Welcome to our July update on national political news and events!
We’ve created this monthly update to help the ACF Community keep up to date with important developments in Federal Government and the implications for the issues that we’re most concerned about: protecting the places and wildlife we love and strong government leadership to make Australia a leader in climate solutions.
This month, we’re looking at the soon to be released mini-budget and the outcome of the Eden-Monaro by-election, which delivered a victory for Labor.
On environmental policy, the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act review interim report has been released, and we look at threats to the Australian Renewable Energy Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Labor says it supports ARENA and CEFC but also supports the Coalition’s backing for carbon sequestration technology. We also look at Bills to regulate political donations.
Plus, we forecast what’s happening in Parliament, and recap meetings that ACF Community groups around the country are having with their Members of Parliament.
First, some exciting news: ACF Albury-Wodonga has secured a meeting with Federal Minister for Environment, Sussan Ley, for July 27th! We’ll report back on the meeting after it happens, but during the meeting the group plans to hand over ACF’s petition for strong nature laws, which has now passed the 400,000 signature milestone!
Over the last month, we’ve had a number of great meetings between the ACF Community and their federal and state MPs. In total, 19 MP meetings have been held since the start of our Recover, Rebuild, Renew campaign. Eight more are locked in and coming up, and another 53 are in the earlier stages of planning and requesting a meeting - momentum keeps building! Here are some highlights from recent meetings:
ACF Adelaide’s meeting with Mark Butler, ALP Shadow Minister for Climate Change and Energy, at the end of June went well. The group developed a strong relationship with Butler, and discussed a range of issues, including the Coalition’s push for a gas-led recovery and the shortcoming of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. He was very receptive to the group’s points, and although he didn’t make any explicit commitments, the groundwork has been done to continue building a strong relationship and hold further meetings.
ACF Mildura has been busy, meeting with both State and Federal MP’s recently. In a meeting with Ali Cupper, Victorian State MP for Mildura, they had a broad and positive discussion. Cupper was, overall, very supportive of the group’s asks and ACF’s principles. ACF Mildura will continue to meet with her in the future.
The group also met with Anne Webster, Nationals MP for the federal seat of Mallee. Webster recognised the role of solar energy in the region, and the need to upgrade the electricity networks, though preferred to leave discussions of her party’s support for coal and gas to the wayside. ACF Mildura called for a more representative NCCC. Overall, it was an important meeting to establish a working relationship for future encounters.
ACF Menzies met with Liberal MP Kevin Andrew, in the federal seat of Menzies in Victoria. It was a productive meeting, with the Menzies group presenting their asks to a receptive Andrew. Discussion focussed on building a strong, resilient economy, and creating jobs in renewable energy industries to create a healthy planet. Kevin Andrew has agreed to meet with ACF Menzies again further down the track.
Malvern Climate Action met with Liberal MP Katie Allen, a moderate Liberal who’s vocal on the need for urgent climate action. The meeting was broadly positive, with Allen sympathetic to many of the group’s asks
Both ACF Bayside and ACF Griffith have met with Liberal MP Ross Vasta over the last few weeks. Vasta was receptive to the policies and asks outlined in our Recover, Rebuild, Renew campaign. Importantly, he supports our opposition to the proposed Toondah harbour development at Moreton Bay in Queensland, which threatens to destroy a vibrant and Ramsar-protected coastal ecosystem if it goes ahead.
Geelong Sustainability met with Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles. He was very on board with ramping up investment in renewables, and supporting job creation and protecting the environment at the same time. He also recognises the need for the ALP to push for stronger environment laws, in light of the EPBC Act review interim report recently released. The group intends to continue advocating for government-backed increased investment in renewables with Marles.
Haven’t started your plan to meet with your MP yet? Check out this page with everything you’ll need to have an impactful first meeting
The COVD-19 crisis has forced Federal parliamentary sittings to be delayed for two weeks. They’ll now start on August 24 and run till September 3.
