Jill’s Blog: Reichstein’s 2020 grants
By Jill Reichstein
It is hard to put into words the year that was 2020. With unprecedented changes to the social fabric and the economy due to the Corona virus, a resurgence of calls for racial justice and increased support for climate action on the back of the devastating fires earlier in the year.
At Reichstein we took the time to watch, listen, wait and learn. Early in the pandemic together with Philanthropy Australia we organised a session on lessons learnt from global emergencies, we also worked with our partners and utilised our CEO’s past experience to discuss the best ways to work and fund in complex emergencies.
After the onset of the pandemic, we looked to fund organisations that were responding to the times, with Climate Action we considered two key areas: ensuring that the country built back better by simultaneously focusing on the economy and the environment and secondly, we focused on the key areas for the future success for climate action being Queensland and the Hunter. We funded the Centre for Policy Development and continued to support the Climate Council’s Media Centre who both brought forward well considered and smart policy ideas for climate action in a post-Covid world and in supporting the need to focus on Queensland we funded Solar Citizens and their important work on increasing support for climate action through jobs and renewables.
One of the key issues for the rights-based agenda during 2020 was police accountability and this issue garnered greater significance as Governments tightened their controls more generally over the community, we continued to work with Human Rights Law Centre and Flemington and Kensington Community Legal Centre, and we also funded Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service to deepen the focus on police accountability work with Aboriginal communities as well as supporting Aboriginal owned and controlled organisations.
Like never before we need the exchange of ideas to respond to an ever-changing policy environment, to be able to fund better and more effectively to meet our goal to promote change not charity. This year we brought together former Chiefs of Staff to leaders of the major parties to learn from them about the policy opportunities at this time. This was an important opportunity to inform ourselves, as well as, the Philanthropic Sector in grant making during the pandemic and reconstruction.
In taking the time to consider where the many challenges were best met, we identified key organisations that were able to pivot in response to COVID-19 as well as bringing people together to increase collective understanding of the key issues for social change. Australia Progress worked to bring people together during challenging times to discuss policy and advocacy initiatives and we recently funded their work on doing so in the area of tax reform. The Australia Institute (TAI) continued their great work and have been at the forefront of the policy debate arising from the recovery dialogue. TAI sought to increase their ability to get ideas out there and one of the best ways was to increase engagement through new media channels. They, like all of our partners, were responding to the changing world and living the adage that that democracy cannot meaningfully function without an informed citizenry.
We were pleased to work with so many partners this year. One of the highlights was together with other Philanthropic partners arranging a session with the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research and have Larissa Behrendt and her colleague Lindon Coombes to work with us on how we improve our work with First Nations People in the Sector.
I have set out below a series of projects that we funded over the year, if you are a funder interested in any of these projects please visit our contact page to contact Andrew Johnson our CEO to find out more.
Best wishes to you all and have a peaceful and happy summer break and New Year!
The campaign has had some spectacular successes, with the Queensland Labor government committing to funding and support for three Renewable Energy Zones and $500 million for publicly owned renewable energy.
They opened a shopfront in Townsville, hiring an organiser, launching an advertising campaign, organising a debate between the Energy Minister and Shadow Energy Minister, and publishing a report on options for a renewable led recovery for Townsville. In the two years prior to the launch of the campaign, there were very few renewable energy announcements in Queensland. Post Federal election, the State government was hamstrung by perceived support for coal in regional Queensland. However, the six months since the launch of the campaign has seen major generation and transmission announcements including:
- Funding for three Renewable Energy Zones for Central and Northern Queensland and the Darling Downs. This is an incredibly significant win as lack of transmission is the number one barrier to more renewable energy investment in Queensland. What’s necessary now is more support for the generation that will see coal fired power stations close early.
- A 400MW wind farm in Queensland, supported by a reverse auction and part owned by the Queensland government.
- A power purchase agreement for a further 450MW at the Clarke’s Creek Wind Farm
- $14 million for new transmission infrastructure in Northern Queensland.
- Their online energy debate between the Energy Minister and the Shadow Energy Minister resulted in the Qld LNP announcing no funding support for the Collinsville Power Station
- Most importantly, additional renewables in Queensland are already seeing emissions dropping from coal fired power stations. The Australia Institute’s most recent report on emissions in Australia reported that Queensland’s coal fired power stations were operating at a capacity factor of 69% and falling rapidly – a situation that will see early closure. The Climate and Recovery Initiative
The Climate and Recovery Initiative brings together prominent leaders from government, business and civil society to identify the best ideas for aligning Australia’s economic recovery with a transition towards a net zero emissions economy, and to get them into the right hands.
The Initiative is coordinated by the Centre for Policy Development (CPD) and Climate Works Australia, with a steering group that includes the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group), the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), and Pollination.
The Initiative was formed in recognition that Australia faces two generation-defining challenges: recovering from the coronavirus pandemic and responding to climate change. These challenges are intertwined. Investments in climate resilience and net zero ambition today can turbocharge Australia’s recovery and position the country for stronger and more sustainable economic growth in the years ahead. The group is focused on both job-creating stimulus opportunities and broader policy changes that could sustain national collaboration on systemic risks like climate change.
