An environmental agenda for the NSW election

Last week I attended a forum hosted by The Wilderness Society in Newcastle: “Vote 1: Visionary leadership for NSW’s environment.” The focus of the forum was “Natural advantage: A 2011 nsw state election agenda for safeguarding the benefits of nature” developed by The Nature Conservation Council of NSW, National Parks Association, Total Environment Centre, Blue Mountains Conservation Society, Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

The agenda is a call for all NSW parties to:

  1. Cut the NSW contribution to climate change and act on opportunities to slash greenhouse pollution.
  2. Invest in the benefits of nature and build ecological resilience by protecting conservation corridors across the state.
  3. Move out of native forest logging into sustainable plantations and rule out burning our native forests for electricity.
  4. Secure and restore long-term health to the rivers, wetlands and catchments of NSW. Oppose the Tillegra Dam proposal.
  5. Expand marine sanctuaries in poorly protected bioregions and manage fisheries to ensure sustainable fish stocks.
  6. Control pests and weeds to protect the rural environment and the economy.
  7. Stop mining and gas expansion until an environmental strategy is developed with full community and scientific input.
  8. Restore balance, integrity and legitimacy to the NSW planning and development process.
  9. Reduce pollution and waste through strong targets and best practice systems.
  10. Make our urban areas liveable and sustainable by increasing energy and water savings, and expanding active and public transport amenities.

According to Jess Angel from Total Environment Centre, “The Natural Advantage agenda outlines an achievable path for restoring our environment, from revitalising our once great river systems, cutting carbon pollution and growing jobs through more recycling to better protection against the risks of coal seam gas and longwall mining and other extractive industries.”

It is a sweeping agenda (there are 9 or 10 actions for each of the 10 priorities) and it is the sort of visionary leadership that we desperately need in order to address climate change and for us to become more sustainable. As an aside I must admit I was surprised there was no specific mention of peak oil (or oil for that matter) even though some of the actions did address oil use.

I can’t see either Labour or the Coalition  adopting the plan and it would take some very skilful community engagement to ensure there was wide spread support for the plan.

The forum itself was interesting. There were four panel members (Minister for the Hunter Jodi McKay, Professor John Rodgers of the University of Newcastle, Joanne McCarthy of the Newcastle Herald and Warrick Jordan of The Wilderness Society Newcastle) and about 70 people in the audience. There were representatives from a variety of environment groups (I was wearing my Transition Newcastle hat); lots of Labour, Green and independent election candidates (but no Liberal candidates); one brave representative from the Minerals Council and probably other people too.

I’m not sure the format worked all that well: the panel made an opening comment, there were questions from the audience and various members of the audience were invited to comment. I found it interesting that quite a few people seemed unable to actually ask a question. Some of them even made a comment which they described as a question (“my question is the government needs to do more to stop coal mining.”)

The facilitator sometimes invited comments, but generally asked a specific person to comment (on a particular point without asking if they actually wanted to make a comment). At the same time, it was great seeing so many candidates there and I think the agenda is well worth discussing broadly. I’m into quite participatory processes but there are times when it is useful having a forum of speakers. I wonder if it would have been good to have a the panel members speak for a while, then have some discussion at the small tables, before opening it up for a question and answer session.

It was still an interesting morning and I’m glad I went. Congratulations to the groups who put out the agenda and to The Wilderness Society for organising the forum.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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