This weekend’s NSW state election is being fought on the central issue of electricity privatisation, with the NSW Government proposing wholly leasing high-voltage power network company Transgrid, and leasing 50.4 per cent of distributors Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy, to raise around $20 billion for infrastructure investment. The move is being opposed by Labor and The Greens.
Other key issues include infrastructure investment including the building of the controversial WestConnex toll road and rail projects, as well as housing affordability policy.
Following is a summary of some key policy promises affecting the built environment and sustainability.
The Baird government is committing to improving the energy efficiency of homes and businesses with $61.5 million in funding for five new programs:
- Energy Efficiency Assist – will assist low income households to purchase energy efficient appliances such as fridges, washing machines and water heaters
- Gas Efficiency Improvement Program – will fund businesses to implement simple gas efficiency opportunities
- Energy Efficient Business – will deliver tools, guides and training to make it easier for businesses to access the existing Energy Savings Scheme
- Energy Efficient Homes – will make it easier for businesses to offer households products and services funded through the Energy Savings Scheme
- Energy Efficient Government – will deliver the already announced Government Resource Efficiency Policy
The government also plans to invest $100 million over five years in the Saving Our Species program to protect “all threatened species in NSW”, which it calls “an unprecedented investment”. It will implement recovery plans for every one of the 970 threatened species identified in NSW.
However, the government today (Thursday) revealed it will scrap acts protecting native vegetation and threatened species if re-elected, adopting all 43 recommendations of a panel that reviewed biodiversity legislation in NSW at the end of last year, which included repealing the Native Vegetation Act and Threatened Species Act.
The National Parks Association of NSW chief executive Kevin Evans told Fairfax the “ignorant ideology behind this decision will see nature coming off second best once again”.
He said rates of land clearing had fallen by 68 per cent since the Native Vegetation Act was passed in 2003.
Chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council Kate Smolski said the move represented a “significant lurch to the right to appease radical elements in the farming community”.
“It will be a black day for the state’s threatened wildlife and fragile soils if this proposal becomes law,” Ms Smolski said.
The government has put a freeze on new coal seam gas exploration licences, with 16 applications already cancelled and others being bought back. It has said Labor had in the past given out exploration licences “like confetti”. It instead has created a Strategic Release Framework to give an indication of which areas are to be released for gas exploration.
As previously reported in The Fifth Estate, the government will introduce a state-wide beverage container recycling scheme by 1 July 2017. The scheme is designed to educe waste and increase recycling rates. The government will consult with the community and industry on the design of a cost-effective container deposit scheme.
Key to the environment policy, and Labor’s entire election platform, is a commitment not the privatise the state’s electricity network, arguing that by keeping the networks public, a shift to affordable, decentralised and renewable energy is more feasible. This, however, has been contested by industry commentators, who say it is electricity market regulations, rather than who owns the assets, that can drive a shift towards more decentralised, renewable energy.
An Office of Renewables is promised within the department of Premier and Cabinet, to be led by a minister for energy and climate change. A state-based renewable energy target has also been set, at 20 per cent by 2020, and barriers imposed on wind farm developments by the current government removed, as has been achieved recently in Victoria.
Other key promises around energy include:
- A Solar Schools policy where up to 1700 schools without solar power will receive around $40,000 for a system
- Reinvigorate the Renewable Energy Precincts to foster locally driven plans to increase renewable energy and decentralise power generation. A fund of $6 million over four years to augment proposals by councils and communities, including project grants of up to $500,000.
- A fair minimum payment for householders feeding energy back into the grid to be set by IPART and legislated.
- Establish a market that allows households and businesses to trade energy savings into the wholesale energy market, and also for the trading of surplus solar energy
- Initiate a national framework for decommissioning obsolete coal-fired power plants
- $37.4 million towards an overhaul of lighting across the hospital sector, with fluorescent and incandescent lighting to be replaced by LED technology
Labor has also promised it will impose a state-wide ban on coal seam gas projects that will “not be lifted unless the chief scientist has deemed the industry safe.” This follows a report last year where the chief scientist put forward a number of recommendations to improve safety.
