Best Local Climate NGO Australia: The Australian Conservation Foundation

Best Local Climate NGO Australia: The Australian Conservation Foundation

This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard Australia Country Manager Julian Atchison


The Australian Conservation Foundation

Founded in 1965, the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is a national environment advocacy body based in Melbourne. ACF has 70 staff (mostly Melbourne-based) and counts its supporter base as being 700,000 Australians strong – certainly the largest general following for any environment group in the country. ACF is completely donor-funded, from small dollar contributors through to significant bequests.

Through building people power and momentum for change at a community level, ACF has four broad goals:

  1. Fix the climate crisis
  2. Stand up for nature
  3. Redesign our economy
  4. Redesign our economy

In pursuing these goals, ACF has accomplished a number of successful campaigns. On the nature/environment side, wins in the historical Franklin River & Jabiluka campaigns, as well as successfully fighting for World Heritage listing for both the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park are among the NGO’s proudest moments.

Climate is a relatively new focus for ACF and the organisation made its first official foray into election campaigning at the 2019 Australian federal election, running a climate-centric campaign in key marginal electorates. Traditional campaign activities — doorknocks, town halls, voter outreach, presence at polling stations and a recruiting drive to get one million Australians to sign a “climate voter pledge” — were all undertaken over a period of several months leading up to election day.

Sadly, ACF was not successful in unseating any of its target MPs. However, they concluded their outreach effort had significantly boosted awareness of climate and environment issues in key areas around Australia, setting the scene for future campaigns.


The next “climate election”

In voter poll after voter poll in the 2019 campaign, concern for the environment and climate was at all-time highs, even knocking off issues like the economy and national security in voter’s minds. In the months following the election that concern didn’t wane, with record levels of Australians putting climate as their number one concern throughout 2019. A similar lasting trend has been seen in the UK and the US. So the question remains: if climate is such a concern for voters, why do political parties with bad track records on the issue retain their support?

We wish we could solve this in one Climate Scorecard post, but it’s a difficult issue! ACF found broad support from the electorate for its messages and broad agreement that more action on climate change from the national government was required. But the next step — voters recognising the policy shortcomings of the incumbent Liberal government and punishing them for it at the ballot box — is not a simple one. Impacts of bad policy on the economy (like rising job losses) are far more immediate and tangible to the average voter than impacts of bad climate policy (like more frequent extreme weather events).

Recommendation for more effective voter outreach

For effective, scalable voter outreach on the issue of climate, future campaigns will have to be oriented around immediate, tangible climate impacts. In 2021 the opposition Labor party in Australia changed their climate spokesperson and their approach to a strictly economic one, crafting a message around cost. The next step is making those costs personal: the likelihood climate change will constrict certain sectors of employment, make homes uninsurable, prevent the enjoyment of outdoor activities like sport during summer, lead to repeated, widespread failure of electricity grids etc. This approach is working well in regional areas where landowners and agriculturalists can see the changing patterns and have experience of how climate impacts their livelihoods. We at Climate Scorecard recommend this next step in voter outreach to the new Labor spokesperson for climate, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP. Climate damage may be an existential threat, but its more subtle impacts are already being felt everywhere and in all aspects of life. Connecting these risks and threats to voting intentions won’t solve the crisis, but it will help elect more officials willing to take bold steps on climate action.


Send this recommendation to:

Hon Chris Bowen MP


Learn More

(ACF’s annual report for 2019-20)

(ACF’s financial report for 2019-20)

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