Say Yes Australia
2021 marked exactly one decade since the Say Yes Australia campaign. This was a campaign organized in response to the carbon price legislation that was proposed in 2011 by the Gillard Government to tackle climate change. It involved making polluters pay a price for each tonne of carbon that they emitted, along with a mechanism to provide finance to clean energy projects. We knew that the fossil fuel industry allied with the conservative side of politics would be organizing against us to do everything in their power to prevent the legislation from going ahead. So, the Say Yes Australia campaign was formed by a coalition of civil society organizations that banded together to build public support for the legislation. These organizations included the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Climate Action Network Australia (CANA), The Climate Institute, Environment Victoria, GetUp!, Greenpeace Australia Pacific, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Australia. Combined, these organizations represented the views of over three million Australians.
The advertising agency Republic of Everyone were commissioned to create the Say Yes Australia brand, and the associated graphic assets for the campaign, along with the TV commercial (shown below) featuring the famous Australian actors Michael Caton and Cate Blanchett. It was released on 26 May 2011 and was a major moment for the campaign, since it resulted in a frenzy of media attention.
Because I was already leading the Greenpeace activist team in Brisbane at the time, I was invited to the Say Yes Camp, a community organizing training for people interested in volunteering for the campaign. After this, I took on a volunteer role as a campaign coordinator, working closely together with the national campaign coordinator (i.e., Karen Skinner), the Queensland campaign coordinator (i.e., Devett O’Brien), the climate team at ACF, union organizers, and other volunteers, to help deliver many campaign events throughout Brisbane. These events included a rally at the Brisbane Riverstage, another rally at Brisbane Square, letter-boxing, door-knocking, flyering at transport hubs, phoning MPs, as well as various public visibility and celebratory events.
During this time, I also started up and managed Say Yes Queensland social media accounts to amplify the national message by making it more relevant to a Queensland audience. Being interviewed by 4BC (a major radio station in Brisbane) about my support for the carbon price legislation (while distributing campaign flyers at Buranda train station) was one of my more nerve-wracking experiences on the campaign. This was largely because it is a radio station with a generally older and more conservative audience, who weren’t likely to be very receptive to the message. But, that’s why I felt it was so important to do it, since it meant helping to spread our message of support well beyond an audience that already agreed with us.
Through being involved in the campaign, it became known that I am also a designer, so the organizers started sending me design projects to further assist our efforts. Over the duration of the campaign, I designed many of the Say Yes Australia campaign materials. These materials included many different types of posters, press advertisements, invitations, information kits, web graphics, and a thank you card that was sent out to everyone who was involved at the end of the campaign.
Say Yes to Clean Energy
During the campaign, many thousands of messages of support were collected from all around country. These messages were taken directly to the Australian Parliament House in Canberra on 11 October 2011 just prior to when the House of Representatives were set to vote on the carbon price legislation. Messages from individuals were written on “I say yes because…” placards that were arranged on the lawn of the Parliament House in such a way that together, when viewed from above, they formed an overall message of “say yes to clean energy.” A press conference was organised by Greenpeace with leaders from some of the environmental organizations involved in the campaign. These included Ellen Sandell (National Director of AYCC), Kellie Caught (WWF), Dae Levine, (acting head of Greenpeace Australia Pacific) and Don Henry (ACF). Soon after, the legislation was successfully passed by the House of Representatives.
Climate Advocacy Day
The next step was to get the legislation passed by the Australian Senate. So, the climate team at ACF asked me to design a series of posters displaying messages of support for each state of Australia. For each poster, the messages were arranged in such a way that they depicted the shape of the Australian state where the messages were from.
The purpose of these posters was that the relevant poster was to be used as a gift for senators (who each represent a specific state) during an advocacy event being organized by ACF. The event involved inviting key volunteers who had been heavily involved in the campaign, to travel to Canberra on 3 November 2011 to speak with senators about who they are, the communities they represent, and why they support the carbon price legislation. The intent was to meet with every senator possible, but unfortunately every single Liberal Party and National Party politician that was asked, refused to speak with us. I—along with another Say Yes volunteer, Jo—met with Greg Combet’s senior advisors (Labor), Senator Jan McLucas (Labor), Senator Claire Moore (Labor), Senator Larissa Waters (The Greens), and Don Henry (ACF) also joined us in meeting with Senator Christine Milne (who was also Deputy Leader of The Greens at the time). As a group, we met with 50 politicians, each being given the poster of the state they represent.
Soon after, the Australian Senate voted on the carbon price legislation and it was passed, and thus became law. A massive party with the many participating organizations was held at The Fox in Brisbane to celebrate the victory. Jessie Wells and I were given the honour of cutting the Say Yes cake, since we had invested so much of our time in volunteering for the campaign. After this, “we said yes to a price on pollution” thank you cards were sent out to everyone who had been involved in the campaign. I found the messages in the card I received (shown below) to be particularly heartwarming.
“Thank you for being such an amazing part of this campaign. Your committment, energy and skills were a key part of ensuring we won.” – Karen Skinner, National Campaign Coordinator
“Thank you for all your wonderful work for the Say Yes campaign. Your creativity and initiative were a delight. You made so many things happen, if only we could clone you!” – Don Henry and Kathryn McCallum, ACF
For a broad overview of what happened, watch the video below for a summary of the Say Yes Australia campaign.
It was incredibly exciting to get to work on such an important campaign to build support for taking action on climate change. But, also so disheartening that two and a half years later, the carbon price legislation was repealed by the subsequent Abbott Goverment. We clearly have more work to do in building further public support to ensure that climate action is taken, and remains in effect.
Find out more about climate change at: acf.org.au/climate
Art Direction & Design: Jarren Nylund, Design Good Design Studio.