Unfinished business: A 100 day plan for the Andrews government

100_Days_Plan_Protect_Native_Forests.pngThe Andrews Labor government has delivered and promised an impressive and comprehensive list of environmental policies both in its first four years in power and during the state election campaign. These include:

• Creating the Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) and setting targets for 2020, 2025, and 2030

• Creating the first ever Australian permanent ban on the process of fracking, and promising to enshrine it in the state’s constitution

• Maintaining the moratorium on any onshore conventional gas drilling

• Strengthening the Victorian Climate Change Act and enshrining a target of zero emissions by 2050 in legislation

• Committing $1.3B to a visionary Solar Homes program, which aims to provide half price solar panels at no up-front cost to 650,000 homes

• Starting work on the Metro Tunnel

• Committing to a 90 km suburban rail loop

There are a number of environmental issues that remain unfinished business from the previous term of the Andrews government. We outline them below and urge the government to move on these within the first three months of the new term to allow it to then get on to key new initiatives and policy:

Whole of government

Announce support for an inquiry into climate change impacts on the state of Victoria

The Federal Coalition government’s failure to rein in emissions leaves Victorian communities exposed to climate change impacts. Our state is expected to experience intensifying heatwaves, droughts, bushfires, and extreme weather events, in addition to rising sea-levels, into the future.

A Parliamentary Inquiry into the climate change impacts on Victoria is urgently needed. A parliamentary inquiry - similar to the inquiry undertaken by the Andrews government on unconventional gas development - would create a process for communities and key stakeholders to raise their concerns and detail climate impacts that are already occurring. It would give parliamentarians an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of current and projected climate impacts on all sectors of the economy, infrastructure, public health, and ecology. And, finally, it would generate a body of evidence to inform upcoming decisions on Victoria’s first Emissions Reduction Targets (for 2025 and 2030).

Undertake preparatory work for Victoria’s first Climate Budget

Climate change is the great challenge of our time. The state budget must be modernised for Victoria to get a clear picture of the scale of the challenge and ensure governments make wise investments in the future.

Each year, the Victorian government allocates billions of public investment in infrastructure, government-supported programs, and services. While the government has a clear grasp of expenditure on education, health, infrastructure, or law enforcement, there’s currently limited knowledge around climate change expenditure and the ways in which climate change impacts will affect the budget in coming decades.

In 2017, ratings agency Moody’s stated that banks, cities, and states that fail to account for climate risk could face credit rating downgrades. Standard and Poor’s are increasing their analysis of climate risk on global corporate performance.

The impact of climate risk on Victoria’s credit rating is unknown, yet has the potential to be significant as the state is currently experiencing a range of climate change impacts that are projected to worsen.

The Victorian budget has evolved over the years to deal with the changing context and issues. The Cain government modernised the Victorian budget in the 1980s. It brought greater transparency to the process by linking expenditure to a broader economic strategy and later including social justice thinking. Victoria became the first state to adopt accrual accounting under Premier Kennett.

The Victorian Climate Change Act 2017 introduces a new set of policy objectives and an updated set of guiding principles to embed climate change in government decision making. Friends of the Earth have identified two key ways in which the Victorian government can modernise the budget to meet obligations under the Climate Change Act 2017:

Greater transparency: There is a clear need for the government to understand how expenditure contributes towards direct mitigation, indirect mitigation, adaptation, and disaster response. This analysis can form a baseline and allow government departments and stakeholders to track trends.

Better accounting: Adopt carbon emissions valuation (ie: an internal shadow carbon price) to account for the greenhouse gas emission liabilities of state government activities. This would be incorporated into cost-benefit analysis of government programs and investments.

The Andrews government can strengthen Victoria’s climate change response by undertaking preparatory work for a Climate Budget. This would entail:

• Department of Treasury and Finance to undertake an audit of budget 2018-19 to understand how much expenditure is being allocated to direct mitigation; indirect mitigation; adaptation; and disaster response.

• Trial the application of a carbon emissions valuation (i.e: shadow carbon price) over the next financial year. This would apply a set carbon price to the greenhouse gas emissions linked to government activities. The trial would allow the government and Department of Treasury and Finance to put a dollar figure on the greenhouse liabilities of government.

• Establish a responsible unit within Department of Treasury and Finance to drive the process and report back to government and departments. The position would be a 0.5 FTE position at VPS level 4-5.

A not-for-profit energy retailer

The government has already acted to increase the power of consumers to get better deals from electricity providers. But price gouging remains a problem across the industry.

