Real Deal: Reimagining the Australian economy

A community-led agenda generated from the ground up
The Real Deal project deploys participatory research, community organising and other relationship-based research strategies to give local communities real input into the climate-related transitions they are facing.

Our objectives are to:

Connect: We bring different types of people together to strengthen community trust and build confidence in their ability to bring about change together. 

Impact: We work with geographic, local and identity-based communities to design and implement a Real Deal that provides them with a more certain and equitable future.

Scale:  We aim to build broad based community power – by creating flagship wins, sharing tools and building a wider network of climate-affected communities seeking a more just transition to a low carbon economy. 

10 May 2023 may go down as an historic day for Geelong. A community lead new deal to create “A Real Deal for Geelong”, which may just be the best chance we have seen in 50 years to create public policy which addresses the longer term social inequality that exists in Geelong.
Anthony Aitken, Deputy Mayor of Geelong

There has been a demonstrable failure to build a national consensus on how to decarbonise. The debate has become too polarised.

Only fragmented voices are heard ¬– typically those with substantial financial resources. And too often the workers and communities directly affected by transitionary change are portrayed as threats to the climate and campaigned ‘at’ by being told things like: ‘you need to change your views’.

There are very few places where people from diverse communities can come together to negotiate for their future. The Real Deal aims to fill this hole. It is a genuine attempt to give countervailing power to communities confronting structural change. We aim to reduce fear of the future by giving communities agency over what comes next. 

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.

We believe this approach is capable of generating enthusiasm from all parts of Australian society.

We have built an ever-expanding network of place-based projects across the country. These projects are nominated by local communities and selected according to several strategic considerations, including: their connection to climate industries (fossil fuel or green industries), their social and cultural diversity, their community engagement, and the extent to which the community might 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 Mayor’s Charitable Fund.

In early 2021, three place-based projects were selected – Geelong, Gladstone and Western Sydney: 

  • 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. Once industrial powerhouses, their manufacturing industries are now in transition. This includes major oil refineries like that in 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. 
  • Western Sydney: home to Sydney’s most culturally diverse community and possessing one of the world’s hottest summer climates, Western Sydney is a climate affected community that demonstrates the need for climate policy to be built out of broad based listening and cultural engagement. We are working with the Sydney Alliance to advance climate transition policies, focusing on Parramatta and Bankstown.

We are also exploring place-based projects in Narrabri, NSW and Collie in Western Australia, while continuing to work alongside the Hunter Jobs Alliance. 

Academic Chair: Associate Professor Amanda Tattersall

Project Manager: Elise Ganley

Research team: Dr Gareth Bryant (University of Sydney), Professor Danielle Celermajer (University of Sydney), Dr Rebecca Cross (University of Sydney), Assoc. Professor Christine Evans, (University of Sydney), Sally Fisher (University of Sydney), Dr Naomi Godden (Edith Cowan University), Professor Kurt Iveson (University of Sydney), Professor Louise Johnson (Melbourne University), Katie Moore (University of Sydney), Professor David Schlosberg (University of Sydney), Professor Murray Shearer (Central Queensland University), Dr Madeline Taylor (Macquarie University)

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.

If you would like to learn more or get involved in this project, please contact us at