By Martin Dickie
As many of you will know, the Divestment arm of 350.org is waging a very successful campaign, urging all local authorities to shift their accumulated capital to banks that refuse to finance fossil fuel exploration or extraction. Late last year, we supported Joondalup Councillor Norman, who proposed a motion that would commit Joondalup City Council to divest from fossil-fuel-financing institutions.
A group of 350.org members, ably led by Jeff Wilson, met several councillors to explain the small changes to Council policy that would be required. We encountered opposition from staff and from the Mayor on various grounds, mainly jobs and “risk”.
When it came to a vote, an equal number of councillors voted for and against the change and the Mayor used his casting vote to refuse the proposal.
A narrow defeat, but we didn’t give up. Each council has to hold an annual Electors AGM at which members of the public – not councillors – vote. We knew that Joondalup’s Climate Change Strategy was due to expire at the end of 2019, so we put forward this motion to the Electors AGM:
That, when it is reviewed, the City’s revised Climate Change Strategy shall include a commitment to minimise the quantum of surplus cash invested with institutions that fund fossil fuel industries, as well as much more ambitious mitigation strategies than those in the 2014-2019 Climate Change Strategy.
We were able to make statements when proposing and seconding the motion and it was passed by the electors who attended the AGM.
Council staff then prepared a report on the Electors AGM which went to Joondalup City Council at its first meeting this year. Before the report went to the full Council, it was presented to a Council Briefing Meeting. We were able to make a deputation to the Briefing Meeting. Both Michael Dowling and I spoke, pointing out the perilous present situation and encouraging the Council to adopt a more robust Climate Change Strategy in response.
A week later, when the report was presented to the full Council Meeting, we were able to make another short statement. All these activities informed councillors of the issues and made them aware that there is community concern.
There will be further opportunities to speak when the revised Climate Change Strategy is put forward for community comment, and again when that consultation is reported. And of course we intend to respond in writing when the draft Climate Change Strategy is advertised.
Addressing your own local council is a good and fairly low-commitment way to be active on climate issues. As our action in Joondalup shows, there are multiple opportunities throughout the year to put questions or make statements to councils about climate issues. Most councils operate in a very similar way, as laid down in the Local Government Act. All it requires is a little know-how about council processes, and occasionally some rapid decision-making, as when the agenda is not published until 5pm on Friday before a Joondalup City Council meeting to be held the following Tuesday.