In response, the Senate Select Committee on COVID-19 will hold more hearings in coming weeks. The Committee was agreed to by both major parties as a means to hold the government to account in the absence of parliamentary sittings.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is also meeting regularly to scrutinise all federal legislation, including COVID-19 related legislation, and ensure it’s compatible with Australia’s human rights obligations.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is expected to unveil a $200bn deficit in the July Economic and Fiscal Update (JEFU), or mini-budget, he will deliver at 10am on 23 July.
JEFU’s timing is unusual because the COVID-19 crisis stalled the government’s 2020-21 federal budget till 6 October. But it follows the precedent set by the former Rudd government during the GFC.
JEFU will provide up to date information on the budget deficit and government revenue compared to last December’s budget update, and set out some of the government’s spending plans for the rest of 2020-21 and 2021-22 financial years.
It’s not yet clear if the PM will join the Treasurer and Finance Minister to deliver the first major report card on the economy since COVID-19 hit Australia.
The Treasurer’s appearance at the National Press Club on Friday 24 July to discuss JEFU and answer press gallery questions will be broadcast on ABC 24 at 12.30pm.
The economic policy decisions contained in the JEFU and October budget will be long lasting. The government has a chance to deliver tens of thousands jobs that are good for nature and our climate, renew our energy system and become a clean energy superpower.
We’ve told the PM that decisive action and unprecedented investment in jobs-rich conservation and land management programs is needed as part of broader economic stimulus measures, to provide safe, meaningful and sustainable jobs into the future.
In April we partnered with Pew Australia and many other environment organisations to propose a $4 billion combined federal and state economic stimulus package. Over time, it would provide up to 24,000 jobs in practical conservation activities such as weed and pest control, river restoration and bushfire recovery and resilience, for instance, leaving enduring benefits for the environment, tourism and farm businesses.
Research we commissioned before the crisis found that almost half a million jobs could be created by 2030 by investing clean energy, pricing pollution, household efficiency, industry modernisation, protecting landscapes, electric and low emissions vehicles, expansion of public transport and services, incentives for battery storage.
As we head towards the 6 October budget, we’ll continue to promote our Recover, Renew, Rebuild agenda to stimulate and future-proof our economy. This is our chance to get it right.
The outcome of the Eden-Monaro by-election made it clear: concern about climate change and the bushfire catastrophe influenced voter decisions and helped deliver Labor a win.
First-time Labor candidate Kristy McBain was known for promoting strong local environmental policies as Bega mayor and her crisis management during the fires. McBain won the booths in the most fire affected areas decisively.
Congratulations to the ACF Canberra group for its work with the Nature Conservation Council of NSW and other climate and environment groups that ensured all election candidates were questioned about their climate and nature policy positions so voters could make informed decisions.
The by-election also drew attention to the threat posed by the conservative NSW-based Shooters, Fishers and Farmers (SFF) Party to the National Party. SFF gained 5% of the vote in the by-election and preferenced Labor, helping it to win the election.
SFF has said it is considering running in the federal election. SFF policy is to support a moratorium on coal seam gas fracking in NSW regions where projects are planned but it supports coal mining, fossil fuel and nuclear power generation and appears to oppose renewable energy.
The Government’s response to the Interim Report of the Independent Review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC) released on 20 July is alarming and preempts the final report due in October.
We’ve welcomed Professor Graeme Samuels interim report’s backing for important elements of the ACF’s submission, including the development of National Environment Standards and an independent body to administer and enforce the Act.
But without waiting for consultations to end and Professor Samuels’ final report, Environment minister Sussan Ley said the government would begin moving to fast track development projects by shifting responsibility for environmental assessments and approvals to states which have weaker standards of environmental protection.
“Advancing bilateral approvals with states before the final review is putting the cart before the horse,” said ACF Chief Executive Officer, Kelly O’Shanassy.
The federal government has responsibilities over nationally and internationally important species and ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef.