Establishing a publicly owned, not for profit energy retailer whose brief was to deliver lower cost renewable energy to consumers would provide tangible benefits including driving demand for renewables, and assisting the energy transition, while supporting low income communities and individuals who are struggling to pay their bills.

In the first 100 days, the Andrews government should announce the intention to develop a business case for establishing such a retailer.

Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions (DJPR)

Appoint a Minister for Transition

There is no doubt that the native forest industry, in its current form, is unsustainable. Using native forests for pulp does not make sense in the 21st century. We need to act to steer the industry onto a sustainable footing, rather than continuing with business as usual until the industry crashes.

Accordingly, the government should appoint a Minister for Transition, who is responsible for overseeing the required transition, integrate this work into similar government initiatives, such as those driven by the Latrobe Valley Authority, and develop and enact a comprehensive transition plan for the industry.

There should be an allocation made in the 2019/20 state budget to establish an Office of Transition to support the minister.

Renewable energy in Gippsland

There are two obvious ways to support new job creation, and aid the energy transition at the same time:

1/ Commit to new renewable energy in the Latrobe Valley and surrounding region (West Gippsland, the Strzelecki Ranges to the immediate south of the Valley and the South Gippsland Coast. Although the Victorian Wind Atlas does not identify all these areas as having a strong wind resource, with developments in technology, and closer consideration of the wind resource, several locations in the region could well be suitable.

2/ Announce state government support for the Star of the South (SotS) offshore wind project proposed for the coast to the south of Yarram.

It would be the largest offshore wind farm in the world and, in a very real sense, be a game changer for the energy system in Victoria. The project’s predicted generation capacity totals 2,000 MW. The largest remaining coal powered generator in the Latrobe Valley is Loy Yang A, which has a maximum capacity of 2,200 MW. SotS would provide for the energy needs of 1.4 million households. Of considerable significance to the Latrobe Valley community is the fact that the project would create an estimated 12,000 jobs in the construction phase and 300 ongoing positions.

At present, the project is being delayed by the federal minister for Energy Angus Taylor, who is sitting on the commonwealth approvals. The state government should provide in-principle support for the project and publicly pressure the federal government to get on with providing the necessary approvals so that the state level assessments can get underway in 2019.

Resources portfolio

Rule out funding further fossil fuel expansion

So far, Australian tax payers have spent more than $1.3 billion on supporting research and development of carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Yet after many years of research, there is no timeline of when this technology might be available at scale and at a cost that is viable, so as to keep existing power stations open or facilitate new uses of coal like the coal to hydrogen project planned for the Latrobe Valley.

It is time to stop funding CCS and other fossil fuel technology. The government should rule out making any further allocations in state budgets towards supporting this technology.

Rule out opening up new areas to offshore oil and gas exploration

Through the Climate Change Act 2017, the state government is committed to a long-term emissions reduction target of net zero by 2050. This means that overall emissions must be brought down, year on year, and no major new sources of emissions should be brought on-line.

Accordingly, opening up new oil and gas production would be at odds with the Act, and could influence the emission reduction targets that need to be set for 2025 and 2030.

Additionally, climate science makes it abundantly clear that time is running out if we want to avoid catastrophic climate change.
For instance, research from the Climate Council shows that to have just a 50:50 chance of preventing a 2°C rise in global temperature, 88% of global coal reserves, 52% of gas reserves and 35% of oil reserves are un-burnable and must be left in the ground.

A 2°C rise in temperature has long been considered a threshold that should not be crossed given the potential for catastrophic consequences.

The government should cancel the tender process that is currently open for offshore oil and gas exploration in the Otway Basin in western Victoria.

Transport portfolio

Commit to powering Melbourne’s metropolitan train network with renewable energy

Following the announcement of the popular Solar Trams initiative, the next logical step is for the government to power Melbourne’s trains with renewable energy. Melbourne’s metropolitan train network is the second largest electricity user in the state after the Alcoa aluminium smelter in Portland, and as estimated by the Public Transport Users Association (PTUA) consumes 450 Gigawatt hours (GWh) every year. Due to the high carbon intensity of the Victorian grid this means the train network does make a significant contribution to polluting greenhouse gas emissions. As Victoria’s ageing fleet of coal power plants retire and the transport network expands, it is vital that the electricity needs of the train network are secured by building new sources of renewable energy. Doing this would be an Australian first and in line with leading jurisdictions like London and the Netherlands.

