with solar energy and exactly the type of opportunity that our government should be working to secure for Australia. Deloitte estimates that 250,000 jobs and $680 billion economic boost are ours for the taking if we truly embrace policies that rapidly take us to net zero emissions. It can benefit our economy every bit as much as the gold rushes did back in the 19th century.
Now, it’s 38 years since science Minister Barry Jones first raised climate change on the floor of Parliament. And yet, this government’s climate policy is to shirk our responsibilities, lie about our progress, and close our eyes to the opportunities ahead. They brandish lumps of coal in Parliament and Australians have had a gutful. People are fed up, and can you blame them?
Now, next, integrity. Where do I start? Watergate, the $80 million sale of water that doesn’t exist to a Cayman Islands company established by a man who is now a Minister in the government. Grassgate, an attempt to quietly delist an endangered grass species on that same Minister’s property. We’ve seen the trashing of Freedom of Information, of the information system, as independent Rex Patrick has fought so hard to highlight. We’ve seen the defunding of the Australian National Audit Office, the organisation that uncovered the Leppington Triangle disgrace, sports rorts, carpark rorts, and just yesterday the Safer Community Fund rorts. But most of all, the failure to legislate a national anti-corruption commission is yet another broken promise from a government full of broken promises. So here we are.
Women around the country are red hot with anger
They’re furious that we have made so little progress over recent decades, and that the current leadership team treats women as if they are some political problem to be managed. You have to wonder whether the poor representation of women in Parliament isn’t isn’t partly to blame for the culture that we find ourselves in. Just 20 percent of Coalition members in the lower house are women: 25 years ago, it was 21 percent. Ruth McGowan, one of Cathy’s nine sisters, runs monthly bootcamps for women who have decided to run for Parliament
Ruth tells me that since Ms Tame and Ms Higgins and so many others stepped forward last year, demand for her training is off the charts. Professional women are standing up, they’re putting their hands up and standing up to be Independents. As Monique Ryan, the independent candidate for Kooyong, said recently:
“When a woman in her fifties sees a problem, she says to herself, just give it to me, I’ll fix it.”
One of my favorite contemporary thinkers is Lawrence Lessig at the Harvard Law School. Lessig has dedicated much of the last decade to identifying and trying to fix the structural flaws that threaten our fragile democracies. He introduced me to the well known Henry David Thoreau quote, that there are 1000 hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
There are many ways that we hack at the branches for change in our society. You can write letters to the paper. You can complain on social media. Go and join millions signing petitions online or march in the streets. You can meet regularly with your local member, as I did for many years with Josh Frydenberg. And I even joined his personal fundraising group, the Kooyong 200. Some choose to join the parties and attempt to change from within. Many donate to charities to advocate on their behalf. But the sad reality is, in many ways Australia is going backwards.
We have a lower renewable energy target in 2022 than we had in 2010. Fifteen years ago, both major parties went to the election with a plan to make polluters pay. That is unthinkable in 2022. Just last month, Australia recorded its worst ever score in the annual Transparency International Corruption Perception Index. And in 2021, Australia dropped from 24th to fifth place on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap index.
Hacking at the branches hasn’t been working, we have to strike at the root. And I say that striking at the root means getting people into Parliament who are strong, independent and ready to hold government accountable. Unfortunately, the game is rigged. Wouldn’t it be great to have Parliament filled with better people? The reason we don’t is because we are very rarely given any real choice. That’s because politics is a game where the winners write the rules. The parties give them [Party candidates] access to every voter’s personal details. They make themselves exempt from the Privacy Act so they can spam them [voters]. They exempt themselves from truth in advertising laws. So it’s perfectly legal for politicians to lie to you.
Every member has access to more than $750,000 per term for what is euphemistically called ‘office and communications budgets.’ These are often used for campaigning. On top of taxpayer funded ad campaigns I referenced earlier, the majors receive huge donations from vested interests. Politics has become a multi-billion dollar game. Over the last decade, the major parties have received $1.8 billion in funding, $180 million a year, and much of it from undisclosed sources. In 2019 alone, the Coalition received $65 million in undisclosed donations. Josh Frydenberg’s Kooyong 200 Club received $2.8 million over the last five years without disclosing a single donor, not one.
Clive Palmer spent $89 million in 2019. But as he so clearly showed, money alone won’t get you there. You need people power too. I wish it were possible for great candidates like Zoe Daniel, Dr Monique Brian, Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink, Dr Sophie Scamps, to get elected with evidence-based policy and people power alone, as as democracy should be. But if an innocent independent citizen is brave enough to stand up against the party machines, even if they can raise a million dollars, they’re very likely to be outspent two to one, as Zali Steggall was in 2019. The political parties are Goliaths, and they have rigged the game. But you know what, sometimes, sometimes in David and Goliath battles, David wins. The communities of indi, Warringah, Mayo and Clark have all set a shining example for others to follow. I wasn’t there at the beginning.
