Environmental Policy Analysis

Yesterday I reviewed the educational policy directions for the Greens, Labor and Coalition parties for tomorrow’s federal election.  With Australia now on the eve of the big vote, literally, there is no time like the present for us to have a look at their environmental policies.

Environmental issues are dear to all readers of this blog and I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how important our natural world is to the economic and social well-being of all people.  Not to mention the importance to other species we share this beautiful planet with.

There are a complex raft of different policies from the three sides of politics and I’ll attempt to summarise them as best as I can.


Some Labor policies on the environmental front are quite progressive, the main one being a commitment to a carbon price through an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS).  Kevin Rudd wants to transition from the current Carbon Tax to the ETS by mid-2014, a year ahead of the original date.  The difference between a tax and an ETS is not small, however the core point is they both place a price on carbon pollution, which encourages innovation in energy conservation and production so as to save money by reducing pollution.

The unfortunate side of Labor’s climate change policies is a weak 5-25% reduction of carbon emissions (based on the year 2000 levels) by 2020 and an 80% reduction by 2050.  I say “weak” because the consensus by climate scientists is that the world must reduce emissions by 25-40% by 2020 to keep warming below 2 degrees Celsius.  Mind you, a 2 degree warming will still cause significant harm to ecosystems, communities and economies around the world.

Labor will also maintain funding to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and keep their current 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but plan to review it in 2016.

Unfortunately, Labor seem to be fairly quiet on environmental policies outside of the climate change sphere.  The only positive one that stands out is their $56 million feasibility study into Fast Rail linking Melbourne, Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane.  While it is only a small step forward, it is a step in the right direction.  Fast Rail will help to reduce transport related carbon pollution by reducing car and plane travel between the regions and East coast cities.

On the negative front, Labor plan to cut the Biodiversity Fund from $1 billion to $400 million, decrease Landcare funding and not renew funding at all for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility is a step backward.  They have also ruled out putting a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, as requested by conservationists and farmers across Australia.

Their policy is to oppose nuclear power generation but support uranium mining.  However there is no sign of any policy on a sustainable population.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition are diametrically opposed to the Labor Party with regards to climate change.  They intend to completely remove a price on carbon pollution and instead rely on a Direct Action Policy of tree planting and energy efficiency measures paid for by government grants.  This will be a voluntary initiative for businesses but if it is widely adopted there is a funding cap and Tony Abbott has already ruled out increasing the fund even if it doesn’t meet their own weak targets of 5-25% carbon pollution reduction by 2020 (from 2000 levels).  This is a distinct back-flip on their previous commitments to reduce carbon pollution.  Furthermore, economists say that the Direct Action strategy will cost far more per tonne of carbon than a Carbon Tax or ETS.

The Liberals also plan to axe the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Biodiversity Fund and a host of other incentives linked to the Carbon Tax.

Like Labor, they are still committed to a 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but will review it in 2014.  Unlike the Labor Party, they will renew funding for the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, however.

On a positive note, they plan to introduce an unemployed work program called the Green Army.  This is a just a renaming of the old Green Corps, Work for the Dole and LEAP programs of years gone by.  These programs do have good outcomes in terms of giving meaningful work and environmental education to disadvantaged youth, however I do question the quality of the on-ground work and the fate of existing contractors who currently do the work earmarked to be taken over by the Green Army.

The Coalition plan to introduce a Threatened Species Commissioner, but there is no detail on what powers or resources this person will have.

They have also committed to a $40 million trust fund to combat threats against the Great Barrier Reef, such as the Crown of Thorns Starfish, however it must be noted that occurrence of this invasive species is linked to poor stormwater quality from the land, so without addressing the runoff, the Crown of Thorns will continue to proliferate and damage the Reef.

I’m afraid that’s about all the positive things I can say about Liberal and National environmental policies.

They are committed to building more roads, a strategy that has been proved time and time again around the world to promote car use and increase congestion, let alone carbon emissions. They also plan to delegate some of the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act powers to the states, decrease Landcare funding, slow the water buyback in the Murray-Darling Basin Plan and remove funding for research into how art can affect people’s behaviour on reducing carbon pollution.

Like Labor, they will not put a moratorium on coal seam gas exploration, but they are also not opposed to nuclear power generation or uranium mining in Australia.  Nor do they have a sustainable population policy.

Worryingly, an Abbott government will remove World Heritage listing for Tasmania’s tall forests and discard Marine Protected Areas in Commonwealth waters.  Both are retrograde actions.

The Greens

The Greens are committed to maintaining a price on carbon with the current Carbon Tax and moving to the Emissions Trading Scheme in 2015 as initially planned.  Their emissions targets are much more ambitious, through a reduction of carbon pollution by 25-40% by 2020, based on 1990 levels, and for Australia to have no net emissions by 2050.

Like the other major parties, they have a 20% Renewable Energy Target by 2020, but also include a 90% target by 2030.  They also plan to maintain funding for the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Like Labor, the Greens want to develop Fast Rail for the East coast, but unlike any other parties, they also want to increase Landcare funding, oppose both nuclear power and uranium mining, increase Threatened Species funding by $120 million over three years and increase climate risk mitigation funding to $350 million, up from a paltry $50 million.

The Greens also promise to block the handover of EPBC Act powers to the states and improve the Murray-Darling Basin Plan to allow the return of 3200 GL of water back to the river.

Their policies on the Great Barrier Reef are equally admirable.  They plan to ban  dredging and dumping of dredge spoil in World Heritage waters, undertake a comprehensive strategic assessment of the Reef prior to any other developmental approval and stop any new coal and gas ports in the vicinity of it.  By increasing funding to farmers to improve water runoff quality to the tune of $25 million per year and increasing the funding to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, they hope to also improve the overall health of the Reef and help it adapt to climate change.

