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People power unite

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Incoming CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation, Kelly O'Shanassy, explains why teaming up can help us to create a better future.

Australia’s environment has never been under greater threat.

Our federal government is unravelling hard-won progress to price pollution and boost renewable energy. Coal ports being built along the Queensland coastline jeopardise the Great Barrier Reef to the extent that the UN is considering declaring the reef’s World Heritage status ‘in danger’. World Heritage status is also at risk in Tassie, where the federal government wants to de-list the extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area – the centrepiece of the landmark peace deal struck between conservationists, unions and the timber industry.

Australian plant and animal species are being lost to extinction at an alarming rate. Every major report on the health of our environment shows the key indicators going in the wrong direction. More bushfires, droughts, heatwaves and other extreme weather events directly affect humans too.

There’s no doubt I’m taking the helm at ACF at a difficult time. I’m particularly concerned by regressive and reckless actions at the federal level. Concerned, not daunted. As the outgoing CEO of Environment Victoria, I’ve seen the environmental harm a state government can do in a short period. But I’ve also witnessed how people united can make a government sit up and take notice.

U2’s Bono said, “the power of people is greater than people in power”. Another quote, attributed to Ghandi and often used by ACF president Ian Lowe, says, “when the people lead, the leaders will follow”. That’s the attitude I bring with me to the challenging role I’m taking on.

Governments have to listen to people. I encourage everyone who is concerned about Australia’s environment to join a group that shares your passions. It could be a local action group or a national group, like the Australian Conservation Foundation.

Whichever parties are in power, governments need to know people care about the environment and demand action to protect it. Get involved. Because it is only through working together that we will make a difference.

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For nearly 50 years, the ACF has been synonymous with protecting Australia’s environment. Kelly O’Shanassy began her new role as CEO in April, taking over from the tremendous 16 years of work of the outgoing CEO Don Henry.