Labor Urged to Lead Way on Environment - The Australian

Troy Bramston, March 27 2018

More than 300 Labor branches have backed a campaign to rewrite the nation’s environmental laws and establish a sustainability agency with significant powers to intervene in disputes.

The Labor Environment ­Action Network — an internal ­advocacy group — will step up its campaign for an overhaul of the party’s environment policy when it meets scores of Labor MPs in Canberra today.

LEAN wants to “completely ­rebuild the laws and institutions that govern environmental management” and will take its campaign to Labor’s national con­ference in July emboldened by the support of party members.

This includes rewriting the ­Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to provide “clarity and certainty” to business and expand the government’s capacity for environmental protection across Australia. An independent agency to lead debate and intervene would be created.

Armed with the support of 314 branches, LEAN activists will undertake 38 meetings with Labor MPs this week. A briefing document argues the health of Australia’s natural environment is “going backwards” with land clearing and deforestation prevalent, waterways polluted, air and water quality at risk, and native animals and plants under threat.

LEAN calls for ambitious new architecture for environmental management that considers “the whole landscape” rather than being “species focused” with new laws and new institutions. It urges Labor to “deliver big-thinking” ­environmental policies.

LEAN national co-convener Felicity Wade said successful Labor leaders had recognised that bold environmental policies were essential to winning government.

“Labor must champion not only climate change action but also protection of the natural environment,” Ms Wade said, putting pressure on Bill Shorten and shadow ministers Mark Butler and Tony Burke.

“It matters fundamentally to our electoral interests. It’s not ­Batman or Grayndler but centrist voters in the cities’ middle and outer rings who care about clean air, water and having some birds in the garden. Australia’s environment is central to Australians’ identity: big landscapes, koalas, kangaroos and emus. Labor’s ­ambivalence on the environment undermines it both ethically and electorally.”

New polling analysis from ANU, provided to The Australian, shows 47 per cent of voters see the environment and climate change as “extremely important” in deciding their vote.

The data from the ANU’s Australian Election Study also found voters who nominate the environment as a major concern are concentrated in the centre of the political spectrum.

Ms Wade said Labor must also change how it campaigned on environmental issues.

“Environment must be more than a bunch of ‘announceables’ that get lost in the flurry of election campaigns,” she said.

“A 21st century workers party committed to equity and a healthy society is failing fundamentally if it does not embrace the environmental imperative. We need to own it, talk to the electorate about it, articulate policy on our own terms as a serious party of government.”

LEAN successfully convinced Labor’s last national conference to adopt the goal of delivering 50 per cent of Australia’s energy supply from renewable sources by 2030.

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