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NSW Labor leadership candidates answer climate and environment questions from LEAN

As part of the current democratic process for choice of the next leader of NSW Labor, the Labor Environment Action Network put a series of questions to the two candidates. We thank Chris Minns and Jodi McKay for their prompt and constructive engagement in the interests of informing LEAN members and Labor members more broadly on their perspectives on climate and environment issues.

 

It is not LEAN’s role, of course, to recommend one candidate over another. We set out our questions and the two candidates responses below. Members will see that while they may prefer the detail of the response of one candidate or another, the candidates have many points in common.

The most obvious distinctions (which should not be assumed to be points of disagreement between the candidates since candidates have not to date been presented by us with an opportunity to respond to each other’s responses) appear to be

  • Chris Minns proposing a Labor ban on fossil fuel company donations to Labor, and legislating in Government to ban fossil fuel company donations to any political party
  • Jodi McKay proposing a forum (now rather than waiting until a return to government) including all relevant interests within the Party (including unions, scientists and environmentalists) so that an incoming Labor Government can act quickly to protect koala populations

We look forward to working with whichever candidate becomes Leader and with both candidates among all shadow ministers.

LEAN questions

  • How do you see NSW Labor winning broader community support for these and other policies for strong action on climate change and environment protection? Do you have any issues with any of these policies?
  • Do you support Labor's commitment to protect the Koala National Park on the state's mid north coast, in order to protect core koala habitat when we know koalas are at risk of extinction in the north of the state? Will you deliver it in a first term of a Labor government?
  • Do you oppose the Narrabri CSG project and the impacts it will have on the Great Artesian Basin?
  • Do you support the creation of a publicly owned Renewable Energy Corporation as a key pathway to deliver renewable energy in the public interest while maximising the quality of jobs associated with the energy transition? Do you believe we should allow the Renewable Energy Corporation to borrow in order to build energy assets that deliver dividends to support schools and hospitals
  • How do you see NSW Labor better empowering and engaging members on environment and other policy areas?

Candidate responses

Chris Minns

Thanks for taking the time to get in touch with me regarding the upcoming NSW Labor Leadership election.

One of the reasons I am enthusiastic about this process is that it gives potential leadership candidates an opportunity to engage with the broad labour movement in a really open and comprehensive way.

I very much value the work of Labor Action Committees like LEAN and the advocacy you have done on environmental policy within NSW and Australian Labor.

I have made addressing climate change one of the central components of my campaign for the NSW Labor leadership because I think it is one of the central challenges we face as a party and as a nation. I have outlined a series of policies to address this challenge:

  • Building a publicly-owned renewable energy company that creates jobs in clean energy, supporting workers, families and communities across NSW. We will hold rent seeking energy companies to account and provide good jobs in a coherent pipeline of real projects in communities that need them, not just where maximum profit dictates.
  • Setting strong targets for renewable energy and making NSW the Premier state on emissions reduction and smart, sustainable power generation. NSW is the only state or territory without a renewable target and we can’t afford to lag behind.
  • Prohibiting NSW Labor from receiving donations from the fossil fuel industry, and legislating in Government to prohibit any political party from receiving such donations. We need to clean up politics and the environment in this state.

I do think winning broad community support for bold environmental policies is important. I accept that there is little point having strong policies if you’re not in Government to implement them. I think the best way to do this is partner with local communities to demonstrate the massive opportunities that can flow from such transformations. Cities like Newcastle are a good example of places where Labor Governments directly involved themselves in ensuring communities thrived after big industry – in that case steel – closed up shop. It’s not enough to give vague commitments of potential jobs in significantly different sectors to people who are fearful for their families and communities, you have to be specific and direct in terms of the support that will be available.

That doesn’t mean pretending change isn’t happening, it does mean consistently showing up and being honest about how that change will happen. I have direct experience of these difficult conversations from my role as Shadow Water Minister. I was able to engage very directly with local communities along the Darling River and in the Menindee Lakes to show how present arrangements were not sustainable. We were able to build a community consensus around these issues and convince communities to turn their backs on the National Party after generations of support.

On some of your other specific questions, I do not support coal seam gas developments where ground resources could be harmed without full assurance that the most appropriate regulatory and environmental framework is in place to mitigate all risks to our farmers, land and food and water supplies. I will be guided by science in these matters, because it is easy to get lost in complicated political assessments that just make these things harder than they need to be. I have made a commitment that under my leadership NSW Labor will refuse fossil fuel donations, and in government make fossil fuel companies prohibited donor because we need to end the old days of Labor, clean up politics and deliver a clean environment. Clearly there can be no coal seam gas development in NSW without the implementation of all of the recommendations of the Chief Scientists’ Review. I understand the Narrabri project specifically is being assessed by the Independent Planning Commission, which is a key part of ensuring the recommendations mentioned above are met.

