Welcome to your update on the major national political news and events we’ve been advocating on this past month.

It’s been a difficult year, but we can gratefully say advocacy throughout 2020 has paid off.

We had an incredible set of wins in the final weeks of the parliamentary year. Our campaigning on three important and deeply flawed pieces of legislation worked – with the government choosing to put all on the back burner until next year. It shows our voices were heard by parliamentarians, even through the coronavirus emergency.

Check out this snapshot of all our amazing achievements in 2020.

We’re already gearing up for big 2021, as the EPBC, CEFC, and nuclear waste bills will likely return to the parliament, along with debate on the Climate Change Act and much more – including a possible early election!

In this month’s national politics update, you’ll find:

  • Senators reject EPBC Bill
  • Climate Change Act hearings
  • Collinsville vote delayed again
  • ACF community political advocacy

Senators reject government’s EPBC Bill

On 27 November, cross-bench Senators Rex Patrick, Jacqui Lambie and Stirling Griff, plus Labor and the Greens all recommended the Morrison Government’s bill to weaken our national environment laws not be passed. It was a significant win, thanks to the hard advocacy work by ACF, the Places You Love Alliance and thousands of people across this beautiful country.

Still, the Prime Minister says he’s determined to get the legislation to devolve environmental approval powers to the states and territories through the parliament.

What happened in parliament? It was a relief to see the very brief, but clear message the cross-bench Senators sent to the government in their dissenting report on the short inquiry into its Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020 – that the legislation not be passed. Labor and Greens Senators also delivered detailed dissenting reports recommending the bill not be passed.

What does it mean? The resounding rejection of the Bill by Senators representing the majority of Upper House votes doesn’t mean it’s gone away. However, it does make it clear that, at present, the government does not have the numbers to pass the bill. But that has only seen the government defer it. On 11 December, the Prime Minister said that all state and territory leaders had agreed that passing legislation was “the immediate priority” and that national environmental standards for development approvals would come sometime later.

What happens next? The EPBC Bill remains on the government’s notice paper so it will return in 2021. We expect Environment Minister Sussan Ley to table the final report of the 10-year statutory review of the EPBC Act by Professor Graeme Samuels early in the new year.

Climate Change Act hearings to kick off parliamentary year

Public hearings on Independent MP Zali Steggall’s climate change bills are expected to kick off the parliamentary year. Steggall’s Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill would set a legally-binding net-zero emissions by 2050 target and create an independent Climate Change Commission.

What happened in parliament? Hundreds of submissions rolled into the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy’s inquiry on Steggall’s landmark Bills before the closing date on 27 November. To date, 390 submissions have been posted on the Committee’s website.

What’s next? ACF understands hearings will be held in late January and February, ensuring a very focussed debate in parliament on clear action Australia can take in a year of international focus on climate change, as we head towards the UN climate change meeting (COP 26) in Glasgow starting on 1 November 2021.

Senate vote on Collinsville coal power funds delayed again

Greens Senator Larissa Waters’ motion to stop $3.3 million of public funds being wasted on a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power station in Collinsville has been delayed until early 2021.

What happened in Parliament? In the Upper House Senator Waters gave notice of a fresh disallowance motion to stop the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor’s grant to Shine Energy. A vote on the motion is now slated for 16 February. Unless a One Nation or government Senator crosses the floor to vote with the cross-bench, Greens and Labor, the vote will fail.

Why does it matter? Senator Waters’ new motion keeps the pressure on government Senators to consider the electoral consequences of supporting Minister Taylors’ decision to spend millions on a study for an uneconomical coal power station that is unlikely to ever be built.

What else is happening in the House?

ACF community political advocacy

This month there was no slowing down for the ACF Community:

  • Geelong Sustainability Group co-hosted a silent shoe strike as part of the 'Protect Our Future, NOT GAS' National Day of Action. They were protesting the federal government’s plans to fund gas projects with public money.

A 'silent shoe strike', at the 'Protect Our Future, NOT GAS' National Day of Action in late November.

  • Prom Area Climate Action met with Liberal MP Russell Broadbent. It took them four months to arrange a meeting, but their persistence paid off, with Mr. Broadbent inviting himself on a tour to see examples of how climate change is affecting South Gippsland.
  • ACF Community Macnamara ended the year by creating propagation packs for their community so they can grow their own carbon offsets for the coming year!

The ACF Community Macnamara group, packaging up 'home propagation kits'.

  • And many groups have begun trialling an ‘hour of power’, where they jump online and write to politicians, make submissions, and do their personal advocacy – together!

We’re proud to say the ACF Community has truly become a force to be reckoned with. Not only have we built our people power to over 700,000 supporters and 42 community groups nationally, you’ve been out there wielding that power, reminding our elected representatives that they work for us.

  • 76 delegations met with their elected representatives this year. This is the most community advocacy in a single period in ACF’s history. We have heard that this pressure is working, and politicians now know that the ACF Community is a powerful group.
  • ACF Community groups ran 255 events in 2020 – despite a global pandemic.
  • During the Queensland state election, groups not only met with candidates, but also hosted alliance gatherings, elevating issues of climate and renewable energy. As a result, together we achieved significant Queensland government pre-election commitments to establish Renewable Energy Zones and increased investment in renewables.
  • A few groups began nature restoration projects through our Nature For Neighbourhoods project which seeks to engage new people in nature protection and advocacy.
  • ACF Community groups began building alliances with local small businesses and others who care about climate and nature.
  • 30,000 people contributed submissions to the EPBC review and 7,529 people made submissions to the EPBC bill inquiry in just over 30 hours.
  • Our community made 122,744 observations of 6,414 species near their home, through our Nature Near You project.
  • The Plushie Protest in Sydney highlighted the 518 threatened or extinct animal species in Australia. We trended number one on Twitter by 10am, and remained within the top 6 trending topics across the day!
  • We partnered with health allies – over 3400 health and medical professionals and organisations signed an open letter calling on the Prime Minister to quickly cut climate pollution.
  • We joined together to pressure the Business Council of Australia to do better on climate –and they are. This year they advocated to the federal government to set a net zero emissions target.
  • Together we successfully delayed bills seeking to embed public investment into gas projects and weaken national environment laws.
  • The ACF Community made 1730 submissions to the lower house Committee looking at Zali Steggall's Climate Change Bill 2020.

It’s been a massive year of community advocacy, and every letter, phone call, meeting and submission makes a difference. Thank you for being a part of a national movement — when we join our efforts together it genuinely does make all the difference!

Deborah Nesbitt

Government and Business Relations Manager