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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Wills candidates agree on climate but differ on urgency and the coal menace

From my election 2013 series - see my Wills 2013 seat reports at

Kelvin Thomson MP makes a point
On a cold and rainy Monday evening some of the voters in Wills, in Melbourne's inner northern suburbs gathered at the concert hall in Coburg Town Hall to hear what some of the candidates had to say on climate and sustainability issues. It was a reasonable turnout with a full hall with an estimated 140 people in attendance.

Climate Action Moreland, a local community group active on climate issues, started organising the event in July. Other community groups endorsed the candidate forum. The date was set, and then Rudd named the election date. All the candidates who had declared their intention to stand were invited to attend and speak.

Come the night, Kelvin Thomson, the sitting Labor MP, Tim Read (Greens), Margarita Windisch (Socialist Alliance) and Dean O'Callaghan (Independent associated with Save the Planet Party) all attended and spoke and answered questions from the audience.

Adrian Trajstman, the Sex Party candidate, had another engagement and sent his apologies, along with a statement. The Liberal Candidate, Shilpa Hegde failed to return repeated requests to attend and was not present. Anne Dufoulon is the Palmer United Party candidate for Wills, was only contacted a day or two before the event and also did not attend. Concetta Giglia is the Family First candidate who was unable to be contacted at all. The Family First climate policy is one of scepticism and denial of the climate science and rejects the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists. The last two candidates were only confirmed to be running in Wills when the Declaration of Nominations took place on the previous Friday.

The 4 candidates present emphasised the importance of climate science and taking action on climate change. The differences were in the degree and strategies for climate action. Kelvin Thomson as a member of the Labor Government, was there to emphasis the importance of the Labor governments carbon pricing and clean energy programs while Tim Read emphasised the Greens influence after the 2010 election in negotiating with the independents and Gillard government the carbon pricing and clean energy package. Both Dean O'Callaghan and Margarita Windisch stressed that we faced a climate emergency which required economic transition and energy transition to a 100 per cent renewable economy within 10 years.

Kelvin commented at the very start, "What happens with a forum like this is that those candidates who are interested in an issue come along, and those candidates who are not interested in this issue do not come along and that is pretty evident from tonights turnout. It does end up that to some extent you are preaching to the converted, but I am pleased to see that tonight there are quite a few converted...."

Dean O'Callaghan, or Deano as he is often called, is a passionate environmentalist, small businessman and a real lateral thinker. Re runs his own business as a brewer and event manager, travelling around Moreland on his bicycle carry his low carbon produced kegs of beer and magic tea. He added some levity to the evening with some of his comments.

"Save the Planet is a political party which doesn't want to exist" he said, "If our politicians had been doing their job properly we would all be concentrating on our own unique endeavours - I'd be brewing beer and running around serving it to people."

"We are obviously extremists." O'Callaghan told the crowd, "I'd like to say we are doing to the Greens what Pauline Hanson did for the Liberal Party." which brought chuckles of laughter from the audience. "Those extreme right wing xenophobes created social policy that a few years later was core policy for our major parties....Maybe our extreme policies will be the core policies for the Greens, then, and even the major parties may adopt them."

Dean O'Callaghan, a brewer and lateral thinker on a mission to save the planet

Dean O'Callaghan was followed by Margarita Windisch from Socialist Alliance who started her talk with a quote from Canadian scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki, from his Right Livelihood Award acceptance speech in 2009:

"Now there are some things in the world we can`t change - gravity, entropy, the speed of light, the first and second Laws of Thermodynamics, and our biological nature that requires clean air, clean water, clean soil, clean energy and biodiversity for our health and well being. Protecting the biosphere should be our highest priority or else we sicken and die. Other things, like capitalism, free enterprise, the economy, currency, the market, are not forces of nature, we invented them. They are not immutable and we can change them. It makes no sense to elevate economics above the biosphere."

The final candidate was Tim Read from the Greens who highlighted that greater action was needed according to climate science with Australia one of the richest countries in the world on a per capita basis. He called for people to get more active, "I am not just going to ask for your vote, but to get more involved in politics than you already are and to really cultivate some of these big picture long term things in the political debate that we are having at the moment."

He spoke clearly on the menace of coal and climate change, "Something else has happened over the last decade. Our coal exports have grown exponentially. We are becoming the Saudi Arabia of coal. In a couple of years we'll be sending 5000 shiploads of coal per year across the Great Barrier Reef. We are focusing here on our local domestic emissions and we are forgetting that we are exporting megatonnes of coal which is the worst of all possible fuels for generating greenhouse gases....I am specially pleased with the Greens announcement that they want to tax coal exports by $2 per tonne. A small amount. So we can start accounting for the coal we export which none of the other parties are mentioning..."

Dr Tim Read standing for the Greens

After the introductory talks the candidates were questioned for 80 minutes from the audience. Some of the question included:
  • raising the dis-juncture between ALP policy on expanding coal and reducing emissions,
  • our international obligations to Pacific neighbours to address climate change,
  • impact on refugees fleeing rising sea levels in the future,
  • whether Labor would support repeal of carbon price if they lost;
  • corporate vested interests funding political donations;
  • whether Julian Assange would be able to take up his seat if elected;
  • How will Save the Planet fund economic transition and deal with the plight of workers in coal mining
  • funding for community renewable energy projects
  • whether buying offsets overseas is just moving the problem
  • What options were open for affordable renewables for people on low income
  • impact of climate change on wildlife and biodiversity
While little attention is focussed in the mainstream media on climate change this election, it is clear it is one of those issues that is bubbling just beneath the surface that is of major concern to many people.

Kelvin Thomson is right to list climate change as one the the major issues up there with the economy and education, and clearly Tim Read for the Greens feels equally passionate about the subject and its growing importance for our political systems to actively respond to the challenges of mitigating and adapting to climate change.

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