I don’t think anyone can say really when this community independence movement started. Was it when Cathy McGowan brought 300 people from 72 electorates together last year and trained them on how to replicate the success of Indi? Or was it when Helen Haines and Zali Steggall showed leadership by introducing landmark anti-corruption and net zero bills? How about in 2019 when independents Kerryn Phelps, Julia Banks and Tim Storer joined other cross benchers to make refugee Medevac legislation a reality?
Was it in 2013 when, against the odds, in the regional Victorian electorate of Indi, Cathy McGowan won against Sophie Mirabella? Was it in 2010 when Tony Windsor, Rob Oakeshott and Andrew Wilkie helped us help get us ARENA, the National Renewable Energy Agency, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation? Or was it back in 1996 when Ted Mack became the independent Member for North Sydney?
Maybe we can go all the way back to the first decade of Federation and look at suffragist Vida Goldstein, instrumental in winning women the vote for Federal Parliament in 1902. Vida stood for election five times as an independent because she thought party structures meant that selfish log-rollers got into parliament. Unfortunately, Vida lost her five campaigns as an independent, but I’d like to think, if she were campaigning today, this community independents movement would have her back.
This election, voters in over 20 electorates are being offered a new political choice, a viable option for breaking the political deadlock on vital issues. These communities have the opportunity of a community-backed independent candidate. These candidates are genuine community leaders, not career politicians.
The incumbent independents act as a backbone for our Parliament. They introduce legislation that’s too hot to handle by the conflicted majors, and they provide a check on government overreach. So often they are the conscience of Parliament. Consider Andrew Wilkie’s focus on gambling reform, an area that major parties are too afraid to go anywhere near. Just last week, it was Rebekha Sharkie whose amendment to the Sex Discrimination Act secured five Liberals to cross the floor and protect the rights of marginalized and vulnerable children.
While a Party MP is answerable to their faction, their party, their donors and their branch before they can get around to attending to constituents, a community-backed independent is answerable just to their community, no more, no less. As Meg Lees said recently, in this decade it is the independents who will keep the bastards honest. Voters increasingly believe that the major parties no longer represent them, and they’re leaving the major parties in droves. At the last election, a quarter of Australians did not vote for either of the major parties.
Today I’d like to share two observations from our latest polling of nearly 9000 voters across 11 electorates where independents are running. Firstly, Scott Morrison is very much on the nose wherever you look. His net approval rating in these electorates is negative 11 points. Secondly, it shows why: in these electorates, voters rank climate change the number one voting issue in majority of these electorates, and integrity in politics is usually second.
The incumbent MPs say that they support climate action as their constituents want, but they never vote for it when it really counts. Trent Zimmermann sat on the Parliamentary committee that reviewed Zali’s climate bill. He didn’t even have the stomach to support it being debated in Parliament, let alone vote for it. Voters are becoming increasingly aware that their representatives vote with the coal-loving climate science deniers like Barnaby Joyce: every single time they talk the talk, but voters know that they don’t walk the walk.
In response, we’re seeing the greatest wave of independent campaigns in Australia’s history. Kylea Tink in North Sydney, Allegra Spender in Wentworth, Zoe Daniel in Goldstein, Dr Monique Ryan in Kooyong, Dr Sophie Scamps in Mackellar, Jo Dyer in Boothby, Kate Chaney in Curtin, David Pocock and Kim Rubenstein here in the ACT Senate, Georgia Steele in Hughes, Hannabeth Luke in Page, Kate Hook in Calare, and Nicolette Boele in Bradfield, just to name a few. These candidates don’t need to go into politics to be successful because they are already successful. They’re business owners, doctors, lawyers, journalists, and athletes. They enter for the right reasons. Polling shows us that many of them are moving into very competitive positions.
Now, many people are having a hard time getting their heads around this community independents movement. They cannot see it through anything other than a party lens. The movement’s nothing like a party. There’s no hierarchy, there’s no leader. There’s no head office, there is no coordinated policy platform. Some have come up through the voices of groups in more than 70 electorates. Cathy McGowan said recently that nobody really knows the true depth and breadth of the movement. It is growing quickly, bubbling both above and below the surface.
Viable campaigns are popping up in many of these communities. And it’s estimated that there are currently 10,000 actively engaged volunteers. There’s the great work of former press gallery journalist Margo Kingston with her No Fibs website that pops up at every election and a relentless commitment to covering campaigns from the grassroots up. This is a spontaneous, autonomous and entirely individual set of responses across the country to community dissatisfaction with politics as usual.
