Mt Gellibrand

At the 2014 Victorian election, the green battle ground will be a paddock, not a forest

The political terrain around environmental issues is shifting.

During the 2010 Victorian election campaign it was clear that the Coalition decided it couldn’t get ahead of the Greens and ALP on environmental issues and so ran silent, leaving the debate largely to an inner electorate argument about Hazelwood. Its ‘no target’ approach meant it tried to appear moderate, constantly promising to release a full environment and climate policy (which never surfaced) and even pledging support for several government initiatives.

But after 18 months in power the Baillieu Government’s real environmental agenda has become all too apparent.

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.

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.

public forum on CSG, Modella, West Gippsland, March 2012

Take the coal seam gas (CSG) issue for starters. A big issue across the ‘coal belt’ but barely reported in metro media. What is fascinating here is that rural communities are finding common cause with green activists, just as with the Lock the Gate Alliance in the northern states. Coalition representatives have been noticeable by their absence in their own constituencies at forums and in the media debate, while the people speaking at public meetings are more likely to be environmental activists. Federal and state Greens MPs have played a key role in a number of community campaigns against coal and gas. The ALP has called for a moratorium on CSG. Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Peter Ryan, a National in a seat where concern over CSG and new coal is huge, continues to declare that existing legislation will protect farmer’s rights.

No astute political observer can believe that this position will be tenable for much longer.

And it gets worse for the government:

The recent announcement of the closure of Department of Primary Industries offices at Ararat, Birchip, Camperdown, Cobram, Kyneton, Ouyen and St Arnaud is a further body blow to many small towns.

The same applies to the two kilometre wind buffer and ‘no go’ zones that are already resulting in lost investment and jobs for local tradespeople in small towns throughout the state.

Slashing the solar feed-in tariff will prevent struggling rural and regional families from being able to reduce their household energy bills and hedge against future price rises.

The government clearly thinks it can get away with implementing retrograde environmental policies but I suggest they have overlooked two key factors that may yet come back to haunt them in 2014.

The first is the assumption that Liberal voters don’t care about the environment. Certainly not all do. But as any politician will know, it’s about margins, not absolute numbers.  And with Ted Baillieu’s approval rating already plummeting, 2014 is shaping to be a close election.

In some electorates, up to 30% of Liberal voters allocate their preferences to the Greens even when the Liberals have issued a how to vote card against them. A common statistic cited is that the preference ‘bleed’ is about 1 voter in 5. For those who pay attention to environmental debates, the Baillieu government is on the nose and this could well impact on where many Liberal voters put their preferences on election day.

The second element was harder to spot back in 2010 as it only came into focus last year. 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 offagainst mining company Mantle, which had the common sense to make a strategic retreat.

Mt Gellibrand
Mt Gellibrand, near Colac: a wind farm has commenced construction here, while CSG exploration has met stiff resistance in the area

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.

Next week the final report of the Inquiry into Greenfields Mineral Exploration and Project Development in Victoria will be tabled in parliament. This is the government’s opportunity to show it is listening to community concerns.

The government must understand that anything less than a moratorium on coal and gas and full inquiry will not be enough to alleviate community concerns.

Cam Walker is campaigns co-ordinator with Friends of the Earth.

meeting against a coal exploration application, Mirboo North, July 2012

6 thoughts on “At the 2014 Victorian election, the green battle ground will be a paddock, not a forest

  1. Excellent overview of the developing situation in Victoria. The Vic government has been a huge environmental abandonment of Victorians.

    Some will recall how Jeff Kennett brought Victoria back from the brink. Effective as he was, it was the regions’ “kick ‘ that changed government. That kick is still there, and just as capable, maybe more so, of delivering a terminal blow to this government.

    Baillieus political should should understood this potential to de-throne him.

  2. I normally vote National – I certainly did in 2010. But our local member Russell Northe has done nothing to get my vote. I haven’t heard anything from him about the threat of coal mining near Toongabbie.

    1. I voted Green, but unfortunately the seats changed hands in over what every news source was saying due to “disgruntled train commuters”.. i can’t say that anyone is grumbling any less.. but the idea that just because your’e metro melbourne, that your ultimate vote is on the current train services and not education, environment or health.. bleh! oh hazelwood 😦 *sigh* thank goodness for the greens 🙂 a better world has less coal mines and no csg

  3. The Bailleui government in my opinion is Jeff Kennet mark 11 where we ill lose more public assets to vested interests, developers and international companies.
    Kenntt took over the councils, appointed commissioners to sell off council (local people public assets) to vested interests and then amalgamated them into larger corporate councils.
    What the public does not understand the “new” council are corporations with tax numbers, etc.; lack transparency or accountability to the public. also it is using the Victorian Constitution 1975 which is invalid as its power base. The Victorian constitution 1855 has never been repealed, hence it must always take precedent over the 1975. I believe their are breaches of the Weights and Measures Act and the Commonwealth Crimes Acts.
    As our public utilties have been privatised they are now commercial enterprises and these companies have been authorised to use their power in the market place to force products and services on customers who neighter order or want them, e.g. Smart meters. This breaches the Consumer and competition Act formerly Trade Practices Act.
    Under the commonwealth Constitution the States are the local government responsibile for the management of crown lands of the sovereign (australian people) .
    Using the state consitution to legislate the local government act, they formed what we know as council. Local government has no standing under the Commonwealth Constitution and why would we want two local governements. We either keep the State and do away with the local government or we do away with the States and use the local government, but that would require much planning and desing and would have to go the people under a referendum to asscept or deny the proposal.
    There are many issues involving how it was done. Certainly without a referendum but also breaching the Commonwealth Constitution.
    I could add the parts but you can get the information up on the web and verify it yourself.

  4. Last night in the small town of Castlemaine a handful of us held a vigil in protest of CSG. We lit candles and decorated the steps of the Market Building with flowers. A fitting place because once upon a time that magnificent colonial building formerly used for selling farm produce was earmarked for demolition. Locals rallied and saved it!

    It was so calm and peaceful at sunset that the flames stayed alight the whole time. We shared an organic apple, distributed an information sheet amongst ourselves and talked quietly.

    Please fellow friends of the earth where ever you might be, organise your own vigils and spread the word! We must never give up hope!

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