Environment

Major parties outline environmental policies aimed at wooing voters

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Environmental issues are looming as important factors in this weekend’s elections, with coal and water among voters’ top concerns. They are also the policy areas where parties diverge the most.

Barely a week goes by without new matters arising, such as Whitehaven Coal last month out-bidding drought-hit farmers by buying 460 megalitres of groundwater at twice the previous highest price.

The Berejiklian government also offered Hunter Valley coal miners 3200 hectares of new exploration rights in details released without fanfare earlier this month in the state’s Gazette, a move welcomed by industry.

Labor, meanwhile, touts its renewable energy goal – reaching 50 per cent of power from clean energy sources by 2030 – but will leave much of its policy detail until after it holds a climate summit, should it win office.

Fuelling voters’ anxieties are a record hot summer for NSW by some distance, a series of mass fish kills in Menindee, and towns having to resort to crash programs to drill water bores as rivers dry up.

Climate change, which scientists say has already increased the likelihood of extreme weather, is now a more pressing matter for voters than hospitals, schools and public transport.

Sydney Morning Herald survey of eight political parties – only One Nation did not respond – reveals a plethora of environmental policies aimed at wooing votes.

With the possibility of a hung parliament, the ability of minor parties to press demands over water, coal and coal seam gas, and other environmental policies could have significant sway over the incoming government.

Labor, for instance, vows to scrap plans to raise the height of Warragamba Dam – as much as 17 metres, leaked documents suggest. The government says the $670 million-plus project is vital to protect residents in the Hawkesbury-Nepean floodplain. Labor would also reverse protection of feral horses in Kosciuszko National Park.

On climate change, the main parties – the Liberal-National Coalition and Labor – offer similar long-range goals of NSW achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

The government was preparing a comprehensive set of policies in 2016 but dropped them after Gladys Berejiklian became Premier a year later, as reported last week.

Its main climate policy now hinges on spending from a $1.4 billion Climate Change Fund.

“We care deeply about preserving and protecting NSW’s natural environment,” Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton said. “We are also passionate about addressing climate change.”

Penny Sharpe, Labor’s environment spokeswoman and also deputy leader, said her party would set interim emissions targets to get to mid-century carbon neutrality after it passes a climate change act.

“Labor’s plans are clear: action on climate change, saving our biodiversity, clean air, clean water and a real war on waste,” Ms Sharpe said. “The difference between the two major parties could not be any starker.”

Labor goes into the election requiring 13 more seats to secure majority government in the Legislative Assembly, leaving it more likely to need support from minor parties.

While the major parties squabble over sports stadiums, people in the bush are expected to drink and shower in brown water.Roy Butler, Shooters, Fishers and Farmers candidate for Barwon

The Greens, which hold three seats, have made it clear environment issues will head their negotiating agenda.

“The next term of Parliament is critical for the future of biodiversity in NSW and action on climate change,” Cate Faehrmann, Greens MP and environment spokeswoman said. “These issues will be front and centre during any potential negotiations regarding balance of power.”

The Coalition, though, is more likely to secure conservative minor party seats.

Former Senator and now Liberal Democrats leader David Leyonhjelm said he would oppose further support for renewables and is against treating carbon dioxide as a pollutant.

“Australia is not a bubble and valiant efforts within our borders will have no real effect unless other countries also act,” he said.

On paper, the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers should be more aligned with the Coalition too. They reject Labor and the Greens’ promise to re-tighten native vegetation laws.

On the other hand, stressing the state of the rivers offers them a chance to wrest seats from the Nationals.

“At no time in history has the city-country divide been so obvious as now,” Roy Butler, the SFF’s candidate for Barwon, said.

“While the major parties squabble over sports stadiums, people in the bush are expected to drink and shower in brown water. Their animals are starving and their rivers have dried up.”

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