The Parliamentary Agreement between ACT Labor and the ACT Greens to form the 9th Legislative Assembly reflects the parties’ disappointing environment election policies and does little to recognise the need for enhanced biodiversity conservation in the ACT.
It is good that the Agreement restates the commitment of the parties to 100% electricity from renewable energy by 2020 and it is good there is also agreement to “set firm interim targets to reach zero net emissions by 2050 at the latest”. However this policy already has tri-partisan support and what is needed is a process to deliver a post-2020 plan to zero net emissions as soon as possible with cross party support.
ACT Labor almost vacated the space on environment policy during the election campaign, except for climate change, and the best parts of the Greens environment policies have not been included including to “empower the newly created single conservation agency by funding additional staff and research capacity”; “Protecting mature and hollow bearing trees in agricultural and urban areas” and “Employing two additional full time rangers, one of which is a designated role for an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employee for on-ground biodiversity management in the ACT reserve system”.
We need to see proposals and policies that result in no more loss of our nationally significant ecological communities and appropriate resources to ensure our existing high conservation areas under protection are appropriately manage. Three key issues here are better protection for natural areas, adequate funding for weed and pest animal finding and Canberra wide cat containment.
Although the Agreement includes the Greens policy of a “feasibility study” on a national park in the north of Canberra this might mean the expenditure of a lot of money without much gain to biodiversity outcomes – rather just a change in the “title” of land tenure.
The Agreement includes “Develop a four year program to deliver weed and pest animal control” but there is no commitment to adequate resources. The Greens during the election had proposed funding $2million annually although this is usually too low to deal with both weeds and pests unless you pull a rabbit out of a hat each year with top-up funds.
At the same time the Agreement reinforces the wrong-headed approach on cat containment to “ensure the effectiveness of cat containment” rather than adopt it as a whole of Canberra measure as the Greens stated on the day before the election that “We do support the concept of Canberra-wide cat containment in principle”.
The Agreement does not adequately deal with municipal waste issues instead only offering to “Implement the key findings of the Waste Feasibility Study so that ACT waste management is national best practice”. The focus should be waste reduction but the Government with either Greens or Labor Ministers has refused to set reduction targets so resorts to management. The ACT Waste Feasibility Study is part of Government and could not be expected to provide recommendations on best practice given that it is limited by the direction of Ministers and its capacity to obtain resources from existing Directorates. There is no process of developing “key findings” and in the last term ideas came from the Minister’s office not the public part of the ACT Waste Feasibility Study. For example, ‘smart bins‘ were not brought to the Study’s community consultation processes and the current system of self-drive green waste collection was recognised as working well with a need to assist some people not able to take their garden material to recycling-compost facilities. Kitchen waste was recognised as a problem but this was not addressed by the green bin proposal that will cost nearly $20 million to roll out across Canberra.
The Agreement has incorporated many of the good costed transport policies the Greens took to the 2016 election and there are processes proposed to deliver on these ideas although there often seem to be difficulties in the public service implementing election transport policies. It would be helpful to maintain a strong view of the social impact of transport options including for lower-income people to have good transport options.
There are also some good processes established under part 5 “Better planning processes, consultation and outcomes” with Caroline Le Couteur destined to be chair of the Assembly’s Planning Committee. It remains to be seen the resources that will be allocated to this Committee to conduct an inquiry in a manner that should be a model for improved planning processes including deliberative democracy.
The Agreement sets a framework for the parties to deliver Government over the next four years and it has more than the environment to deal with but it is disappointing that the environment has not been given a higher profile. Nonetheless, both Labor and the Greens have a good record on environmental matters and we hope that they over-deliver on the environment over the next four years.
We have uploaded the Parliamentary Agreement for the 9th Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory as issued through media release 30 October 2016. This version includes an index and hyperlinks absent from the original.