“Labor will implement all the recommendations of the Chief Scientist in her final report of 30 September 2014 before the industry proceeds,” the environment policy states.
Some areas will have a permanent moratorium, and exclusion zones will also apply within two kilometres of residential areas, national parks and RAMSAR-listed wetlands.
Other environmental promises include:
- At least $150 million over four years towards establishing new National Parks, with a total ban on logging, grazing and amateur hunting in national park areas
- Restoring the Natural Resource Commission for state-wide planning of natural resource and environmental management, with a scientist at its head
- The Chief Scientist will be asked to conduct an independent study on the health impacts of coal dust that includes consideration of international data on coal dust impacts and policy responses. Labor said that if the study shows coal wagons should be covered, it would make sure they are
On energy, The Greens policy says they will:
- Oppose any further privatisation of the state’s electricity infrastructure
- Transition NSW within 15 years to an electricity system based on 100 per cent renewables, high levels of energy efficiency and demand management
- Oppose the expansion of coal mining in NSW and the expansion of coal export infrastructure
- Reject nuclear power given the limited supplies of high-grade fuel available, the environmental risk and legacy of nuclear waste, and the security risk presented by the misuse of nuclear materials and technologies
- Re-introduce the moratorium on exploration for uranium
- Reform the NEM to remove competitive advantages given to pollution-intensive sources such as Victorian brown-coal generators
- Create and enforce mandatory energy efficiency standards
- Set binding greenhouse benchmarks renewable energy targets
- Support transitioning all operational domestic water heaters to solar or other high-energy-efficiency technology
- encourage reform to the planning and regulation of wind farms
- Requiring all new commercial buildings to meet a minimum six star energy rating under NABERS
- Restoring and improving the BASIX scheme, requiring high-rise and multi-unit developments to meet the same 40 per cent energy reduction target as free-standing homes
Other commitments include to:
- Oppose coal seam gas exploration and production, and associated pipeline and export infrastructure developments
- Ensure that government decisions and legislation are underpinned by Ecologically Sustainable Development principles
- Restore genuine public participation in environmental decision-making
- Protect and expand the State’s National Park and Wilderness Reserve system
- Protect the marine environment in a system of comprehensive, adequate and representative Marine Protected Areas
- Prohibit inappropriate development, mining, logging and grazing in National Parks
- Ensure any Environmental Impact Statement is prepared independently of the proponent
- Strengthen legislation to protect biodiversity and native vegetation
- Defend urban bushland
- Reduce air pollution through strengthening regulation and targets
- Ensure a well-resourced, strong and independent Environmental Protection Agency
The Baird government has an ambitious $20 billion-plus infrastructure plan that hinges on its electricity privatisation plan to go through.
Promises include a second Sydney Harbour rail crossing at around $10 billion, $8.9 billion to boost urban public transport, $2.4 billion to ease congestion on Sydney roads and $6 billion for regional infrastructure.
Plans include to:
- Deliver two additional Western Line Express services between Parramatta and the Sydney CBD every day in the morning peak
- invest in Sydney’s 32 worst corridors to ease congestion and reduce travel times
- deliver a $100 million ferry boost for the Parramatta River
- invest an additional $250m in road infrastructure for the Hunter
- invest $300 million to ease congestion, including $45 million to fix pinch points at key intersections, $240 million to fix pinch points along key corridors, and $15 million for bus infrastructure improvements
The WestConnex is one of the most controversial transport election promises. The 33-kilometre toll road, which won’t be finished until 2023, will create another M5 East Tunnel, an M4 East Tunnel from Homebush to Rozelle, and a tunnel under the inner-west to link them – a proposal that has been met with opposition from inner-west residents, as well as the City of Sydney.
- ?See our article Watch this: Peter Newman on why WestConnex should be dropped
Labor, meanwhile, has committed to the WestConnex, except for the linking tunnel, which the WestConnex Delivery Authority says is the most important aspect.
Labor says its “modest” $10 billion transport plan can be achieved without the sale of electricity assets, instead deferring the abolition of three stamp duty business taxes for a decade to help raise funds. It would also defer the second Sydney Harbour tunnel.
Labor has also released some active transport policies.
