State’s leading environment groups are joining forces to fight what they call ‘wholesale attack on state’s environmental assets’
The Victorian Coalition government has the worst record on the environment since the 1960s, according to the state’s four leading environment groups, which will join forces in an unprecedented way to fight what they say is a “wholesale attack on the state’s environmental assets”.
Environment Victoria, the Wilderness Society, Friends of the Earth and the Victorian National Parks Association are combining resources to target marginal seats before the 29 November election.
In a statement to be released on Friday, the groups, all founded in the late 1960s or early 1970s, say they have never witnessed such “callous indifference” to the environment. They say the government has made damaging decisions including:
- scrapping emissions reduction target
- abandoning solar target and making it almost impossible to get approvals for new wind farms
- promoting coal mining, gas extraction and coal export industry
- extending life of ageing and polluting
- Anglesea and Hazelwood coal mines and power stations
- allowing loggers to operate in threatened species habitats
- attempting to abolish energy efficiency targets
- slashing jobs at Parks Victoria
“We cannot accept such an attack on our natural assets. We cannot afford such callous indifference, nor can we simply stand by and let it happen again,” the statement says.
Matt Ruchel, the executive director of the Victorian National Parks Association, told Guardian Australia: “I’ve not come across a government so openly hostile to conservation. I suspect they consider it some sort of war.”
Mark Wakeham, the CEO of the state’s peak group, Environment Victoria, said he was surprised by how aggressively anti-environment the government proved to be after it won the 2010 election, without releasing an environment policy during the campaign.
Conservation groups are generally on the left of politics, but Wakeham said that prior to this government, all sides of politics wanted a “good story” to tell on the environment.
“This government is totally out of step with where public opinion is at. Not only have they been poor on the environment; they have actively attacked environmental protections. They’re not ‘do nothing’.
“The performance has been terrible and there’s a united sense of purpose [among environment groups] that we need to rebuild bipartisan support for good environment policy and action on climate change.”
Environment Victoria opened a shopfront in the seat of Frankston in June to campaign in four marginal electorates, will spent $100,000 on advertising, and has encouraged 4,000 people in key areas to “pledge” to vote for the environment.
The groups cite opinion polls indicating that 76% of Victorians believe the state government has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse pollution, and not leave it to Canberra, and that only 32% of Liberal voters think the Coalition’s restrictions on wind farms are fair.
Lisa Neville, shadow environment and climate change minister, told Guardian Australia that both Liberal and Labor governments “have always taken a step forward since the Bolte government [in the 1950s and 1960s]. But when it comes to the environment this is the first government that has gone backwards. They are the worst government in relation to the environment for decades.”
But Wakeham said Labor had been noticeably quiet on its environmental commitments, at least until Thursday when it announced a partial winding back of wind farm restrictions.
“They haven’t released any environment policy for the protection of natural areas, and we don’t know what their approach on climate change will be.”
Asked before the groups’ statement was released about the government’s record on the environment, minister Ryan Smith declined to be interviewed. He said in an email that the government was “committed to taking practical action to protect and enhance our environment, which delivered tangible results and best value for money.” It had invested $50m to help adaptation to climate change, released a climate change adaptation plan, and was a strong supporter of renewable energy.