At the first roundtable on 25 June 2020, participants shared frank insights and discussed opportunities to better align Australia’s economic recovery with climate and transition priorities. The discussion centred on three priority areas:
- Identifying crisis response measures that can support jobs and growth now while aligning with a transition to a low emissions economy.
- Entrenching ‘net zero’ in the wider policy agenda, making climate risk and resilience central to economic policymaking while planning the energy transition to protect the livelihoods of workers and communities.
- Building new processes and models for more coordinated and ambitious climate responses, ensuring a long-term legacy from the current crisis.
At the second roundtable on 8 September 2020, participants discussed policy proposals including new processes on climate risk and resilience to inform the National Cabinet and an Australian Clean Technology Market-Creation Co-Investment Partnership. The proposals received encouraging support from a range of participants.
The Climate and Recovery Initiative will continue for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021, with key windows including the formation of the 2021-22 Federal Budget and the lead up to COP26 in November 2021.
Environment Victoria together with its partners is campaigning to stop AGL from building a gas import terminal at Crib Point and to protect Westernport Bay’s unique Ramsay wetland and marine ecosystem. With Save Westernport Bay they have engaged Environmental Justice Australia as their legal representation for the full EES process, which they expect will take several months. They are very confident they are making the most of this first phase of the EES process, with a thorough, expert critique of AGL’s EES from various angles, a large number of personal stories from affected community members, and a very high volume of individual submissions showing outright opposition.
Together with their core partners Save Westernport (SWP) and Victorian National Parks Association (VNPA) they have engaged Environmental Justice Australia as their legal representation for the full EES process. Currently they are briefing their experts for their submissions and panel statements. After the public exhibition phase, they will still have an opportunity to influence the EES process through their legal representation.
Together with SWP and the VNPA they have secured technical experts (some of them pro bono) who are preparing expert written submissions:
- A hydrodynamics expert to dig into the hydrodynamics modelling undertaken by AGL to better understand the dispersion of toxicants through their wastewater.
- A soil contamination expert.
- A gas markets expert.
- A social researcher to conduct social impact assessment.
- An ecotoxicologist, critiquing the modelling of the effect of chlorinated water on marine wildlife.
Their five experts are reviewing AGL’s 11,000-page submission and uncovering flaws in the methodology and gaps in the impact assessments. These experts will submit written evidence and some of them will also testify in person, depending on the gravity of the potential social and environmental impact they have discovered and recommendations of the legal team. In addition to commissioning expert input, they have been collaborating with a huge team of local and state environment groups to produce shared submission materials. This team includes SWP, VNPA, Phillip Island Conversation Society, Westernport & Peninsula Protection Council, Crib Point Action Group, Southern Peninsula Indigenous Flora & Fauna Association, French Island Community Association and various foreshore committees.
Three major themes emerged in the overall Police Accountability Project (PAP) work this year:
- The global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement drew widespread and urgent attention to police brutality and structural racism.
- Policing Family Violence Changing the Story project is now PAPs largest area of work.
- Policing of COVID-19
Key areas of work included:
PAP joined other community lawyers at the Flemington and North Melbourne public housing towers during the COVID hard lockdown. They supported local communities in their response to rights abuses, including insufficient access to food and medicine, freedom of movement, health and welfare issues and police use of force incidents.
PAP have continued two historical use of force matters in the courts and with the State. They have developed two test cases against predatory sexual behaviour by police, and two other excessive use of force matters. The centre is also acting for three clients who experienced discriminatory police stops; all are with counsel for merits advice.
PAP is maintaining continuous pressure on the Victorian government to implement the 69 recommendations of the 2018 IBAC Committee’s (IBACC) report. These recommendations, if implemented, would get us closer to an independent, reliable, client – centred and well-funded body capable of investigating serious police misconduct.
Policing Family Violence: Changing the Story
Policing Family Violence, Changing the Story is a multidisciplinary project that responds to how family violence is actually being policed in Victoria, to trends of predatory behaviour, of racialized and criminalising responses, in which police fail to protect, or when police cause harm to women experiencing family violence. PAP leads this project with its integration partners, Flat-Out, the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women, Inner Melbourne Community Law and St Kilda Legal Service.
Predictive Policing & Racial Profiling
PAP has been undertaking research, including multiple Freedom of Information requests, supporting external academic research and collating experiences of the impacts of the police use of technology-enabled and algorithmically driven tools that ‘build-in’ highly discriminatory patterns of policing, and increase the targeting of already racialised and criminalised communities.
The vision of the project is to promote better cultural understanding within the Police force and Corrections services, through education and training. To hold Victorian Corrections services and Police services to account through a transparent, independent, and robust system of litigation and complaints management to restore community confidence, embed systemic cultural change, and promote human rights.