The Andrews government should commit to running a tender or auction for a new renewable energy project to cover the electricity demands of the metropolitan train network, including any projected increases to electricity demand.

Rescope the North East Link project

Melbourne’s growth is being felt with increased congestion and activity in many suburbs. Every suburb in Melbourne deserves the right to transport options, including world-class public transport. However, historic lack of investment in certain sections of Melbourne has left residents with no choice but using car transport, exacerbating the increasing congestion across the city.

The Andrews government needs to commit to a comprehensive assessment of transport options for the North Eastern suburbs, before determining the transport infrastructure priorities.

Pushing forward with the North East Link fails to adequately investigate other long-term transport solutions for congestion in this area of Melbourne. As the biggest road project our city has seen, it needs scrutiny to ensure it will deliver. It involves significant works to widen the Eastern Freeway, far beyond the current publicity about the tunnel from the north (M80 Ring Road) to the south (Eastern Freeway).

We can expect additional traffic filling these new lanes and roads in the north, eastern and inner Melbourne suburbs. We urge slowing the process to give communities time to understand the project scope, the price tag, and implications for the local environment. The full impacts have not been scoped or assessed, and public awareness of the scale of works is still very limited.

In order to ensure the community can have adequate feedback on this project, and be engaged in the future discussions, the North East Link project must be slowed. We would commend a comprehensive assessment of transport options for the North Eastern suburbs, before determining the transport infrastructure priorities and committing funds for NEL.

Start planning works for Suburban Rail Loop with Melbourne Metro 2

We welcome the visionary Suburban Rail Loop project for Melbourne. We look forward to commencement of planning as soon as possible, in order to realise the benefits quickly.

The integration of this project into the broader network plans is vital. We encourage a meaningful opportunity to shape the priorities, including with city planners, service providers, workers, local residents and community members.

We strongly support project delivery to priority communities first. This means ensuring our fastest growing western and northern suburbs. Many of these suburbs are currently black spots for reliable and convenient public transport. Every suburb in Melbourne deserves world-class public transport. This view is consistent with the ALP’s commitment to equity.

Current Public Transport Victoria (PTV) network planning urges the commencement of Melbourne Metro 2 (MM2) to continue improving connections across our city. This is a tunnel from Newport to Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend, Southern Cross, Flagstaff, Parkville and Fitzroy. It is vital that project planning starts so we can future proof our growing city.

We ask the Andrews government to commit to planning for MM2 in 2019, in line with the planning for the equally vital future Suburban Rail Loop.

Environment, energy and climate change portfolio

Kuark.jpg

Extend the Victorian Climate Change Innovation Partnerships (VCCIP) grant program

In 2017 the Andrews government established a $4.3 million Victorian Climate Change Innovation Partnerships (VCCIP) Grant Scheme to provide start-up funding to community groups, local councils, businesses, for the development of innovative solutions to the challenges of climate change.

The VCCIP grant scheme unearthed strong demand for state government investment in climate change projects. The scheme received more than 240 applications. The VCCIP grant scheme is dramatically oversubscribed. The 240+ applications represent a request up to $72 million yet the $4.3 million scheme could only support 24 projects.

Another state government initiative to enhance Victoria’s capacity to cut emissions in the electricity sector—the $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund (NEJF) —has also seen strong demand. Round one saw 24 projects receive funding of $5.9 million, and round two, 21 projects receive $6.8 million. The third round is currently underway.

Friends of the Earth have called on the state government build on the successful Victorian Climate Change Innovation Partnerships (VCCIP) Grant Scheme and New Energy Jobs Fund (NEJF) by establishing a Victorian Climate Change Action Fund (VCCAF) of at least $100 million.

The fund would provide support for community, business, local government, and non-government organisation initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emissions and enhance resilience to climate change impacts. The Victorian Climate Change Action Fund could distribute grants in yearly rounds following the approach taken to the New Energy Jobs Fund.

Commit to announcing the emission reduction targets (ERTs) for 2025 and 2030 during 2019

Victoria’s strengthened Climate Change Act requires the government to set interim Emissions Reduction Targets (ERTs) for 2025 and 2030 to set the trajectory towards the legislated target of zero-net emission by 2050.

When the Andrews Labor government released Victoria’s Climate Change Framework it committed to announcing the state’s first interim ERTs in 2018. Despite the urgency of climate change, the need to set the direction for the state, and its original promise, the government subsequently ruled out setting the first ERTs this year.