“Without strong standards that protect nature, fast tracking approvals will simply fast track extinction,” Kelly said.
Ley rejected outright an independent regulator to ensure compliance with the Act despite Professor Samuels agreeing with ACF “that an independent cop on the beat is required to deliver rigorous, transparent compliance and enforcement.”
You can comment on the Interim Report by completing a survey before 9 am on Monday 17th August.
Right across the country and the political spectrum, people care deeply about our incredible wildlife and the places we love.
ACF’s submission to the EPBC review is here.
Once again the Australian Renewable Energy Authority (ARENA) is under threat with most of its governing Board removed by energy minister Angus Taylor last week.
Taylor appointed Justin Punch as the new ARENA board chair but made no other new board appointments after the former board members’ terms ended.
This leaves the ARENA board with just two members - Punch and the government board representative Jo Evans, Deputy Secretary at the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.
ARENA’s funding will run out in the coming financial year if it is not replenished. It can, however, continue to operate for about another 18 months, overseeing projects already funded and administer its remaining funds.
We’ll continue our campaign to see ARENA re-funded well into the future so it can continue it’s critical work supporting research and development of renewable energy technologies.
We’re continuing to watch for any government moves to undermine the missions of ARENA and Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC).
The good news is the government is facing serious hurdles if it tries to amend the legislation underpinning ARENA and CEFC to provide funding for non-renewable energy projects.
Thousands of supporters from ACF, GetUp, Greenpeace and Solar Citizens stood up to protect ARENA and the CEFC by writing letters and signed petitions to PM Scott Morrison and ALP Leader Anthony Albanese in June.
Thanks to you, in a major speech on 23 June Albanese made it clear Labor will not support any change to ARENA or CEFC’s legislation.
We’re continuing to talk to MPs and Senators from all parties across the Parliament to ensure government amendments to ARENA or CEFC Acts will fail to pass the Senate.
Labor Leader Anthony Albanese’s 23 June speech (discussed above) reaffirmed the party’s policy to oppose nuclear power.
However, Albanese said Labor is willing to support carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to generate carbon offsets. He suggested the government reinstate the Rudd government’s former CCS flagships program, abolished by the Abbott government, or create a new funding vehicle for CCS.
Since the Rudd government first backed it, CCS research and development has consumed about $1.7 billion of taxpayer funding with nothing to show in Australia.
ACF strongly opposes CCS for coal, gas and oil projects because it’s an extremely expensive technology and unproven at commercial scale. Additionally, it simply prolongs the use of polluting and dangerous fossil fuels.
Our submission to the Senate inquiry into Jackie Lambie’s Bill to reform political donations noted that in the 2018/19 financial year, which included a federal election, found that over $100 million in political donations given to the Labor and Coalition parties had no identifiable source. This is an unacceptable amount of hidden money to be flowing around in Australia’s federal political system.
We strongly support the reform Bill as a significant step towards bringing greater integrity to our federal political finance system. Our submission offers suggestions to prevent the Bill’s unintended consequences on charities and small community groups that may be involved in political campaigns and public interest advocacy around election times.
Lambie’s Commonwealth Electoral Amendment (Donation Reform and Other Measures) Bill 2020 is being examined by the Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee. It’s due to report on 25 September.
We’ve also delivered a submission on a government Bill to amend the Electoral Act, urging the deletion of sections that would weaken state and territory governments’ ability to apply stricter laws around political donations.
We’ll let you know when our submission to the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters has been published. See coverage of ACF’s submission in the Guardian here.
Supporting strong democracy is vital to all of our work. Our democracy campaign focuses on reducing the influence of big corporations over our government and ensuring that people can actively participate in a democratic system that is honest and fair. We advocate for reforms to bring increased transparency to political donations, more transparency and stricter regulation of lobbyists, a strong federal anti-corruption watchdog, and to promote and protect the ability of community voices to be heard in democratic debates.