The Conservation Council put forward its ACT 2020 Election Priorities early in the campaign, and held three online election forums for the community to find out more about party positions. We released our Election Scorecard in the lead up to the final polling day – a useful summary of what had been announced and how the policies rated against what was needed for the environment. The online scorecard was a live document that could be updated with new policies as they were announced. With so many issues, the scorecard wasn’t easily condensed to a single social media post, but that perhaps reflects the complexity of our environmental challenges.
October 17th saw a swing away from the Canberra Liberals and a swing of about the same size towards the ACT Greens. The final makeup of the 25 member Legislative Assembly is ten ACT Labor, six ACT Greens (to form government) and nine Canberra Liberals.
The new Cabinet announced this week, includes six Labor and three Greens, with key relevant portfolios going to:
- Andrew Barr (Labor) – Chief Minister and Minister for Climate Action
- Shane Rattenbury (Greens) – Minister for Water, Energy and Emission Reductions
- Rebecca Vassarotti (Greens) – Minister for the Environment, Minister for Heritage, Minister for Sustainable Building and Construction
- Chris Steel (Labor) – Minister for Transport and City Services
- Mick Gentleman (Labor) – Minister for Planning and Land Management
The Parliamentary and Governing Agreement has taken a slightly different form this time around, including items that both parties have agreed are priorities, as well as a list of items that each party wants to see advanced during the term (taken from their own election announcements), and will advance through Cabinet and Budget processes. It’s likely that this came about due to the Greens stronger representation in Cabinet, and what the Chief Minister has flagged as a very “collaborative approach” for this term of the Assembly. The political alliance is certainly looking more like a coalition arrangement, however unlike other coalition governments around the country, the policy agenda and the rules of the agreement between the parties is very clear, including the ongoing arrangements to allow for disagreements to occur in Cabinet and voting in the Assembly in an agreed manner.
Action on climate change was the number one item in the list of agreed items and achieved special mention in the preamble: “ACT Labor and the ACT Greens recognise that climate change poses a real and immediate threat to our city, our country and the world.”
It’s the kind of issue profile that climate campaigners and scientists dream of seeing in every Government’s agenda at the start of a term, and the holistic approach put forward by the Government will be helpful given the number of portfolios and ministers that will be involved in policy development to deliver emissions reductions.
Key items are:
- Up to $15,000 zero interest loans to help households and community organisations with up front costs associated with switching to all-electric.
- A goal of no new gas mains network connections to future infill developments from 2023, and legislation to prevent new gas mains network connections to future stages of greenfield residential development in the ACT in 2021-22.
- All-electric Molonglo Commercial Centre.
- Deliver at least 250MW of new ‘large-scale’ battery storage distributed across the ACT.
- Implement a five-year, $50 million program to improve building efficiency and sustainability for social and public housing, low income owner-occupiers, and the lowest performing rental properties
- Enact minimum energy efficiency standards regulations for rental properties in 2021 with progressive implementation over the coming years.
- Reduce the emissions intensity of the existing ACT gas network as much as is possible, by injecting zero-emissions gas alternatives.
Also include in the “agreed” section of the document of interest
- Significantly expand the number of zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) through engaging with the ZEV industry to adopt a target for all new vehicle sales in the ACT to be zero emissions by 2030, and provide financial incentives for the purchase of zero emission vehicles. It is unclear the extent of incentives, though it’s clear that the Greens $10,000 split loan/rebate commitment was not specified here. There was also a focus on transitioning public vehicles – garbage trucks, taxis and buses, ride-share vehicles to zero emissions, and commitment to no buy further diesel buses (with an exemption clause for leasing for ‘operational requirements’ ) in the short-term. Also included, a commitment to build at least 50 electric vehicle recharging stations across Canberra and require charging infrastructure for new multi-unit residential and commercial buildings
- Adopt an ACT Appendix to the Building Code of Australia in conjunction with the Territory Plan Review, which will set out improved sustainability standards that all new buildings must meet (addressing issues such as insulation, glazing, passive design, phasing out gas, and the requirement for electric vehicle charge points).
There’s much more in the “agreed” section of the Agreement so I’d encourage you to have a read of the full version, particularly if you are an advocate for environment or planning outcomes.
Sadly there was no mention of biodiversity in the “agreed” section – nope, not one!
However, the ACT Greens did include a list of priorities in their agenda, and while Rebecca Vassarotti has been named as the Environment Minister, her remit hasn’t extended to oversight of the Nature Conservation Act, which includes the management of the Parks and Conservation Service. As such, many of these priorities identified by the Greens are going to require more negotiation with the ALP even before they get to Cabinet and Budget discussions. The issues identified by the Greens include:
- Better protect remnant grasslands, woodlands and key waterways as nature reserves or similar protective zoning
- Increase PCS funding to manage Canberra Nature Park and Namadgi National Park ($4M each over 4 years)
- Create a separate biodiversity offsets management fund
- Increase funding for weeds and invasive species management ($7.5M over 4 years)
- Increase funding for local environmental volunteer-based groups ($3.2M over 4 years)
- Employ an additional 10 Ngunnawal rangers and incorporate cultural land and water
- Establish a wildlife corridors program and install 5,000 nesting boxes
- Ban neonicotinoids and reduce the use of glyphosate and other pesticides
A biodiversity issue for those of us who value protecting wildlife, the Greens have prioritised conducting a cat-containment awareness campaign on the impact of cats on wildlife in Canberra and increasing cat containment measures to move towards Territory-wide cat containment. The Conservation Council would have liked to see a more decisive commitment from both parties on this issue, but we will be re-engaging with Minister Steel on the implementation of the 2019 Draft Cat Plan early in the new year. While we support an education campaign for the community, it’s also time to get on with implementation.
For Shane Rattenbury, with his new oversight of water policy, the ACT Greens have identified these priorities:
- Expand the Healthy Waterways program ($30 M over 4 years)
- Create a ten year stormwater upgrade plan to handle climate change storm events
Perhaps an issue of ongoing contention, the ACT Greens are prioritised maintaining Coombs Peninsula as urban green space, something that ACT Labor have not yet agreed to. The Conservation Council has argued for this for many years, and looks forward to seeing the issue resolved in the near term. Further consultation with the community about the Coombs peninsula is due.
Finally, we look forward to seeing the Greens progress action to set targets in ACT Government procurement for zero waste consumption and minimum amounts of recycled content.
The political landscape in the ACT is certainly very different from other jurisdictions in Australia, and this term, with a more even power-sharing arrangement than ever before, will be an interesting, and comes with substantial opportunities to advance strong environmental outcomes across the ACT.