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Government should lead the way

By Michael Sullivan - posted Wednesday, 15 September 2010

While the winner of the 2010 Australian Commonwealth election will be forever in dispute, there is one certain thing everyone can take from that ballot. Australians are sick of our per capita carbon footprint and we want a government that will do something about it. It is generally accepted that Labor's willingness to sign the Kyoto agreement strongly motivated people to support the Kevin07 campaign. The record vote for the Greens in 2010 is another clear signal that most Australians want government to act in a more environmentally sensitive way. It is rare that Australians send the same message to their leaders in two consecutive elections, rare indeed.

As minority government negotiations dragged on, the environment was relegated to the back-burner. That might be because we have two very different sets of opinion in Australia with regards to the environment, and those differences neatly fit into the regional Australia and urban Australia divide.

In regional Australia virtually everyone lives and dies by the productivity of the land. The practices that produce more crop or stock are the practices that they will support. The greater the harvest, the greater the income, it's as simple as that. In regional Australia the green movement is all about maintaining high productivity on a sustainable basis. It's about conservation and preservation and that is very different to what motivates city folk to vote Green.


Urban Australians hold a completely different view. In the city people want a more “natural” environment; they care about biodiversity and they care about returning the land to its condition before machinery flattened it and turned it into a farm. Urban Australians are more interested in saving endangered species, and that comes through establishing pristine forests rather than productive paddocks. Urban Australians support the Greens; regional Australians don't.

At the moment the balance of power lies in regional Australia and regional Australia has more pressing issues than the environment.

The fact remains, however, that the vote for candidates that had an environmentally sensitive agenda was at a record high throughout the nation, and any government that doesn't react to that sensitivity will inevitably be doomed.

Support for Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister entered an irrevocable decline after Copenhagen gave mixed messages to the world, and the Rudd administration sat on its hands on environmental policy. Kevin Rudd's failure to respond to Copenhagen was his undoing. It is true that his administration attempted to put in place a structure for a low carbon economy. It is also true that the Greens, green in name only on this one, voted it down. We were in uncharted territory as a nation. There can be no doubt that many people wanted an ETS and were convinced of the science of global warming, but we could not negotiate the politics of it. The Rudd administration failed to deliver in the legislature and then went cold on the whole business.

There is another way, a way to act that is environmentally sensitive regardless of what the houses of parliament do. If you add together all three levels of Australia’s government (Local, State and Territory, and Commonwealth) they represent an enormous chunk of our national economic activity. If the leaders and decision makers of all of those government bodies ran their organisations in an environmentally sensitive way we would reduce our carbon footprint substantially.

Government needs to take the lead and show Australians the way to reduce their carbon footprints.


In the wake of the Rudd administration, Julia Gillard should implement energy saving measures and minimise greenhouse gas emissions from Commonwealth agencies. Her administration should communicate those savings to the voting public. With time pressure will be brought to bear on State and Territory as well as local government agencies to implement similar environmentally sensitive practices. Eventually there will be enough pressure on all agencies to arrive at a political consensus. Acting in a non legislative way can generate the political consensus and that can produce the legislation that allows Australia to move forward toward a minimum carbon future.

While the list of things one could consider to reduce our carbon footprint is enormous, I will mention only the three items that are most obvious to me here: electricity usage, motor vehicle emissions, and travel.

Electricity usage

How many of us have been out late at night and seen government buildings ablaze with overhead lighting? I know that our public servants are hard working, but do you really think that all those offices are in operation so late at night? Could it simply be that they have gone home and left the lights on?

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About the Author

Michael Sullivan has a Bachelor of Commerce degree and a Graduate Diploma in Social Science (Public Sector Management). He is now retired on medical grounds after a hectic and varied life in the paid workforce. He has been a small business operator, a milkman, a fleet manager for a major international operator, a bank teller, and a pizza delivery driver to name just a few of his many jobs. Michael is a keen observer of politics and current affairs in Australia and around the world.

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