“If climate change is the great moral issue of our time, as one former prime minister famously said, then governments have failed miserably”, Victorian Socialists candidate Tim Gooden told Green Left Weekly.
Gooden, who is standing in the November 24 state elections for the Legislative Council electorate of Western Victoria Region, said that an urgent and practical response to the climate crisis has been sorely lacking at both the national and state levels.
“No government has a clear plan to tackle climate change”, Gooden said. “[Victoria’s] Daniel Andrews government has had to be pushed, largely by grassroots campaigners, to announce six new wind and solar farms.
“It is playing catch up to meet the state’s Renewable Energy Target (RET), which is pretty weak [40% renewables by 2025].
“Given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent warnings, this has to be a priority of any party which calls itself progressive.”
Victorian Socialists’ lead candidate for Northern Metropolitan region Stephen Jolly agrees. He told GLW that, based on the data, there needs to be emergency action to dramatically cut carbon emissions.
“We need a 21st century Marshall Plan to immediately move toward zero emission energy,” Jolly said. “A shift to wind and solar power, for example, would revitalise the failing manufacturing sector in Victoria.”
Jolly said Victorian Socialists are campaigning for measures that would improve workers’ quality of life.
If elected, Jolly said he would push for a publicly-owned recycling plant in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and an expansion of public transport, which would remove the stress of being stuck in cars on clogged roads.
The Victorian Socialists argue that the planet is in crisis because of “capitalism, nationalism and profit-directed growth”.
The party’s election manifesto says: “Nothing makes the case for socialism clearer than the fate of our natural world: wasteful production, output and carbon emissions must be dramatically reduced and the best way of doing this is by bringing energy into democratically-controlled public hands.”
It has policies on: supporting the ban on unconventional gas mining and phasing out coal; protecting and expanding old growth forest and reviving a sustainable timber industry; and setting a higher RET.
It suggests the Latrobe Valley could become a hub for renewable energy production, creating a network of new sustainable jobs.
Gooden and Jolly are critical of the Liberals for counterposing lower energy prices to taking real action on reducing carbon emissions.
“It’s a lie”, Jolly said. “Their privatisation of utility companies has led to a massive rise in prices since the 1990s. Facts are facts.
“This argument is a cover for their staunch advocacy for the fossil fuel industry.”
Gooden said: “Of course, we are worried about rising energy prices: but the Liberals will do nothing to either lower emissions or really lower prices.
“If they were genuine about climate change — and they’re not — they would be investing public funds into renewable energy systems, and not leave it to the market, which is what’s happening now.
New data shows that Australia could have 100% renewable energy by the early 2030s if the current pace of wind and solar development is maintained.
But this is unlikely to happen because the RET program is being wound up early — despite its popularity.
The huge public subsidy to the fossil fuel industry — around $11 billion a year is spent on programs that encourage more coal, gas and oil extraction, according Market Forces — acts as a brake on any shift to sustainable energy.
“This shows the major parties’ priorities: supporting their mates in the mining industries is more important than anything else,” Gooden said.
Jobs and climate
Some unions are taking a stand against dangerous or dirty energy production.
The Electrical Trades Union, for instance, has banned its members from working in the uranium industry, on the grounds of safety.
But others have a mixed record.
Gooden and Jolly are both members of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union (CFMMEU) which, like the Australian Workers’ Union, has tended to defend the idea that there is a contradiction between defending jobs and implementing sustainable energy policy.
Asked how to tackle the illogical “jobs versus climate” argument, Jolly said workers had to be told the truth.
“We need to patiently explain how transforming the economy from being privately-run and fossil-fuel driven to a publicly-owned zero emission one will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, be better for the environment and drive down prices in the long run.”
Gooden said: “We have to stop falling for the conservatives’ lies which equates environmental campaigns with being opposed to jobs.
“Today, they should be the same thing and every union has to get behind solutions, including more renewable energy and against wasteful, polluting practices.
“The CFMMEU needs to start calling for more retro-fit projects. It needs to look at jobs in renewable industries, demand public investment and ownership of the energy sector, and develop innovative ways of addressing the huge issues to do with concrete, including it being a major contributor to global carbon dioxide emissions.”
Unions could lead
Gooden believes that unions could play a leadership role in different ecological campaigns and suggested the Australian Council of Trade Unions’ Change the Rules campaign should include a “green jobs component”.
“Unless unions — the biggest social movement in Australia — start taking climate change seriously, those communities with the least resources are going to fare the worst,” Gooden said.
“We need to remember that our Pacific sisters and brothers, the ones who had the least to do with the problem, are already watching their homes disappear.”
Asked why he thought unions had been reluctant to take a lead, Gooden pointed to the movement’s close ties to the Australian Labor Party: “[Union leaderships] see environmental issues as being tied to the Greens and, therefore, counter to Labor’s interests.
“This is nonsensical.”
Gooden said that if elected, he would use his position to talk with workers in “critical industries” such as coal, forestry and construction about alternatives. “I’d be trying to develop solutions that they would be prepared to campaign around.
“After all, it is in our collective interest to fight for our common future.
“Right now, too many campaigns are defensive and divisive. Those unions that do not believe that climate change is a serious enough issue for unions to take a stand on are, in the end, supporting the bosses’ profits-at-any-cost approach.
“That is not sustainable for workers, our communities or the planet,” Gooden said.
[Find out more about Victorian Socialists at victoriansocialists.org.au.]