Monday, May 21, 2007

Letter to my local member Petro Georgiou on climate change

I just sent this letter to Petro Georgiou, my local member in the Kooyong electorate.

Dear Petro,

I write to you as a constituent. Thanks for your letter dated 16 May advising of budget matters and the Government's platform for the 2007 election.

I believe that climate change is the number one issue facing Australia and Kooyong at present. I don't think the Government and budget initiatives you mention under "The Environment" are anywhere near enough to address climate change.

For example, nearly all the total $500m Low Emissions Technology Demonstration fund is committed to carbon capture and sequestration research and development. You incorrectly refer to this as "clean coal". There is no such thing, burning coal will always result in carbon emissions. This technology is unproven, and will in any case will not be available in time to address the major cutbacks immediately required in carbon emissions - as identified in the Stern report and recent IPCC reports.

Both these reports indicate that significant expenditure (about 1% of GDP) is required to limit further global temperature rises by one degree. The cost of doing nothing effective now could require over 3-5% of GDP to address later (say in 5 years time).

Your government and the Prime Minister has stated that Australia cannot take action to address climate change as it will affect employment and our standard of living. This is completely the wrong way around. If we don't take immediate action to address climate change, our incomes and standard of living will greatly affected in the near future. We are already seeing the affects of climate change and drought on our agricultural exports and food supply.

I would like to you ensure that Australia:

  • Legislates for a renewable energy target of 30% by 2020 to fast-track the shift to a clean energy economy, which could become one of Australia's major sectors for employment and exports.
  • Sets a legislated target to stabilise our total energy consumption by 2010. We must reduce our energy consumption through increased efficiency measures to reduce our carbon emissions,

  • Achieves reductions of 1.5% on our total electricity use every year to 2020. After stablilising our energy consumption, we must then progressively reduce it through efficiency measures.

  • Abolishes the fringe benefit tax concessions for car use. Many leased cars are currently used excessively to meet tax deduction requirements, resulting in large and avoidable carbon emissions.

  • Provides $1 billion of additional Federal funding annually for our public transport systems. Public transport, and rail in particular, is much more energy efficient than transport by privately owned motor vehicles. Increased use of improved public transport will reduce our carbon emissions.

  • Ends broad-scale land clearing and logging of high conservation value native forests by 2008, to address the greenhouse emissions from these practices.

  • Put a price on carbon pollution, either through a tax or an emissions trading scheme. This will ensure that renewable energy can compete with fossil fuel energy on a level playing field. Fossil fuel energy is heavily subsides by the Government. These subsidies must be removed.
  • Does not build new coal fired power stations and that we responsibly phase out our involvement in the coal industry.

  • Ratifies the Kyoto Protocol immediately. Climate change is a global problem, and it needs a global solution. Australia should become a constructive part of this international process.
  • Shifts overseas aid to renewable energy sectors. Australia must integrate climate change risk factors into all relevant parts of our Overseas Development Assistance (ODA) program planning and evaluation. The majority of Australia's ODA energy sector spending should be on renewable energy, demand management and energy efficiency.

  • Does not use nuclear power and stops uranium mining. Nuclear power is a dangerous and ineffective response to climate change. Australia’s involvement in the global nuclear cycle should be nil – no uranium mining, nuclear waste dumps, and nuclear power stations for Australia.

  • Limits global temperate increases to 2 degrees. Most industrialised nations now accept the imperative of constraining global temperature increase to 2 degrees or less to avoid catastrophic climate change, It is imperative that constraining global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels must underpin Australian government policy responses to global warming.

At local level, can you please:

  • Commit to Kooyong becoming carbon neutral? Can you please commit to the target of Kooyong becoming carbon neutral by 2010?

  • Provide funding for the Eastern Rail Trail? Increasing bicycle transport is another means of reducing our carbon emissions. A high quality bicycle trail along the Box Hill line through Kooyong would encourage both local and commuter cycling.

