Australian Conservation Foundation

Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF)
Founded 1966
Melbourne, Australia
Type Non-governmental organization
Focus Environmentalism
Area served
Method Lobbying, campaigning
39,845 (2007/08)[1]
Key people
Kelly O'Shanassy, Chief Executive Officer
Jeff Cousins, President
A$ 13,088,934 (2007/08)[1]

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) is Australia’s leading national environmental organisation. It has been a strong and effective voice for the environment for more than 45 years. It is a community-based, not-for-profit organisation focused on advocacy, policy, research and community outreach.

Campaigns and programs

The Australian Conservation Foundation covers a wide range of environmental and sustainability issues, including: protected areas, sustainable agriculture and land management, climate change and energy, anti-nuclear issues, sustainable consumption, forests, oceans, sustainable cities, corporate environmental responsibility, environmental law reform, healthy rivers and water management, and ecologically sustainable development in northern Australia, East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

Campaigns and programs are selected predominantly for their capacity to contribute to reforms of national significance. This means that ACF tends not to become directly involved in local environmental issues, except where action on these contributes to achieving broader goals, such as highlighting examples of national problems or generating examples of solutions with larger potential. A recent example is the Stand up for Straddie campaign, which highlighted the effects of sand mining on Stradbroke Island. The organisation is acutely aware of its limited resources and strives to apply these strategically. This said, ACF is often called upon to comment on local issues and will often lend local environmental groups a helping hand. More often than not, ACF will work closely with other environmental groups - large or small - on the understanding that more can be achieved through co-operation. A recent example is ACF's collaboration with The Wilderness Society and othes on the Places You Love campaign.

In August 2007, ACF launched a new campaign - Who On Earth Cares - with Cate Blanchett as its ambassador, aiming to provide online community spaces for people to show they care about climate change in Australia, and who want to see Australia reduce its greenhouse pollution. The ACF joined a number of other Australian conservation organisations to launch the Places You Love campaign ahead of the September 2013 Federal election. The organisations are all concerned with the Council of Australian Governments' proposals to wind back Australian environmental laws.

Recent campaigns

Putting a price on pollution

The climate change debate has waxed and waned over many decades, but ACF has consistently advocated for action on global pollution. Over time, a consensus emerged that the most effective way to encourage businesses to stop polluting was with a carbon permit trading scheme.

Mining prevented in Antarctica

ACF played a significant role in securing Antarctica’s conservation and protection. In 1989 the Hawke Government implemented a treaty to ban mining in Antarctica indefinitely.

Formation of Australian Business Roundtable

The Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change was formed to advance the understanding of business risks and opportunities associated with climate change and to help develop effective policy frameworks and market conditions for a low carbon future.

Wet Tropics gains World Heritage Listing

ACF campaigned for many years in the 1970s and 80s to protect the Daintree Rainforests and achieve World Heritage status for the Wet Tropics area – a move that now protects around 900,000 hectares.

Koongarra gains World Heritage Listing

The Koongarra area within Kakadu National Park was inscribed onto the World Heritage List in June 2011. ACF, with Traditional Owner Jeffrey Lee, worked persistently for over 30 years to have this area recognised and protected from mining.

Collaboration and the Mittagong Forum

The Mittagong Forum was a trailblazing collaboration of Australian environment groups, set up to develop capability, generate strategic insights and work collaboratively to enhance the effectiveness of Australia’s environment movement.

Southern Cross Climate Coalition

This alliance consists of four organisations who joined forces to tackle climate change. The SCCC works to ensure climate policy is fairly implemented and maximises opportunities for jobs and investment in Australia.

The formation of Landcare

ACF made a significant contribution to the creation of Landcare. Landcare envisions a transformation to ecological sustainability embraced by all sides of politics.

National Heritage listing for West Kimberley

National Heritage listing was granted to the magnificent West Kimberley region in 2011, giving its conservation and cultural values a formal layer of federal protection.

Support for Cape York

Since 1975, ACF has been working towards a land tenure reform process with the twin aims of delivering land justice to Indigenous Traditional Owners, and protecting high conservation value lands across the Cape York Peninsula.

The Climate Reality Project

A partnership between ACF and former US vice president Al Gore, The Climate Reality Project has been successful in ensuring that one in 60 Australians have seen a presentation on the harmful effects of climate change and how they can work towards grassroots, worldwide solutions.

Conserving the Great Barrier Reef

The ACF's made a significant contribution to protecting the reef from fishing and trawling by helping to expand the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. In 2004, after many submissions, the protected area was increased from less than 5 per cent to cover one third of the reef.

Jabiluka and Kakadu National Park

ACF has consistently acted to protect the natural and cultural values of Kakadu from the threats posed by uranium mining.


This is an edited and updated version of 'ACF: Protecting the Environment for 30 Years', originally published in habitat in 1996.

The 1960s

ACF's founders were drawn from Australia's scientific, public service, business and political decision makers. A 1963 memo from the Duke of Edinburgh inspired Francis Ratcliffe to consult with his CSIRO colleagues and work with conservationists and community leaders to establish a national conservation body.

