NSW Labor will be punished at the coming State election. Its revolving door for the top job – first Iemma, then Reece, now Kenneally – has been a poor fig leaf for its much more systemic problems. A lack of vision and a failure to deliver on promises, time and time again. And while a Barry O’Farrell Liberal-National government is almost a sure thing come March 26, it won’t be getting a blank cheque from the public. The people of NSW are sick of the State’s stagnation. They want and expect to be delivered into the 21st century – a low carbon economy, green jobs and a world class public transport system.
O’Farrell needs to learn this quickly if he wants to ensure his political survival as Premier for more than one election cycle. He needs to unhitch his wagon from Abbott’s fear campaign on the carbon price, and the desperate and futile attempt to cling on to the past that it embodies, in order to take the state into the new generation.
His first test will be ensuring that NSW stays ahead of the curve in Australia’s transition to a low-carbon economy. This will be no mean feat considering the iron grip that the powerful polluting coal industry has maintained under NSW Labor. As recently as late last year, Keneally’s government made a farce out of the State’s climate change targets with its decision to develop the Cobbora Coal Mine in NSW’s central-west, locking in an unhealthy and expensive dependence on coal-fired power.
And yet it’s a test he must face up to unless he wants to tie his political future to an out-dated and losing side. Despite the recent best efforts of Abbott, climate deniers and right-wing shock jocks to stir up a ‘people’s revolt’ against a carbon price, they have been overwhelmed by the mainstream support for a price on pollution, especially among young people. In round one of the past versus future, the people on the side of the future resoundingly won. 8000 people came together in Melbourne’s Treasury Place the Saturday before last to rally for a price on pollution. Just 200 people turned up at shock jocks’ rally.
Indeed, young people in particular represent a key demographic whose political support hangs in the balance on the issue of climate action. According to Nielsen polling last month, 18-24 year olds are the most supportive of putting a price on pollution. That’s in line with the results of the Youth Decide youth referendum on climate change from 18 months ago, where a staggering 97.5 percent of the 37, 000 young Australians who voted called for emissions reduction targets stronger that those proposed by the Rudd government at the time. And really, it should come as no surprise. Young people have always historically been on the side of the future. It’s in their interests to think in the longer term.
And it makes sense to grow a low carbon economy. It’s good for long-term sustainable growth, healthier energy security, increased competitiveness and new, green jobs. Not to mention it would be pretty useful in preventing the realisation of Professor Garnaut’s most recent warning that just a 50 cm sea level rise increases the risk of coastal and harbour flooding in Sydney by a disastrous factor of 10, 000.
Whoever wins the NSW election should dream big. They should take a leaf from the book of State governments around the world at the cutting-edge of low carbon transport, smarter urban development, and renewable energy investment. Examples are abounding. California has approved six large scale solar projects totalling nearly 3000 MW, including the world’s largest solar energy project at 1000 MW. New York’s Public Service Commission has approved 95 energy efficiency programs, totalling a commitment of US$992 million, which could save the annual energy use of 70, 000 homes. Upper Austria is setting a target for 100% renewable energy by 2030. Even South Australia is setting targets, including 75 per cent of household waste, 90 per cent of construction and demolition waste, and 75 per cent of commercial and industrial waste by 2015.
NSW should not be left behind as other States around Australia and the world reap the benefits of a clean energy revolution. And the people of NSW won’t be very forgiving of a Liberal-National government that continues NSW Labor’s legacy of guaranteeing just that.
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