Could you please convey my views to the Australian parliament and the Liberal Party room for consideration and action?

I await your response. I will follow this email up with a phone call next week to confirm progress on this. I would also like to meet with you to discuss these matters further.

Regards, Peter

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Labor, Liberals and Family First oppose Senate motion on climate change

It is interesting to observe the serious lack of real political commitment from Labor, Liberal and Family First parties to seriously address climate change.

On 10 May 2007, Senator Christine Milne (Greens Senator for Tasmania) moved that the Senate:

(a) notes that most industrialised nations now accept the imperative of constraining global temperature increase to 2 degrees or less to avoid catastrophic climate change; and

(b) agrees that the imperative of constraining global temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels should underpin government policy responses to global warming.

7 Senators (Greens and Democrats) voted for the motion, while 44 voted against it.

Labor, the Liberals and Family First all voted against it.

The pre industrial average global temperature was about 16 degrees. The average global temperature has already increased by 0.8 degrees to 16.8 degrees. It is past time for urgent action to address climate change.

The science is clear, and the catastrophic results are increasingly apparent, with yet another Government report about to be released with shocking findings, including major risks to some of our most basic services and necessities - including water, electricity, transport, telecommunications and buildings. Melbourne has just experienced its driest ever year, getting only half its yearly average rainfall as of 15 May 2007.

Unfortunately, most of our politicians are prepared to play games and fiddle while Australia burns.

Links Senate Hansard, 10 May 2007
Climate change: shock findings for Victorians , The Age, 16 May 2007
Melbourne records driest 12 months, The Age, 16 May 2007

Friday, May 11, 2007

Election strategy, political football and climate change

I bumped into Bob Hawke in Melbourne airport just after the 2004 federal election, and asked him what on earth happened with Mark Latham and Labor's strategy for the election. He replied that Latham had earlier sought advice from him and he told him that

“you need to take a lead position on your key strengths and you need to cover the key issues that your opponents will use against you”.

I consider this sage advice.

In 2004, Labor arguably ran on education (e.g. school funding) and health (e.g. Medicare Gold). The Howard governed countered them on education by running a scare campaign on funding for non-government schools being reduced (as per their “hit list”).

The environment has been a differentiator between Labor and the Liberals, but in 2004 Latham played a game of cat and mouse on forests with John Howard. Instead of taking a leadership position on forest protection and taking it up to Howard, Latham was lured into a trap which was deftly sprung when John Howard visited Tasmania and famously hugged members of the CFMEU in Hobart. Labor's Tony O'Connor of the CFMEU denounced Labor's forest policy in favour of John Howard's. While this did not actually cost Labor the election, it certainly did not help them much.

Interestingly, Hawke also pointed out that one of Howard's former key strengths – national security – was effectively neutralised as a campaign issue for him when the “43 eminent people” including retired defence chiefs, diplomats and former senior bureaucrats strongly criticised Howard for deceiving the Australian people over the Iraq war and pointing out that Australia had not become a safer place as a result of the war. However, Labor was not able to capitalise on this, although they did ask a series of questions in Parliament on this topic. See PM shrugs off foreign policy attack for more information on this.

Howard also effectively attacked Labor's economic credentials by running a scare campaign that interest rates would rise under Labor, which Latham was not really able to counter in the public mind despite signing a dubious guarantee that interest rates would not rise under a Labor government .

Latham's earlier wins on policy issues like books for children in schools and reducing parliamentarians superannuation disappeared in the cut and thrust of the campaign and the ensuing media storm.

So what will the strategies for the major parties be for the 2007 Federal election? Here is my take on it.

Labor will run on:


  • Increase funding and boost the ailing public education system.
  • Position Labor as the “education experts”
  • Point out that investing in education is an investment in the future
  • In Rudd's budget reply, he has announced significant funding for new technical education, which could enjoy popular support.

