Will the Victorian Liberal party get serious on climate, or haemorrhage votes on a sleeper issue?

Originally published at RenewEconomy.

Victoria will go to the polls in a month and the Liberal National Party opposition, led by Matthew Guy, has failed to release a comprehensive climate change policy.

Pressure is mounting on Matthew Guy to show he takes climate change seriously.

Activists in detective costumes have staged actions to search for Matthew Guy’s missing climate policy. In the blue-ribbon seats of Hawthorn and Kew, the Lighter Footprints community group is organising a town hall meeting (featuring Oliver Yates) on the need for climate action.

And then there’s the Wentworth by-election result where the Liberal party suffered a record swing against it.

While Wentworth voters were clearly upset at the Federal Coalition’s leadership turmoil and had a strong independent candidate to vote for, exit polling commissioned by the Australia Institute found that the Liberal party’s primary vote collapsed as a result of inaction on climate change and support for coal.

The same dynamic could play out in Victoria. The opposition’s failure to engage with climate change leaves it exposed.

To date, the Labor government and the Greens have outperformed the Matthew Guy opposition on climate and environmental policies.

Since 2014, the Andrews government has strengthening the Victorian Climate Change Act to bring state climate law inline with the Paris Agreement and enshrine a target of zero-net emissions in law. It legislated the Australia’s first permanent ban on unconventional gas as well as ambitious Victorian Renewable Energy Targets (VRET).

A re-elected Labor government has pledged to rollout solar power on 650,000 Victorian homes and cut emissions by four million tonnes. It would also start planning work on a Suburban Rail Loop to connect Melbourne’s outer suburbs and start reining in emissions from the transport sector.

The Victorian Greens have been a strong voice in the Parliament for action on climate change, renewable energy, and the rapid transition from coal, oil, and gas. Since 2014, Greens MPs have voted in favour of the Climate Change Act 2017, the permanent ban on fracking and unconventional gas, as well as VRET legislation.

The Greens are pushing the envelope in 2018. The party recently became the first to support Friends of the Earth’s call for a Climate Budget and the goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2030. It has also released a plan to get the state off gas.

The Liberal party has fallen way behind Labor and The Greens.

The Matthew Guy opposition voted against strengthening state climate change laws and Victorian Renewable Energy Target legislation. It has pledged to scrap the popular VRET scheme if elected. Yet polling consistently shows that the majority of the community, including Coalition voters, support further development of renewable energy. The Guy opposition is at odds with its constituency.

The opposition is has a lot of catching up to do on climate change policy. But it’s never too late to engage with the critical issue.

Here are five commitments Matthew Guy can make to demonstrate the opposition takes the community’s concern about climate change seriously and is prepared to act.

Firstly, as a ‘law-and-order’ candidate, Matthew Guy can commit to uphold the state’s climate change laws in their current form. The Climate Change Act 2017 requires governments to set interim Emissions Reduction Targets and develop adaptation plans every five years.

Following on from ‘law-and-order’ theme, the Liberal party could commit to install solar power and batteries at every police station across the state. This initiative would provide clean and reliable power for police stations and save taxpayers money while reining in emissions.

All political parties want to keep Victorians safe and acknowledge the important work of state emergency services. When it comes to climate change, first responders are on the frontline—doctors, nurses, and ambos during heatwaves and firefighters during bushfires and grassfires, for example.

The opposition could commit to investigate the increased burden on emergency responders due to climate impacts and ensure they are resourced to cope with tougher conditions.

The Liberal party holds itself in high regard when it comes to economic management and aims to maintain Victoria’s AAA credit rating. In 2017, ratings agency Moody’s stated that banks, cities, and states that fail to account for climate risk could face credit rating downgrades.

The impact of climate risk on Victoria’s credit rating is unknown yet has the potential to be significant as the state is already experiencing a range of climate impacts that are projected to worsen. The Liberal party could commit to an inquiry into the impacts of climate change on Victoria, including infrastructure and the AAA credit rating.

There’s no shortage of bright ideas when it comes to cutting emissions and preparing for climate impacts. There is a shortage of funding available to support them. And it’s why a Victorian Climate Change Action Fund is sorely needed.

In 2017, the Labor government established a $4.3 million Victorian Climate Change Innovation Partnerships (VCCIP) grant scheme to fill this gap, yet demand dramatically outstripped what was available. Just 24 of 240 projects received support.

The Liberal party could commit to a $100 million Victorian Climate Change Action Fund to provide the capital and framework for strategic investment in innovative climate projects.

Time’s running out for the opposition to prove its climate credentials.

Will Matthew Guy make a last minute course correction and release a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change before polling day? Or will the opposition haemorrhage votes to Labor and the Greens on this sleeper issue?

Failure to act could see Victorian Liberal MPs suffer the same fate as Dave Sharma in Wentworth.

TAKE ACTION:

  • Sign the petition calling on opposition leader Matthew Guy to uphold the state's climate laws.
  • Support grassroots community action on climate change by making a donation.

Authorised by Cam Walker, Friends of the Earth Melbourne, 312 Smith St, Collingwood, VIC 3066.

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