Federal election 2019: will the environment win?   

Updated 7 May 2019


Latest news updates:

  • (7/5/2019): The Australian Labor Party will invest more than $1 billion in new environment programs, in particular, the establishment of a $100 million Native Species Protection Fund and $50 million towards environmental law reform and a new federal Environmental Protection Agency. 
  • (3/5/2019): Prime Minister Scott Morrison is promising to protect Australia’s waterways and threatened species with a $203 million election commitment. The new funding includes a $100 million fund to support recycling and $20 million to research plastic recycling. A further $10 million will go to establishing feral predator-free zones to create safe havens for threatened native species.

With just two weeks to go until the 2019 federal election, early survey results suggest that the environment will be a significant deciding factor for many voters when choosing who they want to govern Australia for the next three years. Wildlife Queensland provides a rundown of key environmental election issues and how the major political party policies[i] measure up.

Page index:

The climate election

Federal election 2019 has been touted as the ‘climate election’, with early survey results from the ABC Vote Compass survey showing a significant shift in the broader community towards environmental concerns.

  • Australia Labor Party (Labor) and Green voters regard the environment as the No 1 concern.
  • Liberal National Party (LNP) voters nominated the economy as the single most important issue, with the environment and taxation came an equal second.
  • Undecided voters listed the environment as their top concern.
  • Overall the environment was listed as a top concern by 29% of the total respondents.

While these are early results, in the 2016 federal election the environment was the top concern of only 6% of surveyed participants.

Environmental issues a top concern for voters

Leading social researcher, Dr Rebecca Huntley, said her work showed an increased interest in the environment by voters and that voters broadly connect environmental issues such as climate change, energy, food security, clean air and water with capacity for leadership.

It appears that the broader community appreciates that a broad suite of issues including water health, waste and recycling, pollution, rubbish in parks and national parks, rapid urbanisation as well as habitat loss and wildlife decline are encapsulated under the term ‘environment’.

However, except for climate change, actual leadership in this broad environmental area appears wanting. Apart from the Greens, other political parties don’t appear to be placing much emphasis on the environment despite the apparent interest and concern within the community.

How then does each of the major political parties stack up when it comes to climate change?

  • The Greens have the most ambitious climate change policy.
  • The LNP has not addressed climate change seriously during the last six years and its current policy has been called into question.
  • While Labor has a bold, ambitious policy with positive outcomes, the cost and how it is to be delivered has been challenged.

Key climate change commitments

Liberal National Party

  • Pledged $2 billion for projects that will reduce Australia’s carbon emissions.
  • Climate Solutions Fund rebadged and resold as a practical solutions approach to climate change.
  • Confident of meeting its Paris commitments 26% to 28% reduction of emissions by 2030 but recent government projections call it into question.
  • $15 billion for renewables will be injected into the national energy market in the next three years.
  • $1.38 billion into the Snowy Hydro project – a key component of the renewable energy push, capable of powering 500,000 homes in peak periods.
  • Walked away from the National Energy Guarantee.

The Greens

  • Calling for 100% of electricity from renewables as soon as possible but at least 90% by 2030.
  • Illegal to dig, burn or ship thermal coal by 2030.
  • Strongly opposed to the Adani mine.
  • Invest $2 billion in a new nature fund to protect native animals and plants.
  • Opposed to Labor’s plan for Australia’s biggest polluters to access international carbon markets.

Australian Labor Party

  • Billions of dollars (unspecified) at solar, wind and hydro projects including rebates to households and businesses to install batteries to store energy. $200 million to means-tested rebate to triple the number of homes using batteries.
  • $100 million to help lower-income families install solar panels.
  • Forcing about 250 of Australia’s biggest polluters to cap emissions.
  • Desires half of all new cars purchased in 2030 to be electric and businesses to get incentives.
  • A higher emissions reduction target of 45%.
  • Adopt the bones of the National Energy Guarantee.
  • A top up of funding to $10 billion for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Less waste, less plastic ‒ more solutions    

Wildlife Queensland has achieved much in the last three years on reducing plastics.

However, over this period the Commonwealth Government has been virtually silent on its role in reducing plastics. At this Commonwealth election, it’s important that we receive promises from all political parties on a number of key initiatives for the future. These are things that state and local governments can’t do.

Here is our list of three important policy areas and what we know about political party policies and responses.

1. Set a phase-out date for single-use plastic takeaway items (coffee cups/lids, containers and cups, cutlery, straws, bottles and all plastic bags)

  • We favour reusable containers and utensils and, if impractical, 100% compostable items instead.
  • The European Union are phasing out many plastic takeaway items by 2021 and we have suggested this as an appropriate date for Australia. With all government agreeing on a target to have all packaging reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025, this phase-out fits this schedule.
  • We also support a national ban on plastic bags and the introduction of a container refund scheme.

It is difficult to get responses from all parties so we have listed Labor, the Greens and the LNP. Let us know if you know more about the other party positions.

Party Responses:

  • Labor supports a national ban on lightweight plastic bags and container deposits and is ‘open to’ extending a phase-out to other single-use plastics, subject to consultation.
  • The Greens support a national ban on plastic bags and container refund scheme. They support a phase-out of single-use plastic takeaway items by 2025.
  • The LNP say they support both a plastic bag ban and national container refund scheme at international meetings but have done nothing about this in Australia. They have no published view on a phase-out of single-use plastics. They support all packaging being reusable, compostable or recyclable by 2025.

2. Strengthen the Product Stewardship Act and fund recycling in Australia

Australians are good at recycling collections but not so good at getting those items recycled. We recycle less than 50% of what we could. The recycling industry is a $15 billion industry in Australia employing over 50,000 people. It could be a lot bigger, reducing our use of virgin resources and keeping the environment cleaner.

  • We have sought proper investment in an Australian recycling industry as well as a ‘buy recycled’ program for government and industry.
  • The Product Stewardship Act puts expectations on local government and consumers to pay for recycling, not on manufacturers. We want to see packaging designed so that it is easily reused, composted or recycled and to make that a mandatory requirement.

Party Responses:

  • Labor will provide $60 million for a recycling fund, will set government targets for a ‘buy recycled’ procurement and support strengthening the product Stewardship Act, but fail to explain how and what they would do.
  • The Greens support proper investment in recycling and a ‘buy recycled program’ so that all packaging has on average 30% recycled content by 2025. They support a Product Stewardship Act with mandatory reuse, composting or recycling targets.
  • The LNP has established a $100 million fund to support recycling and $20 million to research plastic recycling. They will invest in Product Stewardship but plastic packaging is not currently included.

3. Cleaning up plastics in our environment here and overseas

We have a big litter problem, particularly in neighbouring countries that lack the infrastructure we have. The CSIRO calculates that most of the plastics in Australian waters comes from our activities, whilst much of the plastics found in neighbouring countries comes from elsewhere. Cleaning up litter makes a difference. It removes an immediate threat to the environment and wildlife; it also stops plastic litter breaking up into microplastics and getting consumed by marine life.

  • We have asked for continued funding for cleanups and more research into marine plastics.
  • We have asked that Foreign Aid budgets include funding for cleanups and the development of community-based recycling industries in neighbouring countries.

Party Responses:

Generally, all parties support community cleanups. Events such as Clean Up Australia have become part of our national psyche.

In addition:

  • Labor will establish a $200 million Urban Rivers and Corridors Program to restore waterways, in part, this will include litter cleanups. Labor has also set up a $15 million fund to assist our neighbours in the Pacific region to clean.
  • The Greens plan to introduce a law to clean up beaches and oceans that will include reducing plastic use and waste and increasing recycling.
  • The LNP has announced a $100 million Environment Restoration Fund to assist communities to restore and clean up their local environments. They have allocated $16 million for a Pacific Ocean Litter project.

Stronger environmental legislation

While acknowledging all political parties are making noise about climate change, in view of the apparent concern about the environment we are amazed at how little coverage has been given to environmental issues by parties except the Greens.

Wildlife Queensland has been advocating the need for stronger environmental legislation.

Last December, Bill Shorten for the Australian Labor Party committed to new enhanced legislation if elected. Shorten also promised an independent Commonwealth Environment Protection Agency.

Very similar recommendations were contained in the interim report by the Senate Environment and Communications Reference Committee on Australia’s Faunal Extinction Crisis released in April 2019. Wildlife Queensland applauded those recommendations.

However, in the interim, enforcement and compliance with the existing Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 would be a step in the right direction.

The Greens also advocate stronger environment protection legislation. In addition, the Greens have advocated for significant funds to be made available in a new nature fund for the protection of native plants and animals.

This may in part address an issue that Wildlife Queensland has been promoting ‒ the re-establishment of the National Reserve System Program.

