Our environmental policy comparison for the 2013 election

Green Lifestyle online

We weigh up the possible futures for Australia given the environment policies of parties at the 2013 Australian election.

election 2013

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This election, amidst the debates about make-up, asylum seekers and the state of our economy, Green Lifestyle thought an overview of each party’s policies from an environmental perspective was needed, as compared to the last few elections, the environment has largely been ignored this election. Here’s how the federal parties’ policies stack up on matters that specifically concern our planet.

Economy & emissions
The Australian Labor Party (ALP) has made it clear that it plans to stand by its Mineral Resources Rent Tax (MRRT), expand the Petroleum Resource Rent Tax (PRRT) and impose a new Emissions Trading Scheme by July 2014. On the other side of the spectrum, the Liberals would scrap the MRRT and the carbon price, but will support the PRRT.

The Greens want to raise taxes on polluting industries and resource extraction, remove fossil fuel subsidies, end concessions for environmentally harmful industries and instead subsidise alternative industries to provide new jobs. They are committed to a carbon tax and carbon price. They will also increase the rate of the MRRT to 40 per cent from 22 per cent, and extend coverage to all minerals, not just iron ore and coal.

The ALP and the Greens both support keeping the Clean Energy Finance Corp, which the ALP started in 2012 to encourage private investment in large-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. But the Liberals plan on scrapping it. The Liberals will also toss the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Commission and the Energy Security Fund, to be replaced by the administration of the Emissions Reduction Fund.

The ALP and the Liberals support mining in old-growth forests of the Tarkine in Tasmania, coal seam gas mining, Kimberley gas projects, Browse Basin gas and oil exploration off the coast of WA, and oil shale mining. Both major parties also support uranium mining with radioactive waste trade to signatories of the Non Proliferation Treaty, and also the creation of a nuclear waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory. The Greens are against coal seam gas mining, new oil shale projects, the expansion of mining in Tasmania’s Tarkine region, the nuclear waste dump and both the mining and though would consider the environmental consequences of a formal proposal, but they do support the reopening of the Luina mine in Tasmania as long as it meets relevant approvals.

Great Barrier Reef
The Labor Party has promised $137 million in projects to protect the Great Barrier Reef, and the Liberals have a long-term policy that is likely to match Labor’s input . The Greens have also vowed to protect the Reef from rampant port expansion and protect Australia’s water resources from unconventional gas extraction (including shale gas), implementing a $173 million protection package.

In June this year, the ALP cut its budget for its Biodiversity Fund by about half. The Greens support Labor’s originally proposed budget, but the Liberals are committed to abolishing the fund to replace it with a ‘Green Army’ of 15,000 young people who will work with Bushcare Groups. The Coalition is promising to plant 20 million trees by 2020, but has not said how. The Greens’ election platform proposes $40 million annually to develop and implement a biodiversity and threatened species strategy.

Marine parks
Last year the ALP expanded the Commonwealth Marine Reserve Network to create the world’s largest network of national parks in our oceans. The Coalition says it supports marine parks in principle but, if elected, would review the current Marine Protected Areas, with more of a focus towards recreational fishers who generally oppose marine parks. The Greens support Labor’s efforts as a ‘good start’ but seek changes to the way oil and gas exploration acreage is released, and they will oppose any attempt by the Liberals to repeal the parks.

Endangered species
The Liberals are angling to ‘cut red tape’ to protect endangered species, saying the states should have the power to approve a project without the approval of the government. In response to this the Greens state that the Liberals’ plan is actually an attempt to remove accountability of the federal government on environmental issues by giving the unsubstantiated impression that the national approval process of environmental law is slow. The Greens support the prevention of federal environmental approval powers being given away to states, to manage ecological protection adequately, namely because most states are Liberal-run. Labor vows to work on the laws but will not give approval powers to the states, citing that it could lead to bad decision making.

The Murray–Darling
There hasn’t been any headway on the MDP since late last year and Kevin Rudd has refused to speak about it in his election campaign. As it stands, both the ALP and the Liberals aim to return 3,200 gigalitres (GL) of water to the basin environment. The ALP believes there’s an implicit cap on the buybacks of irrigators’ water entitlements at 1,500 GL. The Liberals agree but plan to explicitly cap these buybacks. The Greens believe the MDP will not return enough water to the environment, arguing that a minimum of 4,000 GL must be returned to guarantee its long-term health.

Land ownership
The ALP and Liberals support foreign investment in land and the Farm Finance Package. The National Farmers Federation (NFF) and both major parties support the instatement of a national foreign investment register, but The Greens have taken it one step further as they’re concerned about the sale of Australian agricultural land and water to foreign buyers. They want a legislated national interest test requiring the food security implications of any sale to be considered.

Food security
The Greens are calling for clearer and stricter Country of Origin labeling for food, but this is not supported by either major party. The National Farmers Federation (NFF) believes the Labour party's policies have the best overall outlook for Australian agriculture, with the Coalition ranked second and the Greens last. The NFF’s President Duncan Fraser claims that the Greens’ food policy is half baked, with “some fundamental issues that we are diametrically opposed on”. Both parties would also keep the Landcare scheme, but reduce funding, whereas The Greens wish to revert to the earlier levels of investment, saying that otherwise this iconic bipartisan organisation would be under-funded.

Carbon farms
There’s bi-partisan support of the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), in addition to agreeance from the Greens provided responsible farming practices are advocated. The ALP will invest $290 million into the program and will allow Carbon Farming credits to be sold to polluters in the carbon pricing mechanism. The Coalition would expand Labor’s plans for Carbon Farming to be even broader than the other two parties’ policies. However, without a carbon price (which Tony Abbott has vowed to remove), the domestic market for CFI credits would slump, greatly reducing the impact of the whole initiative .

Live export
The ALP and Liberals support continued live export trade. The Greens plan to ban live exports for slaughter and add that pre-slaughter stunning should be mandatory within Australia, managed by the establishment of a new independent Office for Animal Welfare. There’s also a minor party called the Animal Liberation Party, which is campaigning against live animal exports.

While Labor, the Coalition and the Greens all agree the automotive sector needs government support, each has a different idea of the amount and the way those funds should be committed. Labor intends to commit $1.5 Bn by 2015 and is also promoting the purchases of Australian cars by government bodies. The Coalition’s plan is similar but only commits two-thirds of Labor’s budget. The Greens back Labor's Automotive Transport Scheme funding , but believe the grants should be directed to an industry transition to electric cars with national targets for electric cars. They stand for direct financial assistance to develop high-tech and renewable technologies and want large projects to meet local content quotas.

High-Speed Rail
Labor commissioned the report into the viability of a high speed train in April and is currently conducting consultation. The Coalition supports the concept of the project, but has questioned its cost and viability. The Greens want funding and work on the project to start immediately as they were responsible for the initial negotiations to have the feasibility study commissioned.

For an even more in-depth look into the main environment policies this election, we recommend checking out these comparisons and environment scorecards here:
- The World Wildlife Fund
- The Australian Conservation Foundation
- 100% Renewable's Solar scorecard
- The Nature Conservation Council of NSW and Environment Victoria's Federal Election 2013 Environment Policy Comparison
- Guardian Australia's election spending tracker
- The Climate Institute's Pollute-o meter
To see where your views and ideas fit into the major parties policies, check out Vote Compass. To make your vote really count, fill in ‘below the line’ on the ballot paper – check out Below the line and Cluey voter.