“Labor wants to encourage more people to use their bikes to create a healthier, more sustainable NSW,” it’s transport policy says.
It says Labor will:
- Invest $37 million and work with local councils to build the Greenway along the Inner West Light Rail
- Invest in bicycle related regional tourism through our new Rail Trails Strategy
- Commit to work with the City of Sydney to maintain the College Street Cycleway and make the cycleways in the city full time while working with the City of Sydney to manage loading zones
- Continue working with the Federal Government and local councils to progress the Inner Sydney Regional Bike Network.
- Task the Greater Sydney Commission to review current cycling plans and make recommendations in relation to planning, investment and infrastructure to build a cycling friendly city
- Have Transport for NSW review safety rules in relation to cyclists including incorporating more questions in relation to cycling and sharing the road as part of the drivers licence test
- Support education campaigns that focus on sharing the road
The Greens oppose the WestConnex project, instead arguing money should be invested into improving public transport.
On Thursday, the Greens released a statement attacking the federal government for refusing to answer questions in the Senate about the motorway.
“Yesterday, the government failed to produce the WestConnex business plan and traffic modelling – contrary to an order from the Senate,” said Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon, who moved the order to produce documents last week.
“After failing to publicly release information and answer questions on Westconnex the glaring question is – what does the government have to hide on this overpriced, unwanted project?
“These developments are the latest examples of the shonky process the Abbott government uses when it deals with motorway builders and developers.
“We already know that the federal government committed $3.5 billion in funding to WestConnex without waiting for Infrastructure Australia to complete its assessment of the motorway.
“We also know that Infrastructure Australia found that the secret business case failed to account for the induced trips motorists would have to make – and no allowance was made for cost blow outs, which could amount to hundreds of millions of dollars. The Minister has today refused to explain this.”
Senator Rhiannon also attacked Labor for supporting the project.
“It is deeply disturbing that in spite of the secrecy, and the problems identified by Infrastructure Australia, Labor plans to go ahead with its own WestConnex project.
“Why has Labor remained committed to the motorway when the Abbott and Baird governments are going to such lengths to keep information secret?
The Greens transport plan states the party will:
- End the dominance of 1950s style transport planning and redirect more than $4.5 billion away from private toll roads towards public transport solutions in Sydney and connect our cities and regions
- Proiritise affordability, accessibility and safety in transport, including extending public transport concessions to all low-income earners in possession of a Low Income Health Care Card, doubling the Taxi Transport Subsidy and expanding the free school travel program to cover the light rail network
- Ensure transparency in transport decision-making – legislate to release business cases and cost benefit analyses for major projects and engage in a public participation process before final decisions are made
- End piecemeal transport planning and establish strategic goals to reduce the share of trips made by private cars to 50 per cent (currently 67 per cent) and a subsequent 17 per cent increase in the share of trips made by public and active transport by 2030
The government recently announced a dedicated social and affordable housing fund aiming for $1 billion, which was called a “watershed moment” by some social housing groups.
The government also aims to make residential property sales data for the past decade publicly available from October this year, and will crack down on real estate agent underquoting.
Mr Baird said he would double the target for new home sites released on government-owned land to 20,000 in the next four years for the construction of apartments, terraces and stand alone homes in suburbs across the greater Sydney metropolitan area, the Lower Hunter and the Southern Highlands.
Both major parties have also promised to release 20,000 new lots for housing development.
Labor leader Luke Foley said a future Labor government would invest $300 million on measures to address Sydney’s housing affordability crisis.
Of that, $100 million would be spent on accelerating the development of new infrastructure projects to support new housing developments. Another $100 million would fund interest free loans for new community housing.
It would also allow first home buyers to choose to pay their stamp duty in equal affordable instalments over five years. Labor’s program will be available to every first home buyer in NSW who purchases a property to live in worth up to $750,000.
The Greens have a housing and homelessness policy that includes:
- New social housing and the implementation of housing targets for state and local government
- Promoting investment in innovative, fast-build or pre-fabricated construction processes to ensure social housing supply is increased rapidly to address the severe shortage of supply
- Increasing the quantity and quality of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander housing
- improving the rights of renters