Workplace relations

  • Campaign on the issue that worker entitlements have been lost via Australian Workplace Agreements and the Howard Government's Work Choices reforms.
  • Labor has committed to removing AWAs

Climate change and the environment

  • Position themselves as better than Howard on climate change by ratifying the Kyoto agreement and setting targets for greenhouse gas emission reductions.
  • Keep the CFMEU and coal miners happy by committing to grubby coal funding.
  • Tread carefully on Tasmanian, Victorian and NSW forest protection to avoid a repeat performance of 2004. Tony O'Connor and Tasmanian Premier Paul Lennon have already fired warning shots on this issue.

Infrastructure and long term planning

  • Rudd has announced a policy for improving extending the speed and coverage of broadband across Australia to boost Australia's capabilities to use the Internet for competitive advantage.

Labor will seek to mitigate Liberal attacks on:

  • Economic management credentials, including keeping interest rates low and running a budget surplus
  • Being controlled by the unions and compromising Australia's productivity
  • Endangering the economy and our standard of living by reducing greenhouse gas emissions
  • Rudd's inexperience compared to Howard

The Liberals will run on:

The economy
  • Claim credit for Australia enjoying prosperous times, low unemployment and a healthy economy (even though the minerals boom has been a major contributing factor to this)
  • Continuing to run a budget surplus
  • Reduce taxation to keep the electorate happy with more money in their pocket
  • Position themselves as the only party capable of continuing to run a healthy economy


  • Howard has already taken it up to Rudd with the announcement a funding boost for universities with a new $5 billion Higher Education Endowment Fund, which will initially produce $300 million to $400 million annually for capital works and research facilities.

The environment

  • Climate change. $741 million over five years on climate change has been announced, including funding for solar panel rebates, and deductions for the cost of establishing carbon sink forests. There is speculation that Howard will introduce an emissions trading scheme closer to the election date to strengthen their position on climate change
  • Water tanks - $200 million over six years to support installing water tanks and other water-saving devices by schools and community organisations.
  • Nuclear power and grubby coal. Howard is positioning both nuclear power and grubby coal (referred to by him with the oxymoron of “clean coal”) as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He is on dangerous ground here as neither will address long term energy sustainability, and neither will not be available in time for the immediate reductions we require.

Other items significant for the election in Costello's budget include:

  • The aged. Immediate bonuses for about 85 per cent of people over 65, bonuses for carers
  • Low -income earners. An extra $1.1 billion paid into the superannuation accounts of low-income earners.
  • Child care. Changes include increasing the child-care benefit and fast-tracking the child-care tax rebate
  • Defence. An additional $2.1 billion over 10 years to improve recruitment and retention of personnel.
  • Road and rail. New budget funding for roads and rail of $22.3 billion over five years.

The Liberals will seek to mitigate Labor attacks on:
  • Howard's ongoing commitment to the failed Iraq war, and his reluctance to reveal an exit strategy
  • Recent interest rates rises
  • A reduction in the growth of productivity
  • Australian workers not getting “a fair go” due to Howard's workplaces reforms and AWAs
  • The Howard government's lack of real action on climate change, despite growing public concern on this issue. Australia also appears as a pariah nation on climate change, constantly seeking to avoid commitments to setting emission reduction targets, criticising the Kyoto Agreement and failing to ratify it.
  • The increased cost of housing – pushing affordabilty beyond the means of most first home buyers

Where I think both major parties will fail:

  • Setting the aggressive targets and policies to address climate change. In particular, both major parties will avoid setting strong immediate targets and strong targets for 2020. Both will attempt to buy time on this, and maintain that they are taking appropriate action.

  • Protection of remain high conservation value forests, including old growth forests not currently protected. The Liberals favour large companies continuing to plunder our forest, even though forest destruction contributes to climate change and loss of water. Labor is locked into a militant CFMEU (Union) position of logging jobs rather than forest protection - even though the logging jobs will go once the remaining forests are destroyed.

