But it’s all under threat.
Traditionally, both major parties have done their bit for the environment.
The Hamer Liberal Government established green wedges around Melbourne creating a natural border for the city, the Bolte Government declared new national parks and established the Environment Protection Authority.
The Bracks and Brumby Labor Governments set renewable energy targets, created new national parks in the Otways, established environmental flows for rivers and, in their dying days, outlined a plan to reduce Victoria’s greenhouse pollution.
But bipartisan efforts to safeguard the environment appear to be over with the Baillieu Government taking environmental protection backwards faster than any Victorian state government since the 1950’s.
In just over 18 months the Baillieu Government has gutted the public service and long-standing programs like coastcare and threatened species projects. They’ve scrapped feed-in-tariffs for solar power, axed greenhouse pollution reduction targets and they are standing in the way of the national plan to fix the Murray-Darling Basin.
And the effects will be bigger than the biodiversity you may see on your next holiday.
The decisions taken by the Baillieu Government will delay Victoria’s transition to a more efficient, cleaner energy supply. They will increase cost of living as fossil fuel and water prices rise, affect the production of food, and our access to clean water from rivers.
As the Climate Commission pointed out last week, climate change will make Victoria more vulnerable to bushfires, heatwaves, extreme flooding and droughts. But rather than come up with a credible plan for tackling climate change the Baillieu Government is instead trying to fast-track coal exports and dig up farm land in the Latrobe Valley for massive new coal mines.
In its support for the industries of the past, the Baillieu Government ended negotiations to phase out Hazelwood power station, one of the oldest and dirtiest power generators in the world and are funding a PR campaign to spruik polluting new coal mines.
At the same time, they’ve blocked exciting new solar and wind industries, showing th4e Baillieu Government’s blinkers when it comes to modern jobs and economies and the billions up for grabs in clean energy investment.
Keppel Prince, a wind turbine manufacturer from Portland has already laid off employees and reduced its manufacture of state of the art wind turbines, directly as a result of the Baillieu Government’s decision to impose stronger restrictions on new wind farms than on coal mines.
The Government’s cut to solar panel feed-in-tariffs will increase the cost of solar power for Victorian families.
Some have argued that this is a do-nothing government. But where the environment is concerned, they’ve done quite a bit, taking this state backwards at a rate of knots.
But it’s not what Victorians want.
Environment Victoria recently conducted a poll of a thousand Victorians. We asked the simple question, ‘What do you like most about living in Victoria?’ The question was open ended and allowed people to respond as they saw fit.
The responses were telling –Victorians value spending time at their local park, on our beaches and beside our rivers, in our mountains and within our forests. These are the places where Victorians relax, unwind and cast off the shackles of work.
But now these places are under threat from careless and short-sighted decision making. Holiday towns like Anglesea have a newly extended coal mine within a kilometre of a primary school, holiday houses and an idyllic location.
In Gippsland coal emissions continue to cause respiratory illness.
In Northern Victoria, the Baillieu Government reduced support for the Mallee Solar farm, refusing the $100 million it promised before the election. And in its opposition to saving the Murray River, who knows what farmers and communities that rely on the Murray for clean water will face in the next drought.
Melbourne has not been immune. The city’s liveability will decrease, with destruction of the green wedges and the addition of six new suburbs without proper services or transport.
Unfortunately it doesn’t stop there. They’ve failed on their promise for more efficient streetlights, opposed marine protection areas, extended the duck hunting season and weakened planning rules designed around sea level rise designed to reduce the impacts of climate change.
It’s quite the list.
Who knew the Baillieu Government, who’s so often accused of being asleep at the wheel, could achieve so much in just 18 months? For the sake of all Victorians who value clean air and water and everything else our environment provides, I hope the next 18 months paints a different picture.
Kelly O’Shanassy, CEO of Environment Victoria
This opinion piece accompanies a new report by Environment Victoria which outlines Victorians’ expectations on environmental protection and details the Baillieu Government’s attacks on the environment.