Francis Ratcliffe saw conservation as one of the three most important issues facing humanity, along with the avoidance of an atomic war and achieving racial harmony. In August 1964, at a conference in Canberra, the organisation that was to become the Australian Conservation Foundation was born. Its first president was Sir Garfield Barwick then Chief Justice of the High Court. ACF came into being as a legal entity when its certificate of incorporation was issued in August 1966.

Early meetings of the ACF Council identified the Mallee, rainforests, the Great Barrier Reef and central Australia as the areas most needing coordinated national attention and action. However, due to limited resources and the urgency of the threats to the Great Barrier Reef re-focussed ACF on protecting the Reef from mining and oil drilling.

During the 1960s, ACF developed most of the campaign methods it used for the following twenty-five years. These included research, policy development, education and lobbying. ACF gave support to other conservation organisations and established local branches.

Francis Ratcliffe had a vision of building a large body of members to support ACF financially and assist with community education. As the 1960s drew to a close the wave of public support for conservation escalated.

The 1970s

Dave Sweeney (2014)
Dave Sweeney is a prominent Australian anti-nuclear campaigner, working for the ACF (2014)

The 1970s were the decade that ACF consolidated its operations, extended its vision and committed to long-term plans for the achievement of conservation goals.

In 1970 the campaign to protect large areas of the Mallee in Victoria was resolved in favour of conservation. In 1972 the remote and beautiful Lake Pedder in Tasmania was obliterated by a hydroelectric scheme. A group of ACF members, angered by the organisation's failure to speak without fear or favour in opposition to the flooding of Lake Pedder, worked to bring about internal change. ACF's approach to conservation campaigning became more strategic, active and independent and throughout the 1970s public awareness of conservation issues increased.

In 1973, Gough Whitlam, then Prime Minister of Australia, launched the first issue of Habitat, now ACF's iconic magazine. Prince Phillip, then president of ACF, wrote that 'Habitat will provide essential news on conservation matters to the public at large.'

ACF pressed the federal government to lead a campaign for a worldwide ban to whaling and for an end to whaling in Australian waters. Thirty thousand supporters responded to a television advertising campaign to 'Save the Whales'. Nine years of vigorous public campaigning later, a moratorium was declared on commercial whaling in 1981.

In 1974 Australia signed the World Heritage Convention and ACF proposed World Heritage nominations for areas of great natural and cultural values, beginning with the Great Barrier Reef and Fraser Island.

Throughout the 1970s, ACF campaigned against uranium mining. ACF was a principal party at the Ranger Uranium Environmental Inquiry (Fox Inquiry) into mining at Ranger in Kakadu and pressed for the creation of a major national park to protect both the natural and cultural values of the area.

Inspired by its President, Dr Nugget Coombs, economist, environmentalist and Indigenous rights activist, ACF moved to support Aboriginal land rights and in 1978 pledged to work collaboratively with the Northern and Central Land Councils.

ACF became increasingly involved in urban issues. ACF Councillor and unionist Jack Mundey was the force behind 'green bans' that saw unions withdraw their labour from demolition sites to protect historic urban precincts like The Rocks in Sydney. Pollution, climate change and population became topics of debate on the pages of Habitat.

The 1980s

The explosive environmental issue of the early 1980s was the campaign to protect the Franklin River, one of the last wild rivers in Australia. ACF mobilised supporters and resources behind the campaign that went all the way to the High Court to prevent the damming of the river. A pervasive theme in the 1980s was the fight for Australia's native forests. In 1987, ACF and other environment groups pushed forests into the spotlight. Daintree's tropical rainforests finally gained World Heritage listing in 1988, despite the vehement opposition of the then Queensland Government. Kakadu's cultural and natural qualities were again under threat from uranium mining during the 1980s.

ACF played a lead role in securing Stages 1 and 2 of the Kakadu National Park and establishing an inquiry into the proposed Coronation Hill mine. The late 1980s saw ACF make a major effort to redress Australia's massive land degradation problems. In 1989 a historic alliance between ACF and the National Farmers Federation called for the establishment of a national Landcare program. Landcare provided a vision for the transformation to ecological sustainability that was embraced by all major political parties. The 1990s were to be declared 'The Decade of Landcare'.

One of the most important environment decisions in global terms was the Australian government's rejection of mining in Antarctica in 1989. A policy of protection for Antarctica had been developed by ACF in the mid-1970s and it was ACF's persistence with its vision and the success of its public awareness campaign that eventually convinced the government to act. In 1989 Peter Garrett, rock star and environmental activist, became President of ACF. Peter brought to the organisation his passion and commitment to a wide range of issues including anti-uranium, indigenous rights and Northern Australia.

Throughout the 1980s, ACF developed into an organisation that was more professional, more strategic in its alliances and more politically sophisticated. The decade closed with environmental issues high on the political agenda and ACF the leading national advocate for the environment.