  • Funding for a national high speed rail network similar to that operating in Europe in Japan. This is in the "too hard basket" for both Labor and Liberal who support spending vast amounts of money on the road system instead. This is in spite of the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee report of February 2007 that states trains use about one third the fuel of trucks per net tonne kilometre.

  • Funding for cycling transport infrastructure to make it safer and more convenient in both urban and rural areas. Again, this is in the "too hard basket" as multi billion dollar toll roads such as Melbourne's Eastlink are being constructed.

  • Putting in place effective policies for reducing power consumption and the reducing the requirement for base load electricity.

  • Setting an exit strategy for coal burning and exports. The Liberals are addicted to the revenue for coal exports, and Labor is protecting coal miners jobs. But we got of whaling didn't we?

So what about the Greens?

This is topic for a separate posting. Some of the above points where major parties may fail could be addressed by them. They will be under strident attack from both Labor and The Liberals who are not keen to lose any votes to newcomers or to share the balance of power with other parties.

Will the Greens be able to counter attacks by the major parties and consolidate growing public support for many of their core policies which have now become mainstream? Or will they be marginalised and characterised again as “extreme”? Will Labor and Liberal really take action on climate change, or will they succeed in just greenwashing themselves?

Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Time for action on water, not more reviews

It is a great concern that Melbourne's water storages have just dropped below 30% for only the second time since the severe 1967 drought.

Looking at Melbourne Water's information on our reservoirs and consumption, we have about 320 days of water until we get to 10% levels if we continue to consume water at our current rate. 10% could be a realistic minimum amount as it could be problematic to get access to or use remaining water below this level. If no significant rain falls, Melbourne will effectively run out of water by March 2008.

Yet with an apparent crisis looming, there is scant provision to address our water shortage in the Victorian State budget just announced by Treasurer John Brumby, despite windfall income from gambling revenue.

The best that Minister Thwaites can tell us is that the Government is still “looking at options”. It is time for action, not more reviews.

Two possible options for managing and conserving our water are:

  • Introduction of a “luxury use” premium for water used in excess of normal household usage, or;
  • A domestic water trading scheme similar to that used for agricultural irrigators could be introduced for households. Such a scheme could effectively establish a market price for scarce water. Households could have a non-tradeable allocation so that reasonable domestic use is covered, and a tradeable allocation that could be on-sold. Tradeable allocations could also be reduced in times of drought.

At this point in time, there are no significant financial incentives for those who do the right thing and install large water tanks, and people are still topping up domestic swimming pools that lose a lot of water every day due to evaporation.

A family of four can normally get by with about 25,000 litres of water storage. Most domestic swimming pools contain significantly more water than this – up to 50,000 litres is not uncommon.

Perhaps it is time that domestic pools are converted for water storage purposes rather than used for recreation.

Some real action on and funding for addressing the causes of climate change such as reducing our huge greenhouse gas emissions could also help address the causes of the drought.

Note: an edited version of this letter was published in The Australian on Saturday 5 May, 2007


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

New low energy light bulbs to reduce our footprint further

When we completed our sustainable house renovation in 2001 we had about 8 light globes that were on dimmer switches in two of our main living spaces. At the time, compact fluorescent light bulbs would not operate on dimmers, or you needed a special very expensive dimmer switch. We also had some wall lighting that used small bulbs. We have been running high electrical consumption incandescent bulbs in all these areas, which has bothered me for some time.

Happily, a much larger variety of compact fluorescent are now available.

Today, I visted The Environment Shop in Northcote and bought the following globes:

  • Compact fluoro spotlight - for outside (top)
  • Dimmable compact fluoros - for inside living areas (left) to replace incandescent bulb (second left)
  • Small bayonet compact fluoro (right) to replace small bayonet incandescent bulbs (second from right).
This will dramatically reduce our energy consumption - next I will calculate by how much.

I also plan to install more panels to our solar array. Adding about four 150w panels will hopefully make us net generators of electricity and further contribute to us reducing greenhouse gas emissions.