In 2014, hundreds of Australians, including myself, travelled to Leard State Forest, a critically endangered ecosystem and sacred place for Gomeroi/Gamilaraay people situated in northern NSW in one of Australia's best farming regions. We were there to support a diverse coalition of farmers, First Nations leaders, environmental activists and local businesses all opposing a coal mine being developed in the middle of the forest.
The weekend I visited, fifth-generation farmer Rick Laird came to the blockade camp on his way home from a callout with the Rural Fire Service. We talked farming, life in the country, his family and their ties to the area. The forest is named after Rick's family. He explained how the mine would affect his farm, community and children's lives. It evoked memories of losing my own family farm, and our identity as farmers. Farmers often bear the brunt of policy decisions beyond their control.
Rick's farm was mere kilometres from the proposed mine site. He had serious concerns about his family's health and livelihood, the impact on the water table and how the huge carbon emissions would affect us all. I could sense we were both grappling with how to respond. Eventually, Rick looked me square in the eye, "If you can come all the way out here to try and stop this mine, I'll do it with you."
Life presents us with moments when our convictions are tested. Moments when we are asked to take a risk or sacrifice something for the sake of our beliefs or the people we care about. This was one such moment. The following day Rick and I, along with half a dozen Canberrans, locked on to a "super digger".
While we stopped work for the day, we didn't stop the mine. The company has since been repeatedly fined for environmental breaches. During the recent drought, as farmers ploughed in crops and watched livestock die, they stole 1 billion litres of water.
That day did give me a renewed belief in the power of people and of getting involved. In the following months and years, the ACT government sold their shares in Whitehaven Coal and another coal mine planned in the area was cancelled.
I believe an antidote to the anxiety many of us feel for our future is getting involved, however we can, to help create the future we want. It's one of the reasons I decided to run for the Senate at the upcoming federal election.
Friends warned me that my decision at Leard State Forest almost eight years ago would be used against me. They were right. Within 24 hours of announcing my candidacy, the attempts to discredit me began. I was labelled a radical - an extreme activist. But in 2022, climate action is hardly a radical idea.
The vast majority of Canberrans believe the federal government must do more. Major firms like Deloitte Access Economics tell us we are at a critical turning point: the decisions we make right now could add $680 billion and over 250,000 jobs to the economy by 2070. But if we don't pursue climate action, they predict we'll lose $3.4 trillion and over 880,000 jobs. Climate action is no longer a cost; it's an opportunity we can't afford to miss. The ACT is a leader on climate action. I think it's time we had two senators showing that leadership at a federal level.
Alongside climate action, I'll be working to restore integrity in politics, push for greater territory rights, back a First Nations Voice to Parliament, and be an authentic voice for people in the ACT. In the weeks since announcing my candidacy, I've heard from many Canberrans about what's important to them. Things like housing affordability, cost-of-living pressures, women's safety, job security, public services funding, mental health for defence personnel, healthcare and education.
Politics should be a contest of ideas. I'm not concerned if people want to bring up my past, or point out where they think I've made wrong choices. We should answer for the choices we make. But the accusations about being radical for being committed to climate action show how out of touch some of our politicians are with the people they represent.
I think Canberrans want to be represented by people who act in our interests and make decisions that build a great, prosperous future for us all. We want candidates who can put insecurities aside and not get involved in personal attacks, focusing instead on listening to communities then representing them with conviction and courage.
I think this election presents us all with one of those moments that tests our convictions. We get to decide what to do in the face of our current challenges and frustrations. We get to decide if we're willing to elect new voices to represent us and get on with helping build the kind of future we want.
- David Pocock is a former Wallabies and Brumbies rugby union player, and an independent candidate for the ACT in the Senate at the next federal election.