The election is over, and while we are yet to see the final makeup of the parliament, especially the Upper House, it’s worth reflecting on how and where the environment mattered in the outcome.
This was a different campaign to the one where the Andrews government came to power. In the 2014 state election, the key environmental battleground was in regional Victoria, where communities were organising against gas drilling and the Coalition had closed off the development of renewable energy. In inner Melbourne, communities organised against the East West Link, resulting in a pledge from the ALP that they would refuse to build the tunnel.
In 2018, the campaign was fought on many fronts, with a huge on-the-ground campaign in inner and suburban areas, and climate, renewables (and the associated cost of living debate) and forests playing key roles in the mainstream election campaign:
Firstly, there was the demand that all parties commit to act decisively on climate change. One of the easy ways to start to do this is through promoting the roll out of renewables, and the Andrews Government’s renewable energy target (the VRET) which was supported by The Greens, was a sharp point of differentiation from the Coalition, who planned to kill it if elected. The importance of renewables is recognised by the community, and the Coalition paid the price for their ideological opposition to the VRET, which put thousands of new jobs at risk. Exit polling carried out by Channel 9 News found that “renewables and energy” was the 7th most significant issue for voters, mattering to 23% of people.
People love renewables, and both the ALP and Greens understand this. While the Coalition claimed to support renewables, the cornerstone of their energy commitment was to get rid of the VRET. During the election campaign, The Greens launched a plan that would see Victoria move to 100% renewables for electricity by 2030 and the ALP made a number of major announcements on renewable energy, particularly the plan to power 650,000 households with solar power as part of a package worth $1.6B.
Support for renewables played a significant role in a number of regional seats where FoE helped put clean energy on the agenda. The Yes 2 Renewables (Y2R) collective has been working alongside members of the Gasfield Free movement in South West Coast electorate and drawing attention to the critical role of jobs in renewable energy for the region. On the 15th November Y2R held a candidate forum on Portland Energy Future featuring sitting MPs and major party candidates - the town is home to Keppel Prince, Australia’s largest wind tower manufacturer, which has been able to put on dozens of new workers thanks to the VRET. Matthew Guy’s anti-VRET position caused pain for sitting Liberal MP Roma Britnell who came under fire in local media in the lead-up to the election. Previously a safe Liberal seat, the South-West Coast seat hangs in the balance, with counting still underway.
Equally, we put clean energy on the map in the central northern seat of Ripon.
Coal closure was too hard an issue for the ALP, so they kicked that can down the road, putting off setting emission reduction targets (ERTs) before the election. But the Government will be setting ERTs for 2025 and 2030 next year, which provides an opportunity for them to get serious about mapping a pathway which will see our state move rapidly away from our current reliance on fossil fuels to meet energy needs. The Coalition committed to building 500 MW of baseload power, which was likely to see either a gas or coal fired power station built. This policy didn't win them much praise, with few accepting that new fossil fuel power stations are likely to be built in Victoria.
The Coalition announced that it intended to lift the moratorium on onshore gas drilling as soon as possible, whereas the ALP promised to enshrine the ban on fracking in the state's Constitution.
Transport was a major issue in the election. The community clearly supports major projects like the Melbourne Metro Tunnel and the Rail Loop planned to circle the middle suburbs of the city.
But opposition remains strong to the ALP’s mega road projects like the West Gate Tunnel and the North East Link. It is clear that many people see major roads as providing just a short term fix to traffic congestion that will badly impact their local environment and quality of life.
What our city needs is massive investment in public transport with projects like the Metro Tunnel. On Saturday Labor gained ground in the marginal seats already benefiting from funding for Skyrail. Seats with promises for the suburban rail loop and more level crossing removals swung strongly to Labor. Meanwhile seats with mega roads in the works were held by the ALP, but with swings below the state average. Galaxy exit polling identified that public transport was of high concern for 37% of people, compared with roads at 29%.
In terms of regional Victoria, there was a welcome focus on commitments to rail from both major parties.
But it was forests that became a cornerstone of the campaign in metro Melbourne, especially in the inner marginal seats. Protection of nature proved to be a massive hole in the Andrews Government’s otherwise progressive policies. Andrews completed his term holding one of the worst records of any Premier when it comes to protecting nature in new parks and reserves.
Forests was an issue for Labor during the 2014 election and prompted the Premier to establish a forest industry taskforce to examine the economic issues facing the logging industry, and the creation of new national parks.
Despite clear agreements being reached by the stakeholders about these issues, Labor has still not acted and logging has continued.
Polling consistently showed resounding support for the creation of the Great Forest National Park, and the Emerald Link in East Gippsland.
The Greens back the creation of new National Parks, whilst the Liberal's opposed these plans and pushed for a weakening of endangered wildlife protections. FoE worked hard in many Labor/ Liberal seats early in the campaign, before focusing on inner marginals in the final months. We distributed more than 220,000 leaflets across the seats from Prahran to Brunswick, including 202,000 direct to houses, and forest protection was a major issue in the public debate, candidate forums, and local conversations. We held info stalls, projections, did banner drops and other stunts, leafleted railway stations and spoke with thousands of people.
After a plan to transition logging out of native forests was internally leaked to the Herald Sun, the Andrews government clearly decided that forests fell into the ‘too hard’ basket and failed to deliver anything on forests.
The state-owned logging agency VicForests is still out of control, and in the final days of the campaign ABC 7.30 exposed damning revelations of widespread and systemic illegal logging in areas that VicForests has not been legally designated to log.
The welcome commitment to commence planning for a Sea to Summit walking track in East Gippsland failed to protect areas along the proposed route from logging. Logging on the route of the proposed Sea of Summit walking track is occurring now.
The undeniable fact is that support for protecting forests goes well beyond the inner marginals. Statewide polling and polling in sandbelt and inner city seats all show strong support for forest protection, particularly from Labor voters. Even logging industry commissioned research shows most people in regional do not support native forest logging.
The ALP now has a convincing mandate to continue with its socially progressive agenda. With the mountain ash forests on Melbourne’s doorstep on the verge of collapse from over-logging, creation of these parks and action to reform and transition the forestry industry remains unfinished business for a government that knows it needs to deliver on forest protection.
Of course, without knowing the make up of the Upper House we can’t forecast what’s next.
On one hand, having a government being returned on a progressive agenda is a good thing.
But the apparent loss of most seats currently held by The Greens can only be bad for the environment. The Greens have consistently pushed a pro environment agenda and acted to amplify the voices of the community and environment movement on key climate, energy and conservation issues.
Connected to the likely changes in representation by The Greens is the probable rise of micro parties that don’t have an environmental agenda, and possibly a number of independents whose positions are not yet clear. There is still a lot of counting to be done before we have a clear picture of what’s next.
But these changes could have some interesting implications for the environment. As one example, rivers didn't feature in the mainstream election campaign in Melbourne but it has long been a focus for regional communities. Notably, votes in the seat of Mildura will go down to the line as independent candidate, Ali Cupper, threatens to unseat Nationals MP Peter Crisp who has held the seat since 2006.
Ali Cupper has her ear to the ground, and could be a good ally for Rivers should she win the seat, so watch this space.
We hope there will be a range of strong progressive voices in the Upper House once the results are all in.
FoE’s campaign to encourage the Andrews government to ‘rethink the Link’ (North East Link) can be found here.
Our campaign agenda and media releases from the 2018 state election campaign can be found here.
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