On 15 January 1990 two senior Australian opposition politicians met with a senior environmentalist, hoping that the green movement would be “neutral” in the impending Federal election. Ooops.
On 15 January 1990, Peacock and Puplick met with ACF’s Philip Toyne for lunch at an Italian restaurant in Melbourne. This discussion has passed into Liberal folklore as a great deception. Peacock and Puplick say that Toyne told them that the ACF would not be actively advocating a vote for either of the major parties in the House. It would be supporting the Democrats and the minor parties in the Senate. Peacock and Puplick left with a misplaced optimism. The political truth is that there was no way that Labor’s investment in the greens would be denied. The entire ALP was confident that it would have the green’s [sic] backing. It is idle to think that Toyne was unaware of these realities.
Toyne said later that he told Peacock and Puplick that he personally believed the ACF should not support political parties but that he gave no promise on ACF’s behalf. Toyne’s ‘Pontius Pilate’ defence is that the decision rested with the ACF council of which he was not even a member….
The Liberals were humiliated by the greens. After Hawke called the election the ACF council voted overwhelmingly to direct its preferences towards the ALP. Peacock later told Hewson that Toyne had broken his word and that the Liberals had been misled and ‘dudded’. The Liberals were left bitter and frustrated. The ALP- green alliance, crafted by Richardson, was firmly intact for the 1990 election.
Kelly, P. (1994) The End of Certainty: Power, Politics and Business in Australia. St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin page 543
The Australian Labor Party had won the 1983 and 1987 federal elections in part thanks to the green movement (this is in the days before the Green Party). The Liberals were desperate to neutralise that threat in the 1990 election. Puplick had even managed to get the Liberals to have a stiffer carbon emissions reduction target than Labor. It was all for nothing though….
Joan Staples, in her impressive PhD thesis on how environmental movements fared under the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments does not use this anecdote, which is curious. She does however explain very well the dilemma for environmental movements more generally. Once they are seen as being “of” a political party, they lose their bargaining power both with the other parties and the one they have aligned themselves to. What is to be done? Well, don’t get too bogged down in state processes. That is, of course, far easier said than done. And how far is too far?
Staples, J. (2012) Non-government organisations and the Australian government: a dual strategy of public advocacy for NGOs , PhD Research thesis, UNSW. Click here for PDF.
And the follow-up
On 5th February, 1992, then Opposition Leader John Hewson wrote to the ACF, in part saying
“I see little point in meeting with you or Mr Garrett so long as the ACF leadership is driven by a partisan political agenda,” Dr Hewson wrote.
This was “so evident in the 1990 federal election when the ACF swung its support behind the Labor Party despite the demonstrably superior environmental policy of the Coalition parties,” he wrote.
Anon, 1992. Hewson snubs Conservation Foundation. Canberra Times, 6 February, p.4.
Also on this day-
1992 – Australian Coal Association rep at Guangzhou meeting of the IPCC tries to scupper things. Fails.
The carbon club reserved its attack on the bottom-line statement for late in the meeting. It was not Don Pearlman, but a newcomer from the Australian Coal Association, David Hughes, who fronted the bid for a home run.
“Given all the uncertainties over estimates, based on ozone depletion and sulphate aerosols suppressing warming and the rest, surely we can no longer justify this statement, Mr Chairman.”
“This form of words has been commented on by many referees,” John Houghton said stiffly.
Just like Exxon’s Brian Flannery at the key IPCC scientists’ meeting in 1990, Hughes found no support outside the carbon club.
page 76-7 of Leggett, J. (2001) The Carbon War [As best I can tell, this would have been 15th January 1992].