NSW Labor better empowering and engaging members in policy – including environmental policy – is best done through organisations like LEAN. LEAN has been highly successful in building broad-based member campaigns around environmental issues and I would welcome a partnership with them into the future. This partnership might include hosting events in Parliament, attending workshops and forums and ensuring relevant Shadow Ministers are available to collaborate closely with you. Members also need to understand how to contribute their ideas to the Policy Committees and see them through NSW Labor’s policy process. I can’t understand why things like the contact details of the Policy Committees aren’t available on the NSW Labor website, this seems like an obvious ways to give members more access to decision-making bodies within the Party. The vandalism of the NSW Liberal and National Government on environmental policy is one of its core failures and getting members active on these issues is essential.

I’d be happy to talk with you further about any of these issues if you have any follow-up questions.

Yours in Labor
Chris Minns

Jodi McKay

How do you see NSW Labor winning broader community support for these and other policies for strong action on climate change and environment protection? Do you have any issues with any of these policies?

I strongly support the environment and climate change policies NSW Labor took to the 2019 State election. As I said in my email of 5 June, I want to use them as the basis for developing even bolder solutions for addressing climate change and delivering cheaper and clean energy to our community.

However, it is clear that parts of the community – especially in rural and regional NSW – remain vitally concerned about their jobs and economic security. It’s not good enough to just tell them they will be okay, we have to deliver a credible plan for jobs and prosperity for everyone. That is our challenge. Without it, we will not be able to convince enough people of the need to transition to a clean energy future.

I would like to engage further with LEAN and its members on this and other policy matters.

Do you support Labor's commitment to protect the Koala National Park on the state's mid north coast, in order to protect core koala habitat when we know koalas are at risk of extinction in the north of the state? Will you deliver it in a first term of a Labor government?

I support the establishment of a National Park that will protect Koala populations on the State's mid north coast.

Rather than waiting until 2023, I want to establish a forum within the Party, involving of relevant Shadow Minister,  LEAN, unions, forestry and environmental scientists and other interested individuals, so scientific evidence can be presented, views considered, and options considered (including transitional arrangements such as plantations and job creation), in order for a Labor Government to act quickly once elected.

Do you oppose the Narrabri CSG project and the impacts it will have on the Great Artesian Basin?

I strongly support NSW Labor’s existing policies on coal seam and other unconventional gas, including opposing the Santos Narrabri CSG project. Protecting our precious land and water is vital and the risks posed by CSG are too great to risk damage to the recharge zone of the Great Artesian Basin.

CSG is also the most expensive form of gas production, and has a relatively short production life. With Australia producing far more gas than it needs, we should have no shortage of cheap gas. In this regard I support Federal Labor's gas reservation policy. Poor decisions and market failure have caused us to have high cost gas with limited availability for local households and businesses. We should not agree to put farms, other land and water at risk because of corporate mismanagement.

Do you support the creation of a publicly owned Renewable Energy Corporation as a key pathway to deliver renewable energy in the public interest while maximising the quality of jobs associated with the energy transition? Do you believe we should allow the Renewable Energy Corporation to borrow in order to build energy assets that deliver dividends to support schools and hospitals?

Absolutely. The policies we took to the recent State election included establishing a new State-owned corporation to deliver 1 gigawatt of renewable energy generation and to act to complement the activities of other players in the energy market. While all our policies are up for review, I stand by this idea.

How do you see NSW Labor better empowering and engaging members on environment and other policy areas?

I believe we need to both strengthen the existing formal policy-making mechanisms within the party and also have more direct engagement by the Leader and Shadow Ministers with party members, affiliated unions and other party units. This should occur on a regular basis.

I want to lead a conversation about the best party processes we can have, including how we develop policy. That dialogue must involve party members across the State, including in the regions. It must also involve our affiliated unions.

I want to find new and better ways for all elements of our party to have a bigger say on what we do and the policies we put forward to the community. There need to be more opportunities for input and participation. I believe we need to develop deliberative and collaborative ways of discussing issues and ideas and reaching solutions.

If I am elected Leader of the NSW Labor Party, I look forward to working with LEAN and all party members and affiliates to achieve this.

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