News from the front desk, Issue No 414: At the Property Council Christmas bash in Sydney last night (Wednesday), we just knew we’d strike up a conversation with someone from Melbourne to give us a view on what the Victorian state election on Saturday might bring for sustainability.
Victorians have been basking in bountiful sustainable generosity of late: subsidies for one million homes to go clean and green, including batteries for backup; help for stressed households to retrofit their homes so they don’t bake or freeze; and strong clean energy targets – signalling to the Feds that on renewables this state government ain’t for rolling.
The last time the Libs were in power in Victoria they went hammer and tongs to destroy the sustainability revolution in its infancy, acting in perfect unison with their spiritual denialist leader Tony Abbott in Canberra. Matthew Guy who was then planning minister and now heading the Libs unleashed a bout of free-for-all poor-quality development in the city that threatened to destroy Melbourne’s sophisticated design brand.
In his tilt to win back government for his party Guy plans to follow suit; promising to scrap the renewable energy targets, refusing to quarantine more gas exploration, refusing to support more national parks and siding with the forest industries against protecting native fauna.
However, in evidence that life moves on and logic generally rises, Guy has remained agnostic on the fuel that will power a new 500 mW power station that he wants, (though this might be more to do with the reality that no-one but a climate sceptic government would want to touch a coal fired power station); he’s promised 50 per cent rebates on solar panels and batteries in 700 schools and offered, and strangely, rebates on low energy TVs.
On transport, it’s roads first, possibly a fast train to the burbs instead of Andrew’s rail loop.
Our Victorian source at the Property Council bash, Aurecon’s Jeff Robinson, won’t let the Libs off in a hurry over the Fishermans Bend fiasco, when Matthew Guy was planning minister (though no one needs to be reminded; in fact it’d be hard to forget).
“One of the things the government can do is use the planning process to turn lead into gold,” Robinson said.
And at Fishermans Bend “property values went through the roof, as a result of which to buy the land and park for a school there is $45 million.”
Labor has paused the process, he said.
But wouldn’t it be interesting to dig a little to see who made the big uplifts in profit there, where the big gains were.
Robinson, like so many others, has been full of praise for Andrew’s track record on renewables and sustainability. Especially the work coming out of Sustainability Victoria and the energy minister’s office under Lily D’Ambrosio.
“Labor has a zero carbon by 2040 policy,” he said, “ and it’s backing it up with programs that give certainty to companies like Aurecon and NDY.”
So who will win?
The polls previously said that Andrews would romp it in but the most recent indications are that the gap has closed strongly and there are tips it could now be a very close call.
Thumbing an angry finger at Labor are the people who blame the state government for the recent terrorist attack in the city and so called African gangs. And Matthew Guy has not been exactly shy about pushing a fear campaign with pictures of beaten up faces and strangers creeping into bedroom windows… or some such. The images are like something out of A Clockwork Orange. And just to help our collective sense of community, he’s promised 4000 tasers to police.
And believe it or not the now years-old dusty issue of Andrew’s foolhardy swipe at the County Fire Authority (CFA) keeps surfacing, though judging by an online search the political heat is coming almost exclusively from the Murdoch press. Which must be squirming in anguish that the election isn’t in the middle of the fire season. (On that score we just heard the smoke from California had just reached New York City; but “it’s not climate change”.)
The urgent message here is about sustainability: damage to our sensibilities, sense of privacy and ownership can be reversed; not so our climate.
Environment Victoria is taking no chances. It’s engaged in about 100,000 conversations with Victorians over the past 12 months, using its massive network of 400 volunteers.
It’s got an extensive scorecard on its website with policy documents sourced from a range of candidates.
“From our perspective clean energy features strongly and the Labor Party and the Greens are competing in a race to the top but the Libs are missing in action,” chief executive officer Mark Wakeham says.
The backward stance on renewables will hurt the conservatives, he says.
“I think it’s going to hurt them. Labor has put its solar packages front and centre of campaigns in marginal seats.
“We’ve been on the ground in Frankston and Bentleigh and these will decide the election. We’ve had about 100,000 conversations with 400 volunteers about how this election is a referendum on climate action.
“The overwhelming response is that renewables are really popular.” And the Libs said they will repeal the legislation.
Labor on the other hand has demonstrated a good track record, running the first auction of renewables, bringing on line 9000 mW of energy; they’ve raised the energy efficiency target and overall have a “pretty strong story to tell”, Wakeham says.
Greens have an even stronger policy agenda wanting a 100 per cent renewables target by 2030.
“The Libs have clearly signalled they will be hostile; they’ve promised to scrap the renewable energy target, lift the ban on offshore gas drilling and will scrap the climate target. They won’t establish any new national parks and “take an axe” to climate policy.
The Libs want to strip back environmental protections but Labor has a bad track record on forests as well, he says.
The property development community is likewise activated. The high profile Danni Addison who is chief executive of the Urban Development Institute of Australia’s Victorian division nominates a few key areas of concern:
- For metropolitan Melbourne, we have a choice of more level crossing removals under an Andrews Labor government, or intersection removals under a Guy-led Coalition
- Labor’s Suburban Rail Loop proposal is potentially a game changer for the growing communities in the outer suburbs, but at $50 billion, we must find an equitable long-term funding strategy
- A Greens influence will place pressure on the major road projects, with their strong focus on investment in public transport infrastructure. Could we see a Melbourne Metro 2 rail project ahead of a Suburban Rail loop or High Speed Regional Rail?
- There are a lot of lofty promises on both sides. For any of these major infrastructure projects, UDIA Victoria will need to see a solid business case and understand the private sector’s appetite and ability to invest and deliver this level of infrastructure in the timeframes proposed
- Regional Victoria wins under all scenarios. Both Labor and the Coalition have announced significant investment in Regional Victoria. Either way Geelong, Bendigo and Ballarat, will benefit, but the Coalition’s plan for European High-Speed Rail will unlock other regional centres like Shepparton and Traralgon.
- Labor is promising to deliver on schools to support the people moving to our growing suburbs – in the growth areas and also the inner urban areas where more and more families are locating. There’s a lot of catching up to do!
- There is merit to the Liberal Nationals Coalition’s Population Commission. Putting a cap on population growth is not the right answer, even at a local level. Rather than looking at how to restrict growth, attention must be on establishing accurate data forecasting measures and policy conditions that will support the industries delivering the homes and infrastructure we need, at the pace we need
- Andrews and his team have remained deathly silent on the issue of population growth planning, pursuing the message that they are “delivering for all Victorians” rather than having anything firm to say about how we plan and accommodate for population growth explicitly.
On planning the UDIA is predictably leery of high levels of inclusionary zoning. It would “stifle investment,” Addison says, but a high level industry source about whom we’ll publish an extensive interview soon, told us this week that developers will work with whatever’s on the table. As long as they know it upfront and don’t get some nasty surprises. The numbers are the numbers; if the inclusionary zoning is high, they’ll simply pay less for the land. They are not a charity after all. What they fight against most is retrospective changes that blow their carefully constructed numbers out of the water.
Affordable housing is one of the biggest emerging issues of great concern on an economic level as well as social. Or do we want to pay our cleaners and school teachers stock broker salaries so they can afford to live close to work?
On height controls the Coalition would “lower height controls in neighbourhood areas, review restrictive controls in Melbourne’s central city and fast-track the planning for the remaining 290,000 odd lots in Melbourne’s growth areas,” the UDIA says.
On housing supply, Matthew Guy is promising to deliver 290,000 lots tied up at the Precinct Structure Plan stage. “His challenge will be ensuring that the state and agencies are sufficiently resourced in order to deliver on that promise.”
So it’s Saturday night glued to the tele. Again.