by Livia Cullen
When Napthine stepped up to the plate after Baillieu’s swift and teary departure, we saw a glimmer of hope for a state that seemed doomed to a future shadowed by mountains of dirty coal. After all, Napthine’s electorate houses the biggest wind farm in the state and numerous times he has publicly lauded the benefits of wind energy.
Yet, only two months in office and Napthine has proved that he too is willing to trade away the state’s environment and the health of its residents for a future in bed with the coal industry.
In the last few months the new Premier has endorsed Baillieu’s anti-wind farm laws, watered down the Department of Sustainability by merging it with that of Primary Industries and declared the state “open for business”. A new department responsible for both developing the brown coal industry and protecting our environment doesn’t bode well for our climate future.
In a daring banner drop this morning at Flinders St Station, Quit Coal activists let Premier Napthine know that he’s taking Victorians down the wrong track.
Scaling the iconic building, the activists unfurled an 84 square metre banner that read, ‘get off the coal train, Denis and on track for renewables’.
More Quit Coal activists supported on the ground flyering the hundreds of commuters that passed by, holding banners, and liaising with the police and media. The action was picked up by The Age, The Australian, ABC News, 3AW, Channel Ten (make sure you watch the news tonight!) and even by Australian Mining!
Descending after over two hours, all three were arrested and have been charged with trespass, bringing items that are likely to endanger another person or damage property and a causing a common nuisance. They are likely to face court and large fines.
“We’re urging Denis Napthine to act quickly and act strongly to bring down Victoria’s emissions, help mitigate catastrophic climate change and secure a safe future for all Victorians,” said Quit Coal spokesperson, Chloe Aldenhoven
The actions of these three brave activists add to the growing momentum for civil disobedience in Australia that includes the recent occupation of a coal export ship by Greenpeace activists and the rapidly increasing anti-CSG movement across the country’s east coast.
When governments stop listening and the media distorts the truth, civil disobedience is a necessary action.
Already this year, we’ve seen record breaking heatwaves and natural disasters on mass, along with scientific evidence backed by the IPCC that proves the world is on track for a 4-6 degree temperature rise by the end of the century – an extremely dangerous prospect for people, oceans, animals, agriculture, you name it. If governments do not take action now, the future is looking dire. It’s up to us to show governments that we simply won’t accept that.
Here’s what we’re urging Premier Napthine to do:
1. Repeal Baillieu’s restrictive wind-farm policy
Research by Friends of the Earth estimates that the wind policy championed by Baillieu has cost Victoria around $887 million in lost or stalled investment, and massively slowed Victoria’s transition to clean energy.
These wind farm laws stand in stark contrast to laws around coal and unconventional gas mine development. While one single household can halt the development of a wind farm within 2kms of their property, not even an entire community has any legal power to stop the development of a coal mine right next door to their local primary school.
These restrictive and highly disproportionate anti-wind farm laws were put in place under the guise of reacting to community concerns but over the years we’ve seen no response whatsoever to community concerns about the health impacts of coal mining which, unlike the concerns around wind farms, are backed up by years of scientific evidence.
In Gippsland, vast tracks of our prime agricultural land are currently under exploration for coal and unconventional gas mining and communities lack the legal means to do anything to stop it. Not only are these developments a threat to the health of local communities they are also a threat to our food and water supply.
Gippsland produces approximately $1.3 billion of food each year and is a water catchment area that supplies a large proportion of Melbourne’s drinking water.
There is a dangerously high risk that contaminated air and water will directly impinge on the state’s ability to produce healthy, clean food and water.
2. Institute a moratorium on all new coal and unconventional gas projects
Government regulation of the unconventional gas industry is unbelievably lax. In the last year, as a result of coal seam gas mining, we’ve seen serious environmental damage – massive amounts of methane bubbling up in Queensland’s Condamine River and heavily contaminated soil in the Pilliga forest are just two examples. We’ve also seen growing numbers of residents living among operational coal seam gas wells presenting symptoms consistent with gas exposure.
Now, rural communities in Victoria face the same threat with over 30 mining exploration licences covering vast tracks of Gippsland. The current moratorium is an inadequate band-aid and is likely to be removed in May when the National Harmonised Framework, a regulatory framework on CSG, is released.
It’s hard to believe this framework, developed by energy and resources ministers from across Australia will be unbiased and reliable when you consider the new Energy and Resources Minister, Gary Gray, is a former climate change denier and when we’ve just discovered that the former QLD government knowingly accepted dodgy environmental impact assessments to rush through the approval of an enormous coal seam gas mine. How can we rely on a government so deeply entwined with the coal and gas industries to produce an unbiased report? Once again the fox is in charge of the hen house.
3. Cancel plans to allocate for export an extra 13 billion tonnes of brown coal in the Latrobe Valley.
Last year Baillieu committed millions of dollars to the expansion of the brown coal industry in the Latrobe Valley. This stuff is bad news. Not only does it emit 30 percent more greenhouse gas than black coal due to its high moisture content, mining it would require the development of huge, new open-cut coal mines in the Latrobe Valley. This puts at risk the health of local communities who would suffer the adverse health effects of living near an open-cut coal mine – an increased risk of cancer, lung disease and asthma.
With the world on track for 4-6 degrees of warming, when burning coal is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions, it is mindnumbingly asinine that the government would consider going ahead with a massive brown coal project that would contribute billions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere each year.
4. Invest in and support renewables
Finally, we need to look at a realistic and sustainable future energy supply. Victoria has the means to become a solar and wind powerhouse but it needs the government’s support to make it happen. It has high wind speeds, available network capacity, an abundance of suitable development sites and access to the pool of three billion dollars the federal government has assigned to invest in large-scale renewable energy projects as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET).
A strong renewables sector means jobs and regional development, a transition to clean energy and a safer climate for all.
Premiers come and go but climate change will be a long-term challenge for Victoria. This issue requires politicians to be visionary, to be honorable and to think beyond their term.
Ted Baillieu’s recent resignation gave the Coalition government the opportunity to shake things up but they are fast taking Victoria down the wrong track.
The new Premier, Denis Napthine, must show he is listening to community concerns about coal and unconventional gas mining. He must support action on climate change and transition Victoria from polluting fossil fuels to clean renewable sources of energy.
We’ve even got some footage of the banner unfurling!