Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Premier places coal development on agenda with Victorian public service shakeup

The new Premier of Victoria Denis Napthine today announced a major restructure of the Victorian Public service, with a new Department of State Development, Business and Innovation. The Premier highlighted that Energy and Resources portfolio would be brought into the new Department. This includes development of Victorian's notoriously dirty and carbon intensive brown coal.

Part of the restructure entails the merger of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) and the Department of Primary Industry. Ostensibly to cut red tape, in reality it is more likely to result in greater development at the expense of environmental and conservation issues.

Hidden towards the end of the media release the Premier says, "Bringing the Energy and Resources portfolio into DSDBI will enable a sharper focus on major development opportunities such as Victoria's coal resources."

Rather than develop these dirty coal resources, we need to be shutting down existing Victorian coal mines and coal fired power stations like Hazelwood for health, climate and environmental reasons. As we phase out coal we should be encouraging wind farm development, large scale solar power, and continue with adoption of small scale solar photovoltaic systems now installed on over a million Australian households.


And while Napthine makes overtures to cutting red tape, we already know this is ideological double-talk. If he was serious in this regard he would Reverse Victoria's anti-Wind Farm regulation and boost regional development. Here is what he said in the media release:

"We need our public service to offer a proactive 'open for business' culture across the whole of government," Dr Napthine said. "We must cut red tape, minimise bureaucratic bottlenecks and build partnerships that will bring business and jobs to the state."

Victoria's Latrobe Valley Coal power poses environmental and long term climate problems.

While there are few new jobs in any development of Victoria's coal resources, there are substantial regional jobs in constructiing and then maintaining wind farms. And these are regional jobs too. The wind farms also generate site placement income for local farmers which contributes to regional local economies.

Environment Victoria criticized the merger of the Department of Sustainability and Environment and the Department of Primary Industry as maintaining the conservative Liberal National Party Government's destructive environmental policies.

"For the past few years, the Victorian Coalition has put in place many antiquated and environmentally destructive policies such as anti-wind farm laws, development in national parks and expansion into Melbourne's green wedges. It has prioritised environment exploitation over protection. By scrapping the stand-alone environment department, there is a real risk that this out dated approach will continue." said Environment Victoria CEO Kelly O'Shanassy.

Ms O'Shanassy also detailed strong concern regarding the Government's support for new coal development and highlighted the lack of job creation within coal development. "Numerous economic studies have shown that recent past coal developments have not created a single new job in Victoria. The sooner the government wakes up to this reality and focuses its attentions on clean energy rather than coal, the sooner we will create more jobs and secure Victoria's economy." she said.

Cam Walker from Friends of the Earth was equally as scathing about the development of new coal projects, and also called for premier Napthine to cut the red tape for wind farms:

"Any attempt to open up new coal resources will be deeply unpopular and be met with sustained opposition" said Mr Walker. "Expanding the coal industry made sense in the 1940s and 50s. With everything we know about climate change and the opportunities presented by renewable energy, it is madness to suggest any further development of coal in the 21st century".

Mr Walker highlighted that Denis Napthine's own electorate is a major source of wind energy in Victoria and urged him to reconsider overturning the ideologically motivated planning regulations (VC82).

"Wind energy has benefited Dr Napthine more than any other politician in the state. Two-thirds of the state's wind turbines are located in his electorate. Sadly he has refused to re-write the rules, while attempting to position himself as being pro renewables. As any politician knows, sitting on a fence rapidly becomes electorally uncomfortable." said Mr Walker.

"There's still time for Dr Napthine, who represents South Western Victoria, to take a different path. Friends of the Earth hopes he will commit to re-writing Victoria's regressive wind planning policy (VC82)."

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