The Andrews government can build on its leadership on climate change with a public commitment to set interim ERTs by the end of 2019. There is no time to waste when it comes to reining in emissions and tackling climate change.

Support for implementing regional Zero-Net Emissions Plans

Hepburn Shire was successful in being selected to be the Z-NET pilot for Victoria under the Sustainability Victoria Take2 Community Transitions Pilot Program. Now that the plan for how the Hepburn Shire can achieve zero-net emissions by 2030 is complete, lead organisations require funding for implementation.

Ongoing financial support for the Hepburn Z-NET project will road-test a model for how municipalities across the state can achieve zero-net emissions in their local economies. This crucial work will help Victoria meet the legislated target of zero-net emissions by 2050.

Friends of the Earth encourages the minister to provide funding for the project out of the department’s discretionary budget or the 2019-20 state budget.

Greenlight renewable energy projects that meet planning requirements and have community support

During the election, the Andrews government committed to establishing a Victorian Renewable Energy Target of 50% by 2030. In addition to projects that already have planning approval, there are a number of wind and solar farms proposed around the state.

To ensure Victoria can reach it’s long-term renewable energy targets using the best technology, the Andrews government should give the greenlight to renewable energy projects that meet planning and environment requirements and have the support of the community.

Unlock community led renewable energy

Communities have a vital role to play in the shift to renewable energy. Following the 2014 state election the incoming Andrews government made a commitment to supporting community wind and repealing the worst aspect of the previous Liberal government’s anti-wind laws.

Groups like the Macedon Ranges Sustainability Group (MRSG) have long held a vision for establishing a community led wind farm in their region, which has been held up by no-go zones established as part of the Baillieu-Napthine Liberal government’s anti-wind laws. Communities who want to participate in the renewable energy economy should not be restricted from doing so. The Andrews government can unlock the potential of community energy by enabling the development of community led renewable energy projects in “no-go zones” established by the Baillieu-Napthine government.

Establish a mid-scale community energy incentive

Over 27 communities across Victoria, from the Latrobe Valley to Daylesford, are pursuing community energy projects. Due to the chaotic energy policy environment created by successive failures at the federal level, these community led projects are at risk. The Andrews government has shown leadership by running Australia’s largest renewable energy auction to secure new large-scale wind and solar projects which are over 10 megawatts, and incentivising small-scale generation through the Solar Homes initiative. The next step is to incentivise mid-scale renewable energy generation led by communities.

Community groups want to build, own and operate mid-scale renewable energy projects that deliver long-term economic benefits in the form of jobs and community income. Like large-scale renewable energy developers community led projects require policy certainty to turn their vision into reality. The Andrews government should establish a mid-scale community energy incentive, that would encourage the expansion of this industry by ensuring income security for these projects. This would enable the development of mid-scale projects in the range of 1-10 megawatts that are not incentivised under the Victorian Renewable Energy Auctions Scheme (VREAS), national Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme (SRES) or Victoria’s Solar Homes initiative. Ambition is key.

Following the announcement of a Victorian Renewable Energy Target (VRET) of 50% by 2030, the Victorian government should set aside a portion of the VRET for community led renewable energy projects in the order of 10%, in line with comparable jurisdictions such as Scotland.

Formalise protection for special parts of Kuark Forest informally ‘protected’ last term

Minister D’Ambrosio informally protected small parts of the Kuark forest in far east Gippsland in March 2017. This was a welcome step in the right direction, but remains unfinished.

The Minister told ABC news that the government would eventually move to legislate the area for permanent protection as part of the Errinundra National Park. This has not been done and should be completed within the first 100 days of office, whilst further work is done to create the Emerald Link in its entirety.

Release the independent review of the logging regulator

DELWP has shown systemic failure to appropriately regulate logging in Victoria. DELWP has demonstrably proved themselves to be pro-logging and anti-environment, despite their responsibility to protect the environment and ensure logging operations are compliant with the law.

DELWP has been an extremely weak, incompetent and captured regulator. They have deliberately sat on logging breach investigations until limitation periods expire, they have actively resisted prosecuting VicForests for serious breaches and they have rejected scientific advice calling for greater protections for threatened wildlife.

In September 2018 Minister D’Ambrosio requested that the Secretary of the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) commission an independent review into regulation of logging.

The review was sparked by the Department’s failed prosecution of VicForests who had been charged with illegally logging protected rainforest. The prosecution failed after the Department bungled their paperwork, incorrectly filling out the charge sheet, and the matter was thrown out of court.

