Tina Perinotto Publisher and Managing Editor The Fifth Estate  / 
Politics and Persistence

story / Sydney Series / April 11, 2016

I think the property industry is really fascinating. As compared with my earlier days when I thought it was terribly boring, because I was only writing about deals. I am really quite fascinated by investment, because I think that’s what holds everything together. Money is a massive driver of change. Engage the money and you engage change. The reason I’m so interested in property now is that it’s so important to our future. It is the most important and critical industry to be involved in. But I’m biased!

I started as a journalist in a publication called Property News in Melbourne. It was my way into journalism. It was all about deals – buying, selling and leasing property. The work was extremely formulaic. However, it was a great opportunity to build skills and get to know the industry. After a while I was screaming to get out and ended up being the sole journalist on The Richmond Times in Melbourne.

But property had claimed me. I went back to Property News to write an investment newsletter and edit a quarterly magazine when the publication was owned by BRW. After that came six years editing the Property Council magazine and then six years on The Australian Financial Review, where I managed to get a weekly column where I could write whatever I liked – mainly environmental and planning issues. That was an amazing time.

The Fifth Estate came into being in 2009, after I attended a function in Redfern that was full of sustainable architects and consultants from the field. There was a room full of interesting people and everyone I talked to had a great story to tell about the green buildings they were designing, energy efficiency or ideas to develop this space further.

I thought, who’s writing about all this? Who’s giving you a platform to shine a light on your work and share the learning? Some of the mainstream media would occasionally write about environmental or sustainability issues, but there was no hub, or home for this space.

I called one of my contacts from my days at the AFR and told him my ideas and he said, “How much do you want?” I nominated a very modest sum, enough to pay for the original design, but suddenly there was someone else’s money involved and I realised there was now a responsibility to take this thing from a personal dream to reality. It was really quite challenging. Would  it work? Would people read it? Would they care?

We started with a small team of people who helped shape the original concept. Lynne Blundell, a great freelance writer who I had found when I was at the Property Council editing their magazine, agreed to be a founding editor. We started with the idea to do a newsletter every two weeks, just putting stories out there that people could use and share with each other. Today we’ve got 45,000 unique monthly visitors.

I think the key to survival in this has been persistence. Just doing the thing and not giving up. It is incredible how when you are doing something new, people will help you. They come out of the woodwork. We’ve had some amazing support from some people who I will never forget.

Our formula or policy is to be like any other business publication, to tell the story of what goes on in the sustainability space and be as balanced as we can. Apart from our editorials where we let our feelings show. Big time!

I have had a passion for nature for as long as I can remember. I grew up in the country, north of Melbourne and loved being out in the hills and following the creek beds for miles. I think most people are the same, even if they grew up in the city. It’s a basic human instinct to want to be connected to the natural and protect it, which is why I’ve never been too worried about the climate deniers. To me they’re like the people who defended cigarette smoking; eventually logic rises. The big question is, do we have time to turn this thing around? Regardless, though, we’ve got no choice but to try.

I am very confident that there is a change. I think last year was a major tipping point. There was the massive global swing to climate change action, signaled by China and the US. There was peak coal use by China, the climate talks in Paris, big signals from the capital markets that the demand for green investments from their stakeholders is on a huge growth curve.

In Australia there’s also been the steady rise of grass roots interest and action in sustainability. The change of prime minister has also been hugely important in switching the dial away from fear of green and sustainability. I think it’s made business and people in general feel that it’s okay to talk about climate change and to take it seriously.

I think we have all been hoodwinked by the climate deniers into wasting time. A few years ago when I was confronted by a denier, which is pretty rare these days, I said, “OK, say you are right, and climate change is rubbish, do you think we should continue polluting the air and throwing rubbish into our oceans?” This man who was the CEO of a big engineering firm looked a bit shocked. “Of course not”, he said. I think deniers have just confused the message. They haven’t connected the dots.

Politics is critical to framing a better future for this sector. You need both the grassroots movement and the politicians. I loved what one presenter at a conference said; “Politicians are not leaders, they’re followers. And if they feel the momentum is there to do something. They don’t care what it is, they will do it.” Like developers. If the demand is there, they will respond. We need to demand greener buildings. More sustainable everything.

How do you go about managing a company’s conflicting agenda? There are certain rules and a lot of instinct involved. My first boss used to tell me to “Listen to your sixth sense”, the warning bell. Interestingly, the bigger the company, the more usual it is, that it’s doing something great over here but not so good over there. What do you do with that company? It’s a dilemma that I haven’t solved yet.

I don’t manage my work life balance very well.  I work long hours during the week but then I love what I do. On Fridays however, I totally switch off till Monday, or at least Sunday night when I will start checking emails and planning for the day ahead. I’ve worked too many weekends in my early days and sometimes you just have to say, “Enough!”

I tell my daughters, that I don’t care so much what they do; as long as they have a good education. Then they will be empowered. If you can live in an environment of intelligence, creativity and culture and you will have an enriched life.

Tina Perinotto tells it like it is. She doesn’t beat around the bush. It was hot day when we met her in the courtyard of Sappho Books & Cafe (one of Sydney’s secondhand bookshops in Glebe). It couldn’t be more fitting. As the instigator of The Fifth Estate, we listened intently to her story. Through the development of the project and as she shared her opinions with calm logic. The Fifth Estate is amazing. With determination, hard work and a sprinkle of luck, Tina has managed to grow her following through persistence and perseverance. Tina you are a great inspiration to the Gazella girls! Thank you for taking the time to share your story. We look up to you with great admiration. 

One thought on “Tina Perinotto Publisher and Managing Editor The Fifth Estate

PC Thomas   April 11, 2016 at 3:47 pm

Great to hear Tina’s story! She was the first to have the vision stories of buildings and sustainability needed to be told, regularly and repeatedly. Good on you, Tina!