An organisation supporting independent candidates focused on climate change to challenge Liberal incumbents in urban heartland seats says it has raised $2m in six weeks.
Simon Holmes à Court, the convenor of Climate 200, told Guardian Australia more than 2,000 donors had kicked in funds for looming political campaigns by independents – including some high net worth individuals.
But Holmes à Court said the Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes – who was involved in some political campaigns during the 2019 election – had not yet made a pledge.
A number of metropolitan Liberals feel under political pressure because of the federal Coalition’s climate policy record. The Liberal senator Andrew Bragg has written to the Australian Electoral Commission asking for a probe of the “voices” movements that are organising independent campaigns in blue-ribbon Liberal-held seats.
Holmes à Court said he expected heavy public scrutiny and “endless interference” from the Liberal party ahead of the federal election “so we are absolutely scrupulous in our disclosure obligations”.
But he said Climate 200 did not feel compelled to declare the source of donations below the current disclosure threshold, which is $14,500.
He said close to 1,700 donors giving contributions below the threshold had consented to be named, and they would be disclosed shortly on the organisation’s website. But he added: “We are not going to tie our hands behind our backs and we don’t want to discourage donors.”
Holmes à Court noted the Australian Greens disclosed donations at a lower threshold “and as a result there are a lot of people who would like to donate to them but don’t”.
“I don’t see that’s a winning strategy from the Greens’ perspective,” he said.
Holmes à Court said while he personally favoured more transparency, including real-time disclosure of contributions, many Australians were very reluctant to be identified as supporting various political causes. “It’s pretty sad that a lot of people are terrified about disclosing in Australia,” he said.
“It’s one way we push people away from the democratic system with this culture that it is somehow dirty to donate to politics – that means lots of good people don’t engage with the political system when the fossil fuel industry is loud and proud and happy to pay $20,000 to sit next to the prime minister for an evening.”
He said one of his objectives with Climate 200 was to “make it more palatable for people to support politics in Australia”. Holmes à Court said his objective was to amass a war chest of around $3m. “We are really focused on growing the breadth of donations.”
The technology entrepreneur Simon Hackett and the climate investor Simon Monk have pursued a strategy with Climate 200 of matching donations, where the individual makes a donation on the basis the contribution will be matched by a bunch of small contributions.
“The matching works really well because it doesn’t crowd out smaller investors,” Holmes à Court said. “This is much more powerful if it is broad-based.”
Climate 200 is a company not a charity.
Holmes à Court said it does not select candidates, but it is a fundraising vehicle to bankroll campaigns by independents. Holmes à Court is the convenor, Damien Hodgkinson – who worked with Kerry Phelps during her campaign to win the Sydney seat of Wentworth – is a director of the company and Byron Fay is the group’s executive director.
With independent insurgencies popping up in metropolitan seats, many Liberals have been vocal during the Morrison government’s internal debate about climate commitments ahead of the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.
In late September, the Liberal party’s federal director, Andrew Hirst, also appealed for donations to build a fighting fund to respond to the fundraising drive of Climate 200 and other groups.
In his email to supporters, Hirst declared: “We can’t risk more left-leaning independents tipping Labor (and the Greens) into power.”