With victory in the Eden Monaro by-election secured, Labor’s Kristy McBain has been called on to deliver on a promise to provide a strong voice for climate change action in both the federal parliament and the Labor party room.
As of Friday, it appeared virtually certain that McBain would be successful in the Eden Monaro by-election, McBain held a 730 vote lead, with just a handful of postal votes left to count.
While Labor saw its primary vote slip by around 3.3 per cent at the by-election, McBain was able to re-coup most of these lost vote through preferences and is set to retain the seat with a 0.8 per cent margin.
As detailed by RenewEconomy, McBain’s main challenger for the seat of Eden Monaro, Liberal party candidate Fiona Kotvojs had expressed a range of confusing and contradictory views on climate change prior to the by-election.
During the election campaign, Kotvojs appeared to dismiss climate change as a critical factor in bushfire management, saying in a submission to the Bushfire Royal Commission that fuel load was the only important factor and that “everything else is meaningless.”
Kotvoj’s campaign wasn’t helped by a messy pre-selection process, which saw two state parliamentarians, deputy premier John Barilaro and transport minister Andrew Constance both announce and then withdraw their candidacy for the by-election.
Kotvojs conceded the by-election on Thursday in a call to McBain, after it became clear the Labor candidate’s lead at become unsurmountable.
The Eden Monaro by-election was a loss for the Morrison government, as it wasn’t able to capitalise on Morrison’s high personal approval rating following the Covid-19 outbreak, and massive infrastructure commitments for the electorate, including the $5.2 billion expansion of the Snowy Hydro scheme.
Weighing on the minds of voters has been the poor support provided to communities following damaging summer bushfires, with some communities still awaiting support for clean up efforts, and some residents still left in temporary housing.
Eden Monaro was one of the worst hit regions during a devastating bushfire season over the 2019-20 summer with many communities still rebuilding.
McBain will have a strong appreciation for these concerns, having served as the Mayor of Bega since 2016, before stepping down in March to contest the by-election following the retirement of former Labor member Mike Kelly.
McBain will join the federal Labor party room at a crucial moment, as the party begins to develop an updated position on climate change following a loss at the 2019 federal election.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese appears ready to negotiate a compromise position with the Morrison government, which may include support for additional funding to be provided to carbon capture and storage projects, and an abandonment of Labor’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 45 per cent.
However, Labor has indicated that it remains committed to a long-term emissions reduction target of zero net emissions by 2030 and that it wants to see funding for clean energy agencies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation extended, without being compromised by being opened up to provide funding to carbon capture or gas projects.
Farmers for Climate Action CEO Wendy Cohen called on McBain to be a strong voice in the federal parliament for action on climate change.
“As Mayor of the Bega District Council, MP McBain oversaw a formal declaration of a climate change emergency last year and during this campaign recognised the impact of climate change on her region,” Cohen said.
“Kristy McBain has pledged her ongoing commitment to the long term future of her region. We now look forward to seeing her fight in parliament to end Australia’s dependence on fossil fuels and create new jobs for a 21st century economy, in renewable energy and ecosystem services.”
These comments were echoed by Jindabyne farmer, Jo Oddie, who said that farmers across the Eden Monaro electorate understood the growing impacts of climate change, and it must be a priority for McBain.
“The farmers of Eden-Monaro know all too well that climate change fuelled droughts and bushfires devastate communities and livelihoods,” Oddie said.
“Kristy McBain is now a member of the commonwealth parliament. She needs to represent farmers across the entire Eden-Monaro electorate by demanding urgent climate action at the significant scale needed to turn the tide on global heating.”
Speaking with the group Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, Wandella resident Lisa Roberts, who lost her family home and business during the summer bushfires said that it was important that measures to support communities rebuild were combined with meaningful action on climate change.
“There is little point in pushing for more funding and support for bushfire survivors with one hand, and remaining silent on new coal and gas projects, which will only increase future fire danger, with the other,” Roberts said.
“A safe and prosperous future for our community requires a safe and stable climate. That’s what we want to see our new elected representative fighting for in parliament.”
The last day for postal votes to be received by the Australian Electoral Commission for the Eden Monaro by-election is 17 July, with a result set to be formally declared once the result is beyond doubt.