For: Sarah Mansfield, Jim Mason, Peter Murrihy, Pat Murnane, Bruce Harwood
Against: Stephanie Asher, Kylie Grzybek, Eddy Kontelj, Ron Nelson, Anthony Aitken, Trent Sullivan
Watch the video recording of the meeting here
200 people from all walks of life and all ages in the Geelong community had come to witness their Councillors’ discussion about whether or not to declare the city in a climate emergency.
After three hours debate, with many residents standing all this time at the back and sides of the room, Geelong Council decided to vote six against five for a softer amendment of Councillor Sarah Mansfield’s motion to declare a climate emergency – an amendment which replaced all mention of the term ‘climate emergency’ with ‘climate change’, and removed its sense of urgency to take action, but apart from that more or less left the rest of the text just like it was originally proposed by Cr Mansfield.
Councillor Jim Mason seconded Cr Mansfield’s motion, and they both spoke at length and with great passion about why they felt this is was something Council needed to do.
However, what we witnessed in the city hall chambers this evening was not a debate about climate and ecological breakdown – rather, this was Australian politics at play. The game had been decided on long before the Councillors even entered the room. Deals had been made, votes had been bought.
The speeches were interesting nevertheless. Sometimes they became personal and highly emotional. Some big words flew through the chambers this evening – about extinction. Extermination. Vested interest. And of course, about party-politics.
Councillor Ron Nelson felt he had to repeat three times that Council work is about ‘rates, roads and rubbish’. Not climate change. (And not libraries? – a topic Cr Nelson has run a passionate community campaign for).
The question was not climate action versus climate inaction. It was a question of Liberals versus the Greens, and which of the two parties would be setting the agenda.
The councillor who spoke last, and who had the deciding vote, Cr. Anthony Aitken from Windermere Ward, said he had decided to vote for the softer amendment because he had noticed the ‘climate emergency’ term had become so ‘divisive’ among the Councillors.
Another councillor, Kylie Grzybek, similarly stated that the climate emergency message would ‘divide the community’.
“In climate terms, time is running out. The climate deniers are a threat to our safety and security. Be kind to them, love them, but get them out of the way,” said Councillor Jim Mason.
This was how the Geelong Indy reported about it:
→ See page 4 on www.issuu.com/starnewsgroup/docs/2019-09-27_gee_421
This was how the Geelong Advertiser reported about it:
“‘EMERGENCY’ IGNORED: Party politics splits council climate change debate” – Geelong Advertiser on 26 September 2019, page 3
“Party politics has bitterly split Geelong councillors during a bid to declare a “climate emergency”, which was shot down by a single vote.
About 100 climate-change protesters packed out City Hall on Tuesday night for a council meeting, in the hopes the city would pass a notice of motion to declare a climate emergency.
The group began the meeting singing and chanting, but exited after three hours of questions and debate in a haze of anger and disappointment — with screams of “shame” directed at councillors.
The majority of councillors rejected the notice of motion, instead passing an alternative motion acknowledging “climate change poses a risk to the people of Geelong and Australia, and requires a genuine and co-ordinated response”.
Each side of the vote accused the other of either “party politics” or “internal politics” in the decision to use or reject the term ‘climate emergency’.
Greens councillor Sarah Mansfield had tabled the notice of motion for the city to declare “climate change poses a serious and immediate risk to people in Geelong, Australia, and globally, and should be treated as an emergency”, along with a handful of further actions. Introducing the motion, Cr Mansfield said “climate change unequivocally poses a serious and urgent risk”.
“There has never been a greater need for collective action,” Cr Mansfield said.
“As a mother I can tell you I would give anything for things not to be as dire as they are … I’ve been gripped by the overwhelming fear of what lies ahead for our kids.”
Councillors Jim Mason, Pat Murnane, Peter Murrihy and Mayor Bruce Harwood supported Cr Mansfield’s motion.
“There is an existential threat on global wellbeing, to me this threat reigns supremely above politics,” Cr Mason said in an impassioned speech. “This is bigger than politics and I appeal to all that this must be a matter of conscience. “We should be ashamed that globally young people everywhere are reminding us of our responsibilities.”
But, Cr Stephanie Asher’s alternative motion was passed by a one-vote majority, with the support of councillors Anthony Aitken, Kylie Grzybek, Eddy Kontelj, Ron Nelson and Trent Sullivan.
“The bulk of the motion is the same,” Cr Asher argued, claiming the term ‘climate emergency’ had become a political tool.
The alternative motion also requested the city develop a sustainability framework to identify potential ways to take further action on the impacts of climate change in the Greater Geelong region.
So far, 54 Australian councils were listed as having declared climate emergencies.”
Geelong Advertiser also published the following articles in the same week (behind paywall):
PARTY POLITICS SPLITS COUNCIL CLIMATE CHANGE DEBATE
Geelong councillors have rejected a notice of motion tabled by Greens councillor Sarah Mansfield to declare a climate emergency
‘EMERGENCY’: SA PARLIAMENT IN CLIMATE FIRST
SA has become the first state to declare a climate emergency — despite the Liberals trying to remove any mention of an emergency during debate.
