Blog | 21st Jul, 2022

Is this a sign of a race to the top on climate policy in Victoria?

Victorians have been calling for a race to the top on climate policy for many years. Now, just months out from the state election, the Victorian Coalition has finally released some promising elements of their climate policy. In this blog, we unpack what it means.

Victorians have been demanding stronger climate policies from our elected leaders for decades.

Those calls reached new levels at the recent federal election campaign where we saw a wave of climate independents defeat Coalition MPs in seats that had been conservative strongholds for generations.

Now, just months out from the state election and clearly urged along by the massive, community-led uptick in voter support for climate action, the state Coalition has finally released some promising elements of their climate policy. These announcements appear to signal a major shift on climate for Matthew Guy’s opposition.

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The Coalition will need to work hard to convince voters they can be trusted on climate. The last experience Victorians had of a conservative government was when Ted Baillieu decimated Victoria’s wind industry. Under current leader Matthew Guy, the party voted against Victoria’s nation-leading Climate Change Act in 2017 and fought the 2018 election on a platform so anti-renewables that EV described it as ‘going the full Trump.’

Victorians have been calling for a race to the top on climate policy for many years. We should welcome the signs that we might finally have one, and urge all sides of politics to go further, faster.Click To Tweet

Below, we explain what’s in the Coalition’s new climate announcements, how it compares to Labor’s current commitments and what this all means for the upcoming state election.

What is in the Coalition's new Solar Homes policy?

Expanding the solar homes program

The Coalition’s plan to boost the government’s hugely successful Solar Homes program to get more Victorian households powered by solar and batteries is a significant step that will help Victorians become more energy independent and less fossil fuel dependent.

The plan includes a commitment of $4.8bn for one million solar and battery installations by 2035. Unlike the Andrews government’s program, households will be able to claim rebates for both batteries and solar, which will supercharge the rollout of household batteries across the state.

Significantly, the plan doubles the rebates available for rental properties and sets a target of “at least” one hundred thousand rentals. This should encourage landlords to take up the Solar Homes program – uptake among landlords has been woefully low under the current policy.

Additionally, the Coalition has promised to put more solar panels on public infrastructure like government schools and public housing – but we are still waiting to see the details.

Locking in Labor’s emissions targets

Despite having voted against the Climate Change Act in 2017, the Victorian Coalition have now pledged to support and legislate Victoria’s current climate target of cutting emissions by 50% by 2030. This is a welcome change and an important step forward. But in reality, Victoria needs to cut emissions by at least 75% by 2030 to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and limit warming to 1.5 degrees.

Committing to ‘legislate’ the existing target won’t really change anything (under the existing law it can only be changed in ‘exceptional circumstances’ so there’s no obvious need for additional certainty). Perhaps the Coalition simply recognised the lack of trust they command on this issue and are seeking to allay community and industry fears.

The tricky issue of transmission lines

With both major parties now supporting renewables in Victoria, there is no doubt that expanding the transmission line network is a matter of urgency. Speeding up the roll out and winning community support by maximising benefits to host communities while avoiding local environmental impacts is essential.

Thus far, the Coalition have put forward an alternative route for the Western Victoria Transmission Network that would need more community consultation before proceeding and we are concerned this could lead to delays. They have also committed to establishing a “Fixing Victoria’s Grid” taskforce to develop their plans for modernising Victoria’s grid.

Overall, it is not clear whether the Coalition’s approach to transmission will be any better than the Andrews government’s. We are pleased the Coalition is now acknowledging that connecting more renewable energy to our grid is an urgent and serious challenge. But the announcements to date lack critical details and whilst it does suggest they are taking the issue seriously, right now we have more questions than answers.

Getting Victoria off gas

At present, both major parties in Victoria urgently need to show greater leadership in terms of having a clear plan to get us off gas. Unfortunately, there is little sign to date that the Coalition is taking this challenge seriously.

The Andrews government has recently made significant steps in the right direction with its Gas Substitution Roadmap but their plan still lacks solid timelines and has significant gaps. Read more in this blog >>

On the other hand, the Coalition are continuing to spin outdated lines about gas being a ‘transition fuel’ whilst criticising Labor’s Gas Substitution Roadmap. There are dangerous signs that Matthew Guy wants to politicise gas in much the same way that Scott Morrison did when he took a lump of coal into federal parliament.

Unfortunately, neither Labor and the Coalition have ruled out the fantasy of turning coal into hydrogen (and then badging it ‘clean’ despite significant greenhouse emissions) and both are still supporting further conventional onshore gas exploration on a case by case basis.

We will be pushing both sides to commit to getting Victoria completely off gas, starting with a major package to help Victorian households and businesses electrify. The Greens have already made a significant offering here with their ‘One Million Homes Off Gas’ policy, $190m in new grants to support Victorian businesses to go gas-free and a proposed moratorium on new gas connections by 2025.

So ... will we now see a ‘race to the top’ on climate policy in Victoria?

There is no doubt that the Coalition’s recent policy announcements put pressure on Labor to go further on support for renewables. They have taken the Andrews government’s signature Solar Homes program and tripled the budget from $1.3bn to $4.8bn. Their supersized program would be a game-changer for rolling out household batteries around the state.

Competing on who can roll out renewables faster, while necessary, is not the only test of climate leadership – because it will only deal with 40% of Victoria’s emissions.

The next biggest sources are our unhealthy addiction to burning gas for heat and hot water, and burning petrol and diesel to move around in vehicles. The greedy oil and gas industry is working overtime to keep our political parties from kicking this dirty and expensive habit because it suits their profit margins.

The true test at the upcoming state election will be whether a party is prepared to stand against the Exxons of the world and lay out a plan to get Victoria, once and for all, off all fossil fuels. This is a test of political leadership.Click To Tweet

We simply cannot afford any more delays. The next government has the opportunity to deliver clean energy for all Victorians – let’s get on with the job.

Get involved!

Right now, neither major party’s plans will do enough to avert the worst impacts of climate damage.

No matter what, climate is going to be a big issue this upcoming state election — and no party can win without bold plans to tackle climate change.

This is our opportunity to lock in the action we need this decade, with people right across Victoria calling for a race to the top on climate action that benefits the whole community. Come to our election launch on Wednesday 24 August and see how you can be part of it!

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