Blog | 20th Aug, 2014

100 Days countdown: The hot environment issues this election

On 29 November Victorians will head to the polls to cast judgement on the Napthine Government. With just 100 days to go until polling day Environment Victoria CEO Mark Wakeham takes a looks at the hot environment issues this state election.

The Baillieu-led Coalition took office in November 2010 after 11 years of ALP government. On many issues, environment and climate change included, the Coalition didn’t release a formal election policy, despite repeatedly and publicly promising to do so ahead of the election.

Unfortunately, after being elected to office the Coalition wasted no time in revealing one of the most aggressive agendas to wind back environmental protection Victoria has ever seen.

One of their first Cabinet decisions was to end negotiations to close Hazelwood power station, signalling intent to halt efforts to clean up our power supply and continue with pollution as usual. Further damaging decisions quickly followed. Cattle grazing was returned to the Alpine National Park, laws were introduced making it impossible to get planning approval for new wind-farms, the state’s emissions reduction target was scrapped, and Victoria went out of its way to weaken the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. The full catastrophe of Coalition attacks on the environment has been documented here .

But now it’s time for the Victorian community to have their say on the performance of the current government and the direction they want Victoria to take. How will environmental issues figure in the election result and what will be the key issues?

Will environment and climate policy play a role in the State election?

Much of the commentary around the election has suggested that issues like jobs, cost of living, public transport, health and infrastructure will dominate. However, all of these issues have an environmental dimension and voters are making the connection between these issues and the environment.

For instance Environment Victoria sat in on a recent focus group of Frankston voters which found that the cost of living, particularly electricity bills, was the second most important issue to undecided voters. That makes energy efficiency measures, like the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target, or efforts to support the rollout of renewable energy and undermine the domination of the big power companies who have been hiking electricity prices extremely popular and music to the ears of voters.

The Coalition seems to be well aware that its attacks on the environment don’t enjoy community support, and it is actively trying to avoid the election being fought on this ground. In 2012 with the pressure building on their environmental credentials they released a ‘Claytons’ environment policy called ‘Environmental Partnerships’, effectively outsourcing responsibility for environmental protection and emissions reduction to Victorians, while the Coalition was simultaneously weakening legislation and making it harder for the community to perform this role.

Environment Victoria understands that in Coalition internal polling their lack of an environmental agenda is starting to show up with marginal seat voters. Issues like the Coalition Government cutting support for solar power and solar hot water, scrapping successful energy efficiency programs and failing to protect the Leadbeater’s possum – teetering on the verge of extinction – are being noticed and upsetting potential Coalition voters.

Polling has consistently found that undecided voters often don’t know about the Coalition Government’s record of attacks on the environment, but once they do know about them they don’t support them. To date the Coalition’s response has been to try and shift the conversation to other issues. Whether they are successful in doing so will largely depend on two factors:

1. The degree to which environment groups can elevate the environment as an issue with undecided voters in key electorates.
A face-to-face conversation with a volunteer who has bothered to knock on their door can be very powerful in a voter making a decision to vote with the environment in mind. If 200 undecided voters in a seat like Frankston decide it’s the issue upon which they’ll vote (which they have), the major parties will have little choice but to start developing environment policy.

2. The degree to which other political parties like the ALP and the Greens allow the Coalition to set the issues agenda for the election.
The ALP has made some positive policy announcements promising to repeal Ted Baillieu’s anti-wind farm laws and committing to extend the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target. The Greens have also been strong on policy to support wind and solar power. However there are a lot of environmental issues that we don’t yet have a clear position on from Labor and the Greens, and there remains the question as to how much they are going to lead with these issues.

We’ll be the first to welcome any serious change of heart on the environment from the Coalition, but they have a lot of work to do to develop a credible agenda between now and 29 November.

What will the key environment issues be then?

Environment Victoria has sent the major parties its state election policy agenda (available here) and a letter highlighting our Top Ten key policy priorities. We will use their response as the basis of our ‘scorecard’, which we will advertise in local newspapers and provide to undecided voters in key electorates.

Clean up our power supply and reduce pollution: an action plan for a safe climate and clean energy economy

1. Strengthen Victoria’s Climate Change Act by reinstating scientifically‐based emissions reduction targets
and empowering the Environmental Protection Authority to regulate carbon emissions.
2. Develop a renewable energy investment and jobs plan to make Victoria the national leader in
renewable energy. This should include fast-tracking the development of solar and wind power, removing the
2 km exclusion zone for new wind power and increasing current solar feed‐in tariffs.
3. Phase out the state’s most polluting power stations and protect communities from coal mining risks
like the Hazelwood fire via the immediate rehabilitation of non‐working parts of existing coal mines and a
review of rehabilitation bonds for all mines.
4. Categorically rule out any plans for new coal mines or a coal export industry and maintain the
moratorium on coal seam gas extraction.

Make our homes and communities efficient, affordable and sustainable: an action plan for smart and sustainable homes, cities and communities

5. Improve the energy and water efficiency of the average Victorian house to a five star and 100 L per
person per day average standard by 2025 and implement and resource a comprehensive retrofit program for
low income households.
6. Lock in the recent savings in Victorian electricity demand with new energy efficiency programs
including extending the successful Victorian energy efficiency target scheme for the next five years and
broaden the program to include new products like insulation. Increase support for solar water heating
including through reinstating the solar water heating rebate.
7. Keep our cities liveable and sustainable by investing in better public transport, scrapping the East‐West
Link and ensuring urban planning prevents urban sprawl and protects our green wedges and places.

Protect and restore Victoria’s natural environment: an action plan that delivers for Victoria’s
rivers and special places

8. Protect and restore Victoria’s rivers by strengthening the Victorian Water Act, and by reducing
livestock damage to waterways and riverbanks by ending direct stock access and transitioning Crown water
frontage licenses to Riparian conservation licences to improve river protection and quality.
9. Recognise and build the links between a healthy environment and a healthy economy by implementing
the recommendations of the Future Economy Group’s Plan for Victoria .
10. Establish the Great Forest National Park in the Central Highlands to protect habitat for the Leadbeater’s
possum and ensure our existing parks are well managed and protected.