The Coalition government & the environment


There is no doubt that as a state, we are going rapidly backwards under the Coalition government. Two striking observations about their time in power are the fact that the Coalition has not yet released policy on either the environment or climate change, and the fact that they have walked away from negotiations to phase out production at the Hazelwood power station in the Latrobe Valley.

In spite of everything that climate science tells us about the need to reduce greenhouse emissions, they have gone in the opposite direction. Much of the state with the best wind resource has been shut off to wind energy, the emissions reductions target in the Victorian Climate Bill has been declared ‘aspirational’ and the government is actively talking up the prospect of an export industry for our dirty brown coal.

Since winning office it has steadily pushed a slash and burn operation through the previous government’s environmental legislation, killing off the 20% greenhouse gas emissions reduction target, slashing the solar feed-in tariff, cutting staff in biodiversity, enacting a wind farm policy that effectively knee-caps the industry, and allowing cattle back into the Alpine National Park.

The slow build to the 2014 state election

As a result it is facing a determined and united green movement, which will work hard to make environment and climate key election priorities in 2014.

What makes 2014 different is how things are un-folding in rural Victoria. In a significant strategic error, a growing number of the Coalition’s actions have also badly let down its own supporters, and the ramifications of this are likely to play out far from the usual inner city and leafy green suburbs. Even cost of living campaigns in recently claimed metro seats could be eclipsed by a rural and regional backlash.

In recent times there have been a growing number of proposals for new coal and gas operations across the southern half of the state, with more than 20 exploration licenses currently issued for CSG in Victoria.

In the public realm, the state government ignores the mining issue, while a growing number of local councils have supported motions against coal, gas, or both. The Victorian Farmers Federation, long an ally of the Coalition, has finally come off the fence and called for land owners to have the same right of veto for CSG drilling that they have over wind turbines.

Communities have been fighting new coal proposals in western and southern Victoria and increasingly they are winning. In 2011, communities south of Colac faced off against mining company Mantle, which had the common sense to make a strategic retreat. 

As anger grows across Coalition held seats, and as companies jostle to turn their visions of an enlarged fossil fuel industry into real drill rigs and open cut mines, a key battle ground in the build up to the 2014 state election will be the farmland of southern Victoria.

Getting active

We have been letterboxing sections of a number of electorates to generate awareness about environment and energy policy.

If you would like to help, please contact cam.walker@foe.org.au

 

How is the Coalition going on environment policy?

For an in-depth assessment of how the Coalition is going on renewable energy, please check here.

See below for a quick assessment of what’s good – and what’s not – when it comes to the Victorian Coalition and the environment.

What’s good

 

climate and energy
·    In November 2011, the state government granted $5 million towards a geothermal project in the Surf Coast Region. A further $20 million has been promised if the project meets milestones. The funding comes from the Energy Technology Innovation Strategy (ETIS) allocation which had been announced in the 2011-12 State Budget. You can find our response to this announcement here.
·    In November 2011, planning minister Matthew Guy approved extensions to the planning permits for Union Fenosa Wind Australia renewable energy projects at Hawkesdale and Ryan Corner in western Victoria. Details here.
·    The Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) has been doubled
·    The planning minister has approved the Chepstowe wind farm (May 2011)

State budget:
·    Parks Victoria got a small increase in funding and there were some positive initiatives such as funding for public transport, water recycling and stormwater capture, and local community environmental initiatives and Landcare

on water:
·    In November 2011, the Coalition confirmed that water would only be pumped to Melbourne through the Sugarlof (North South) pipeline when Melbourne's dam storage sits below 30% on November 30, or for fire fighting responses. State Water Minister Peter Walsh said ''water from the north-south
pipeline will only be considered as a last resort for use during
extremely dry conditions or for fire-fighting purposes''.
·    The Coalition has commited to establish a $50 million fund over 4 years to promote water sensitive urban design.
·    It will increase water efficiency rebates by $40 million and extend rebates to new products and small business.
·    It will ensure that all government major projects will require rainwater capture and reuse.
·    It will honour existing Labor Government commitments to additional environmental flows in the Yarra, Thomson, Murray and Snowy Rivers.

environmental management & biodiversity:
·    In late October 2011, the government announced that the state's network of parks and reserves will increase by more than
10,000 hectares under proposed legislation. Further details here.

other issues:
·    The government has increased the state landfill levy, although at this
point it is not clear if the extra revenue that is generated will be
reinvested into local waste management and resource recovery initiatives.