There is an urgent need to get to the bottom of DELWP’s systemic failure to act as a fair and transparent regulator. Minister D’Ambrosio’s independent review has begun the process of shining a light on these long standing problems in DELWP. The findings and recommendations of the review must be publicly released with a meaningful opportunity for stakeholder comments on next steps. Importantly any proposed regulatory reform measures must be evaluated against the social, economic and environmental costs of continuing logging in native forests.

Release the Greater Glider Action statement and immediately protect key habitats

Minister D’Ambrosio listed the Greater Glider as vulnerable to extinction on the Flora and Fauna Guarantee (FFG) Act in June 2017. An action plan for the species has still not been released and logging continues in high quality habitat.

The Scientific Advisory Committee recommended the Minster list the species as Vulnerable and noted in the advice that accompanied the listing that gliders die when their home range is logged.

The SAC called on the Minister to use her powers under the FFG Act to implement an interim conservation order and stop logging in the Strathbogie ranges. This advice was rejected by DELWP and the Strathbogie ranges was logged.

In June 2018 the ABC exposed a cruel and unethical experiment being conducted by VicForests in East Gippsland. The experiment is known as the ‘Greater Glider project’ and involves logging Greater Glider habitat to see how many survive. VicForests told ABC news that the experiment was ‘very likely‘ to kill gliders.

A consultation draft of the Greater Glider action statement must be released immediately for public comment and strong protections that prevent logging of areas where Greater Gliders are known to inhabit must be implemented immediately.

Time is running out for the Greater Glider and Minister D’Ambrosio must act swiftly. Too much time has been lost due to a lack of action in the last term of government.

Immediately stop logging on the Sea to Summit forest trail and place moratorium on high environmental value forests in East Gippsland

In the final week of the election campaign the Andrews government announced a commitment to commence planning for the Sea to Summit walking trail in East Gippsland. The trail is proposed to link the coastal town of Bemm River to the summit of Mt Goongerah (Mt. Ellery), one of the highest mountains in the far east of Victoria.

The trail is part of the Emerald Link proposal, a proposal seeking to link up existing protected areas and parks in the far east of the state to create a continuous network of protected forests from the alps to the coast.

The Andrews Labor government committed $1.5 million to plan and establish the Sea to Summit trail, however the commitment did not include any conservation measures to protect forests currently earmarked for logging on the route of the proposed trail.
Whilst a commitment to commence planning for the trail was welcomed by environment groups and Bushwalking Victoria, serious concerns were raised about the lack of protection for forests along the route of the trail.

Logging in high environmental value forests along the route is occurring now, just after the re-election of the Andrews government, and logging was occurring at the time the government announced funding to commence planning the trail.

Logging by state owned company VicForests is degrading the special values that the Sea to Summit trail would showcase. Time is running out for the forests in the proposed Emerald Link and unless logging ceases along the route of the proposed Sea to Summit trail, it’s hard to see how a project like this will be successful. No one wants to walk through logged and burnt forests.

Logging along the route of the proposed trail must immediately stop and plans to log other areas on the route must be scrapped. A moratorium on all high environmental value forests in East Gippsland must be put in place whilst steps are taken to create to Emerald Link and Sea to Summit trail.

Hold VicForests accountable for widespread forest theft and illegal logging

In the final week of the election campaign a special report on the ABC 7.30 program exposed widespread illegal logging in Victoria. The investigation revealed that for several years government logging agency VicForests has been logging forests that have not been legally allocated to them. Legal experts describe this is ‘tantamount to stealing timber from public forests’.

Instead of taking these extremely concerning findings seriously, Minister D'Ambrosio and Minister Pulford made a weak statement and DELWP produced a dubious excuse. 

They argue that the data displaying the extent of the area of allocated forests, that was given to the ABC by the government, is not used to legally enforce the law and make sure VicForests is not logging where it is not permitted to log. Instead they argue that a low resolution paper map is used for enforcement purposes and that map is so hard to read that it is impossible to tell if VicForests is logging within or outside areas it has been allocated.

Legal experts say that if this is the case the Minister has no way of knowing where the allocated forests are and where they are not and that means all of VicForests logging could be illegal.

Minister D’Ambrosio must immediately act to clarify this situation and confirm whether DELWPs fuzzy map excuse is acceptable. The Minister should establish a thorough review into VicForests logging outside of the allocation order and immediately direct DELWP to prosecute VicForests for logging outside of the allocation.