News / Politics

Wills candidates slug it out in climate change debate

Differences on show in how to deal with global climate emergency

Forum chair Anna Crabb opens the debate. Photo: John Englart

Mark Phillips
Monday, May 2, 2022

THERE were no clear winners or losers from a robust Wills candidates’ forum in Coburg last week.

Five of the nine candidates vying for the seat on May 21 took part in the 90 minute forum, which was organised by Climate Action Moreland, Neighbours United for Climate Action, and the Coburg Uniting Church last Tuesday night.

Candidates who spoke at the forum were the sitting Member for Wills, Peter Khalil, Sarah Jefford of the Australian Greens, Sue Bolton of Socialist Alliance, Emma Black of the Victorian Socialists, and Leah Horsfall of the Animal Justice Party.

Liberal candidate Tom Wright was an apology, while the candidates from United Australia Party, Australian Federation Party and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party did not respond to an invitation to participate.

The majority of the forum, chaired by Anna Crabb, CEO of the Brunswick-based Australian Energy Foundation, was spent debating the different parties’ approaches to the crisis of global warming, with about one-third of the event allotted to questions that were submitted in advance.

Overall, there was no disagreement about the gravity of the climate emergency, but vast differences in approaches to dealing with it ranging from investment in clean energy jobs to a full public takeover of the energy sector.

Incumbent MP Peter Khalil said Labor was the only party represented at the forum that could form government and take practical action to address climate change.

Mr Khalil said Labor had a full suite of policies from an 82% renewable energy target by 2030, investment in electric cars and community solar batteries, a $3 billion program of investment in renewable energy manufacturing, and regional and global leadership on climate change.

“If you vote for me you will get a local MP in a Labor government that will make changes that make a difference to your lives on climate change, tens of thousands of lives on refugee policy, and on Aboriginal reconciliation and so much more because we will change this country,” he said.

“When you change the government you change the country and I’ll be there right next to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister making it happen.”

Sarah Jefford of the Australian Greens said the size of the threat from climate change called for more radical action than what was proposed by Labor.

She said Labor was compromised by more than $4.5 million in donations from fossil fuel companies over the the past decade, and “being a bit better [than the Coalition] is not good enough” when neither of the major parties supported a moratorium on new coal and gas projects.

“How can we expect our decision makers to make the right decisions for us when they are being paid by the companies who profit from our demise?” she said.

“I am not a climate scientist but I will sit in Parliament with a strong sense of urgency and ambition to tackle the climate emergency and I want whoever is in government to do more and to do it sooner.”

Sarah Jefford of the Australian Greens speaks at the forum, while sitting Labor MP Peter Khalil listens on. Photo: John Englart

At the other extreme, Emma Black of the Victorian Socialists said that in addition to an immediate ban on all new coal and gas projects and a zero emissions economy by 2035, the energy sector should be taken out of private hands and nationalised.

“We need public ownership and democratic control over the energy sector in order to effectively start shutting it down, and in order to fund a rapid expansion of renewables we need to massively increase taxes on the obscenely rich,” she said.

Sue Bolton of the Socialist Alliance had a similar message, along with a warning that most aspects of life would be adversely affected if serious action on climate change was delayed.

“The world will eventually be forced off fossil fuels but if we rely on the market as the way to do it, it’ll be far slower and it will totally dislocate communities because it’ll be like when Hazelwood closed down with no plan for alternative jobs and for how that community would survive,” she said.

Leah Horsfall of the Animal Justice Party said climate change was a threat to human and animal existence, but she was confident that the enormity of the challenge could be met.

She said methane emissions from animal agriculture and the impact of deforestation would contribute more to climate change over the next two decades than all coal and gas stations in Australia combined.

Ms Horsfall used her closing statement to talk about legislative successes of the Animal Justice Party in the Victorian and New South Wales parliaments, including getting pets defined as family members in the Family Violence, outlawing recreational shooting of wombats, and an eight-fold increase in penalties for animal abuse.

Later in the forum, questions moved to some other issues and Labor came under fire when the discussion turned to refugees and asylum seekers.

But Mr Khalil said he personally had worked tirelessly advocating for hundreds of individual asylum seekers without any fanfare.

“I do that work because that’s part of my commitment to the community and part of my commitment to the national policy,” he said.

John Englart, convenor of Climate Action Moreland, said the forum was a huge success with a full venue and more questions than there was time to answer.

A video of the forum has been posted on the Climate Action Moreland website.

$1 million for Siteworks

In other election news, Labor MP Peter Khalil announced on Saturday that an Albanese Government would commit $1 million to the transformation of Siteworks in Saxon Street, Brunswick, by Moreland City Council to create a new cultural and community hub.

Construction of the $22 million project will begin next year with a 2024 completion date. Master designs by Kennedy Nolan Architects were recently made public.

The new hub will include a new creative and community facility that will include multipurpose rooms for local community groups and artists, more than 2500 square metres of outdoor space, and a new home for the Blak Dot Gallery.

Space for Maternal and Child Health services that will support local families from across Moreland.

“This commitment will benefit our whole community by providing a dynamic space for local residents and community groups to enjoy, access services and utilise for creative works and projects,” Mr Khalil said.

“I am proud of this commitment to provide a new home for maternal and child health services and support local artists, particularly First Nations artists showcasing Indigenous works from around the globe right here in Brunswick.”

READ MORE: Field of nine for May 21 poll in Wills