Policy advocacy

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There is much you can do to reduce your own carbon emissions and to help people you know to do so as well. But the right government policies can make this a lot easier for you and other Australians.

By subsidising renewable energy more and fossil fuels less, building better cycling routes, requiring higher energy efficiency standards in buildings, or spending more on public transport and less on freeways.

But such policy changes are much more likely to happen if citizens actively push for them. Councillors and parliamentarians rarely have across-the-board expertise, so you can help to inform them. They will often welcome this, but in any case it’s important that they know what residents and citizens think, need and want. Across history, policy change has usually been spurred on by ordinary people arguing for that change. And your MP or local councillor may already agree with what you’re advocating, and value your support – and your information and arguments – when seeking to win over colleagues.

In advocating for a particular policy you might bear in mind the following:

  • Assume that your representatives are decent people intent on doing good. That belief may not be borne out, but it often is. Think about how you would like to be treated if you were them.
  • Make a time to put your well-argued and evidence-based case to them, but listen to them as well. They are working within constraints. Budgets are not unlimited, and they may have trouble persuading colleagues. Find out if you can provide them with information that might help achieve this. Graphic examples of how the policy is working well in similar localities can be useful in this regard. You may have to initially settle for something more modest that you originally hoped for, but see that as a start.
  • Numbers matter. So, as well as putting your case to your MP or councillor, encourage others to do so as well, and consider forming a delegation for this purpose. But the quality of your advocacy can be as important as the number of people advocating. Individually argued cases and personal stories can have much more impact than simply signing a paper petition or clicking an online one.
  • Be aware that in our federal system the different levels of government – local, state and commonwealth (or federal) – have responsibility for different policy areas. So ask around or do a bit of research to find out who’s responsible for what.
  • Consider joining or supporting non-government organisations advocating for policy change that helps reduce emissions. They are likely to have expertise and experience in both low carbon policy and effective methods of advocacy, and acting together with others in this kind of coordinated activity gives you moral support.

If we reduce carbon emissions in our own life and at the same time advocate for policy change we’re taking two different but very complementary courses of action. When governments provide infrastructure, programs, models, funds, information and laws that support low carbon living, it is much easier for us as citizens to do our bit to reduce carbon. On the other side, if we are already actively reducing our own emissions we’re not only ‘walking the talk’, we’re also in a better position to advise the government on what it needs to do to support our actions most effectively.

Australian organisations campaigning on climate change include: Climate Action Network AustraliaAustralian Youth Climate Coalition350.org AustraliaFriends of the EarthClimate and Health AllianceAustralian Conservation Foundation, and Environment Victoria.

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Livewell started as an action research project funded by the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) for Low Carbon Living, delivered through Curtin University and supported by the City of Yarra and Yarra Energy Foundation. Further funding was then provided by the CRC to produce the online Guide to running a ‘Livewell Group’


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