Aussie Climate Advocate Cheers Howard's Ouster
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Australia's new prime minister, Kevin Rudd, is joining the climate change conference in Bali. And one Australian who's likely to be happy about that is a Melbourne businessman named Bill McCarg. McCarg may have been a factor in the defeat of the former prime minister, John Howard. He campaigned hard against Howard on the topic of climate change.
NPR's Michael Sullivan reports.
MICHAEL SULLIVAN: Bill McHarg is 62 years old, tall and straight, a distance runner and a cofounder of Colliers International, one of the biggest real estate companies in the world. He's got a nice house in Melbourne, another one at the beach, and a place in the mountains too, where he just spent a few days celebrating after John Howard became the first Australian prime minister to lose his own seat since 1929.
Mr. BILL McHARG (Cofounder, Colliers International): I'm elated. I'm elated.
SULLIVAN: Elated because Bill McCarg worked hard to ensure Howard was defeated, running a highly unorthodox and personal campaign against Howard in his own district.
Mr. McHARG: I was offended by the behavior of our prime minister. He was captive of the fossil fuel industry who had filled him up with false signs, that time got away from him. And the electorate walked up to him and said, enough. Get rid of this man.
SULLIVAN: The electorate had some help waking up from McCarg, maybe a little more help than some would have liked.
(Soundbite of bird call)
SULLIVAN: For eight days heading into the election, McHarg ran a self-styled guerrilla campaign in Howard's district in this Sydney suburb of Bennelong. His tactics included full-page ads in the local papers and this psy-ops campaign as well.
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SULLIVAN: Every morning, and again in the afternoon, McHarg's garishly painted minivan prowled the streets of Bennelong, loud speakers blaring the call of Australia's laughing kookaburra. The bird got people's attention, drawing them to the anti-Howard slogans painted on the van's sides. McHarg also courted voters with an animated video on YouTube.
(Soundbite of YouTube video clip)
Unidentified Man #1: By expelling a sitting prime minister from parliament, we will send a powerful message to politicians all around the world that confronting climate change must now be their number one priority.
SULLIVAN: The two and a half minute video ends with a folksy plea from McHarg perched on a rock in front of a river.
Mr. McHARG: I'm Bill McCarg, father of four, businessman and conservationist. As you can see, I'm not a long-haired, tree-hugging hippie. I'm just an ordinary Australian who desperately wants to make a difference. So Bennelong voters, please, on election day, when you have to make your vote, please, for the sake of the planet, put planet first and John Howard last.
Unidentified Man #2: Authorized by Bill McHarg, Melbourne.
SULLIVAN: The election was close, so close it took a week to declare a winner. But in the end, McHarg got what he'd hoped for. He used $200,000 of his own money to make it happen, he says, and considers it money well spent. Exit polls showed climate was a major issue for voters in this election, though McHarg says he will never be sure if his efforts tipped the scales against the prime minister.
Mr. McHARG: Whether we provided a small number of votes that actually got the prime minister to run out or not, I don't know. I can't claim that. I'll never know and I won't claim it. It doesn't matter. He's out and climate change is the beneficiary.
SULLIVAN: McHarg's campaign has cost him, not only the $200,000 he spent, but also his job at the company he helped create. He resigned just before the election after falling out with senior managers uneasy with his personal attacks on the prime minister. He says he has no regrets. He hopes to reconcile with him soon and he'll look for another job after a few months off.
Mr. MCCARG: I see myself spending maybe less time in property and more time trying to keep addressing this issue of climate change. I'm good on my feet. I know how to talk. I can be quite persuasive. I've been in real estate for 45 years. I've got a very, very good network. I've still got money and I still have a passion for this issue.
SULLIVAN: It's a passion he's keen on taking along with his kookaburra van to the U.S. if someone invites him, to help pressure politicians in the States to pay more attention to the problem, or run the risk of sharing John Howard's political fate.
Michael Sullivan, NPR News.
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