Higgins Candidates Forum

Higgins Candidates Forum – democracy in action

Climate is a key issue in Higgins
Higgins Climate Action Network (Higgins CAN) held a successful Candidates Climate Forum on May 5 at Malvern Town Hall with almost 400 people in attendance on a chilly autumn night.

You can watch the event on YouTube here and check out our tweet string here

The event was headlined by entrepreneur and renewables industry thought leader Eytan Lenko.

Surprise forum attendance by MP Dr Katie Allen
The event took an unexpected but interesting turn 20 minutes prior to the 7.30pm event start time when sitting Higgins MP Dr Katie Allen (Liberal) phoned organisers to advise she’d be attending for half an hour.

Higgins CAN is pleased Dr Allen attended to outline both her personal and the Coalition’s views and policies about Climate and the LNP proposals for a commonwealth integrity commission.

Higgins CAN is a non-partisan alliance of local Climate Action groups and is committed to encouraging our community and political leaders at all levels of government to take effective Climate Action.

The forum’s run sheet for the night was hastily adjusted so Dr Allen could attend and present her party’s policies on carbon emissions and other Climate issues. Other candidates at the forum were Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor), Sonya Semmens (Greens) and Andrew Johnson (Reason).

Candidate Speeches

Dr Katie Allen – Liberal
Dr Allen has written opinion pieces saying climate action is an economic imperative. The long range emissions plan has five stretch targets including hydrogen, batteries and green steel. You can check out Dr Allen’s voting record on renewables finance and her overall record here.

The LNP target is 26-28% by 2030.

Sonya Semmens – Greens
Higgins is the most Greens most winnable seat. What are we going to do about the prospect of 50deg days? Greens will set science-based targets, 75% emissions reduction by 2030, with no new coal and gas, not LNP and ALP’s 114 new coal and gas mines.

Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah – ALP
Climate impacts include eco-anxiety, which is morphing into a “lethal hopelessness”. Labor will do sector by sector decarbonisation, including transport, electricity generation and industry, including an EV policy, large scale renewables, and a carbon trading scheme.

Labor’s 2030 target is 43%

Andrew Johnson – Reason
Science should provide the answers. These include no more subsidies for fossil fuels, no new coal and gas, a rapid transition to 100% renewables, phasing out petrol vehicles, net zero by 2030.

Eytan Lenko Keynote

As a software engineer, Eytan in 2009 was looking for engineering tech solutions and worked with Beyond Zero Emissions and worked on the inaugural plan for 100% renewables. He served on the Board of BZE till last year, and help to create the 1 million jobs plan – solving the climate crisis is a huge economic opportunity.We just have to electrify everything and power it with clean energy. This is a future with abundant clean energy, increasing our national security and lowering our costs. We can become a renewable energy superpower, transforming manufacturing and exports. We are in a race for a clean economy and prosperous future.

Forum Moderator was Dr Catherine Pendrey, a proud Higgins local and a former member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the Asia Pacific.

She’s also:

  • served on the Boards of: Doctors for the Environment Australia and Climate and Health Alliance
  • published research papers address intersection between health, equity and sustainability

Dr Pendrey chose three questions to ask candidates from a long list prepared by Higgins CAN. A summary of candidate answers is below.

Question 1: Emissions reduction targets
“The Climate Council says for Australia to contribute its fair share to the world’s efforts to keep warming below 2°C we must reduce our emissions by 75% below 2005 levels by 2030, and achieve net zero by 2035. What are your party’s emission reduction targets and why?”

Dr Katie Allen (Liberal)

  • party’s position is net zero by 2050
  • and 24 – 26% by 2030 “but we project it will be between 35 and 38%”

Sonya Semmens (Greens)

  • Greens are in line with the science — 75% by 2030
  • net zero by 2035
  • “The number of human deaths will be directly correlative with how fast we get out of fossil fuels – quite literally, lives depend on the decisions we make here in Australia, which means quite literally lives depend on the outcome of this election.”

Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor)

  • modelling shows we’ll achieve an interim target of 43% by 2030 – aligned with targets of several large economies (Canada, US, EU) comparable to Australia
  • the Morrison-Joyce Government is not going to achieve net zero by 2050; their report only gets you down to 85% with 15% based on a possible future technology
  • Liberal’s interim target was based on Tony Abbott’s target and on the actions of state and territory governments, not on actions federally
  • Australia has an abundance/embarrassment of natural resources and should be doing a lot better
  • need to overcome several bottle necks to achieving emissions reduction, the most critical of which is to unify the nation and leave no-one behind.
  • if we alienate coal mining communities we will lose our mandate to transition

Andrew Johnson (Reason)

  • net zero target by 2030 or sooner – it’s what the community wants and there’s no good reason not to do it
  • need the opportunity and leadership to let it happen
  • we’ll start with energy and move through the rest

Question 2: Future fossil fuel approval and investment
“The international Energy Agency says for the world to achieve net zero by 2050 there can be no more fossil fuel investment and no more investment in new and abated coal power plants. But Australia has well over 100 coal, gas and oil projects as well as several gas basins that are under development, several with government support. How can we view state and federal government emission pledges as genuine when such large-scale expansion is planned?”

