Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews

In a state that has seen environmental and energy efficiency measures trashed by the Coalition government and created fury within the property industry and beyond, there has been a confounding failure by the Labor Opposition to seize the initiative and deliver meaningful policies as an alternative. Among programs axed are the Greener Government Buildings Program and determination to destroy the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target. There has also been calculated refusal to set environmental targets for the massive Fishermans Bend redevelopment and the raft of new apartment towers approved for the city.

Labor has quietly released its environment policy four days ahead of the Victorian election, with no media release and no detail on areas including energy efficiency and a state-based renewables target.

The plan has received mixed reviews, with Environment Victoria tentatively welcoming it but the Greens calling it a “disgrace”, and not worth the paper it’s written on. Policy around the built environment, much like the Coalition’s entire environment policy, also seems to be missing in action, with the Property Council calling out both major parties for forgetting it.

“Under the Liberals, our environment is going backwards,” the Our Environment, Our Future plan begins. “Energy efficiency targets were abolished, renewable energy industries have collapsed, national parks and coastlines are under threat, and rivers have been left to deteriorate.”

The plan (more detail below) commits $20 million to a renewables job fund, reduces the dwelling buffer zone for wind power that stifled the industry from two kilometres to 1km, promises to commit to an emissions reduction target, and bans e-waste from landfill.

Energy efficiency and sustainable built environment considerations seem to be sorely lacking, however.

For example, back in August Labor confirmed it would support the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target if elected, following the Coalition’s announcement it would be scrapped.

The move received praise from the energy efficiency community, with shadow energy minister Lily D’Ambrosio releasing a statement saying: “Before the election, Labor will release details of how the scheme would operate under a Labor Government.”

However, speaking with The Fifth Estate today (Wednesday), Ms D’Ambrosio admitted details had still not been set.

“We will certainly ensure that the scheme continues,” she said. “The details of that are a matter that we’ll need to go through if we win the election.

“We need to ensure we have sufficient and broad input from key stakeholders about what it would look like into the future.”

Another plan that appears in the party’s election platform document, but not in the just-released environment policy, is the “One Million Stars” program, which aims to improve the cumulative star rating of Victorian homes by one million additional NatHERS stars through incentives for more efficient appliances and building materials, information for buyers and renters, and funding and regulatory support.

Ms D’Ambrosio told The Fifth Estate this would be another policy to work through if they won government, however it needed careful consideration.

On the topic of renewable energy, she said she was not in a position to say whether there would be a state-based renewable energy target, though she said that Victorian Labor was committed to growing the share of renewables in Victoria.

“Victoria has been lagging behind. We want to make sure that changes,” Ms D’Ambrosio said.

Property Council says built environment forgotten

The executive director of the Property Council of Australia’s Victorian branch, Jennifer Cunich, said that both major parties had forgotten the built environment.

“Neither major party has said enough about planning, sustainability or property tax relief during the Victorian state election campaign,” Ms Cunich said.

“The challenges of population growth, infrastructure investment and job creation will only get harder in the absence of genuine policy reform.

“The Property Council would like to see an acceleration of precinct-wide sustainability measures, increased private investment in infrastructure and a long-term plan for property tax relief.”

Environment Victoria: good start, but needs more work

Environment Victoria welcomed Labor’s policy position, though warned it needed a lot more work.

“Labor’s policy would reverse a number of the Coalition’s worst attacks on the environment including effectively banning new wind farms, scrapping greenhouse pollution reduction targets, commercialising our National Parks and gutting Sustainability Victoria,” Environment Victoria chief executive Mark Wakeham said.

“We are encouraged by the commitment to reintroduce a state emissions reduction target.”

Mr Wakeham, however, said EV was disappointed there was not a more ambitious environmental agenda “including protecting endangered species like the Leadbeaters Possum through the declaration of the Great Forest National Park, ruling out a coal allocation and exports, and committing to improving the energy and water efficiency of Victorian homes and businesses”.

The organisation has released a scorecard to rate the three main parties’ environmental policies.

Greens go on the attack

Victorian Greens leader Greg Barber attacked Labor’s policy, saying it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.

“After four years of a Coalition which trashed the environment, four days before the election, at 5.10 pm, we finally see Labor’s environment policy,” Mr Barber said.

“The ‘policy’ contains nothing on coal, nothing on coal seam gas, nothing on forest logging and nothing on a Victorian Renewable Energy Target.

“We are looking at another long four-year fight for environmentalists.”

He also singled out Labor leader Daniel Andrews, saying he didn’t have “a green bone in his body”.

The candidate for the seat of Melbourne, Ellen Sandell, said the policy would allow loggers to decide the future of forests and keep open dirty coal-fired power stations.

“Daniel Andrews and the Labor party have let Victorians down with this sorry excuse for a policy,” she said.

