'This is not too hard': Zali Steggall on ending Australia's climate wars

‘This is not too hard’: Zali Steggall on ending Australia’s climate wars

Independent MP Zali Steggall knows a thing or two about making career leaps. She’s done it successfully multiple times, moving from the heights of professional sport, as Australia’s most successful alpine skier, to the law and then head first into federal politics.

Along the way, she managed to topple a former Prime Minister and is now determined to represent her electorate by putting climate action on the agenda in parliament.

Talking to Kate Mills on the latest episode of The Leadership Lessons, Steggall shares that in politics, she finally feels like she’s putting into play everything she’s learned over the years as a professional sportsperson and barrister.

“In my sporting career, I developed certain characteristics, and it’s more in the public arena; then as a barrister, it’s very adversarial but similar to sport in that you have to be well prepared – you’re only as good as the work you’ve put into the case on the day, in front of the judge,” Steggall says.

“You have to be on top of your game, you have to be able to think on your feet…you have to have a good strategy. I’ve found as a politician; I’m applying both careers to achieve my goals.”

She describes how so much of her character was built in sport, and the lessons within for all areas of leadership.

“I started ski racing at 4. I was very young. But I was always one of those really competitive kids where I gave it 110%.

“I trained really hard. And I really put in. I listened to the coaches. I don’t like cutting corners. I like doing the full sets, the full reps, everything that needs to be done. I never took no for an answer in the sense of anyone telling me what my limitations were.”

“I trained really hard. And I really put in. I listened to the coaches. I don’t like cutting corners. I like doing the full sets, the full reps, everything that needs to be done. I never took no for an answer in the sense of anyone telling me what my limitations were.”

As the independent member for Warringah, Steggall sits on the crossbench, and says she’s only had positive experiences working as a woman in parliament, which remains heavily male-dominated. Not having to deal with party personalities and politics has meant that she’s hasn’t faced many of the pressures that other women in parliament do.

“I’m very close with Helen Haines and Rebekha Sharkie, my fellow independents on the crossbench, but there are some lovely women on both sides, whether that’s backbenchers in the Coalition or with Labor,” she explains in the podcast.

Zali Steggall in parliament with fellow crossbenchers

“But I definitely have a sense that it’s a very different environment for them, because they are constrained by the team they are a part of. There are expectations and pressures in those [party] environments that I simply do not have to deal with.

“It is a very patriarchal, male-dominated environment; I don’t have much time for that because it really doesn’t resonate with me and I’m quite happy to challenge that.

“Even as a kid I was happy to compete against the boys. It doesn’t intimidate me in any way, and I will never hesitate to call out bad behaviour.”

“I don’t think it’s accidental that you have strong women on the crossbench, because we are not fettered by party rules that are generally made by men to support a boy’s club.”

Last year, Steggall introduced her climate change bills to parliament that seek to legislate net zero emissions by 2050. The bills propose five-year emissions reductions budgets, informed by the advice of an independent climate commission, as well as a national climate risk assessment and national adaptation program.

The bills have been referred to a parliamentary inquiry, which has received over 6,500 submissions from businesses, groups and individuals, including the Business Council of Australia, Tesla, Origin, Richard Branson, and the Australian Medical Association.

“A key goal for me was to end the climate wars in Australia and the very polarised debate we’ve had around it,” she says.

“It’s very sensible legislation, it’s not technology prescriptive and it leaves it to the government of the day, but it increases transparency and accountability for government and departments, which I think is really important.”

As to what’s holding the government back from embracing decisive action on climate change, Steggall says there are a small minority of MPs who are “either climate deniers or holding back policy”.

“The problem is they tend to be very loud and disruptive…and they tend to hold the Coalition back,” she said.

Steggall notes the recent shift in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s rhetoric on climate change, but says he needs to do more than talk.

“Twelve months ago, when I talked about the climate change bills in question time, I had the Prime Minister waving his arms around, saying he wouldn’t commit to something that would wreck the economy,” she said. “Which is completely untrue.”

“But now his rhetoric is to say that he’ll commit to net zero as soon as possible and preferably by 2050, but he wants to see a plan. Of course, the Coalition has been in government for seven years, so they should have a plan by now.

“It is very clear what we need to do, so if there is any lack of having a plan, it’s entirely on their shoulders.

“The beauty is: this is not too hard. We know we have the technology already to get us there, we simply need to implement the right legislation.

“The pressure is on for the government to legislate net zero and get us there.”

The Leadership Lessons podcast series, hosted by Kate Mills, is a set of interviews with brilliant female leaders across industries, sharing their perspective on the critical decade ahead.

The Leadership Lessons is supported by Salesforce.

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