Yesterday, out of the blue, I did something that I never thought I’d do. I went to Parliament House and reported on the status of the almost three-year old, continuous global mass bleaching event to a room full of politicians. Yes, mass bleaching (defined as affecting 100-1000 kilometres of reef) has been occurring continuously somewhere in the world for over 33 months. Yes, the Great Barrier Reef is experiencing unprecedented back-to-back bleaching events.
How did this happen? Cyclone Debbie was in the process of battering the Queensland coast, preventing Scott Heron of NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch program from flying to Canberra. So, living in Sydney, I was asked to take Scott’s place by the Australian Marine Conservation Society (AMCS). I joined two remarkable campaigners, Imogen Zethoven and Shannon Hurley, for the presentation as well as a subsequent series of impromptu meetings with senators and members of Parliament. The goal was to put more pressure on Labour and Greens politicians to do something about the government’s senseless energy policies, including stopping extraction of one of the world’s five remaining “carbon bombs.” Yes, the Galilee Basin.
However, I’m not writing this post because of current environmental and political atmosphere. I wanted to quickly share my positive experience at Parliament with other scientists. I was absolutely astonished at how easy it was to enter a sitting Parliament and talk with politicians. Granted, I was been led around by seasoned experts from AMCS, but every person we met, ranging from assistants to ministers, stopped, underwent polite introductions, listened, thoughtfully conversed and asked questions that penetrated to the core of the issue. Occasionally, one of the clocks on the wall would start making buzzing noises and senators or members would excuse themselves and rush off (apparently it meant they had five minutes to get to the chamber for a vote).
I had always assumed it would be far more complicated getting a politician’s ear, and so I have never thought about trying. You need someone to get you in the door (e.g., the office of your local representative), and you should probably arrange meeting ahead of time if you really need to meet someone in particular. However, if you have something important to tell Australia’s politicians or have an opinion about an upcoming motion or vote, create a short, to-the-point presentation and head off to Canberra to talk about it in person!