The Greens environment policy commits to:

  • reinstating the Victorian Renewable Energy Target that will fit into its national 90 per cent renewables by 2030 plan
  • phasing out Hazelwood, Anglesea and one of Yallourn coal station’s four units in 2015, and retiring Loy Yang B and the other three units of Yallourn in 2023
  • creating the Victorian Solar Bank, a people-owned renewable financing corporation
  • banning onshore gas drilling and new coal mining
  • a Solar Savers program to get fair pricing for feed-in-tariffs, and create a right to connect to the grid
  • a new national park in the Central Highlands
  • an Open Space strategy to set minimum green space targets, and ensure health and wellbeing is an objective of the planning scheme
  • introduce a 10c cash for container scheme
  • set limits on the size, height and life-spans of landfills, particularly in urban area

The Age defends The Greens

A recent editorial in The Age took the extraordinary step of lambasting both major parties for their “deafening silence” on environmental policies, while defended the Greens’ policy platform.

“Liberal and Labor plan to direct preferences away from the Greens,” the editorial stated.

“Premier Denis Napthine proclaims that Greens’ policies ‘will destroy jobs and put Victorian families at risk’. His hyperbole lacks either calibration or logic. Well-constructed environmental policies do not destroy jobs or put families at risk. On the contrary, they create jobs, foster the development of new technology and entrepreneurialism, and draw new investment to the state.”

Key points of Labor’s environment plan:

Climate change and renewable energy

  • establish the $20 million New Energy Jobs Fund to encourage investment in the renewables sector and focus on the development of technology for the generation and storage of clean energy, such as new blade technology and advanced solar energy
  • reducing the dwelling buffer zone for wind projects from 2km to 1km and opening the doors for community wind farms in the Macedon Ranges
  • review legislation and programs to commit to an achievable carbon emissions reduction target
  • refocus the role of Sustainability Victoria to assist communities with Climate Change, and investigate improving the fuel efficiency of government fleet cars

Coasts, bays, marine and river environments

  • five-yearly State of the Bay report
  • a Yarra River Protection Act to guard the river corridor from inappropriate development
  • working with Environment Victoria, Catchment Management Authorities and Landcare groups to develop a strategy to improve riparian land and river ways

National parks

  • a commitment to not allow large scale private development in national parks and removing the Government’s ability to grant 99 year leases
  • ban cattle grazing in the Alpine and Red Gum National Park
  • facilitate and support the establishment of an Industry Taskforce to provide leadership to reach common ground on the future issues facing the industry, job protection, economic activity, protection of our unique native flora and fauna and threatened species, such as the Leadbeater’s possum. The taskforce will have members from the forestry and forest products industry, unions, environmental groups and scientists, threatened species experts, land owners, timber communities and other relevant stakeholders

Pollution, waste and health

  • Labor will commission a major public inquiry into the EPA, following the Latrobe Valley mine fire
  • banning eWaste from landfill to support recycling jobs

Preserving our diversity, enjoying our environment

  • review the Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act and institute a state wide biodiversity
  • strategy to protect habitats for future generations
  • review the new native vegetation regulations
  • work with Trust for Nature so communities can have private land protected and rehabilitated, and support Landcare facilitators who protect our environment
  • provide $5 million to upgrade and provide new facilities in our parks and reserves across the state
  • establish an independent panel to strengthen the management of Kananook Creek

Previous Labor commitments to built environment sustainability include:

  • Aiming to achieve a new “One Million Stars” goal to improve the cumulative star rating of all Victorian homes by one million additional star rating points – achieved through a range of measures including incentives for more efficient appliances and building materials, information for buyers and renters, and strategic funding and regulatory support
  • Legislating to allow other local Councils to replicate the City of Melbourne’s 1200 Buildings program to help commercial building owners finance energy efficiency retrofits
  • Accommodating population growth through infill development
  • Ensuring local planning schemes promote socially cohesive neighbourhoods through good urban design principles that incorporate diverse and affordable housing
  • Implementing and maintaining urban growth boundaries for the metropolitan area and abutting towns, regional centres and coastal towns
  • Enacting Australia’s first “environmental right to know” law, which would require reporting of information to local communities about issues such as significant contamination, including the mandatory disclosure of contaminated sites on property titles
  • Compensating households and businesses that provide excess clean energy to the grid
  • Expanding, where cost effective, support for retrofitting of Government buildings to improve energy efficiency, such as solar hot water systems in public housing
  • Requiring Government Departments and agencies to set waste reduction targets that will be audited and reported in departmental Annual Reports
  • Establishing Infrastructure Victoria, with responsibility for providing independent, transparent advice on infrastructure projects and priorities.
  • Establishing Projects Victoria, a specialist agency to deliver Infrastructure Victoria’s priorities

See our articles on axing of energy efficiency programs: