Tag Archives: john brumby

Brumby’s Quarry Vision

Originally published in Arena Magazine.
.
John Brumby stands looking upwards into the distance, squinting and baring his nice straight teeth. Behind him is a giant octagonal configuration of mirrors reflecting the sun’s rays against a backdrop of perfect blue sky. They call this greenie porn: pictures of big shiny solutions for the energy dilemmas of our time, like this one taken at a large-scale solar power plant.
.
Cashing in on the appeal in this advertisement in an inner-Melbourne local paper we read: ‘John Brumby and Labor – Leading Australia on Climate Change’. There are some dot points about making Victoria the ‘Solar State’, about spending $650 million on climate change and renewable energy programs; $10 billion on unspecified new investment and jobs; a target for emissions cuts of 20 per cent by 2020 on 2000 levels; and a staged closure of Hazelwood power station. Interesting for a state government that has overseen steady increases in greenhouse gas emissions over the eleven years it has held power.
.
There is no questioning the motivation here. Following the 2010 federal election (in which Julia Gillard’s strategy on climate policy was to duck and deflect), the large swing to the Greens across the country, and especially in Victoria, resulted in that party gaining the balance of power in the Senate and claiming the lower house seat of Melbourne. Facing an election of his own on 27 November, with four seats at risk of being lost to the Greens, Brumby has made no secret that he has a different strategy in mind. On 26 July, as Abbott and Gillard’s campaigns were already in full swing, he released his Climate Change White Paper.
.
This long-awaited statement of Victoria’s climate policy agenda looked fresh: first, because it was in radical contrast with the federal climate change policy vacuum; second, because it actually did reflect a new approach from the Brumby government. Previous drafts focussing almost exclusively on ‘adaptation’ had had to be pulped as carbon prices went on and off the national agenda, and Brumby finally decided emissions reductions could not be left to higher forces.
.
Unfortunately, Brumby’s apparent climate policy stance has very little to do with the substance of his policies. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence of politics-as-usual, which continues to fall distressingly short of the task of altering our progress along a path to ecological disaster. It boils down to the question of how we might assess leadership on climate change. If it were a question of relativity we might have reason to congratulate the Brumby government for taking some steps forward. The problem is that they are baby steps, and can be explained more easily by a fear of losing votes to the Greens rather than any real comprehension of climate change science.
.
The capacity of politics-as-usual to live up to the task of avoiding dangerous climate change has been questioned before and found wanting. In their 2008 assessment of the dramatic, widening gap between the response that climate science demands and the response actually given, David Spratt and Philip Sutton in Climate Code Red pointed to the short-term, adversarial and incremental mode of politics conventional in Western nations like ours. This mode is ‘steeped in a culture of compromise that is fearful of deep, quick change—which suggests it is incapable of managing the transition [to a safe-climate economy] at the necessary speed’. Nothing has changed, except that is, the amount of evidence in support of this statement.
.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the Australian approach to coal, with politics-as-usual meaning a refusal to deviate from the ‘quarry vision’ so aptly described by Guy Pearse in his 2009 Quarterly Essay, Quarry Vision: Coal, Climate Change and the End of the Resources Boom. This is an ingrained mentality—shared by the vast majority of politicians, the business sector and many citizens: that Australia is a nation dependent both for domestic electricity and export income on digging up, shipping out and burning coal.
.
While the imperative to break with this mentality could not be stronger, for reasons ranging from the moral to the pragmatic, there is no indication that this is occurring where it matters most. Witness QR National proudly boasting their coal freight activities and asking that Australians invest in the idea that this will continue indefinitely. Witness federal Energy Minister Martin Ferguson feigning ignorance when presented with the prospect of the need to draw up transition plans for coal workers. Meanwhile ABARE proudly reports that Australian coal exports reached record levels in the December quarter 2009 and projects that exports will rise by 88 per cent between 2004/2005 and 2029/2030.
.
But what of Premier Brumby and his latest advertisements? Should we be grateful that he did not pose next to a big pile of coal and some smokestacks? Unfortunately there is nothing to suggest that Brumby’s own quarry vision is wavering, beyond his apparent recognition that it may not be the best thing to emphasise in an election context.
.
A key element of Brumby’s climate policy platform is a commitment to shutting down a quarter of production at Hazelwood—Australia’s most polluting coal-fired power station—over the next four years. Considering it was due to close in 2009 but had its life extended in 2005 by then Labor Premier Steve Bracks for an extra few decades, this is hardly a position worth celebrating. It should have gone completely off-line by now. With Victoria’s potential for baseload solar thermal power it is possible to replace all of Hazelwood’s generating capacity with renewable energy within the same four year timeframe. However as it stands under Brumby’s plan, a quarter of Hazelwood’s current output will probably be replaced with coal power from another source.
.
Even worse than this, and certainly not a lead item on Brumby’s climate policy agenda, is the proposal currently waiting for approval from EPA Victoria to build a brand new 600 megawatt coal-fired power station near Morwell in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley. The HRL Dual Gas proposal has the support of both the Brumby Government who have committed $50 million and the Commonwealth Government ($100 million). They claim that the use of synthetic gas (from the drying and gasification of brown coal) and natural gas at the new plant will ensure the emissions intensity is lower than any other coal plants operating in Victoria. Again, this is nothing to get excited about. While the HRL Dual Gas plant would indeed help to bring Victoria into line with other coal plants in Australia by producing emissions slightly below the level of a typical black coal power station, the emissions intensity of the plant would still be almost double the OECD average. One wonders why the Brumby Government would make their own target to reduce 20% of emissions by 2020 that much harder by committing to new coal power development that will increase emissions and lock in reliance on coal for years to come.
.
Further evidence that the Brumby Government has expansion rather than curtailment in mind for Victoria’s coal industry emerged in September 2009. At that time Victorian Energy Minister Peter Batchelor was reported to be championing a proposal by Australian-based company Exergen, to mine, dry and export 12 million tonnes of brown coal annually to India.  Confidential cabinet documents obtained the next month by The Age showed that this was only the tip of the iceberg with the Brumby Government considering a competitive tender process to sell off billions of tonnes of Latrobe Valley brown coal reserves to companies looking to open up new coal export markets overseas. Premier Brumby himself said that given Australia exports oil, gas, black coal and uranium, he saw no reason why Victoria should not export brown coal. Yet, by December 2009 the export deals had been shelved, seemingly because the run in the media and backlash from environment groups had ignited fears of broader voter disapproval. However this has not been ruled out, and one should ask whether the plan to expand coal exports might emerge again after a Labor election victory.
.
Premier Brumby may not be all he is cracking himself up to be on climate change, but how much does it matter to Victorian voters? The gamble is that green message will beat the substance, which is probably a safe bet in this age of marketing supremacy. The strategy is clever enough to sway people without the time or inclination to consider the details.
.
Brumby’s approach is likely to mean that NGOs, community groups and individuals concerned about climate change will have to work harder than they did during the recent federal election campaign where it was easy to show that Gillard had nothing to offer on climate issues. The task is to build public understanding so that Brumby and others in positions of power can be judged on just how far their policies are really intended to secure a safe climate future.
.
Taegen Edwards is a member of Yarra Climate Action Now, an independent community group based in the inner Melbourne suburbs of the City of Yarra. She works as a Research Fellow at the University of Melbourne.

Politician Rebranding

Every Wednesday starting 3 February 5.00-6.00pm, 112 Smith St, Collingwood

Our weekly re-branding sessions continue and we need you!!

After completing six weeks in a row in 2009, we will now attempt to have a weekly presence outside Labor Minister Richard Wynne’s office until the November State Election or until the Brumby Government implements some decent climate crisis policies!

Our actions are already having an effect. Richard Wynne was one of the Ministers that successfully argued to postpone the allocation of brown coal for export to India.

We will be correcting the Brumby Government’s image, to match its pro-coal actions, every Wednesday, 5-6pm, 112 Smith St, Collingwood.

WE NEED YOU FOR THIS TO SUCCEED – CAN YOU FILL A WEEKLY, FORTNIGHTLY, MONTHLY OR ONE-OFF ONE HOUR SHIFT AT THE PROTEST VIGIL ON A WEDNESDAY EVENING? If you can please contact us

Also, if you are a musician or performer and feel like busking while we do our rebranding, we would love to have you on a Wednesday evening.

Rally to replace ALL of Hazelwood

Join us to put the heat on our politicians at this state election to Replace ALL of Hazelwood.
When: Saturday, 6 November 2010 @ 1pm
Where: State Library, cnr Swanston and Latrobe Streets, Melbourne

.
We’ve written letters, letterboxed our streets, door-knocked our neighbourhoods, held community meetings and met with our MPs to get them to act on Hazelwood. But now, in the lead up to Victoria’s state election, we’ve got to take the campaign up a notch.
.
So join us on Saturday, 6 November to make sure our politicians get the message – that Victorians want a commitment from all parties before the election to Replace ALL of Hazelwood power station.
.
We can repower Victoria with 100% renewable energy. John Brumby is currently offering to replace 25% of Hazelwood with new coal. He tries to spin his way out of trouble by saying Hazelwood will be closed down entirely while not giving a date. Everything will be closed down eventually! This is not good enough.
.
We need to see you, your family and friends, your workmates, neighbours, school teachers and even your local green grocer there on 6 November. Because we all want a safe climate future. And real action to replace Hazelwood is just the beginning.

Vote Climate @ the Victorian Election – Info Session

Yarra Climate Action Now will be hosting an information session for people interested in being involved in the Vote Climate campaign for the upcoming Victorian Election. RSVP here to let us know if you can make it (and if you can’t but are still interested, get in touch). Details below.

When

October 13th, 2010 @ 6:00 pm

Where

Level 2, Kindness House, 288 Brunswick St, Fitzroy

The Vote Climate Campaign

At the federal election, the Vote Climate campaign in inner-Melbourne helped put the climate crisis back on the agenda in a big way. Come along to this session to find out about the Vote Climate campaign for the Victorian State Election coming up in November.

Vote Climate is a non-partisan campaign run by a number of local climate action groups. It highlights where the parties’ stand on this issue and encourages voters to consider climate and energy policies when deciding who they choose to vote for.

A scorecard will be produced to rate the parties’ performance. This will be distributed to voters via letter-boxing, leafletting and at polling booths on election day. We will also be running fun and creative actions and events.

The results of the federal election shifted the debate on climate. We need your help to do the same for Victoria.

A new coal plant for Victoria?

According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the planet has just come through the warmest decade, the warmest 12 months, the warmest six months, and the warmest April, May, and June on record.

Despite this, and despite releasing a white paper with a 20% emissions reduction target (YCAN will be analysing the white paper in more detail after the Federal Election) John Brumby’s Government is still supporting a new coal-fired power station to be built in the Latrobe Valley.

Despite the spin (the company that wants to build the plant, HRL, says that it is clean technology, although it would have the same emissions as a black coal power station) this new power station would increase Victoria’s emissions by 3%, thereby cancelling out the State Government’s policy of closing 25% of Hazelwood Power Station.

Effectively, instead of replacing one quarter of Hazelwood with renewable energy, Brumby’s policy is to replace brown coal with……more coal.

The 600MW HRL plant will receive $150 million of taxpayer money to subsidise its construction if it is to go ahead. It would have 36% less emissions than a conventional brown coal power station, but that is still infinitely more than the zero emissions from baseload solar thermal and wind power – both of which are commercially available now. We would prefer if our money went towards those technologies.

A solar thermal power tower. These are being constructed in the USA and Spain. With heat storage they can replace baseload electricity from coal.

HRL is now working on a plan to submit to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval. If it can slide under the extremely lax emissions standard of 0.8 tonnes of carbon per megawatt hour of energy produced (average globally for rich nations is 0.45, wind and solar are zero), then it is presumed it will get a tick of approval, unless we can stop it politically.

The message just doesn’t seem to be getting through to the Labor Party. We have to urgently transition out of coal. Building new coal-fired power plants is insanity. We can go to 100% renewable energy if we wanted to.

If John Brumby and his inner-city ministers that are under threat from the Greens want to be taken seriously on climate change, then this new coal plant must be stopped before the State Election in November.

Knocking the suburbs

Last weekend volunteers from Yarra Climate Action Now doorknocked over 1000 homes in Collingwood and Fitzroy for the Replace Hazelwood campaign. We gathered hundreds of signatures for our petition and spoke to people about the urgent need to replace Australia’s dirtiest coal-fired power station with clean renewable energy. We got a great response from the community.

While many first-time doorknockers were nervous at the beginning, with one hour of training and practice, over 20 people hit the streets and had a good time doing it!

First time doorknocker Phil said:

“Thanks for the chance to participate. It was a great learning experience.

“Oddly, I was pretty nervous right at the start. I was worried about how to do the opening pitch when the door was first opened. I went with my partner and watched her as she did a few houses and that helped a lot.

“Following that, and after doing about 3 pitches myself I got over my nerves and started to really get into the flow. I then found it really enjoyable, in fact it really fired me up!”

Some of the YCAN volunteers doing the doorknocking training

Our next doorknocking session is Sunday 4 July in Richmond, 1-4pm (one hour training, two hours doorknocking), meeting at Melbourne Girls College, Yarra blvd, Richmond.

We need your help! Sign up now here.

Volunteers needed – Replace Hazelwood


The campaign to Replace Hazelwood power station with renewable energy (and energy efficiency) is gathering strength. You may have seen the coverage in the media recently as well as Hazelwood’s owners’ outrageous attempt to sabotage energy efficiency programs.

Hazelwood brown coal-fired power station near Morwell is Australia’s most polluting power station. Replacing it with renewable energy and energy efficiency would reduce Victoria’s emissions by around 12% and Australia’s by 3%. If we want to reduce emissions, we must start by replacing Hazelwood.

To do this we need your help.

The state and federal Labor governments are now under pressure to act after Kevin Rudd’s backflip on climate change.

So, now is the time to get the message out in the community.

http://www.climateactioncentre.org/iwanttodoorknock

Over the next two months local community climate groups are going to be doorknocking in the key inner city electorates of Melbourne.

Door knocking is easy, fun and one of the most effective ways of getting our message into the community and having an impact on politicians.

Here is how it works. We start at 1pm and do about an hour of training, we knock on doors for less than two hours (in pairs) and then get together for a cuppa or a drink and talk about how it went.
http://www.climateactioncentre.org/iwanttodoorknock

It’s easy! Residents are friendly and usually very happy to take some information or sign the petition.

No prior experience or detailed technical knowledge about Hazelwood necessary – we will provide training and materials. Doorknocking will be done in pairs.

YCAN will be hosting two doorknocking sessions:
Saturday 19 June in Fitzroy, 1-4pm
Sunday 4 July in Richmond, 1-4pm

There is also doorknocking happening in Brunswick, Kensington, North Melbourne and Westgarth/Northcote.

So please join us on a coming Saturday or Sunday by clicking on the link below and registering to doorknock. There is also a video showing how it works below.

http://www.climateactioncentre.org/iwanttodoorknock

To find out more about doorknocking and the Hazelwood campaign go here http://www.climateactioncentre.org/replacehazelwood

A YCAN Investigation – State Government Green Jobs Package

Just under two weeks ago many of us at YCAN received a media release from Peter Batchelor, the Victorian Minister for Coal Industry Profits, trumpeting the recent Green Jobs Action Plan released in the State Budget on 4 May. As some environment groups had praised the plan, one of our members decided to investigate to see if the Brumby Government (as opposed to current form) had actually put forward a decent policy to tackle the climate crisis.

The State Budget announced several proposed water and energy efficiency measures. Most if not all of these initiatives are grouped under the heading ‘Jobs for the Future Economy – Victoria’s Action Plan for Green Jobs’. Outside the ambit of the ‘Jobs for the Future Economy’ package Peter Batchelor proudly trumpets the hosting of the World Geothermal congress in 2015. Yes that’s right a conference, in five years time.

The package allocates modest amounts to training and research but the proposed actions generally promote modest energy efficiency and water saving measures at the point of end use, the benefits of which are self-evident. These initiatives can be divided between limited term programs that last until the money runs out and a few driven by regulatory change and training programs that could be expected to have ongoing benefits. Modest but positive aspects of the package are the changes to landfill fees which seem likely to strengthen the recycling industry and the Green Door package from Planning Minister Madden which both tightens the climatic requirements of new housing and provides some training for builders relevant to the new regulatory regime. The rest however appears to be little more than pork barrelling. The total cost to government is projected to be $175 million and according to the Premier, “The program will achieve cost savings of more than $7 million per year through reduced energy and water consumption and save 130,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases each year”. Judging from the premier’s media release the package is projected to create ‘up to 700 (green) jobs’.

So how significant are these reductions in greenhouse gas emissions?

If we take the projected cost ($175 million) and divide it by the projected annual greenhouse gas emissions reduction (130,000 tonnes) we find the projected cost of mitigation is a staggering $1400/tonne.

If we compare the projected annual greenhouse gas emissions reduction (130,000 tonnes) to Victoria’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions (121.9 Mega tonnes) the projected reduction is about 0.1% of current total annual emissions. For Victoria to achieve its share of Kevin Rudd’s pathetic 5% emissions reduction using these measures would (by the Government’s own figures) cost $8.7 billion!

So to summarise – the major climate change policy of the Brumby Government in the latest state budget will reduce Victoria’s emissions by 0.1%!

Another example from this material is the seductively named ‘Solar Hubs’ program under which the Brumby Government proposes to allocate $5 million for the establishment of up to 10 ‘solar hubs’ around regional Victoria with grants of between $250,000 and $1 million. As these solar hubs are simply arrays of conventional domestic PV solar collectors the same as some of us have on our roofs it is not hard to do the sums. Approximately $15,000 buys about 1.6 kilowatts (kw) of generating capacity. Assuming that the government gets a good price from its suppliers perhaps $100,000 would buy 16kw of generating capacity. Scaling this up $1 million would buy 160kw and $5 million would buy 800kw of generating capacity. Allowing for 4 hours of collection this array of installations collects around 3.2Mw-hr daily. Multiply by 365 to get annual generation and we find that annual generation from this array would be around 1168 (say 1200) Mw-hr. Annual residential energy use in Victoria is around 164 Petajoules.

One petajoule = 277,778Mw-hr therefore annual domestic sector energy consumption, (164 petajoules) = 45,556,000 Mw-hr. The reduction in domestic energy demand resulting from the implementation of this program (1200Mw-hr) is miniscule. Given a projected annual rate of increase in domestic energy consumption of about 2.5% the solar hubs program would have to be multiplied by roughly 1000 to just cover the growth in energy demand! To follow this exercise in the absurd just one step further, just covering the projected annual increase in domestic (residential) energy consumption by expanding the Solar Hubs program would cost $5billion! These figures look incredible but we’ve checked several times.

The Brumby government is adopting a time-honored pre-election strategy of throwing money (as little as possible) at very carefully selected targets to give the misleading impression that they are addressing a problem that they think might impact on them electorally but which they have in reality chosen to avoid. Of course it can be argued that the primary intention of this package is the creation of environmentally responsible jobs. It is hard to judge whether $175 million spent on the creation of ‘up to’ 700 green jobs in regional Victoria is good value for money but as an exercise in emissions reduction (surely the primary measure of the ‘green-ness’ of a proposal) or as a demonstration of the government’s ability to extract best value from green dollars invested, this package is very uneven.

In any case it is hard to take any policy seriously that proposes to reduce Victoria’s emissions by 0.1%.

Replacing Hazelwood Power Station with clean energy would reduce Victoria’s emissions by around 12%. It’s time Brumby committed to this.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back: Release the black balloons!

Credit where credit’s due. At the dawn of 2009, John Brumby, and his Minister for the Environment and Climate Change, Gavin Jennings, announced the formation of four new national parks in Victoria. These national parks aim to protect sections of Victoria’s stressed River Red Gum ecosystems, and two of the parks will be jointly managed by the Yorta Yorta people. This brings to an end a decade-long campaign by the traditional owners of the area, and YCAN congratulates them and their supporters, particularly Friends of the Earth, for their great win.

The announcement includes an adjustment package for those who will lose their jobs as a result of the formation of the parks and the State Government claims that more jobs will be created once the decision is implemented. The parks are an important step towards boosting the resilience of vital ecosystems in the area, especially as the impacts of climate change on the Murray Darling Basin continue to worsen.

Unfortunately that is where the credit ends. The Brumby State Government has so far been a great disappointment on environmental issues and on climate change. While they have implemented some tokenistic market-based policies such as the Victorian Renewable Energy Target, the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target and a second-rate solar feed-in tariff, the fact remains that climate change is ignored in almost every policy decision and Victoria’s emissions continue to rise at an alarming rate.

A recent report by The Climate Group shows that Victoria’s emissions were 2.1 per cent higher in 2008 than the previous year (a 6 per cent increase based on 2000 levels) and our electricity use rose. Victoria’s emissions from petrol also increased.

This is a damning indictment of John Brumby’s policies. At a time when scientists all over the world are calling loudly for rapid and deep cuts in emissions, Victoria continues to belch out more emissions than ever before and continues to be amongst the worst per capita greenhouse gas emitters on earth. Instead of admitting to its shameful record and promising to change its ways, the State Government has tried to spin itself out of trouble by claiming per capita emissions have fallen. Not only does this not recognise that we also come out looking bad if emissions are measured per capita, it is completely irrelevant to halting the effects of climate change – the atmosphere doesn’t care about per capita emissions if absolute emissions keep rising.

On top of this, the Commissioner for Environmental Sustainability’s State of the Environment Report, released in late 2008, makes for alarming reading. Most of Victoria’s ecology is increasingly degraded, and the degradation is worsening.

John Brumby and Gavin Jennings, it’s time you listened to the world-class climate scientists you have appointed to your Climate Change Reference Group, such as David Karoly and Amanda Lynch, and get serious on climate change. We suggest you start by changing the following policies:

Transport

Despite the fanfare and the great wads of taxpayers’ money spent in its promotion, the Victorian Transport Plan is more of the same short-sightedness that has got us into this huge transport mess in the first place. According to the Public Transport Users Association, the plan commits the State Government to building 122km of new roads. Almost half of the $38 billion plan will go to increasing or building new major road capacity. Building new roads in metropolitan Melbourne is profoundly stupid. New roads only encourage private vehicle use, thereby increasing greenhouse gas emissions, air pollution, traffic congestion and they drive us further into oil dependence, at a time that peak oil is estimated to be less than a decade away. Investing in new roads serves no benefit other than to enrich big business and wastes money that should be invested in public transport and other sustainable transport modes.

Energy

The rhetoric is that the State Government supports renewable energy. In reality however, John Brumby has approved a new coal-fired power station and a gas-fired power station for construction in Victoria. They have even put taxpayers’ money towards the new coal plant. You can’t have it both ways Mr Brumby, you either think climate change is a serious issue and work to reduce Victoria’s emissions, or you build new fossil fuel power stations.

Forests

The Brumby Government continues to support the logging of old growth forests. This insanity means that we are irreversibly destroying some of our best carbon sinks, the ecosystems that provide us with clean air and water and provide habitat for our biodiversity. Logging is currently occurring at Brown Mountain in East Gippsland, an area of high value forest with trees over 300 years old.

Water

The water outlook for Victoria is nothing short of frightening. Climate change exacerbates the situation with rainfall predicted to reduce further and the current eleven year drought most likely a more permanent dryness. It is wise that the Brumby Government is taking this challenge seriously, but their construction of a large industrial desalination plant and piping water out of the Murray Darling Basin to Melbourne should be solutions of last resort, once all other avenues such as stormwater and rainwater harvesting, stricter conservation initiatives and recycling have been tried.

In addition, the State Government continues to water down the environmental criteria for the desalination plant. It has gone back on its promise to build renewable energy generation to power the plant, and is now going to purchase renewable energy certificates to cover its electricity use (but not the energy used in its construction). Just one week ago, the State Government watered down the energy efficiency requirements of the plant, removing all limits on energy consumption.

The Brumby Government needs to understand that the crises we are now facing, brought about through a combination of climate change, resource depletion and biodiversity loss (among others) have the capacity to destroy the very foundations of human economic activity and human wellbeing. We need a change in paradigm, leading to a change in policy, and we need it fast.