Many of the campaigns informally swap notes on who has the best deals on t-shirt printing, how to run a good fundraising event, or what a volunteer code of conduct might look like. For the campaigns, this information is open source, freely shared. If they don’t know, they often ask Climate 200 or Cathy McGowan’s Community Independents Project. And we put them in contact with the experts who know how get through.
The party machines are a formidable base and they’re set up to perform all the roles that candidates need. But just as technology and new business models have disrupted so many industries, including the media of course, campaigning is changing. The community independents are disaggregating the services that are required to run a campaign. The community campaigns are organising, using digital tools such as Zoom, Slack, Nationbuilder, and social media. They don’t need a party structure. Over 400 people joined Kylea Tinks’ launch in North Sydney. How many Labor or Liberal Party electorate launches will attract as many enthusiastic supporters?
If you don’t have a party behind you, one of the toughest challenges is fundraising. And this is Climate 200’s contribution to this complex tapestry of a social movement. Climate 200 levels the playing field so that community-backed independents can have a fighting chance against the party machines. We are now 8000 donors and we’re growing. Our donors chip in together to back candidates who share our common values. Our values are simple, not a policy platform, deliberately not specific. A science based response to climate change, ending corruption in politics, and real progress on gender equity and the safety of women.
Climate 200 is not a party in any way. We don’t start campaigns. We don’t choose candidates. We don’t dictate policies. We don’t speak for any independent candidate. They speak for themselves. We simply give them a leg up with funding and support. It’s as if each community — bear with me — it’s as if each community is building a car. They’re all different shapes and sizes. Some have similarities, they will have an engine, they will have four wheels. They have seats, most have a radio. Some of them have the same colour because frankly, there aren’t that many t-shirt colours left. What Climate 200 seeks to do is strap a turbo onto that car, or a spare battery pack, if you will.
If a campaign wants to work with us, and we want to work with them, we can make their cars go faster. Now look, together we’ll never come close to matching what the major party funding machines are delivering. But together we’ve raised over $7 million. Last weekend we received our ten-thousandth donation from 8000 members from a very broad cross-section of Australian society. Now, this is a significant sum, but it pales into insignificance compared to the major parties. Our donors come from all walks of life and from every single electorate. They’re pensioners, retirees, teachers, nurses, doctors, tradies, and farmers. A third of our donors are from rural and regional seats.
Ben Jallat is one: he’s a 55 year old electrical fitter from a small rural town in New South Wales. He’s a proud Navy veteran and he’s a member of a local RFS. He’s been donating $15 a month since we started because he wants climate action and he desperately wants a national anti corruption commission. Now me, personally, I have contributed — as David said — I’ve contributed about two and a half percent of Climate 200’s total funding so far.
So to confuse Climate 200 with me, or to mischaracterise this movement as eastern suburbs trust fund kids, as a Liberal Senator recently claimed, is to totally misunderstand what’s going on here. More than eight hundred Climate 200 donors responded to the Senator, setting her straight on her tweet. Climate 200’s thousands of donors are here to give this historic wave of independents the best shot at entering the fortress that is our Federal Parliament. All else remaining equal, if just three more pro-climate independents — pro-climate, pro-integrity, pro-gender equity — independents are elected, they would be able to hold the party machines accountable and deliver progress on these issues. But it won’t be powered without a purpose. As Zali Steggall calls it, it’ll be the power of balance.
With three months to go to the election, the independents are already having a massive impact. For the first time in a long time, the Liberal government is having to fight for communities. They’ve long taken for granted communities that they have abandoned, communities that deeply care about climate change, the rights of gay and trans kids, ABC funding, and oil and gas rigs off Sydney’s Northern Beaches. In many ways, the independents are already winning.
I mentioned the challenge to the major parties a little earlier. Here it is. There’s a lot of noise at the moment around electro donation disclosure. Climate 200 goes above and beyond the legal disclosure requirements, encouraging all their donors large and small to disclose their names on our website. We’re pleased that thousands have and our list is updated weekly, near real-time disclosure. This is something that neither major party comes close to doing. However, given that the Treasurer himself has been known to personally call donors listed on our website and monster them, some have chosen simply to stop at complying with their legal disclosure requirements, as their right.
Now, we have long advocated root and branch reform of electoral funding laws, lower disclosure thresholds, and real-time disclosure. But the major parties have repeatedly blocked attempts by independents such as Andrew Wilkie and others to legislate these reforms. So here’s our challenge. If the major parties agree to reduce the disclosure limit to $1000 and require real time disclosure, we will rapidly congratulate them and immediately follow suit for all donations received from that point onwards. And we have already taken the first step with our voluntary disclosure. So let’s see a real commitment to reform and let’s see it implemented in time for this election.