The 1990s

In the 1990s ACF redefined its vision and sought to inspire a society that was environmentally aware and responsible. ACF positioned itself in the mainstream and by the end of the 1990s mainstream society had changed the way it viewed the environment. At the close of the millennium, progressive business came to understand environmental responsibility as a competitive advantage and more than sixty percent of Australians listed the environment as one of their major concerns.

The 1990s began on a high note. The environment was the focus of the federal election and ACF was swamped by the media with requests for information to produce environment-related TV programs, newspaper feature articles and radio documentaries. On World Environment Day 1990, ACF and Telecom Australia held a nationwide video conference for young people throughout the country to discuss ways to reduce ozone-depleting substances. Then in 1993 the recession hit and media attention turned away from the environment. Despite financial constraints, ACF continued to extend its influence through initiatives such as the Green Jobs Unit, which promoted employment creating environmental solutions; the alliance with the National Farmers Federation, which was renewed in 1996 and again in 2000; and the establishment of the GeneEthics Network to focus on the impact of genetic engineering.

ACF broadened its engagement with Indigenous peoples, both in Australia and in the Asia-Pacific region. The fight to stop mining at Coronation Hill succeeded in 1991 and from 1992 ACF was key in highlighting the environmental and social impacts of the Ok Tedi mine in Papua New Guinea.

The 1990s were the decade in which greenhouse pollution and climate change became critical issues. ACF helped to establish the Sustainable Energy Industries Council of Australia and the Federal government agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by the year 2005. When Canberra backtracked on this commitment in the mid-1990s, ACF spoke out in international forums including the 1995 Berlin Climate Change Conference.

In 1995 ACF launched its first website with a view to facilitating more frequent and effective communication with its diverse range of supporters.

ACF worked to bring the degraded state of the Murray-Darling Basin to public attention. In 1996 ACF introduced the concept of environmental flows into the political arena and launched a major campaign to reverse the decline of Australia's rivers.

ACF and other environment groups worked with the Mirrar people to halt the Jabiluka uranium mine at Kakadu. The 1998 blockade gained significant media attention and placed Jabiluka on the national and international agenda.

21st century

ACF Head office, the 60L Green Building in Carlton

In 2000 ACF's Natural Advantage: A Blueprint for a Sustainable Australia was launched by Sir William Deane, then Governor General of Australia. The blueprint outlined ACF's vision for a sustainable Australia and set out inspirational and long-term solutions to environmental problems. Some of the key initiatives of the blueprint were a national project of sustainability reform; a long-term, strategic commitment to land and water repair; greenhouse gas reductions and energy efficiency; environmental tax reform; reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians; and building social capital to ensure all Australians benefit from their great natural advantages. In the early years of the new millennium ACF 'walked the talk' and moved its head office to the 60L Green Building in Carlton. ACF's supporter base grew and many more Australians expressed a desire to make a difference for the environment. Polls regularly placed the environment among Australians' top concerns. The blueprint continues to drive innovative campaigns to protect, restore and sustain the environment. ACF has entered into a range of partnerships with Indigenous Australians, particularly in Northern Australia, with the scientific and business sector and with rural communities. ACF is developing a national community outreach program to inspire individual action on some of the most pressing environmental challenges Australians face. ACF's achievements for the decade to date include the restoration of flows to the Snowy River, the banning of radioactive waste dumps in SA, a halt to broadscale land clearing in Queensland, the promised rehabilitation of the Jabiluka mine site in Kakadu and the declaration of new Marine Parks in Victoria. ACF has made salinity, water and energy urgent national issues and pushed hard for national action on climate change, the Murray and Tasmania's magnificent forests.


About 90% of ACF's funding is received from its members and supporters, with the small remainder derived from government grants and from selected companies.


The Australian Conservation Foundation is governed by a thirty-five member Council of Representatives elected every three years by the organisation's membership.[2] The Council meets regularly to determine organisational policy and priorities. ACF's democratic structure helps to ensure that its sixty-odd staff keep in touch with Australia's diverse grassroots environmental movement, while maintaining a high degree of professionalism and a strategic approach to sustainability issues of national significance. Council elects an Executive which meets more frequently to debate and decide on organisational matters in more detail. Council also appoints a voluntary President who represents ACF at a high level and who chairs Council meetings. In 2005 Professor Ian Lowe, distinguished Australian scientist and Emeritus Professor of Science, Technology and Society at Griffith University, was appointed President, replacing Peter Garrett. Professor Lowe served until June 2014. Don Henry was the CEO of the Australian Conservation Foundation from 1998 to 2014. The current CEO is Kelly O'Shanassy.

The governing body of the Foundation is the Board, which consists of the President, two Vice-Presidents, four Councillors and up to four co-opted members. Co-opted Board members are chosen on the basis of their skills and experience, thus ensuring an appropriate mix of skills and experience within the Board.


Other periodicals

See also


  1. 1 2 ACF Annual & Sustainability Report 2007-08, retrieved 2009-09-27
  2. ACF Council, Retrieved 2009-09-13

Further reading

External links

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