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Big Australia

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 30 October 2009

In a world at the mercy of the first law of thermodynamics, if Prime Minister Kevin Rudd is so keen on the idea of the "Big Australia" that he suddenly hatched last week he'll need to get cracking on making some very significant changes.

First and foremost he'll have to rein in the wasteful and waste-creating habits of all Australian citizens and industries. To do that, he will need to really understand the difficulty of getting people to change their behaviour, particularly when the change involves cutting back and being more responsible.

It takes more than just logical or "good" reasons to actually motivate people to change.


Prime Minister Rudd's starting point will be him not just spruiking about what we should do, but personally setting an example by doing it. By that example he can provide a positive vision of what we are fighting for, a vision to engage and sustain all Australians in working towards achieving it.

But what is his vision for Australia?

For food and water security? Has he thought about what Australia will look like in 20 years time? Have journalists bothered to ask?

For Prime Minister Rudd and his advisors to define that vision they will have to abandon the notion that the more inquiries they commission, and the more information, reports and studies they throw at us, the more Australians will take the right action.

In a world where we are swamped with information, most of it useless to most of us, what we need is leadership based on accurate information gathered, and truly objective analysis performed, by the people taxpayers already fund to do that.

Next, if they are seriously concerned about climate change, the Prime Minister (and his advisors) will have to learn how to effectively communicate climate change issues and how to explain what they're doing and why they're doing it. As things stands, climate change is a serious issue only in the abstract. We still have seasons (of sorts), we still have water coming from our taps (mostly) and although we have floods and horrific fires we have few earthquakes and hurricanes, so it's easy for us to forget about climate change when things happen that affect us more directly.


That was graphically demonstrated by climate change's immediate disappearance from the agenda when the global financial crisis descended.

In April this year Matthew Nisbet, a social scientist who studies strategic communication in policy-making and public affairs suggested:

... reframing the relevance of climate change in ways that connect to a broader coalition of Americans - and repeatedly communicating these new meanings through a variety of trusted media sources and opinion leaders - can generate the level of public engagement required for policy action. Successfully reframing climate change means remaining true to the underlying science of the issue, while applying research from communication and other fields to tailor messages to the existing attitudes, values and perceptions of different audiences, making the complex policy debate understandable, relevant and personally important.

This approach to public outreach, however, will require a more careful understanding of US citizens' views of climate change as well as a reexamination of the assumptions that have traditionally informed climate change communication efforts.

Historically, as a way to muster public resolve, most climate change communication efforts have focused on increasing the amount of quality news coverage about climate science. Many scientists and advocates expected this increased news attention to promote wider public understanding of the problem's technical nature, leading the public to view it with the urgency that they do ...

Unfortunately, quality news coverage is only likely to reach a small audience of already informed and engaged citizens ...

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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