There’s nothing so wrong with our Parliament that we can’t fix it with the right people. We bemoan the takeover of Parliament by careerists who started in student politics, worked as staffers and have never had a real job. We often lament that accomplished Australians rarely step up and run for Parliament. Well, here are the independents that you asked for. Here are the real Australians that you wanted. Like most Australians, these candidates are not warriors of the left or the right. They speak from the heart of their communities about the issues that really matter.
To those in the press gallery, please enjoy the fact that these independents aren’t media trained. Their instinct is to give considered, honest answers, not regurgitate someone else’s talking points. To the rest of Australia, please get behind these candidates: back them. These new independents are working for change, not for their careers.
For the next two months, let’s spend a little less time hacking at the branches. And let’s strike at the root of our weakened democracy. Let’s join this incredible new wave. Let yourself feel a sense of optimism for the first time in a long time. One of our supporters described it to me as feeling a feeling of active hope.
So instead of sitting at home complaining about lying politicians or corrupted media, there’s a job for everyone in the movement. Because politics is too important to be left to politicians. If you live in electorate with a community independent and you’re able, volunteer your time to the campaign, hang a campaign sign on your front fence or in your apartment window. Talk with your neighbours. If you don’t already, donate to the candidates or Climate 200. But just don’t sit this one out.
We’re so lucky to live in Australia to be here with so much potential and opportunity at our fingertips. So let’s fix Australia. Let’s fix our democracy by getting more ordinary, extraordinary and honest people in there. More women, more people with life experiences formed outside the halls of politics. We’ve lost a decade on climate action, on integrity, on gender equity. But this next election will be a chance for voters to press the reset button on Australia’s broken politics, and change is within reach. We have at most 94 days to grab it. Thank you.
David Crowe: Thank you very much, Mr. Holmes a Court, that was a very interesting speech, warmly received by the room, I’ve got to say. And we’ve got about a dozen questions, so we’ve got limited time to get through as many questions as possible. So, I’ll ask at the top for one question each and hopefully we can move through all of those dozen or so journalists who want to ask you more. Because of my position here, I do get to ask the first one. So, I’m going to go for it. Now. I want to challenge you on the idea in your speech that you’re not a political party. And I think a couple of things occurred to me here. You’ve got a common policy platform that your candidates are adopting. I know from looking at the Australian Electoral Commission that your financial controller happens to be a fairly common name on financial disclosures from all the different candidates. So, there’s an element of uniform or even coordinated financial control across several candidates. In theory, you may be able to withdraw support from a candidate who doesn’t conform to your views as we get closer to election day, which the major political parties sometimes have to do. So, are you actually avoiding some of the obligations that come from disclosure by not structuring yourself as a political party and choosing this alternative model?
Simon Holmes a Court: First, let me let me say that there are no difference-in-disclosure obligations on Climate 200, as there are for the major parties. So, I don’t see any advantage in us registering, but basically in no way are we a party. As I’ve said before, we don’t start campaigns, we don’t select candidates, we wait for these campaigns to come up through the grassroots and demonstrate strong community support, demonstrate capable campaign teams, and demonstrate the ability to fundraise within their community. No, we don’t have a policy platform, we have a set of values. And we will only fund those who also have those values. We don’t specify in any degree of specificity how they are to be achieved, just that we have the confidence that that Member will will enter Parliament and deliver on the things that they have told their communities that they will deliver on. We’ve talked about the disaggregation of the services, in that we no longer need parties to run viable campaigns, as Cathy McGowan showed, as Zali Steggall has shown, and many others, we don’t need these things. But you do need service providers. And compliance is a very, very tough thing in Australia with the laws regularly changing. And it is makes complete sense that campaigns will go to service providers to help them with their compliance. And then, frankly, there aren’t that many of them. But just as people might use the same accountant here, you probably wouldn’t be surprised that most of these campaigns are swapping notes on where do you buy your t-shirts, where do you buy your corflute signs? We would be pretending to be something that we are not, if we were a registered party, and we don’t have any candidates. We don’t have any candidates. So what kind of a party can operate without a single candidate?
David Crowe: Yep, the next question. The next question is from Jane Norman.
Jane Norman – The ABC: Simon Holmes a Court, thank you for your address, Jane Norman from the ABC and also a director here at the club. I’ve got a hypothetical for you, but one that you’ve no doubt already considered. So it’s election night, we have a hung Parliament and Climate 200 candidates are in the mix to help form a government with either major party. Given the amount of money that you have contributed to the campaigns, will you be having a say in this scenario, in which major party [your] candidates help form government with? Have you decided which major party you’d like to side with? And if not, what kind of criteria are you applying to, I guess, on due consideration to this.
