The sleeping issue of climate change in the #vicvotes battle for Northcote reports @takvera

Darebin Climate Action with the Climate Angels - IMG_8774-600x400
Both the Liberal and Labor parties have avoided talking about climate change in this election and Northcote is a good example of this bipartisan silencing of debate on climate policy.

Candidates from both major parties refused to attend a Climate Q and A forum in the electorate on November 12. The group that organised this forum, Darebin Climate Action Now is an active group that has been quietly talking about the issue and impacts of climate change in this community for a number of years educating voters bit by bit.

Rivalry is not unknown between the Council areas of Darebin and Moreland with the valley of the Merri Creek that divides the two municipalities. But we also share many similar cultural aspects and levels of development and many of the same issues and problems. We will also feel the impacts of climate change in a similar manner through increased frequency and intensity of heatwaves and hotspells. Like in Moreland and Brunswick where I reside, Northcote has an interesting story this election with grassroots climate group Darebin Climate Action Now playing a pivotal role.

The seat of Northcote is one of those inner northern city electorates in Melbourne where the Greens vote has been steadily growing. This state election it has proved to be a particularly nasty battle-ground between the ALP’s Fiona Richardson (Unipollwatch profile) and the Greens Trent McCarthy (Unipollwatch profile) with the intervention of Federal Labor MP David Feeney into the fray.

Grassroots campaign on climate change

At the start of 2014 the group published postcards directed at the Labor, Liberals and Greens State leaders to make climate change an issue this election. Thousands of these postcards were delivered to the parliamentary leaders of these parties in the leadup to the election.

Voteclimate-Postcard2014Darebin Climate Action Now also produced a postcard warning that rapid emissions reductions are now required according to the latest climate science, and distributed the card to 27,000 people in Northcote, that is just about every household. This is a massive effort for a community group to do. They have also produced and distributed 27,000 Vote Climate election scorecards which rates each of four candidates – the ALP, the Greens, Liberal Party and Save the Planet – for this electorate on their climate change policies. In recent months the group has also collected more than 2,000 signatures for the Monster Climate Petition at stalls and through doorknocking.

Voteclimate-Northcote-scorecard“We have seen an unprecedented upsurge in interest in climate action this election as shown by a tripling in the number of supporters of our local group and over 200 volunteers contributing to our campaign” said Carol Ride from DCAN. “We think that with a Tony Abbott winding back action on climate and renewable energy at a federal level, and the Labor Party not really stepping up on the issue, people are clearer that we are going to need take action ourselves.”

According to Jane Morton from the VoteClimate campaign, there are estimated to be at least ten ‘Vote Climate’ house signs for each one from Labor in the electorate.

Release of Labor climate policy

Darebin Climate Action with the Climate Angels - IMG_8792-600x400The Labor environment policy was released without fanfare or promotion on 26 November. The climate policy is very minimal and does not mention coal once with regard to closing any coal fired power stations or excluding development of local coal for the export trade.

Past the motherhood statement, Labor committed only $20 million to new energy jobs, a rather small amount in the scheme of things. It does affirm reduction in the buffer zone for wind farms from 2km to 1 km. There is no commitment to a Victorian Renewable Energy Target while Labor will review setting a 2020 emissions reduction target. With the Federal RET under attack there is a lack of business certainty in the wind sector which will probably require a VRET to restore enough confidence for stalled wind farm developments to proceed.

Tristan Eddis writing in the Business Spectator, called the $20 million new Energy Jobs Fund a joke, a drop in the bucket of investment required and also identified the change in wind farm buffer zones will be insufficient to boost development in this stalled market until there is more certainty with energy targets.

The Liberal Party has not to date (27 November) even released an environment policy, similar to their 2010 election campaign.

Labor scared of losing seat

On first inspection the results in 2010 show there is about 10% margin between Labor and the Greens. But there has also been slight changes to the electorate boundaries which will favour the greens a little, plus the fact that when comparing the margin to voting in Northccote wards for the Federal election that margin has come down to about 5 per cent.

The Liberal vote was 15 pc in 2006 and just under 20 pc in 2010, but with the Liberal How to vote putting the Greens last under the orders of Denis Napthine, it means the Greens need to achieve a higher primary vote, although Liberal preferences from Anthony D’Angelo (Unipollwatch profile) may show substantial leakage from the registered How to Vote card. In a close race preferences of minor parties standing: Jamie McCarney from the Basics Rock and Roll Party, Helen Fenn from Family First, Georgina Purcell from Animal Justice Party and Save the Planet independent Bryony Edwards (Unipollwatch profile) – could all be crucial to the final result.

Labor is now scared of losing this seat.

Labor has chosen an aggressive campaign to attack, undermine and smear the Greens candidate on a number of levels.

A key area of congestion in the electorate is the Chandler Highway 2 lane bridge across the Yarra River to Kew. The Labor leaflet alleges that only Labor can fix the Chandler Highway bridge and accuse the Greens of opposing the duplication of this bridge: “If the Greens have their way … Chandler Highway Bridge will remain a traffic nightmare for years to come.”

Yet there are Greens leaflets published for some time saying “Chandler Bridge duplication by 2016 including a bus every 10 minutes to cut congestion”.

