The expanded Legislative Assembly was always going to give us eight new members and then Simon Corbell retired from the Assembly. Chris Bourke and Jayson Hinder were not re-elected – thank you to both of them for their support of the Conservation Council with Chris Bourke attending our events over the years and Jayson Hinder enthusiastically bidding at our 2016 World Environment Day auction.
Eleven new members will bring new enthusiasm to the Assembly and we look forward to working with all of them especially in reinvigorating the committees to address some important issues.
The Conservation Council wrote to all leaders of the Assembly parties immediately after the election to ask them to support a select committee inquiry into developing a plan with the community to get to zero net greenhouse gas emissions. Given that all parties supported sero net emissions during the election now is the time to start the discussion to actually achieve it. New members starting their Assembly career with a positive inquiry might also be good for the Assembly.
Several Ministers will have more impact on the Conservation Council’s work on the environment and we hope to impact on their work too.
Mick Gentleman is now Minister for the Environment and Heritage as well as Minister for Planning and Land Development (including major projects) and Minister for Urban Renewal. The balancing of these roles will be important as the environment will probably suffer when development and major projects are in the frame. And he still has call-in powers to enable proposals to go ahead.
Meegan Fitzharris’s role as Minister for Transport and City Services gives her responsibility for following up on cat containment; she will have all or most of the responsibility for municipal waste and will have to implement the weak target-free legislation she took through the Assembly before the election; and she has transport where her task will be to integrate light rail, buses, walking and cycling across the ACT. She also has roads.
Yvette Berry’s role as Minister for Housing and Suburban Development might will mean overseeing the rump of the Land Development Agency (LDA) to convert habitat to suburban development. The government’s splitting of city development into urban and suburban parts could mean that it will be harder to stop Canberra’s sprawl as there won’t be a balancing mechanism with one agency’s main role to develop at the edges.
The appointment of Shane Rattenbury MLA as Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability is welcome. This will help to maintain the profile of climate change which was previously carried by the good work of Simon Corbell in the 8th Assembly.
The role will have more to do than maintain support for renewables. Previously Minister Corbell did all the hard lifting to get us to secure delivery of our 100% renewable energy target by 2020. The contracts are in place. All parties support them. Now we need a process to deliver a post-2020 plan to take us zero net emissions as soon as possible while maintaining all-party support. There is nothing in the Parliamentary Agreement to deliver this target so it is up to Minister Rattenbury to take leadership.
It is worth noting that in May 2016 the ACT Greens supported the target of zero net emissions by 2050 and then during the election proposed a target of 2030 for zero net emissions. At the same time they did not put forward any specific costed proposals to deliver additional greenhouse gas reduction.
It is unclear what the term Sustainability will mean in terms of a Minister for Climate Change and Sustainability and the detail of the Chief Minister’s Administrative Arrangements describes it as “Government sustainability”.
Andrew Barr remains important as Chief Minister and it was unusual but good to hear him recognise natural spaces in the Assembly after his election as Chief Minister:
“I know we all love Canberra. We love our inclusive and welcoming community and natural spaces and bushlands. Together, we want to keep the city we love and build a positive new future.”
The Liberals have elevated former environment spokesperson Nicole Lawder to Deputy Leader and while she will not have direct responsibility for environment matters she has a good understanding of the need to consult when issues arise and we expect she will provide good advice to Liberal newcomer Elizabeth Lee who will be spokesperson on environment. We have also previously had good discussions with Alistair Coe and note his genuine interest in transport issues in the ACT even if we do disagree on some proposals.
The Conservation Council is seeking meetings with all relevant Ministers and spokespeople to discuss their portfolio issues and to establish working relationships for the advancement of environmental protection in the ACT and region.