They want to give farmers the right to say “no” to coal and gas mining on their land and fund independent monitoring of methane pollution from coal seam gas mines.

And they haven’t forgotten the small policies with a $5 million per year strategy to train and support wildlife carers throughout Australia.

The Greens do have a policy on population but it doesn’t set any limits.  Rather, it suggests that Australia’s and the world’s environmental capacity should be considered when a decision is made.  They also want to increase foreign aid funding, including a commitment to family planning and empowering women in developing countries.

You can further explore these policies through some of the following links:









I hope that this analysis has helped you rate each of the major parties ahead of your vote.  Incidentally, tomorrow is also Threatened Species Day, so do something positive for our planet’s biodiversity and make your vote count.

Education Policy Analysis

Initially,it was not my intention to discuss party politics but rather focus on practical teaching techniques to enhance environmental education in our schools, TAFEs and universities.

However, in this eleventh hour before the 2013 Australian federal election I cannot stand by without providing some form of analysis on two policy areas that will be of interest to readers of this blog – education and the environment.

First, lets look at education policies of the major parties.

We know that for long term sustainable communities, education is critical.  Without investing in education now we won’t have economic, social or environmental success in the future.


Should the Labor Party win the election on Saturday, they will fund the Gonski primary and secondary school funding review to the tune of $9.9 billion over six years, with a requirement that the state and territory governments collectively fund an extra $5.1 billion on top of their existing contributions.  So far SA, Vic, NSW, ACT and Tas have all signed up to the deal and will receive the extra funding.  It isn’t yet known if Qld, WA and the NT will sign on for the scheme or not.

To help pay for this, however, Labor plan to cut $2.3 billion per year to university funding – a strategy that has been condemned by tertiary education leaders and students alike.

In the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector, Kevin Rudd has recently highlighted the value of trade and skills training and highlighted recent state and territory government cuts to VET across Australia.  He picked on Liberal state governments, but I note that in my home state of South Australia, similar cuts are being imposed by a state Labor government.  Never-the-less, Rudd did commit to forcing the state and territory governments to maintain their current level of funding for VET as a minimum.  How he intends to do this is unclear.  He stopped short of promising any additional funds for the sector however.

Teacher training is also an area of interest to Labor.  They plan to increase admission standards to education courses – mainly requiring that a student teacher be in the top 30% of the population for literacy and numeracy.  In addition, they propose to modify teacher training courses so they include a greater level of practical skills, as well as the theoretical knowledge behind education.

Liberal/National Coalition

The Coalition are trying to position themselves as having the same commitment to education as the Labor government, and indeed there is quite a lot that is similar when reading their policy statements.  There are, however, a few subtle differences.

In the area of Gonski funding for primary and secondary schools, they will commit to the same level of funding as Labor but only for four years, so less money overall.  In addition, they will not require state and territory governments to increase their own funding, so the total school funding levels may not rise by the same amount if the state’s decide not to put in as much.  It could even stay the same if they decide to reduce their own funding levels.

The Liberals also want to decentralise control of how schools operate and give them more autonomy over staffing, programs and curriculum.  Yet they also want to strengthen the National Curriculum.  No mention is made of how they will ensure these two opposing policies won’t clash.

In the autonomy stakes, they want to encourage 25% of public schools to become independent public schools, governed by their own school board, completely separate from departmental control, but still publicly funded.  They will also require school principles to undertake a postgraduate business administration course to help them manage their school’s finances better, but the school or individual must pay for this themselves.

Two major changes they’ve mooted for the National Curriculum are to make some maths, technology, engineering and science subjects compulsory in years 11 and 12 and to make a foreign language compulsory from years five to ten.

Similarly to Labor, the Liberal and National Parties want to increase entry standards to teacher training courses and include more practical studies.  They also want to introduce a greater focus on science, mathematics and foreign languages.

Just like Labor, they will also cut $2.3 billion from university funding per year, but have not made any commitment in the vocational training arena.


The Australian Greens education policy commits to a greater level of funding for the Gonski reforms – $11.9 billion over six years – with some of it dedicated to kids with a disability.  The requirement for increased state and territory government funding is the same as the Labor policy – $5.1 billion.

They also say it should be needs based funding, with a priority given to public over private schools.  Further reforms include redirecting the $222 million funding for the School Chaplaincy Program into teacher training and encouraging experienced teachers to stay in the classroom through increased wages, rather than move into higher paid administrative roles.

The Greens have committed to reversing the university cuts introduced by Labor and Liberal and instead want to increase the per student base funding by an extra 10%.

The Greens are also the only party to promise extra funding to the VET sector, with their $1.2 billion TAFE Rescue Package, and want to prioritise this extra funding to public TAFEs instead of private training organisations, where TAFEs provide the same course.  Existing VET funding that is currently split between public and private providers will remain the same.

They also recognise that tertiay students are forced to work long hours to survive and to pay for their studies, so they propose to increase the living allowance for full time students.  A long term aspiration of theirs is to provide free TAFE and university study, but this isn’t a commitment for the next term of government.

Unlike Labor and Liberal who will pay for their primary and secondary education funding by stripping funding from the tertiary sector, the Greens propose to pay for their entire education funding initiatives through an increase to the Mining Resources Rent Tax.

It is never easy to weigh up all the party’s policies when deciding on who to vote for, but if education is important to you then I urge you to think carefully on the information above.  If you want to delve deeper into their policies and read some of the sources I used when compiling this analysis, check out the following sites:







I’ll continue this theme tomorrow with an analysis of each of the major party’s environmental policies.  In the meantime, happy election watching.