Unfortunately, our pleas appear to have fallen on deaf ears. However, there are still several days before we learn the fate of our natural heritage for the next three years. We live in hope.

Seize the opportunity to vote!

Every three years you have an opportunity to express your view about how matters and issues you really care about are managed. Seize that opportunity and use your vote accordingly.

Statement of environmental commitments

[i] Wildlife Queensland approached the campaign offices of the Coalition (Liberal and National parties) and Australian Labor Party and contacted the office of Senator Larissa Waters (Greens) requesting their environmental commitments for the 2019 federal election.

Letter from Senator Larissa Waters, Senator for Queensland, Australian Greens:

“Thank you for the opportunity to express my and the Australian Greens’ commitments to protecting and sustaining our precious natural environment now and for our generations to come.

We have a comprehensive platform to protect and preserve our environment through strengthening our environmental protection laws, investing in protecting our native wildlife and threatened species, and all the while embracing a renewable energy boom by transitioning away from fossil fuel polluters and big corporate interests:

New Environmental Protection Laws That Work

The Australian government has the power, authority, and resources to take care of Australia’s natural heritage. Under our plan, a new generation of environmental laws will be introduced and overseen by an independent federal regulatory body with expanded responsibility and real teeth to enforce the law. The benefits of our plan are:

  • Environmental protection laws that actually work
  • Independent advice, free from political or corporate influence
  • Federal regulation of land clearing, invasive species, air pollution and more
  • Increased community access to justice

You can read our full plan to install a new generation of environmental laws here.

Protecting Native Wildlife and Threatened Species: Investing $2 billion Each Year

Our precious native wildlife is under threat. We have one of the worst mammal extinction rates in the world – but by investing in and prioritising our beautiful, complex biodiversity, we can turn this crisis around. The benefits of our plan are:

  • Stop the loss of native wildlife by protecting habitat, acting on climate change, and fully funding binding recovery plans
  • Better manage and double our established national parks, forests, and reserves
  • Map important habitat nationally
  • Protect important habitat through bioregional plans and clear no-go zones for development and resource projects

You can read our full plan to protect our environment with our Nature Fund here.

Preserve and Look After our Forests, Oceans, Rivers and Reefs

Under successive Liberal and Labor governments, Australia has become a world leader in deforestation, our Great Barrier Reef and many other reefs have been dredged and bleached within an inch of their life, the Murray-Darling basin is being run dry by corporate irrigators, and the Great Australian Bight is suffering under oil and gas exploration. It doesn’t have to be this way. The benefits of our plan are:

  • Keeping our oceans healthy by reversing over-fishing, oil and gas exploration, plastic pollution, and climate change
  • Put an end to deforestation and protect wildlife habitat, carbon stores, regional landscapes, and water catchments
  • Protect our reefs and improve water quality
  • Save the Murray-Darling for the health of human communities and the environment

You can read our full plan to protect our oceans, forests, rivers, and reefs here.

Strong, Urgent Action on Climate Change

Our precious Great Barrier Reef is in crisis, with half of our corals dead from successive bleaching events and human-caused pollution – the fact is, climate change is sending species to extinction, and bushfires, floods, and natural disasters are wreaking havoc on wildlife and our communities. Our political leaders must act now to halt and reverse these devastating impacts, but action on climate change is being held back by the interests of the fossil fuel industry, who donate millions of dollars to the Liberal and Labor parties in exchange for favourable policy outcomes. We want to ban these corrupting influences on our democracy, and transform our economy to embrace a clean, sustainable renewable energy future. The benefits of our plan are:

  • A chance to save our natural wonder of the world, the Great Barrier Reef
  • A world-leading renewables export industry to replace dirty coal exports
  • 180,000 new jobs by creating new industries, jobs and supply chains
  • No new coal mines like Adani, and phase out all coal by 2030, transitioning to 100% renewable energy

You can read our full Renew Australia 2030 policy plan here.

On a personal note, I have dedicated my personal and working life to looking after our planet. Before my election nine years ago as the Greens’ Senator for Queensland, I worked as an environmental lawyer for the Environmental Defenders’ Office. I am up for re-election, and if successful I will keep working to protect nature with laws that work, transition to a renewable energy future, and take strong action on climate change for the health of our community and our environment. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch with my office if I can provide any further information. Thank you for standing up for our environment and our future, know that I stand with you.”

Authorised by Des Boyland, Secretary, Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland, Suite 1, Level 1, 30 Gladstone Road, Highgate Hill, Brisbane, Qld 4101.


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