Simon Holmes a Court: Yeah. So, this, this goes to what I said before about the misconception, or at least I guess the lens that so many can only see politics through the eyes of a party. These candidates are not working in cahoots. These candidates speak for themselves. They are truly independent, and we have no influence in what they will do in the next [period] immediately following the election. Nor do we seek to for us. If we were to try to undermine independents, not only would none of them want anything to do with us, but we would we would be living a lie and I can’t, I can’t do that. The candidates will make their own decisions, they will have a mandate from their communities. They’re very clear to their communities, why they are going to Canberra, what they are standing for. And if they are elected, then the only thing I can guess [is] that, being accountable to their communities, they will take their mandate with them.
David Crowe: The next question is from Greg Brown.
Greg Brown – The Australian: Greg Brown from The Australian. Just following up from that question, given your key priorities are climate change, and national integrity commission, and gender equality: which party is do you think is best to achieve those measures if elected in May? And given that you’re helping these independents campaign for those three particular issues, isn’t it disingenuous to say, well, you don’t mind who actually governs Australia? When your whole campaign is to achieve these issues, and it does make a difference, who wins the election and who governs if the issues that you’re passionate about are actually achieved?
Simon Holmes a Court: So, you’re saying that one side is good on these and the other side’s bad on these?
Greg Brown: Well, I’m asking which party is better on climate change, integrity and gender equality.
Simon Holmes a Court: So, my personal opinion doesn’t matter here, because I won’t be in Parliament and I won’t be in any negotiation room. This is a decision for the independents. Climate 200, as I’ve said, I am not the leader of this movement. I am but one small part of a movement of 8000 people who are helping to fund candidates, to level the playing field against the party machines in about twenty seats around around the country. So my personal opinion on this: yeah, I would hope that both parties will come to those negotiations with their best possible policies to deliver on what Australians and those electorates want.
Greg Brown: Given you’ve just talked about climate change, we’ve got one party has a formal target of 26 to 28 percent, 2030. Another has a formal target of 43 percent. You’re encouraging people to donate to you so you can support candidates who’ll take greater action on climate change. We’re in a hung Parliament on election night and you’re saying, well, it doesn’t matter who the independents back on climate change to actually–
Simon Holmes a Court: No, I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m saying that my opinion on this doesn’t matter. I’m saying that the independents will form their own opinion on which party is able to deliver on the issues that they have a mandate for. So this is absolutely a decision for each of them individually. Nothing to do with me.
Greg Brown: And just finally, on the issues, the three issues that you’re campaigning on, do you think, are you more impressed with Anthony Albanese’s view on those issues or Scott Morrison’s?
Simon Holmes a Court: I don’t think we’ve seen the final policy platforms of the major parties. And as I said, my opinion here doesn’t matter because I have no influence whatsoever. The way that the independents [think], who may be in the privileged position of balance of power, I have no influence over their vote on any issue, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
David Crowe: Before we go to the next question, I realise that some of you didn’t like the previous question, although I thought it was a perfectly fair one. So, we are the Press Club. It is the job of the journalists to ask question even you didn’t like it.
Simon Holmes a Court: And I’m ready for it.
David Crowe: And the next question is from Tom Connell
Tom Connell – Sky News: Tom Connell from Sky News. I’m going to make Greg feel better and be even less popular than him. I’m going to ask about the $100,000 cheque. Zali Steggall effectively blamed the accountant, Damien Hodgkinson. Is he still a director at Climate 200? Should he stay on in that role? Or will he stay on in that role? And what does it say about struggling to manage $100,000 check when you’re talking about disclosing $1000 donations?
Simon Holmes a Court: Yeah, so I completely reject the characterization of failing to manage. Zali fronted the media about this yesterday. This is an issue that was identified more than a year ago and resolved to the complete satisfaction of the AEC. So, we know Senator Andrew Bragg’s job, he has been assigned to keep a watchful eye on everything we do. And it’s kind of nice to have a guardian angel because it means that we we dot every I and cross every T. Now he’s he’s made spurious claims to the AEC, which they have dismissed.
But as for Climate 200, we are scrupulous in our compliance with all of the regulations. We go above and beyond, as I said before. The vast majority of our donors are on our website, go check it out today. We’ve been proactively reaching out to the AEC. They’re aware of how we operate, what we do. They haven’t flagged any issues yet. But if they do, we will implement any changes promptly. We have really strong internal processes that would flag any donations that are worthy of further review.
