My father once explained to me a theory that a Premier or Prime Minister was either a Leader, or a Smart Economic Manager. In his opinion, Whitlam was a Leader while Howard was a Smart Economic Manager.
The challenge of dealing with climate change during a significant economic downturn requires a Premier or Prime Minister who is both. Unfortunately for Victoria, Premier Ted Baillieu has chosen to be neither.
The last two weeks have seen an avalanche of destructive environmental policy from the Baillieu Government. Yesterday, in a double whammy of climate denial, the Baillieu Government dumped Victoria’s target to cut greenhouse pollution by 20 per cent by 2020 and a standard to limit pollution from new power stations. This sends a clear message that polluters are welcome in Ted Baillieu’s Victoria and clean technology investment and jobs are not. Both of these measures were supported by the Coalition in opposition and were election promises.
Last week it was revealed that the Baillieu Government had secret plans to allocate billions of tonnes of brown coal to companies in an effort to build a new brown coal export industry. The documents also revealed the government intends to run a taxpayer funded PR campaign to try and clean up the coal industry’s bad image for them.
All of this comes on top of the government’s slashing of support for solar on rooftops and restrictions on new wind farms that is sending investment (and jobs) interstate or overseas.
The scrapping of these various environmental policies and the announcement of the intention to proceed with new coal allocations have been justified by claims that these are smart economic decisions. I’m not convinced.
A Smart Economic Manager recognises the threats to the economy (in this case devastating climate change), takes action to manage these (in this case, cutting greenhouse pollution from the biggest culprit, coal), looks for new opportunities (a clean energy economy), and prepares itself to embrace the inevitable change.
It seems fairly obvious, so why is the Baillieu Government doing the exact opposite?
For one, their analysis is flawed. They claim that meeting the target would cost Victoria $2.2 billion to buy international offsets. But this analysis only considers two options to cut pollution beyond the carbon price – offsets and closing Yallourn power station in the Latrobe Valley.
This completely ignores existing emissions reduction policies including the national Renewable Energy Target and the national Carbon Farming Initiative; home and business energy efficiency commitments made by the Baillieu Government and smart future policies the Baillieu Government could adopt such as waste to energy and more public transport. The government has failed, deliberately or otherwise, to analyse the real opportunities and economic benefits of a strong state target to cut pollution.
The Baillieu Government has completely missed the point of the state’s target. The target was intended to guide government decision-making and most importantly, to attract new clean technology industries to Victoria which are taking off world wide. There was no penalty for not meeting the target and no requirement to offset emissions through international permits (making the $2.2 billion estimate terribly misleading).
Allocating more brown coal is also a poor economic decision. Previous coal allocations made in 2002 have failed to deliver the promised results, with precious little investment and not a single job created as a result. Premier Baillieu is chasing phantom jobs in the Latrobe Valley at the same time as slashing real and existing jobs in wind and solar.
Through smart economic management, a commitment to clean energy and a clear and ambitious pollution reduction goal, Victoria could be on the front line of designing and manufacturing new clean technologies to clean up economies in Victoria and the world over. But is seems the Baillieu Government is not interested.
With Victoria’s economy under threat, now is the time to embrace major economic opportunities like clean energy investment.
A Smart Economic Manager would also seek to minimise the enormous economic cost of unmitigated climate change to the Victorian economy and communities.
Increased drought, floods, heatwaves and bushfires paint a grim picture for government budgets, let alone the direct costs to households and businesses.
A smart economic assessment would reveal (as it has done in the UK) that the costs of avoiding climate change are far less than the costs of adapting to climate change.
And a Smart Economic Manager would not just read such a report, they would act on it.
But we don’t just need a Smart Economic Manager. We also need a Leader. A Leader who recognises the state government’s role in reducing pollution and protecting Victorians against climate change.
By releasing new data on Victoria’s rising greenhouse pollution and the projected worsening impacts of climate change yesterday, the Premier obviously recognises Victoria has a problem with pollution and climate change, but thinks that its someone else’s responsibility to do something about it. This is far from the response of a Leader.
The threat of climate change is real and is here. Whether or not Victoria is part of the solution to climate change and attracts the new clean technology industries and jobs on offer in a clean economy depends on the actions taken by this state government, in this term of government.
If Victoria is going to deal with climate change and bring itself out of this latest economic slip, we’re going to need a Premier who is prepared to be both Smart Economic Manager and Leader. And right now, Ted Baillieu is offering neither.
Victoria McKenzie-McHarg is a Safe Climate Campaigner at Environment Victoria