One Grandmother's Question To The Prime Minister


Dear Prime Minister Rudd,

I am a 61-year-old grandmother suffering from a life-threatening medical condition, which leaves me permanently tired, breathless and with chest pains. Just over a week ago, I marched in the Walk Against Warming in Sydney with my 71-year-old friend, who has spent the past month caring for her elderly sister with dementia and trying to find appropriate accommodation for her, at the same time supporting her mentally ill daughter. Both of us are just surviving in Sydney on very low incomes and high rentals, grocery prices etc.

So why did we two older women who, goodness knows, have enough physical, emotional and financial problems to deal with, join an estimated 15,000 others from families with tiny babies through teenagers to people older than my friend and I, to march down Macquarie Street in Saturday’s heat and the blank stares of Christmas shoppers?

Because you, Mr Rudd, and Minister Wong, and Minister Garrett have failed us and our grandchildren, and not only us, but the people of the Torres Strait islands, the Solomons and Tuvalu, and indeed all the struggling little ordinary people trying to live as best they can in the world we seem bent on destroying.

And you know what, Mr Rudd? I am angry and frustrated, because apart from my vote and my voice I have no power! My friend and I are not extremists. She has voted Liberal most of her life. I have been a small-l liberal, moving to a centralist position, where the best ideas from all sides of politics can be considered. I have never chained myself to a tree, never thrown a tomato at a politician; I have always worked within the poltical system.

When that 17-year-old girl from the Solomons spoke up at Copenhagen earlier in the week, I wept for her. I had a surge of sister-feeling. When I was 17 in 1965, I attended my first demonstration, in Tasmania, to save a piece of pristine wilderness very few people had seen, up in the central highlands — a lake so cold and clear it had aquatic life forms never seen before — about to be bulldozed into a hydro-electric dam. Associated with that dam, there was clearfelling of nearby forest, and rumours of a new industry in woodchipping.

At 17, in 1965, I was still four years away from being able to vote. For 44 years since then, Mr Rudd, I have marched, demonstrated, voted at every state and federal election and written to politicians at local government, state and federal level. I have been active politically, from Young Liberals in my teens and 20s to a state organiser and Senate campaign manager for the fledgling Democrats in my 30s (when my children were toddlers), to losing faith with political parties, while still believing in the power of democracy and an informed electorate.

Over those 44 years, thanks to my science training, I have followed the research on the environment and climate change, and I have tried to live a simple, green and sustainable life, and taught my children the necessity of being responsible for our own actions and consumption patterns, and our responsibility to the rest of humanity and the natural world to stand up for our principles.

And in 2007, I broke with my usual electoral habit of voting for independents and Greens and voted solidly for Labor, because I believed you were fair dinkum when you told us climate change was the greatest moral issue of our time.

I’m not telling you all this to bignote myself. I’ve done what I believe I should do, and will continue to do. I’m telling you this because I am so frustrated and angry that you and the others are playing big fellas but shirking the hard decisions.

At the rally we were reminded of the plight of the people of Tuvalu and other low-lying island nations, whose homes, livelihoods and identity could be washed off the face of the earth if we don’t fix that great moral and practical problem.

And what are you, and so many of the world leaders doing? Playing politics!

So this is my message to you, Prime Minister Rudd, Ministers Wong and Garrett and your government (our government): abandon the strategy that you took to Copenhagen. Abandon the weak goals you pretend are useful, and stop putting backroom pressure on other countries to do the hard work. Learn the lessons of Copenhagen and negotiate a fair and just treaty that takes real steps to reduce carbon pollution to levels that will limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 or 2 degrees Celsius. We developed nations — the top polluters over the past 200 years — have a responsibility to help the small, poor and developing nations meet their targets with strong financial and technical assistance, while at the same time, doing everything to reduce our own emissions.

I know politics is the art of the possible. I know it takes pragmatic people to thrive in the political world. The scientists (and financiers, like George Soros) are saying this IS possible — it IS do-able — if we act now. I am giving you my vote, my trust — all I can give you — if you will use your political will and negotiating skills in good faith to help bring about the change the world needs.

One last point — while climate change is probably the biggest threat we Australians (or indeed humanity) have faced in the past few thousand years, I believe fixing it could be a real blessing. New prospects for peace — maybe not everywhere, but at village and farm and town level, as people use new technologies, methods and to live sustainably and reach their potential without struggling daily for enough food or water or fuel to survive.

I will be sending a similar letter to the leader of the Opposition, Mr Tony Abbott.

Yours sincerely,

Sue Cartledge

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