And look, frankly, if the Coalition really cares, if Andrew Bragg really cares, about improving transparency, maybe he might take a look at the bill that Andrew Wilkie introduced to Parliament yesterday to lower the disclosure threshold and implement real-time donations. That would make a huge difference. And let me just quickly say, the Coalition received $65 million in undisclosed donations in 2019: $65 million, without any name attached to it.
And Josh Frydenberg’s Kooyong 200: $2.8 million over the last five years, and you won’t find a single name against every one of those cents. Now, if we reduced the disclosure limit to $1000 we would soon see who is is donating here and we strongly advocate for that.
Tom Connell: And Damian is staying in the role.
Simon Holmes a Court: I have no problems at all with Damien staying in the role. He’s an he’s an excellent controller.
David Crowe: Next question is from Andrew Tillett.
Andrew Tillett – Financial Review: From the Financial Review and a director here at the National Press Club. I will stick with the donations issue for a moment and go to something in your speech, where you lay out the challenge to the major parties to reduce the donation disclosure threshold to $1000 and require real time disclosure. You’re saying obviously, that needs a change in the law to require them?
Simon Holmes a Court: It could be done voluntarily.
Andrew Tillett: Well, what’s stopping you from doing it voluntarily today? I did go to your website today. I saw the list of donors. Saw the names–
Simon Holmes a Court: It’s impressive, right? I can’t think of any other crew, that is, any major party…
Andrew Tillett: But I don’t know whether they’ve donated one dollar, a thousand dollars, a hundred thousand dollars, until we go through the AEC process. What’s stopping you from today, if you’re if you’re talking about integrity and politics, and you want to set the standard, you can set the standard today.
Simon Holmes a Court: We’ve already taken the first step. But as I said before, this is a David and Goliath fight. Right. And some campaigns have chosen– Each campaign is choosing their own disclosure. So, I’m not I’m not speaking for campaigns, I’m talking about us. This is a David and Goliath fight. And asking David to tie his hands behind his back and put his slingshot down while Goliath is standing there with a bazooka and heavy artillery. Sorry, we’re trying to get these candidates in. And when they’re on the cross bench, they will be able to implement integrity measures. But we’re not going to tie our own hands behind our back. We have taken that first step, we have done what no major political party has done, and put the names on our website. And we would be very happy to do more when the major parties come and match us.
David Crowe: Next question from Katherine Murphy.
Katherine Murphy – Guardian Australia’s political editor: Hi, Simon. Just going to Climate 200’s values, if I may, for a minute. As you’ve articulated: one, it’s a science based approach to climate change. What does that mean? There’s another value which is, you know, standing up for integrity and accountability. Now, at the moment, there are three models for an integrity commission currently in debate. One is Helen Haines’, another one is the government’s, another one is the Labor Party’s. So, can we put some specifics around those values that are very clearly articulated by your own organisation, and also just flowing from that? Now, you’ve said a number of times today that you have not sought specific undertakings from candidates, but surely, if you have agreed to find candidates to run in various electorates, knowing that there is possibly a minority government situation at the end of this election, surely Climate 200 has had discussions with these candidates about what those values mean in practice.
Simon Holmes a Court: Thanks. Thanks, Katherine. So firstly, the specifics. No, it is not up to us to have specifics on these. If we start dictating specifics, then we can hardly say that these independents are independent.
On your question about agreements or something with candidates, I’ll tell you an interesting story. When we first started talking to candidates, candidates came to us having conversations about supporting. We said, how about we write out an independent charter that says, you’re independent, we’re independent. We agree that there should be science based response to climate change, integrity, ending corruption, and treatment and safety of women. And no further, that’s, you know, that that’s, that’s as far as the relationship goes, and we’ll and we’ll sign a document there. And fascinatingly, we had pushback from independent saying no, we will never sign anything in exchange for money. And it took us a while: we were just trying to highlight integrity, we were just trying to make sure it’s crystal clear. But no, the multiple independents came to us and said, that’s it, even that one string is too many. It must be no strings attached.
So, our relationship with the candidates is, we make a donation. If they ask us, you know, that they’re looking for advice on who they can talk to about XYZ, we’ll pass that on. But, you know, we don’t have any agreement at all with the candidates, they are strictly independent, and that is of critical importance to them. And we thoroughly respect that because otherwise it wouldn’t be an independents movement.
Katherine Murphy: Just picking up, given Greg set the precedent, David, you know. You’re active in climate policy space, Simon, you have been for years. What’s the answer to my question, which is what’s a science based approach to climate policy? What’s the answer?
Simon Holmes a Court: Yeah, I’m not sure. I’m not sure this is the forum for it. Because I don’t need to signal to candidates. We have a Climate Change Authority, they publish reports, and maybe a future Parliament might restore that institution back to being able to give frank and fearless advice. But I think Zali got it right with her bill and I don’t think I need to reply any further than that.
