The Andrews government environment policy – a first take

Victorians who care about the environment may feel that they are in better hands with a Labor Government.

Victorians who care about the environment may feel that they are in better hands with a Labor Government.  Although the failure to commit to a Great Forest National Park showed a disappointing lack of vision and leadership, the ALP did make a number of positive and worthwhile commitments. Certainly the competition was not strong, with the outgoing Coalition government doing its best to undermine or ignore a number of Victoria’s environmental protections and failing once again to release an environment policy. But now that Labor is in power will they do any better? What reforms did Labor promise going into this election and what can we expect from an Andrews Labor Government over the next 4 years?

Nature protection

Labor has promised to review the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and develop a biodiversity strategy[1]. Reform of Victoria’s biodiversity laws is desperately needed. It will require thoughtful, innovative solutions that will not only improve biodiversity outcomes, but that can and must be implemented by government in order to avoid a repeat of the chronically ignored FFG Act.

The new government has also committed to terminating the previous government’s trial of grazing in the Alpine National Park.

Native vegetation clearing laws

Labor has indicated[2] that it will fix the schmozel that is the Coalition’s native vegetation ‘permitted clearing’ scheme. An appalling outcome for all involved (not to mention for native vegetation) the permitted clearing laws allocated most of the State into the ‘go ahead and clear’ category, but at the same time made the system so confusing that local councils, offset providers, clearing permit applicants and environmental consultants are all struggling to use the system. The online maps which now determine whether you can or can’t clear are blatantly wrong, with known threatened species not appearing on the map (and therefore cleared without anyone realising), and other threatened species being included in the maps when they don’t appear there at all. Labor has consistently raised objection to the laws, going so far as to vote down a Bill that supported the scheme, and so hopefully will make fixing these laws a priority. In fact what is needed is separating native veg laws from planning legislation where they do not fit and continue to create problems, and including them in standalone biodiversity legislation.

A Marine and Coastal Act

There’s also a commitment in Labor’s election policy to establishing a new Marine and Coastal Act to bring together marine and coastal protection in one comprehensive regime. This legislation will presumably build on Victoria’s Coastal Management Act 1995 to include offshore marine reserves within the State governments responsibility.

Hazelwood inquiry into deaths from mine fire pollution

Labor has unequivocally stated it will re-open the Hazelwood mine fire inquiry to look at whether pollution from the fire has caused deaths in the Latrobe Valley community. Our client, Voices of the Valley, was instrumental in bringing this about. This week we and VotV released the terms of reference that Labor must adopt for the inquiry if the community is to get the answers and assistance they deserve. The inquiry needs to commence as soon as possible – within the next three months – as there is significant ongoing distress within the Latrobe Valley community that people are continuing to be affected now by the pollution that was released.

Climate Change

Labor’s election platform makes some big commitments here. It states that Labor will make Victoria ‘the leading state in dealing with and responding to climate change’. This is not in itself a hard task given how deficient all States are on the climate change front, but its specific commitments are promising.  This includes strengthening the Climate Change Act, creating emission reduction targets that it will actually meet, expanding the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target, ‘assessing government financial contributions to major projects against sustainability criteria’, plus a host of energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives.

In light of the Federal Government’s disinterest in reducing Australia’s emissions and the reluctance of the other States to step up, there is a real opportunity here for Victoria to lead the country on climate action, investment in renewables and green job creation. Labor will need to legislate a binding emission reduction target that is based on science, accompanied by significant and concrete measures to achieve the target. It should re-establish the VRET, so that our renewable energy industry is supported. It should also provide a clear legislative basis that requires government to make decisions that will reduce Victoria’s emissions. In fact here’s one we prepared earlier – The Climate Charter. Problem solved!

Wind farm laws

Labor has said it will ‘review the anti-wind farm laws’[3] that the Coalition government enacted that ban wind farms within 2kms of homes and create no go zones in many of the areas that are prime wind farm territory. Recently Labor has clarified what it will actually do – reduce the 2km restriction to 1km, and leave the other no-go zones as they are. In fact what Labor should do is rip up the anti-wind farm laws altogether and make wind farms subject to the same rules as all other developments – i.e. to be encouraged but assessed on the merits of each proposal, by local councils, with appropriate protections for native veg & threatened species, and consideration of local community views.

East west link

This one is confusing. It appears that the government will not go ahead with East West link, but it is not entirely clear. The Brumby Labor government was the one that created the major transport projects fast tracking legislation that made this whole thing possible in the first place, so it certainly doesn’t mind a bit of speedy infrastructure approval. However it was the Coalition government that amended those laws to allow the East West link to be approved even more quickly, with even less scrutiny. I don’t expect Labor to reinstate the protections in the transport project approval laws, but as to whether they do in fact go ahead with East West link we will have to wait and see.

Yarra River Protection Act

Last week Labor committed to a “Yarra River Protection Act to guard the river corridor from inappropriate development” along with a Trust to manage it.  This is great news for all those native species that live (or try to live!) in and along the Yarra from the headwaters to the mouth. Its also great news for all the people that enjoy the Yarra corridor – walking, kayaking, running, riding, picnicking etc. With good protections in place we might even be able to swim in the Yarra again and see platypus in the city.

Environmental Justice Plan

There are so many more issues I could cover, but this one is close to our hearts and therefore will get a mention. Labor’s election platform commits to an ‘Environmental Justice Plan’ which will help the community access information about pollutants from nearby industry and take polluters to court. It will enact Australia’s first ‘environmental right to know’ law which will require reporting of pollution and contamination information to communities  and ‘amend relevant legislation to ensure that members of the community have legal standing to seek enforcement of the law and review of Government decisions, including reviews in the public interest’.  We will be watching this one closely on your behalf.

View Document Our Environment Our Future (PDF 3.35MB)

View Document Victorian Labor Platform 2014 (PDF 2MB)

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