The Andrews government is two years in to this term of Victoria’s Parliament, with two years until the next state election. So how are they tracking?
Some major pieces of policy are expected soon and key pieces of legislation are in Parliament, so we will hold off our in-depth assessment of promises until early 2017.
In the meantime, here’s how we think the Andrews government measures up to the bar we set before the 2014 election.
2016 has seen some major steps forward on climate change in Victoria, including commitments to legislate net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and to reach 40 percent renewable energy in Victoria by 2025, and a ban on unconventional gas. This builds on earlier efforts by the ALP in 2015 to reverse the Coalition’s effective ban on wind farms and start rebuilding a climate change agenda. Meanwhile French company ENGIE has announced that Hazelwood power station, the dirtiest in Australia, will close in early 2017.
By introducing long overdue increases in coal royalties and mine rehabilitation bonds, this government has shown itself capable of standing up to the coal industry. Over $250 million in support provided by the Andrews government to the Latrobe Valley to encourage economic diversification is very welcome.
Legislation to strengthen the Climate Change Act is now in Parliament, but a small proposed increase to the solar feed-in tariff will not create as much of a driver for new solar installations as we would have hoped (mind you, Matthew Guy’s Liberals are opposing ANY increases to the solar feed-in tariff, repeating Ted Baillieu’s attacks on clean energy).
The coming weeks will have a major influence on the Andrews government’s legacy on climate change, coal and renewable energy, with the expected release of a 2020 emissions reduction target and a ‘climate framework’, a coal policy statement, a government response to the EPA review and the Renewable Energy Action Plan. Our full assessment of 2016 is on hold until these pieces of the puzzle are in place.
There has been some progress in efficiency policy and programs in 2016, but the headline commitments continue to be a ‘work in progress’.
The Andrews government committed $10 million in the 2016-17 Budget for retrofitting public housing stock and homes of Victorians with complex health conditions, and around $1 million to local government climate alliances to deliver rooftop solar and efficiency programs for low-income households. They also reinstated the successful Greener Government Buildings program which had been scrapped by the previous government.
However, the long-awaited Energy Efficiency and Productivity Strategy, which could drive efficiency improvements in low-income households, and set mandatory efficiency standards at the point of sale or lease, has not yet been delivered. The government is currently rolling out its home efficiency rating tool.
In its first year of office the Andrews government extended and increased Victoria’s energy efficiency target program, a significant step towards making Victoria an energy saving state.
The Andrews government was elected without a water policy and only a thumbnail sketch of how it planned to protect nature. Despite that, over the past two years they have developed a state water plan that begins to address the impacts of climate change on our water supplies and takes the important step of setting up an Aboriginal Water initiative, increasing indigenous access to, and rights over, water resources. However, their commitment to full water recovery targets outlined in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is in question and they have consistently aimed for lower water recovery targets than the 3200 gigalitres (GL) the river system needs.
At the state budget this year they made a welcome commitment of $222 million to river health programs over the next four years, including $40 million for the Riparian Action Plan to protect our riverbanks. This will double the rate of progress on riverbank restoration but there’s still many decades of work ahead of us at this rate.
In their early days in office the ALP put an end to the Coalition’s damaging alpine grazing trials and took steps to reverse the commercialisation of our National Parks. More recently they have commenced a review of threatened species legislation but not yet revealed the extent of their ambition. The Biodiversity Strategy remains under wraps and it is not yet known how far it will go in embedding the preservation of natural capital as an important factor in government decision making. The Forest Industry Taskforce has been established but appears bogged down. In 2017, the Andrews government needs to deliver the Great Forest National Park and a plan to save the Leadbeater’s possum from extinction.
The Andrews government has so far made a solid start on a range of environment and climate issues. They were slow out of the blocks in their first year, but a number of positive announcements in the second year means they are well-placed going into half time.
But as we enter the third year of the four-year Parliamentary term, the Andrews government still has it all to play for. It is the Premiership Quarter, if you like – the chance to make big moves before the approach to the 2018 state election.
Signs are promising, but they still have work to do. And so do we.
Environment Victoria’s full EnviroWatch report for the second year of the Andrews government will be published in January, including an assessment of the significant announcements expected in the final weeks of 2016.
We will also release a review of the Victorian Coalition’s track record on the environment in Opposition in early 2017.