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Victorian environment loses as reform agenda proves politically unsustainable for Labor

2 November 2011

Victorian Labor's ambition to make Victoria a sustainable state had much promise, but despite some achievements got whittled away to the point where the Brumby Government looked little different from the Kennett Government, a Deakin researcher argues.

Dr Brian Coffey, who will be presenting a paper on Victorian Labor and the environment at the upcoming Hard Labor: the crisis of social democracy in the Australian States conference on 5 November, said "while Victorian Government interest in sustainability would appear dead, how to become more sustainable was still a big discussion Victorians needed to have."

"We are seeing some elements of such discussions in the Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Melbourne protests," he said.

"We need to answer the question: 'How do we provide for people's needs in ways that protect the environment, and promote justice and equality?

"The major political parties don't seem to be encouraging this discussion, instead as history has shown the leadership of these big issues is taking place at the grass roots and the margins."

Dr Coffey said such political silence on sustainability in 2011 was a far cry from Victorian Labor's 1999 election commitments which explicitly promoted ecologically sustainable development.

"Indeed between 1999 and 2010 the ALP pursued a vigorous and at times unambiguously ambitious environmental reform agenda," he said.

"In terms of legacy the Government delivered a number of significant environmental achievements, notably the establishment of marine parks and the ending of grazing in the Alpine national park.

"For a time, it also increased the strategic profile of environmental issues across government, the business sector and wider community, and reignited the discussion around sustainability.

"But instead of transforming environmental governance by promoting structural reform, building environmental capacity or ensuring sustainability was a key consideration in all decisions and building a sense of ecological citizenship, the environment was treated as a commodity, to be traded off against other objectives.

"Responsibility for action was directed towards individuals, with little consideration of the options available to them."

Dr Coffey said the decline of the sustainability agenda was complete when the then Premier Steve Bracks and Deputy Premier John Thwaites resigned from Parliament.

"The economic rationalism of the new Premier John Brumby, the low profile of the Environment Minister Gavan Jennings, the development orientation of Planning Minister Justin Madden and the limited vision of the Water Minister Tim Holding ensured the profile of sustainability declined significantly and became a marginal interest to the previous Government.

"Given the significant sustainability challenges such as climate change, waterway health, urban planning and the decline in biodiversity which Victoria faced at the time and which Victoria continues to face now this is deeply disturbing."

More information:

Hard Labor? The crisis of social democracy in the Australian state level

News facts
  • How to become more sustainable is still a big discussion Victorians needed to have
  • Victorian Labor's ambition to make Victoria a sustainable state had much promise
  • Some achievements got whittled away to the point where the Brumby Government looked little different from the Kennett Government

Media contact

Sandra Kingston
Deakin Media Relations
03 9246 8221/0422 005 485
sandra.kingston@deakin.edu.au

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2nd November 2011