The new Specialist Legal and Litigation Practice is the first Aboriginal led legal practice unit dedicated to providing wholistic support to Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders facing unique legal challenges that involve potentially deleterious interactions with the justice system.
The VALS difference is the emphasis on wholistic care and support and focus not just on police accountability through litigation but rather a focus on the entire justice system, including corrections services, bailment and models of policing, though education, advocacy and litigation.
The model of support is offered in a culturally safe manner through a dedicated team of VALS Litigation specialists with decades of experience in civil litigation and human rights law. The specialist unit is lead by Tieea Jaya, an experienced human rights lawyer, that previously helmed the Flemington Kensington CLC Police Accountability Unit, under the oversight of Moricia Vrymoet, the Director of Legal Service at VALS. Moricia is a particularly sound leader for the VALS initiative given her experience with both the Victoria Police and leading VALS Legal services practices.
The work of the Specialist Legal and Litigation Practice stretches well beyond litigation, encompassing complaints handling, policy analysis, Freedom of Information requests, the authorship of preservation letters, advocacy and storytelling, community legal education and importantly cultural awareness training for corrections staff and members of Victoria Police.
On 30 December 2019, Veronica Nelson, a proud Gunditjmara, Dja Dja Wurrung, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta woman, was arrested and taken into custody in relation to shoplifting and outstanding warrants. After appearing without a lawyer in the Magistrates’ Court, she was then refused bail pursuant to Victoria’s onerous bail laws and locked up in pre-trial detention at the Dame Phyllis Frost centre – a maximum security prison. She was 37 years old at the time.
While in custody, Veronica was in pain, she was distressed and she cried out for help on a number of occasions. Three days after being refused bail and locked up, Veronica was found dead, alone in a prison cell.
The Human Rights Law Centre is acting for Veronica’s mother, Donna Nelson, in the coronial inquest. Donna wants to understand why her daughter was locked up under Victoria’s draconian bail laws rather than being released; and whether the police decision making, the bail laws themselves, and the treatment Veronica received in prison were influenced by racism. Donna is also very keen to stop future deaths in custody by advocating for law and policy reform.
Similar to the way the Tanya Day inquest generated momentum for law reform, HRLC will work with Donna Nelson and non-profit and pro bono partners to ensure her daughter’s inquest highlights the failures that led to her death and secures important reform recommendations to fix Victoria’s bail laws. HRLC will push for reforms so that women – and in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and women experiencing poverty – are not needlessly removed from their communities and imprisoned.
The inquest will likely proceed around mid-next year. Building off the profile of the inquest and HRLC work exposing the systemic causes of Veronica’s death, HRLC is developing a collaborative campaign with partners, and in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partner organisations, to maximise this reform opportunity by pushing for commitments from the Andrews Government to fix Victoria’s bail laws. Building on their legal and policy work in the inquest, the campaign will involve public communications and advocacy, community mobilising and direct advocacy with key decision makers.
While Progress has continued to bring civil society leaders and policy makers together during Covid they will be having a particular focus on coordinating the sector on broader tax reform and enabling cross-sector collaboration. One of the key areas of joint policy and advocacy work identified by partners has been the need for more resources and shared knowledge on tax reform and to encourage a Government led recovery both for the environment as well as for social and economic equity.
They will be pulling together existing resources on tax – policy, research, campaign materials and facilitating dialogue between organisations who are interested/could be interested in campaigning on tax reform and looking to coordinate a public campaigning push in the next few months.
This work will see them hosting 4 Leadership calls with 100-200 CEO level leaders over the months leading up to budget, to increase sharing intel and collaboration at this critical moment, with a focus on tax including briefings on the threat, the shared demands, campaign opportunities, and holding space for organisations to collaborate.
Further, hosting 2 briefings to broader civil society sector on the tax policy and campaign to increase up-take with campaigners and communicators.
One of the institutions in Australia that kept responding to the times was TAI. In 2019-20, TAI produced over 140 research pieces, including 108 research reports, 22 submissions to government inquiries and project assessment processes, and 12 National Energy Emissions Audits. This substantial body of new research builds upon areas of longstanding inquiry by the Australia Institute — inequality, mining, renewable energy and corporate welfare, to name a few.
The hollowing out of the media over the last decade has meant that the Australia Institute’s expansion into online digital channels of engagement has been crucial in promoting the research. The collapse of the broadcast media market has only been further exacerbated by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Broadcasting, by definition, is sharing a message broadly to a wide audience for mass consumption. Times have long passed since a communications strategy could focus solely on mainstream media as a broadcast medium. In 2020, you simply cannot get a story in the paper and assume the public will see it when they read the day’s papers.
That is where social media and digital capacity has become increasingly important. The Australia Institute is faced with having to expedite its pivot into a ‘narrowcast’ communication strategy. Narrowcasting is communicating messages into multiple narrow channels, (e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter). What was once supplementary to their communication is now non-negotiable, crucial.
To enable more people and organisations to see, read and hear from some of Australia’s great policy minds is more important now than ever.Back to news