Features Australia

Brother, can you spare a solar panel?

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

9 November 2019

9:00 AM

In the immortal words of Kermit the Frog, it’s not easy being Green and no-one knows that better than Mike Cannon-Brookes, the ‘accidental billionaire’ co-founder and co-CEO of software company Atlassian. Cannon-Brookes is reputedly the richest person in Australia under 40 and worth around $13.5 billion. It may sound like a lot of money, but Mike was channeling Motown legends The Temptations’ Ain’t too proud to beg when the company, of which he owns around a third, decided to ask for a handout from the City of Sydney.

Cannon-Brookes, who announced at the UN Climate Summit in New York in September that Atlassian would reach net zero emissions by 2050 and source 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025, applied for a grant of $3,200 to cover the cost of a Solar Photovoltaic Grid Connection at its office at 341 George Street. Whoever said solar energy was cheap hasn’t talked to mendicant Mike. Luckily, the City of Sydney came to his aid. It’s a touching story of the ratepayers dipping into their pockets to help a down-and-out billionaire. After all, fate can play cruel tricks. One minute, Atlassian is renting out a couple of hectares of Sydney’s Centennial Park for a five-day private shindig, much to the consternation of the Sydney Morning Herald which lamented the privatisation of the public space, the next it can hardly afford to keep the power connected.

Other down-on-their-luck companies in need of a little Green helping handout included The Star Entertainment Group which got $10,000 to get a ‘Green Star’ performance certification, the Hilton Hotel which got $14,500 for ‘solar PV grid connection feasibility’ and Amora Hotel, which got a grant of $2,200 to cover the cost of cooling tower sub-metering. All up, the Council spent over $360,000 on environmental performance grants giving money to everyone from the Hyatt Regency and the InterContinental to favoured apartment blocks — one lucky owners’ corporation got $20,000 to switch their pool spa heating to heat pumps and solar panels. The corporate cadgers were quick to show their gratitude and get some free publicity. Star Casino sponsored the City of Sydney’s Chinese New Year celebrations, while Amora Hotel was a City of Sydney Connect Partner for Sydney New Year’s Eve.

Mr Cannon-Brookes is also feeling a little less strapped for cash since panhandling at town hall. According to the ABC’s ‘investigative’ reporter Stephen Long, he made the largest donation to the Climate 200 fund which backed politicians who believe in a ‘climate emergency’ at this year’s federal election. ‘Get out, GetUp!’ wrote Long. Apparently, Climate 200 raised half a million dollars and the biggest donation — a princely $50,000 — came from Mike. Hey Big Spender! That’s 0.00037 per cent of his estimated worth or the equivalent of a donation of one fifth of a single cent from the pocket of the average worker.

The fund was the brainchild of Simon Holmes á Court, a scion of Australia’s first billionaire, who gave a whole $25,000 and knows how hard it is to make Green ends meet. When Holmes á Court started Hepburn Community Wind Park in Victoria in 2011, he faced a shortfall of more than $3 million, which was funded in part by government grants. Eight years later, the venture has finally delivered its first dividend on the back of sky-high energy prices but still needed another handout from the state government of half a million dollars, a business development grant of $23,200 and has submitted a hardship application to cover the cost of upgrades to reduce the risk of bushfire.

Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore, who officially declared a ‘climate emergency’ in June, didn’t take kindly to the suggestion that if the councillors and their staff of 2,000 really believe the planet is facing a crisis, they should take a leaf out of the Extinction Rebellion songbook, glue their posteriors to their ergonomic swivel chairs and stop flying to global climate-fests. Moore expended admirably few emissions on the suggestion, responding with a single word — ‘Ludicrous.’ What would Greta say?

Every year Clover and her merry band of councillors gad around the globe. According to the last annual report, they visited Copenhagen, San Francisco, Singapore, New York, Seoul, Santiago, Auckland, Wellington, Guangzhou, Vancouver, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Tokyo, Venice, Yokohama and Toronto — a total of 24 international trips. Council says it spent a mere $269,000 of ratepayers’ hard-earned cash on travel in 2017 and another $229,000 in 2018 but only $1,727.77 on overseas visits by councillors. It raises interesting questions and not just who spent the 77 cents? One can hardly get a one-way, 37-hour, 11-stop ticket flying standby on Zimbabwe Airlines for that money. Luckily for the councillors, 19 of the trips were paid for by mysterious benefactors who shouldered the cost and, presumably, the greenhouse guilt. Who were they? What did they want in return? The annual report is sphinx-like on the subject. Did some part of the Chinese communist party, in its many manifestations, pay for the trips to China? Was it the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, which sponsored some of the talk-fests and is funded by everyone from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Clinton Foundation to tyre supremo Michelin?

Then there’s the carbon footprint of the Sydney Writers’ Festival which gets $370,000 a year from Council. Its greenest invitees are now purportedly too embarrassed to fly all the way to Australia.

There is however one sort of travel that Ms Moore is doing her best to stop — commuters driving to and from western Sydney. As Ms Moore put it, ‘We will continue to be a strong voice for our community against the destructive WestConnex toll road.’

The NSW government says WestConnex will reduce traffic on local streets, deliver more than 18 hectares of new recreational green space, produce 14 kilometres of new and upgraded cycle and pedestrian paths, enable new public transport options on major corridors, ease the $6 billion cost of congestion by bypassing 52 sets of traffic signals and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 610,000 tonnes per annum but Council wasn’t having a bar of it. ‘No WestConnex Public Transport Inc.’ got $50,000 to fund a community organiser and Rozelle Against WestConnex got another $2,000.

Sadly, there is not enough money to do everything and the Council counted 329 people sleeping rough when it conducted its homelessness street count. On a brighter note, think of the carbon emissions they are saving.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments