Back in 2003, PM John Howard’s colleagues were telling him that his entrenched views were standing in the way of sensible policy and that now was a good time to introduce an emissions trading scheme with minimal risk and minimum loss of face. In reply, Howard told his colleagues that his political instincts were right and that the most important players, key Liberal Party backers, agreed with him. The irony was that, while Prime Ministerial power might trump policy power, people power trumps the lot. Two elections later, in 2007, Howard was thrown out, partly because of their lack of action on climate change.
Next year, the Australian Parliament will consider one of the most significant environmental reforms in our history with the Government promising legislation to implement its Nature Positive Plan, replacing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999. The path to this point has been long and winding. First the National Party backflipped on its support for the bill, then the Greens did a backflip on their opposition to it, all in pursuit of politics over policy. Then we come to other cross-bench Senators, whose position is variable at best and unpredictable at worst. We need this to work.
The Henry Review found, essentially, that the NSW Biodiversity Act is not working and that biodiversity continues to decline in the state of New South Wales. Although the law is complex, the policy bottom line is simple: biodiversity is protected to a degree, but this will never stand in the way of development prioritised by government. The review proposes to switch off the discretionary ‘balancing’ that occurs under the auspices of the Ecologically Sustainable Development principles (under which the ‘balance’ almost always favours development). And to switch on a ‘nature positive’ framework.
There’s probably not a government on this planet that isn’t telling its people they acknowledge climate change and are making ‘serious’ efforts to combat it. However, in the parentheses at the end of every proclamation is the implicit (sometime explicit) caveat that new policies won’t change the status quo, won’t slow down economic growth, won’t bite the hand of key stakeholders (read fossil fuel sector), won’t cost the voter anything additional and likely won’t even be implemented in the current electoral cycle. Climate delay may sound different to climate denial but it amounts to the same thing.
The campaign for nuclear is fuelled by false information, hyperbolic claims and constant repetition. It has become a bit of a cause célèbre for conservative politicians who serve it up again and again as a reason to stop worrying about the future or to reflect on the consequences of our unbounded economic growth.
If the environment minister is serious about the domestic delivery of the Kunming-Montreal 2030 biodiversity targets, she’ll need to burn a lot of political capital, not just with various stakeholders, but with her own Cabinet colleagues.
Down into the weeds again – the new government announces a return to bioregional planning
Our new environment minister has announced the government’s commitment to regional (biodiversity) planning. Australian governments have been talking about this approach for over 25 years. If done well, regional planning has the potential to enable biodiversity conservation to be integrated across land uses, programs and tenures, and enhance resilience to climate change. But doing it well will take money, good planning and collaboration with multiple partners – a big ask for any national government.
1987 The year Aust began grappling with the idea of sustainable development – a time where populists battled policy wonks. John Kerin said parties were taking a winner-take-all approach without understanding economic, social or environmental consequences.
Triggering the safeguard or safeguarding the trigger: Climate, large emitters and the EPBC Act
Triggering the climate safeguard or safeguarding the climate trigger
A climate trigger should be limited to actions that are not caught by the safeguard mechanism, such as land clearing.
However, there are some benefits that are better delivered by one or other of the two mechanisms.
Should we include a climate-change trigger in Australian environmental law?
The public are crying out for it but the politicians won’t touch it. Here’s why. (And some of the reasons to resist are quite valid.)
Australia’s newly elected government has promised to introduce a Climate Change Bill. It won’t be available till later this month but we have a fair idea of what it is likely to say. It will not seek to reimpose a carbon price but will use an existing law reduce allowable emissions for the largest polluters. It will enshrine both Australia’s ‘net zero by 2050’ goal and its new Paris ‘nationally determined contribution’ of a 43% reduction in emissions by 2030. It will also restore the CCA’s role of advising Government on future targets; require the climate minister to report annually to Parliament on progress in meeting targets; and paste the new climate targets across into the formal objectives and functions of several government agencies.
Don’t treat climate change as a simple problem. It’s not. It’s complex, and it won’t be solved with simple solutions. If you’re in any doubt about this, have a look at what’s happened over the last two decades.
The major parties will always be keen to downplay big environmental reform ideas because rocking the boat is simply unacceptable in a political campaign. The solution is to bring the environment ‘in from the cold’; to connect it to the numbers that politicians see as central to what voters think is important.
While Labor lifted its game at the last minute with its environmental law reform policy, they can hardly be said to be environmental-policy high performers. So, what’s ‘on the record’ and ‘off the record’ for our new government when it comes to the Environment? What should our new environment minister prioritise?
Latest news in Australian politics: The blues, being overly influenced by the browns, thought they could ignore the wishes of electorate. They thought they could trounce the reds while laughing at the greens because they believed a sufficiently frightened public would shy away from change, stick with a status quo no matter how inadequate. The teals appeared as if from nowhere and proved them dead wrong.
It’s election time! For one party the environment is not a priority. For the other, it’s not something to talk about.
What’s the overarching message on election policies on the environment from the two parties capable of forming government: a re-elected Coalition, or Labor? It boils down to ‘not a focus for us’ vs ‘not telling’.
- business as usual
- climate change
- David Salt
- environmental accounts
- Peter Burnett
- Policy lessons