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Real Deal: Reimagining the Australian economy

A research-action agenda for a safe climate, secure jobs and stronger, fairer communities
The Real Deal project is designed to give local communities a real say in the changes and transitions they are facing, by deploying participatory research, community organising and other relationship-based research strategies.

Our objectives are to:

Connect: We will build relationships first by bringing different types of people together in ways that strengthen community trust and build confidence in their ability to bring about change together. 

Impact: We work with communities (geographic, interest or identity-based) to design and win a Real Deal by providing them with tools, practices and other assistance. The Real Deal seeks to go to the heart of problems - tackling the uncertainty of transition as well as long standing inequalities.

Scale:  We enable communities to lead their own transition by building broad based community power. We seek to scale this work by creating flagship wins, and sharing tools, practices and other assistance to a wider network of communities through real conversations and real solutions.

The Real Deal builds change grounded in place through real conversations or place-based projects to promote real solutions.

There has been a demonstrable failure to build a national consensus to decarbonise, with the issue polarising different opinions.

When climate change, or land and sea management have been discussed previously, workers in those communities have been portrayed as threats to the future.

Today, only fragmented voices are heard, and those usually have substantial financial resources. 

There are very few places where people from across our diversity can come together to negotiate for our future.

The Real Deal is a genuine attempt to rebuild countervailing power within communities which are confronting structural change: reducing fear of the future by giving communities agency around what comes next. 

When activists campaign – too often they campaign against these communities (‘these workers are the threat to the future’) or at best these communities are campaigned at (‘you need to change your views’).

There has been little focus on building capability to create, own and harness change from the ground up. There has not been enough effort to recognise that all communities are deeply diverse - and this time of transition needs to be a time for new relationships and ideas.  

The Real Deal project began in the wake of the 2019 Federal Election - a time of great social polarisation in Australia where climate was pitted against the economy and cities were pitted against regions. Using a process of co-design informed by community organising, we have brought together an unusual coalition of climate, union, community and business groups to explore how we can find common ground.

In the wake of COVID, we produced a report outlining five benchmarks for a ‘Real Deal.’ It identified that financial support and stimulus, while essential, was insufficient to address the critical issues the country is facing. It identified five benchmarks that can guide the development of a Real Deal, building on the best of research into the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.

1.     Major public investment is back, but policy must be attuned to the shape of the economy, too.

2.     The pandemic exposed pre-existing inequalities and injustices that must be addressed for good.

3.     We need bold community vision for an economy that serves us all, and a plan to make it happen.

4.     A Real Deal is generated by the active participation of people in decisions that affect them.

5.     Collaboration is the foundation for a Real Deal that can deliver long-lasting solutions.

Together, these benchmarks distinguish a Real Deal on the basis of whether it is genuinely transformative of state-market-society relationships, addresses inequality and insecurity, makes plans for meeting social and environmental needs, and is capable of generating enthusiasm from all parts of Australian society.

We are building a network of place-based projects across the country. These projects are nominated by local communities, and selected based on a series of strategic considerations - including their connection to climate industries (fossil fuel or green industries), social and cultural diversity, community engagement and the extent to which the community could inspire and lead change elsewhere.

The Sydney Policy Lab is seeking partnerships with organisations that can resource long-term research-action work in these communities, seeking to find funds to create local project officers and research partnerships. Our first place-based partnership has been with the Lord Mayors Charitable Fund.

In early 2021, two projects were selected - Melbourne’s West/Geelong and Gladstone. 

Melbourne’s West/Geelong: These large urban communities are some of the most culturally diverse places in the country, and are home to some of Victoria’s most precarious workers. Both have been industrial powerhouses, but their manufacturing industries are in transition. This includes major Oil Refineries like Altona. This project was nominated by the United Workers Union and is supported by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Victorian Trades Hall Council.

Gladstone: Home to Queensland’s largest Port, Gladstone is a changing industrial community in Central Queensland. We are working with the Qld Community Alliance and the Australian Conservation Foundation to hold community conversations and work with community leaders to plan for a thriving future. 

In addition, we are exploring place-based projects in Narrabri and Western Sydney. If your community is interested in partnering with the Real Deal - you can find more information here.

Project Lead: Elise Ganley

Research team: Dr Amanda Tattersall (instigator and strategic lead), Dr Gareth Bryant, Katie Moore

Project partners: United Workers Union, GetUp!, Australian Conservation Foundation, Jesuit Social Services, Climate Justice Union, Queensland Community Alliance, Sydney Alliance, Victoria Trades Hall, Tomorrow Movement, NSW Conservation Council, Sweltering Cities.