Yellow Box Dispatch — pre-election edition October 2016


In the ACT legislative Assembly election on Saturday there are 141 candidates for twenty-five positions so there are 116 people who miss out after having put in a lot of work raising issues and working hard to try to gain the responsibility for a four year term. We should be thankful that there are so many people willing – and all with good intentions – to take on the drudgery and thanklessness that goes with being an elected representative. So good luck and thanks to all of them, win or lose.

On the other hand election campaigns are a bad time to have a good discussion on policy. The policy highlight has to be the tri-partisan support for 100% renewable energy for electricity by 2020 and this is not just aspirational, plans are in place to deliver it. Also good is the shared commitment to zero net emissions by 2050 yet here there is no plan and that needs to be a key focus on the next Assembly. The downside is the lack of commitment to enhancing and protecting our biodiversity. The good work in the last Assembly with cross-party support for the new Nature Conservation Act and the creation of the Integrated Conservation Agency needs to be built on.

Conservation Council assessment

The Conservation Council developed a range of policies across seven focus areas and these were sent to the political parties and have been on our website for months. We highlighted three particular areas:

  • No more loss of our nationally significant and local critically endangered ecological communities: We must manage and protect our biodiversity so that there is no more loss of existing habitat; no further species become locally extinct.
  • Canberra zero net emissions by 2040 and support for 100% renewables by 2020: Maintain leadership on climate change by continuing to meet stronger greenhouse gas emission reduction targets while also adapting for climate change.
  • Smart and sensitive urban infill: Develop a more compact city that lives within its environmental means while also being liveable for all and providing a high level of human amenity and a place where natural and cultural heritage are respected and protected. We support environmental initiatives through urban planning which look after people so that they can live without having to impact on the natural environment.

All three parties – ACT Labor, Canberra Liberals, ACT Greens – have expressed support for 100% renewable electricity by 2020. Reducing emissions to zero will be done by 2050 by Labor and Liberal while the Greens say they will do it by 2030 (after supporting 2050 in May 2016 and no clear plan or costings on this). The Conservation Council wants good community consultation to develop the post 2020 stage of our local action on climate change. This means more community buy-in of how we are going to achieve zero net emissions and when we will do it.

Policies on smart and sensitive urban infill will be better developed outside the smoke and mirrors af an election campaign and all parties have accepted and endorsed better consultation on a range of planning matters. The link of planning and transport is one area where there are actually distinctions between the three current parties. Light rail gets a tick because it will lead to more compact development and it is another real step to reduce the expansion of the city. At the same time it has to be done well so that people displaced by the associated development are not forced into inaccessible housing options elsewhere. Labor and the Greens, in supporting light rail, are adding another element to help bring about a transport system that delivers a shift from car dependency. We still need to do more to develop an integrated transport system beyond light rail.

The Conservation Council has a more detailed discussion on transport policies here. In summary, Canberra Liberals have some goodpolicies on transport but, even apart from light rail, do not seem to be putting as many resources to transport rather they are more focussed on road duplication or road widening than looking at public transport or other forms of transport. The Liberals have also not been clear on what are their commitments and they have not put forward key costings to Treasury in time for this assessment.

Labor has fewer headings on transport but has multi-page plans underneath. Labor’s transport plans include almost as many road duplications (four) as the Liberals and they also promise eighty additional buses (the Liberals have proposed fifty additional buses). Labor has committed to work on the next stage of the light rail network to Woden.

The Greens have a comprehensive set of transport plans and look at a range of modes including walking and cycling ($60million allocated), public transport and private vehicles. The Greens submitted many of their plans for election costings and early enough to obtain responses. The Greens have also committed to extending the light rail network to Woden.

The Greens have the best transport policy of the three incumbent parties and the most comprehensive published transport policies of all parties and candidates in this election.

The really bad news for the environment in this election is in the lack of attention given to enhancement and maintenance of our biodiversity. Labor has published only one broad policy covering several areas called “sustaining renewable energy“.  The Canberra Liberals have published two policies: “Renewable energy target” and “Funding Landcare ACT“. Both parties have a better record in the last Assembly than they are revealing in their published policies so there is hope that they will re-engage in the new Assembly.

The ACT Greens have the most to say on the environment yet it is unclear whether their policies will result in real environmental outcomes and their is no committment to no more loss of our nationally significant and local critically endangered ecological communities. Their environment policies are not as comprehensive as they are on transport and are not costed. They have also introduced some concepts which would have benefitted from further consultation including the Office of Water, proposals for privately run facilities in some nature reserves, and the backward approach on cat containment where they seem to want to challenge the science that domestic cats can impact on wildlife. The good points of the Greens policy are that they want more rangers and more resources but they did not supply or submit costings so it is unclear what they want to achieve. The recurrent weeds funding increase at $2 million per annum is welcome however still seems to fall short of the required $3 million. Again, the Greens have done some good work on the environment in the past and we should expect further good work in the future.

None of the parties has made a significant contribution towards reducing or dealing with Canberra’s municipal waste. Here again the various waste proposals aren’t located within a strategic framwork of reducing our waste generation. It will be interesting to see if Labor’s proposed container deposit scheme would survive if NSW decides not to go ahead with its similar scheme.

Some other assessments of policies and candidates

  • Save the Murrumbidgee Corridor – Some ACT election candidates are saying that they do not support development within the Murrumbidgee river corridor but others are leaving their options open – and with it the possibility that there will be development right up to the edge of this iconic river in the ACT.
  • Pedal Power has assessed the three current parties on their cycling policies and summarises them: * Labor – Makes decent election promises on cycling policy, but fails to follow through. * Greens – Excellent cycling policies, but lacks the influence to make them happen. * Liberals – More official detail required.
  • Canberra Alliance for Participatory Democracy (CAPAD) sought statements from all candidates and, nine days out from the election, had statements from only 49 of the 141 candidates, or not quite 42%.
    The candidate statement includes four elements:
    * qualification to be a parliamentarian
    * policy passions of the candidate
    * a statement of how they intend to represent the electorate
    * agreement to or modification of a six point “Charter of Democratic Commitment”.

We look forward to working with all elected members in the expanded Assembly in the next term and expect that their ambition includes enhancing the natural environment of our Bush Capital.


Larry O’Loughlin
Executive Director

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