David Crowe: Next question is from James Morrow.
James Morrow – Daily Telegraph: Thank you, Mr Holmes a Court, for your address, James Morrow, Daily Telegraph. I was interested to hear you speak so much about the David versus Goliath fight that you are involved in here, particularly in regards to the way the rules that you’re calling for applying to the major parties are being followed by you. But the thing is, I’m struck by the fact that we live in modern Australia and not the biblical desert of ancient times. And I want to ask about your AEC donations return on 1 February 2022 has donations that are just below the donations threshold from somebody who was also a big donor to Zali Steggall, and they’re broken up, about $56,000 worth. I’m wondering, given that you’ve got the same director there as filed that return for Zali Steggall, is there an issue when you talk about integrity? If there seems to be a pattern developing of donations being split? And shouldn’t your organisation and your candidates live up to the same standards that you would like to see observed by the major parties?
Simon Holmes a Court: Sorry, I don’t quite follow, there’s a $56,000 donation in our disclosure from a single donor.
James Morrow: No, it’s split up to just below the donation threshold in the return there, but the question is why is it split?
Simon Holmes a Court: The donation is named, right?
James Morrow: The donation is named.
Simon Holmes a Court: The donation came over time.
James Morrow: But if it is split, you know, it’s underneath these thresholds. It has been disclosed. But the question is, again, why is it that if you want the major parties to follow rules of donation, why don’t you simply follow the same rules that you would like to see, behind the David and Goliath analogy,
Simon Holmes a Court: Firstly, the donation you talked about is not split. It is not hidden, it is absolutely clearly disclosed. Splitting that donation would have been if every one of them had been under– if it had been split into… I don’t know — think about that. Kooyong 200 example. Do you really think that every one of those donations is small? No, you will have a look at it and you’ll find that it’s a whole series of donations just below the limit. Well, in this case, every one of those donations that you see in that disclosure there has been named,
James Morrow: But why not, if you want, you know, these rules to apply to the major parties, why not apply them first to yourselves?
Simon Holmes a Court: We do we do apply them. We have followed the rules absolutely. I don’t understand where you’re getting at, sir.
James Morrow: I’m saying that if–
Simon Holmes a Court: Look at our disclosure, you will see the donation and the name next to it. That’s not donation splitting. I’m not sure — you tell me what you think donation splitting is.
James Morrow: Well, if you’ve got a donation that’s been split up into a number of amounts are underneath…
Simon Holmes a Court: In order to hide all the donation, right? But this has not been hidden.
James Morrow: That’s fine Mr Holmes a Court. You’re saying throughout your speech that essentially, your organisation isn’t, you know, you’ve got names on your website, we don’t know, as people have asked before, we don’t know how much they’ve donated. And yet you would like–
Simon Holmes a Court: If they are above the disclosure limit, you will see that dollar amount–
James Morrow: — and you would like that donation to change. And so, we can argue about this all today, but what do you say that you’re following a double standard to what you would like to see the Parliament–
Simon Holmes a Court: Thank you very much. I reject that characterisation. We have been absolutely transparent. If you had the same kind of transparency on the $56 million from the undisclosed donation from the Liberal Party or the $2.8 million from Frydenberg’s Kooyong 200 group. If they could match our our level of transparency, what a better Parliament we would be, but I completely reject your characterisation of us as engaging in any underhanded behavior.
David Crowe: I counted five or six questions. I’ll be chastised later by Laura Tingle, president of the club. Next question is from Mark Kenny.
Mark Kenny – ANU and the Canberra Times: Thank you, David. Thank you, Simon, for your address. Mark Kenny from ANU and the Canberra Times. Just on this question that’s come up a number of times now, this issue about the rules that you apply to yourself and the rules as they apply to the political parties. Given that you’re talking so much about the restoration of principles, it’s still not completely clear to me why you cannot just simply go to full disclosure of donations right now. Now, I assume that what you’re saying when you make the David and Goliath analogy, what you’re actually referring to there is that you would get less money as a result of that? Because there are some people who under those circumstances might choose not to donate. Now, aren’t you already much higher in your donations, takings, than you had originally intended? And wouldn’t it be worth it for this principle to actually take that haircut? I’m going to take a very quick second one. And that is, can you just address the question that the Liberal Party in particular puts out about the Climate 200 or the independent candidates, the Voices For and so forth, that they seem to be only emerging in Coalition-held seats?
