Behind extraordinary ideas, there are extraordinary people.
I was born in Moscow, which at the time was a communist state, and although I left when I was five with my parents and we became Australian citizens, I heard lots of stories from my family about what it was like to live under communist rule. It was like this dystopian state and it terrified me. The fact that you don’t have control over your own life—that the state can dictate what you will listen to, what you will buy, where you will live, that you need permission to travel, it was horrible. So I thought, You can never take politics for granted.
So I’ve been a member of the Liberal party in Australia for more than 10 years. I found it has mostly aligned with my values. Then a couple of years ago, I started to learn about climate change—very late to the game, I know. I had taken some time out to have my children and I think up until that point I was working so hard and studying that I didn’t pay attention to the world around me so much. So it was when I took maternity leave and slowed down a bit that I started reading more and learned about what was happening to our environment. And I was horrified. Horrified that’s it’s not just a forest that has been cut down somewhere—which is bad enough and we should do better—it’s actually our entire climate system that’s being destroyed, and to huge detriment to everyone. It poses a threat to our existence and to our quality of life, not to mention the huge amount of money it costs.
And then to learn that not only this was happening, but that people—governments—weren’t doing everything they could to stop it, I was shocked. I was saying, “Hang on! The only reason people are not taking action on climate change is because there’s a few coal companies out there who are going to lose some money. They’re already rich so what’s the big problem?” I thought that was just outrageous. We talk about making sure that we have values and proper institutions and separation of power, and that our politicians represent their electorate and don’t have vested interests—the fact that we could possibly be in any way blocking climate action was just beyond baffling to me.
When I questioned the Liberal Party’s commitment to substantial action on climate change, I thought, I’ll resign and I’ll go and be active in the community.
I decided I couldn’t in my conscience be part of the climate block. But then I started to learn it wasn’t so black and white. I got advice from people within the Liberal Party and also the environment movement saying, “You should really be more active inside the party rather than outside.” I learned that there were actually lots of members who cared about the environment and wanted to do something about this issue, but couldn’t in fear of rocking the boat. And so I ran an event—a screening of Before the Flood—to a number of MPs. And it was really successful. Not long after that I set up Conservatives for Conservation.
I strongly support the Liberal Party, and what we’re trying to do with Conservatives for Conservation is stop the demonisation of environmental issues and climate change within our party, and also allow people who care about this issue to say so—to not feel like they’ve been bullied or ostracised by those who have an agenda to not pursue climate action. Most importantly though, we exist to educate our members. All of our events are informative events. People come to learn about solar and renewables, for example, and it’s not just a campaign about solar and renewables. It’s an information session. So we’re actually going to sit there with experts, listen to the facts and talk it out.
I know people from the outside look at the Coalition and they think it’s a party of deniers. But I’ve come to realise it’s not true at all. The majority of people, in fact, either absolutely believe we need to do something about climate change or they’re just not blockers. When we do analysis of the people who are blocking it, there is only a handful. So we’re not up against a huge obstacle. We’re only really up against a handful of people. That’s all that’s left between finally getting action on climate—a handful of people! So we can’t give up.
We need strong leadership to get this over the line. But we also need to work together and engage and give pathways to people who do want to make a contribution but at the same time have jobs, have families and can’t be full-time activists. We need to show them how they can make a difference. And it’s not signing petitions, I have to say. You have to be active in your local area because local MPs listen to their local constituents. One change in policy will have a huge impact on your day-to-day life and I think people who’ve grown up in stable societies like Australia may take that for granted a bit. But we have to be active in making sure that we have an honest, fair society with honest institutions and honest political systems. You have to contribute. You can’t just benefit from that without making a contribution. I know that it can feel overwhelming when you’re a person and you want to make change and you’re up against the federal parliament or the state parliament. That’s why I think it’s important to start local. Start in your local area where you want to make change. Local councils are very powerful, especially on climate change. Their policies are very impactful. And a number of councils, including Liberal, are being very, very strong on climate policy—stronger than federal or state.
Our society shouldn’t be taken for granted. The democracy that we have, the freedoms that we have, should constantly be upheld with all contributing to the society that we want to live in. And I’m actually optimistic. I want to repeat the message that Al Gore said when he came to Sydney with his recent film. He said, “When will change happen? Soon.” He said “soon” because every time we had a movement—from the civil rights movement to equal rights for women to the abolition of slavery—there was always people with vested interests who tried to stop it. And we always had a fight, but in the end the best nature of people came through, and we always won. And we will win.” And all the research and development that’s going into the solutions to fight climate change is huge and it’s now available and it’s possible and I think we’re not losing, that’s for sure.
So I encourage everyone to use their political power in some capacity on the issue of climate change. For me personally, I just found that I couldn’t go back to living a life after I knew what I knew—a normal life where you go to work and hang out with your kids and then you go and you might do something socially with your friends. I think I would not have been able to live with myself. And when I look at myself as a mother and I look at my children and I think, My job is to protect them, and climate change is one of the most important threats that they are facing, so I have to do everything I can to help my children. And so I see it really as my role as a mother. It’s something I have to do. Running Conservatives for Conservation is a lot of work, which I don’t get paid for. And it takes away from otherwise important time for myself. But I don’t think that I could possibly go back to normal life knowing that I can do something on this issue. No way. Not now.
If you would like to help shape climate and environment policy in the Coalition, get involved with Conservatives for Conservation. C4C organises local events, policy discussions and speakers and various projects to promote climate policy and the environment within the Coalition.