What’s not

climate and energy:
·    Government walked away from negotiations with International power over the staged closure of Hazelwood power station
·    It has now enacted a series of ‘no go’ zones in substantial areas of Victoria’s wind regions to ban wind farm development. This has effectively killed off the current community owned wind farm projects planned for the state. The government has also given a right of veto to individual households within 2 km of a wind turbine, whereby they will have right of veto over whether the turbines are built. However, the government has no intention of giving residents impacted by coal fired power stations a similar right.
·    The regressive wind policies have already cost Victoria an estimated $955 million in lost or stalled investment (as at October 2011, details here). The policy reduces our ability to achieve a rapid transition away from coal and towards renewable energy.
·    The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has given approval for a 300 megawatt (MW) coal-fired power station in the Latrobe Valley (the HRL proposal)
·    The premier says that the 20% greenhouse emissions reduction target in the Victorian Climate Change Bill (which the Coalition voted to support while in opposition) is now ‘aspirational’
·    the government has slashed the state’s solar feed-in tariff, which can be expected to damage confidence in solar power in Victoria and lead to a shrinking in the solar industry
·    the government refuses to consider implementing a moratorium on the emerging coal seam gas (CSG) industry, pending a full assessment of the likely impacts of this industry on land and water, food production and rural communities
·    the government has given Alcoa another 50 years to mine and burn high sulpher coal at Anglesea on the Surf Coast. Further details here.
·    a number of government documents appear to be using the term 'climate variability' instead of 'climate change'. For instance, see the new EPA 5 year plan (page 6)
·    in December 2011, the Victorian Government confirmed its decision to continue excluding ceiling insulation from its VEET energy subsidy scheme for six months.

State budget:
·    There was almost no funding for energy efficiency programs, which is strange given the Coalition’s concerns with the rising cost of energy bills.
·    Defunding of advocacy-based groups is a major step backwards.

on water:
·    the Coalition say they will scrap water restrictions by 2012 regardless of the status of supplies in our water storages.
·    they have in principle support for a number of new dam proposals
·    they do not support the draft Murray Darling Basin Plan.
environmental management & biodiversity:
·    the Government has said it will continue with the alpine grazing ‘research’ project within the Alpine National Park next spring
·    the Coalition has amended the state's national parks legislation to allow firewood collection in red gum national parks along the Murray River. According to the National Parks Association (VNPA), "this decision is unprecedented in the history of national park protection in Victoria. No government has ever moved to weaken or undermine legislation that protects Victoria's national parks estate. It sets a grave precedent that could lead to weakening of other national park rules across Victoria."
·    The State Government has also abolished firewood collection permits and fees, and removed regulations for firewood collection from state forests. The VNPA has identified growers with thousands of tonnes of plantation grown firewood available to meet any firewood shortage. "Not only is this decision anti-conservation, it is anti-farm forestry and anti-competitive."
·    Loggers can seek exemptions from state environment laws protecting endangered species under proposed changes quietly released by the state government in early November 2011.

The proposed amendments to the code for timber production - outlined in a document posted on a government website - hands power to the Secretary of the Department of

Sustainability and Environment.

The secretary would be able to exempt a logging project from the requirements of the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act, which protects the state's endangered and threatened species.


Read more here.

working with the environment movement
·    The government has effectively locked the door on engagement with the environment movement. Meetings are rare and difficult to obtain. As one example, FoE tried for 5 months to arrange a meeting with the Minister for Planning to discuss wind energy policy. The previous government held regular 'roundtable' forums with key Ministers and a range of environmental NGOs and other stakeholders.
·    when reviews of key legislation are announced, environmental NGOs are often not even informed of these reviews.The only conclusion that can be drawn from this pattern is that the government doesn't want to hear the opinions of the environment movement when it comes to policy review and development on key issues relating to the environment.

What’s uncertain

·    It is not clear how the $41 million of new funding over the next four years for the Energy Technology Innovation Strategy identified in the budget will be spent
·    The planning minister seems to be developing a tendency to ‘call in’ development proposals – this made the previous planning minister most unpopular
·    We are still yet to see either a climate change or environment policy from the Coalition
·    The government has announced a review of Sustainability Victoria and there are fears that some key programs administered by SV, such as the Climate Communities initiative, will be wound up as a result of this.
·    On Saturday 22 October, the State Government quietly announced a review of the Climate Change Act 2010 (Vic).
The terms of the Act require a review upon the introduction of a national emissions trading scheme. According to the Minister, the focus of the review will be to ‘avoid duplication and minimise the waste of Victorian resources’. The government's intention regarding this review is not clear. 


This version of the summary was updated on November 23, 2011.


Please feel free to send updates, and details on omissions to cam.walker@foe.org.au
We will update this page as extra details of policy are released.