Andrew Johnson (Reason)

  • “That’s a good question, how can we?”
  • should be no new coal and gas: you’re not serious about bringing down emissions if you’re digging up more
  • have policy to stop the approval or start of new projects
  • “In simple terms, we should be following the top half of that question and not the bottom half.”

Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor)

  • Labor not committing public money to coal and gas projects unless the public sector is willing to fund them
  • projects need to meet environmental standards + make economic sense
  • will tighten environmental standards that Morrison-Joyce Government has watered down
  • major fund managers divesting of coal (eg, Macquarie and BlackRock), so makes no sense for Labor to talk about opening new coal mines to run for 30 to 40 years, because in 30 years we need to be at net zero
  • Labor’s Empowering Australia Plan is all about renewable energy – does not mention opening up coal or prolonging gas
  • need to decide for business as usual under polluting Morrison-Joyce Government or for something better
  • political donations: accepts donations from fossil fuel companies and renewable energy companies

Sonya Semmens (Greens)

  • both major parties will prolong coal and gas because both approved 114 new coal and gas projects, including one which will contribute an additional 13% of emissions (a whole country’s worth of emissions ) into the atmosphere
  • if you don’t have a plan to get rid of coal and gas you don’t have a plan for the Climate

Dr Katie Allen (Liberal)

  • believes in technology and the ability of science and technology to solve problems
  • solar panels once prohibitively expensive, now have ultra-low-cost solar at $15 per megawatt
  • need to get hydrogen to under $2 a kilogram so we can have hydrogen cars, buses and freight
  • need a future fuel strategy that enables both electric vehicles and hydrogen
  • free market and private equity bringing up solutions at speed
  • sat on Trade and Investment Growth Committee with report showing it’s no longer viable for private equity to invest in fossil fuels. The writing is on the wall
  • It will be a slower transition that some would like, but globally we are in the middle of transitioning from fossil fuels led by private equity and enabled by government.

Question 3: Accountability and transparency in government
“There’s been a lot of discussion about the role of transparency and accountability in government, particularly about the potential role for some kind of anti-corruption body. I’d like all candidates to comment on what reforms they could see that would potentially improve the transparency and accountability in our political system – and feel free to reflect specifically on Climate Change and the fossil fuel industry. We know it has come up tonight that fossil fuel companies have donated millions to Australian political parties and in return have received billions in subsidies.”

Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor)

  • “You will get an anti-corruption commission delivered by the end of the year should Labor form government on May 22.”
  • incredibly important for the energy transition because billions, if not trillions, of dollars in public and private money will be spent to take us to net zero
  • estimated $76 billion will be spent to get us to our 2030 targets – $26 billion public money and the rest will be private money
  • this anti-corruption commission will have all the powers of a standing royal commission with retrospective powers as well as prospective powers
  • will have the ability to bring anyone forward from a minister to a staffer, from an external agency or a contractor
  • will be led by Mark Dreyfus (a previous Australian attorney-General and Queens Counsel)
  • there will be public hearings
  • refuted claim that Labor approved 114 gas and coal projects: this is not true. These are provisions of licences to explore but from our point of view we have not approved them to full operational status.

Sonya Semmens (Greens)

  • we first tabled a bill for a federal ICAC 10 years ago and Senator Larissa Waters (Greens QLD) tabled it again in the Senate in 2019
  • in full support of a federal anti-corruption commission with teeth, both retrospective and going forward
  • in support of rigorous political donations reform
  • Greens don’t take donations from big pharma, fossil fuel companies or multinationals or anyone with a vested interest
  • Greens have a simple position: you get big money and nefarious money out of politics so that your government serves YOU and not its fossil fuel donors

Dr Katie Allen (Liberal)

  • I’m a strong supporter of a Commonwealth Integrity Commission
  • Government has a 300-page draft and $100 million put aside in the last budget for a Commonwealth Integrity Commission
  • additional changes are needed to the draft
  • refers to different state ICACs or IBACs available on Transparency Australia’s website with oversight of where a commonwealth integrity commission sits
  • ICAC has a law enforcement arm and a public service and Parliamentary arm: thinks the Parliamentary arm sits too far to the left and would like to bring it more to the right

Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah (Labor)

  • Australia got its worst score by Transparency International last year under the Morrison Government
  • “These guys talk a lot but they don’t deliver and Morrison is running away from his responsibility.”
  • policy to lower political donations to $1000
  • need real-time disclosure of political donations

Andrew Johnson (Reason)

  • ICAC is vital
  • embarrassing the federal level of our government has the weakest anti-corruption legislation and political donation restrictions and laws
  • “We want to go further, I think, than almost any other political party in Australia, we want political donations to end.”
  • can’t be just some industries that can’t put their money in politicians pockets, it should be that no-one can put money in politicians pockets
  • “As soon as you can get a political in debt to you, you’re inviting corruption. It should be off the table entirely. It’s also going to combat the phenomena of whoever spends the most money winning elections.”
  • when one group is able to spend much more than another it does not service democracy well
  • if everyone is on a level playing field then the message has to win it, your record has to win it – the things that are really supposed to matter in democracy.
  • need political donation laws as well as an ICAC
  • wants ministerial diaries to be public so we know who is being met with and who isn’t being met with
  • wants to stop revolving door of jobs going from government to industry where they previously had responsibility