CLIMATE CHANGE NOT A GENUINE EMERGENCY, SAYS MP
A Liberal MP has likened the push to declare a climate emergency to the boy who cried wolf, asking what would happen in the case of a “genuine emergency” like a terrorist attack.
IT’S AN EMERGENCY! GEELONG GROUP DECLARES CLIMATE STANCE
One of Geelong’s leading community organisations has declared a climate emergency as the pressure builds on City Hall to officially recognise the issue.
COMMENTS ON FACEBOOK
“It was a vote against humanity in my eyes. But we thank you sincerely for putting yourself out there and doing what is needed and what is right.”
~ Erica Gaia
“Thank you to everyone for your support and kind words – it means so much. I know there is disappointment for many in the result last night, but that’s the decision of this council at this time.
There were some positives from the night. The community turn out was incredible, and should give everyone reason for hope. Many people who have never been to a council meeting got to see our democratic processes up close (and I know some of you are now thinking about running for office yourselves!). Many residents participated in question time (which I know can be really intimidating), and shared compelling stories and asked us challenging questions. And it’s got more people talking about the climate emergency.
But let’s face it: climate change isn’t waiting for Geelong to be ready. The work has to continue for all of us regardless of the decision we made, and I will continue to do what I can on this important issue.”
~ Sarah Mansfield, Councillor, City of Greater Geelong
“Thank you Councillor Sarah Mansfield, Jim Mason, Pat Murnane and Bruce Harwood, for your leadership, rationality and community representation at the meeting last night.”
~ Alex Marshall
“Thank you Cr Mansfield for your courage and leadership last night, and leading up to this point. We are all very upset that Council did not unite and follow evidence based science and their community. It was a vote against humanity in my eyes. But we thank you sincerely for putting yourself out there and doing what is needed and what is right. Extremely impressed with Cr Mason also.”
~ Erica Gaia
“Thank you so much Sarah! We are so lucky to have you; you are a beacon in the gloom. Your response to Tuesday night’s destructive fiasco was beautifully said: your integrity, leadership, courage, authenticity and grace are admirable. Be proud!”
~ Trish Jardine
“Congratulations to those who spoke so passionately, eloquently, intelligently at last night’s CoGG meeting. No doubt you all share the feelings of devastation and the loss of a night’s sleep because the vote went against declaring a Climate Emergency.
I trust the tossing and turning extended to Ms Asher and Liberal cronies who need to examine their motivations for voting against what was clearly the will of community members. I just don’t get it. Does anyone?”
~ Yvonne Parker
“Vested interests. Stephanie Asher works for big corporations including those that mine fossil fuels and uranium. Our Liberal Prime Minister is in the US meeting with Donald Trump instead of attending the Climate talks.”
~ Monica Winston
“Please keep in mind that elections are next year, and maybe some people in this group would like to be a part of the change – www.facebook.com/GeelongWILD ”
~ Alison Marchant
“Councillor Sarah Mansfield: I join the many Geelong residents who have been thanking you. We thank you from our hearts for speaking up for us – and in my case I also speak on behalf of my three young kids. We are grateful for your competent and passionate efforts to call for stronger climate action not only within Geelong Council itself, but in the broader Geelong region.
It is critical we manage to make local government, the business-world and our community care enough to start working together on scaling up efforts to tackle this threat to our future safety and prosperity, and everyone except the climate deniers know that your motion to declare a climate emergency would have taken us a step in that direction.
Please don’t be discouraged by the way the Liberal party, and the four Councillors in Geelong most affiliated with this party, managed to turn the issue of climate and biodiversity breakdown into a question of party politics. This is precisely what they have been doing for years at federal level, so it should be no surprise that they now also do it at the local government level. As frustrating and shameful it is to witness – in particular because we all know what is behind it: shortsighted and selfish protection of vested interests in polluting industries – it shouldn’t make us give up the fight.
You were only one vote for winning the argument in Council last night. What this means is that next time this votes comes around, you will win. And if not, the community will use their democratic right to vote in new Councillors, who will then make this happen.
If we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we need more people like you in charge. So thank you – and please keep fighting for what is right – for the kids, for future generations, for life on this planet.”
~ Mik Aidt
“So please tell me Ms Asher. When you conducted your community consultation via FB – what percentage of respondents voted for watering down the CE declaration to a wishy washy, PR statement of intent(maybe)?
I hope they all remember you actions next March, I for one will…for my grandchildren !”
~ Paul Savi
“Hi Paul, FB was about 70:30
In favour of a declaration. Linked in closer to 55:45. Private emails and DMs on Twitter were in opposition to a declaration. The balance was in favour but there are a lot of people passionate about not using the term emergency too. We have to represent everyone. I’m trying to bring more people along for when the COGG organisation is able to deliver actual change. Hopefully you understand. We don’t want a lose lose outcome.
~ Stephanie Asher