One could ask why Labor did nothing about the Chandler Hwy bridge when they were in power to 2010…

Darebin Climate Action spokeperson Jane Morton tweeted this message on November 25 that Labor’s electoral material is under investigation by the Electoral Commission

Nick Haines also identified the false Labor statements on November 23

David Feeney, the Federal member for Batman which includes the Northcote state electorate, put forward that the Greens had done a deal with the Liberals not to preference Labor based upon material registered with the Victorian Electoral Commission. This is laughable and false accusation.

This is how Robin Elden responded to Feeney:

Earlier in the campaign Feeney used a direct mail intervention to attack Darebin Council and specifically Trent McCarthy (a Greens Councillor for 6 years) for exhorbitant rate rises. Never mind that this was a Labor dominated Council. This letter may have breached Federal communications allowance conditions for MPs. Read more on this story from Crikey.

And the debate about preferences for the Upper House with Feeney accusing the Greens of Hypocrisy over the Greens and PUP preference agreement in some upper house contests. He failed to mention that the ALP in some contests favours the conservative DLP and Country Alliance above the Greens and may help those parties to victory.

Greco Gaetano, former Labor Mayor and current Councillor for Darebin, has also endorsed the Greens Trent McCarthy in Northcote.

Gaetano, whose term as Darebin’s mayor expired on November 10, is running as a labor independent in the seat of Preston to the north. On his election material he called himself a former Labor Mayor, which was complained about by Labor MP Robin Scott and found by the Victorian State Electoral Commission to be misleading and deceptive, according to a media release by Federal MP David Feeney.

Gaetano said to the Melbourne Weekly Times that he had agreed to remove the word “Labor”, although he believed the wording was factually correct. He accused the Preston Branch of the Labor Party of being hollow and out of touch with the community “It takes Labor Party members for granted and also takes the community for granted,” he was reported to have said. “It’s just a safe Labor seat and nothing happens here.”

With the number of interventions by Feeney one could reasonably surmise that he was standing in the state election, rather than being the Federal MP. And while he distracts attention to the Greens and PUP Upper House preference dealing, there is the danger from the poor preferencing arrangements made by the Labor party to elect conservative micro parties ahead of progressive parties or independents.

Be climate smart when voting for the Upper House Northern Metro region

In particular Labor’s preferences in the Northern Metro region are such that they may elect Family First rather than a community independent called Peter Allan who advocates strong climate action policies. I identified this as a possible scenario in my article Victorian Labor looks to Government as hung Legislative Council likely.

Jane Morton from Vote Climate has analysed the preferences in more depth and issued a media statement for climate aware voters to take care with voting Labor and Voice of the West above the line in the Upper House due to the preferences in Northern Metro Region.

“The dirty tricks campaign by Labor continues in the inner north with ALP stalwart David Redfearn sending out a letter to voters on behalf of local Labor incumbent, Fiona Richardson, not disclosing his links to the ALP.” said Jane Morton. “In the letter he calls on voters to ‘say no to the Greens Party/Palmer United Party deal’. He is referring to preferences in country regions though this is not clear from his letter. However, there is another preference deal which might concern voters if they knew about it and this deal could deliver the balance of power to the Family First Party.” she said.

Family First, the Sex Party and climate friendly independent Peter Allen (Group N) are all in the running for that last quota in Northern Metro region. The order they finish and how each has preferenced the others will determine who wins that final spot.

Those who vote above the line for Labor, or Voice of the West, probably wouldn’t expect that their preferences could help elect climate change denying Family First to the fifth seat in Northern Metro, but that is what might happen.

Victorian election 2014 climate policies and preferences diagram Northern Metro (PDF) from VoteClimate.


Vote Climate summarised the preference flows:

    The Labor Party preferences Family First, Country Alliance, the DLP and Liberal Democrats above climate friendly independent, Peter Allen (Group N).

    Voice of the West preferences Family First, the DLP, Country Alliance, Vote 1 Local Jobs; Shooters and Fishers; Australian Christians; Liberal Democrats, Rise Up Australia, and Palmer United ahead of the Sex Party, Greens and Labor.

    Palmer United Party preferences also flow to Family First and then to the Liberals ahead of the Greens and Labor, which may be a surprise to some.

    The rest of the parties all allocate their preferences in ways that are internally consistent and presumably what voters would expect.

    Climate friendly parties and candidates (such as Greens, Peter Allen (Group N) and Sex Party and Animal Justice Party) preference each other.

    The rest of the progressive preference-swap grouping (Basics Rock ‘n’ Roll, Cyclists and Voluntary Euthanasia) also support climate friendly candidates.

    The climate unfriendly parties (such as Liberals, Family First, Rise Up Australia, Country Alliance, Liberal Democrats and Shooters and Fishers) also generally preference each other although with a few inconsistencies.

    The rest of the right wing preference-swap group (Australian Christians, People Power, and Vote 1 Local Jobs) also support climate unfriendly parties.

Voting below the line is optional preferential for Victoria’s Upper House. You only need to number 5 candidates with the numbers 1 to 5 then may choose if you want to number any more. It is up to you how many more you wish to number.

If you vote above the line, you allow the party to allocate your preferences for you, and you might be in for a nasty surprise about who your vote goes to and may elect.

Note: A slight variation to this article was also published on Climate Action Moreland by John Englart.

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