Simon Holmes a Court: Okay, so a couple of questions there. There are a lot of Australians who want the right to donate. And they would like privacy. Now we have a system that, as soon as the donation threshold, as soon as you pass a donation threshold, you no longer have the right to that privacy. That limit used to be $1000; the Howard government increased it to $10,000, which created a very large class of donations that become undisclosed.
Now, why do people want privacy? I know of three Climate 200 donors who have received phone calls from the Federal Treasurer, when he’s supposed to be helping get this country out of our COVID recession, three of them have been monitored by the Treasurer. I know people who have — his political opponents — whose superiors at work have received phone calls and asked for them to be fired. Right? We live in Australia, where people are terrified of being identified as an opponent of the government. It’s known as a vindictive and vengeful government. So I respect someone who wants to give $5000 and says they want it to be to be private. I would like it to be $1000 so it’s a level playing field. I don’t believe that there should be one rule for us and one rule for the others. We have already taken the first step, and I invite the parties to follow us on this disclosure journey.
But on your second question, why are all these groups rising up in Coalition-held seats? And I think that’s that’s a really, really interesting question. And people say, why not in Labor sets? Well, to get a movement like this up and going in a community, it starts with three or four people at a coffee shop or kitchen table, and they bring in three or four friends and then pretty soon, before you know it, there’s a hundred, two hundred, three hundred people and it has hundreds of nights and weekends given up for these movements, and people putting in not only their free time, their talent, but also their money into these movements. No one’s doing this because it’s some fake movement. They’re doing it because they have passion. And where does that passion come from? It comes from the fact that they have been abandoned. The Liberal Party has abandoned the centre of Australia.
Kylea Tink, when she launched her campaign, she said she’s voted Liberal every election of her life. She said when Scott Morrison said that climate policy would not be set in the wine bars and dinner parties of the inner cities, she said that she knew that they were talking about her. They were saying, Scott Morrison said to Kylea Tink directly, you don’t matter. Right? That’s where the passion comes from, for the hundreds of people in North Sydney. Look, if the Labor Party had been in control for the last nine years and had done nothing on these topics and in fact, taken us backwards, then you would see these movements rising up in their seats. But you know, I would love it if someone would run an independent campaign up in the Hunter. They need a new narrative there, one that the major parties aren’t giving.
But I have no control over that. But these movements are rising up where people are fed up with the current politics. We see in Kooyong a really strong negative satisfaction with the government, and climate and integrity as the top two values. They’re not seeing that from the Federal government. So, don’t be surprised when you see some of the biggest organisation you’ve ever seen in a campaign running in a seat that no one’s tried to win for a very long time.
David Crowe: Thank you. So, we haven’t quite got to all the questions that we’d like. So, our final question will be from Pablo Venales.
Pablo Venales – SBS World News: Thank you for your address. You mentioned the number of prominent women that you are backing at the upcoming election, and given what we’ve witnessed in the past 12 months and you said the sentiment of women around the country, that white hot anger: do you see this election as perhaps the best chance to fix this problem? And if you aren’t as successful as you’d like, what does that mean?
Simon Holmes a Court: Well, certainly the passion is there, right? They last year, we had a string of disclosures of horrific behavior for horrific treatment of women, not just in Parliament House, but a lot of women were empowered to speak up. And I think we can all understand that a lot of women have would love to be standing up but aren’t quite there yet. Whenever I go and talk to the community groups or hop on an online Zoom with one of the Voices Of movements, I find it fascinating that the majority, the vast majority of people in this movement are women. And you know, the campaigns are run by women. But I think that’s not surprising for people being in community organising, right?
If there’s some event organised in the local community, let’s say tomorrow, there was a — you heard of dignitaries coming to town, you had to organise something, put it together really quickly, who would you call to organise that? Would you call Helen Haynes? Or would you call Barnaby Joyce? Barnaby, the beer would be warm, the band would turn up a week later, right? And he would stand up and say what a great event it was. And Helen, you wouldn’t even know that she’d organised it, right? She’d just efficiently, confidently, competently put the thing together and wouldn’t need any thanks, and will it just work like clockwork. And I think people are seeing that, and women are saying that that the political system has not been working for them.
They see Zali Steggall, Rebekha Sharkie, Helen Haines, and Andrew Wilkie up there, but they see these strong women up there who are no nonsense, they’re not mucking about. They’re not trying to climb the greasy ladder. They’re not being given– a couple of female Senators have been given a job just to dig dirt and push it on me, right? You want to get that from Helen and Zali. At the end of the day, they go back to their rooms and they read through the notes of the next day in Parliament. They’re not down at the pub trying to work their way up the greasy pole of politics. This is really inspirational for women around the country, and I think a lot of men as well. We can see the figure that they have cut in Parliament and we can think just a little bit more of that, please: a little bit more and we can have a very different country.