The rich-listers funding politicians who back climate action
29th Oct 2019
Get out, GetUp! There’s a new force working quietly behind the scenes in Australian politics, linked to big money, and headed by the scion of one of Australia’s wealthiest families.
- The Climate 200 group backed 12 candidates in the May election, donating a total of $305,000
- The group is an initiative of Simon Holmes a Court, who used to donate money to Treasurer Josh Frydenberg
- Mr Holmes a Court said the group would be willing to support any MP who champions “strong action on climate change”
When the Australian Electoral Commission releases figures on political donations this week, it will show sizeable contributions from a little-known group called Climate 200.
It’s an initiative by Simon Holmes a Court, son of Australia’s first billionaire, and backed by Mike Cannon-Brookes, tech entrepreneur and billionaire co-founder of Atlassian.
Climate 200 is avowedly “clean and green”.
“A non-partisan, non-profit project set up to assist political candidates with a clear commitment to a science-based response to the climate emergency and to restoring integrity to politics,” is Mr Holmes a Court’s description.
In the lead up to the 2019 federal election, Climate 200 raised a tidy sum: nearly half a million dollars.
Most of the money went to independent candidates and crossbench candidates who support strong policy action to limit global warming and promote a transition to clean energy.
It is part of a conscious effort to try and counter the influence of the fossil fuel lobby.
“One theme keeps coming up in discussion among environmental philanthropists,” Mr Holmes a Court said.
“Good policy outcomes — good for the environment, current and future Australians — keep being sidelined in our political process, and frankly unsurprisingly, given that the fossil fuel sector has been such a feature in funding our democracy.
“A growing number of climate donors are realising that climate needs to be at the table in Canberra if Australia is to shift its focus to the 21st century.
“We need to wean Canberra off fossil fuel money.”
Funding independents and crossbenchers
Of the money raised, some $305,000 came from 27 individuals, with the largest contributions from Mr Cannon-Brookes and Mr Holmes a Court — who donated $50,000 and $25,000 respectively.
Climate 200 also received a $190,000 grant from the Climate Outcomes Foundation.
In all, 12 candidates were beneficiaries: the member for Indi, Helen Haines; the member for Mayo, Rebekah Sharkie; Greens MP Adam Bandt; Wentworth candidate Kerryn Phelps; former Clean Energy Finance Corporation chief executive Oliver Yates, who stood in Kooyong; as well as Rod Bower, former Liberal Party MP Julia Banks, Anthony Pesec, Huw Kingston, Rob Oakeshott, Alice Thompson and Ray Kingston.
Climate 200 also gave a grant of $35,000 to former Sydney Morning Herald journalist Margo Kingston’s citizen journalism initiative, the No Fibs project.
The decision to fund crossbench and independent MPs was influenced by the experience of the last parliament, as well as the minority Labor government under then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard, which relied on independents Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.
“With [Mr] Windsor and [Mr] Oakeshott, we had the biggest progress we have made on climate change in the history of parliament,” Mr Holmes a Court said.
“But I was very impressed in the last six months of the previous Parliament when the crossbench started to get some power.
“Probably the turning point was when Julia Banks left the Liberal Party and joined the crossbench.
“We saw a strong and united crossbench starting to speak truth to power.”
Although action on climate change is the focus of the fundraising effort, Mr Holmes a Court was also impressed with the passing of the Medevac bill and the crossbench advocacy for a National Integrity Commission.
Mr Holmes a Court, a software engineer, has for years been promoting a shift from fossil fuels to clean energy.
He sits on the board of the Smart Energy Council and is an advisor to the Energy Transition Hub at Melbourne University.
He is also the son of Perth philanthropist and businesswoman Janet Holmes a Court and her late husband, Robert — a fearsome corporate raider in the 1980s who built a diversified resources, agriculture and media group valued at $2 billion before the October 1987 stock market crash.
Booted for criticising the Government
The name Climate 200 is borrowed, tongue in cheek, from Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s fundraising body, the Kooyong 200 Club — which once counted Mr Holmes a Court among its members.
Mr Holmes a Court’s offence?
Writing an article criticising Mr Frydenberg and his Coalition colleagues for trying to extend the life of the Liddell coal-fired power station in NSW.
“I got booted within 24 hours,” he said, “and I didn’t think the article was that bad”.
“They kicked me out, refunding two years of membership fees and a donation,” he said.
It was probably just a matter of time.
Mr Holmes a Court’s views are at odds with the Coalition’s staunch advocacy for coal-fired power, and the denial or downplaying of human-induced climate change by many of its MPs and senators.
But Josh Frydenberg’s fundraising body — which has raised millions for the MP — gave Mr Holmes a Court insight into the value of long-term financial support for achieving political objectives.
“We intend to come back at the next federal election with a bigger war chest,” he said.
“Not just for independents and crossbenchers, but for climate hawks in the major parties.”
“I’d be quite happy to support Coalition or Labor MPs, or Greens or independents, who champion strong action on climate change.”
“I don’t know if we are going to get a climate hawk in One Nation, but I’d welcome the phone call.”