On vote counts in Herbert

The Australian Electorate Commission writes: Re. “What the hell is going on in Herbert?” (yesterday). Section 279 of the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 provides clear legislative capacity for the AEC to commence a recount at any point prior to the declaration of the result. The decision to move to a recount was based on the DRO’s judgement that a full distribution of preferences would not obviate the need for a full recount.

The policy document is predominately intended to guide AEC staff in responding to requests by candidates for a recount. The AEC is confident that the recount will be completed before the last date for the return of the writs for this election.

On mixing Energy and the Environment

Rod Holesgrove writes: Re. “Frydenberg’s dual roles: a perfect storm for the environment?” (yesterday). As reported in Crikey, the ACF, Climate Institute and Grattan Institute all seem to have a forlorn hope that the new federal Department of Environment and Energy will be good for climate change action. The Climate Council also a similar view. On the contrary it will be bad for climate action and for the environment generally and these bodies are being terribly naive on the matter. Kelly O’Shanassy of the ACF is also wrong to say, as quoted in Crikey, that Federal Labor Labor has a combined energy and environment shadow ministry. At present Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water.

I have had over 40 years experience in environment policy matters commencing in 1973 in the first federal environment department under Gough Whitlam and continuing in this field in federal/state governments, international (OECD and UN), political advising and environment NGO sectors, and so I have decades of experience in the federal inter-departmental rivalries between development focused departments and the environment department.

Climate change policy embraces a wide range of issues: climate change science; impacts; adaptation and emission limitations. Energy policy mainly relates to the last area. Even in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions the energy sector  is only one aspect, with the transportation and land sectors also being very important. ‪So a combined energy and environment department might only be beneficial to only one aspect of climate change policy: energy.

‪Because of the breadth of the climate change issue it is far preferable to have a free standing Cabinet-level environment department that has climate change policy included in its responsibilities. Such a department could then interact in a more focused way with other relevant departments with climate change related issues: energy, transport, agriculture, foreign affairs, treasury, etc.

‪From an environment policy perspective there are significant dangers in combining energy with environment. In my experience in the environment policy area, invariably development policy dominates environment policy. In a combined energy and environment  the compromises and trade-offs between environment and development will have to take place within the department. Because the development interest is usually stronger — e.g. coal mining under the Turnbull government — the compromises and trade-offs will favour the development side. On the other hand, a free-standing environment department will allow the trade-off issues to be more fairly and transparently debated within the broader inter-departmental process. Where there are significant disputes between the environment and energy sectors these can ultimately be debated between ministers in cabinet where there is an independent environment minister.

‪In a broader environment policy perspective it is difficult to see how the environment case can be argued within government in relation to a development proposal when a “department of environment and energy” is meant to argue the environment case.

‪My other concern is that if the rationale for a energy and environment department is in part to deal with the energy emission impacts on global greenhouse gas levels, what happens to the various other highly significant areas of environmental concern? For example, we are facing a global biodiversity crisis, in part due to climate change but also being created by other factors such as habitat loss and pests and there are a whole range of other key environmental concerns: marine biodiversity, pollution and environmental assessment of major development projects. A department with the sole responsibility for environment policy would be more effective in dealing with these matters.

‪Leaving aside the public policy arguments there are also the political arguments. The Minister in charge of the environment and energy department, Josh Frydenberg, by his own statements, is clearly focused on energy production promotion to the detriment of climate policy. The Turnbull government is a carbon copy of the Abbott government in its record in dealing with climate change. All of the sceptics are still there. There is a climate sceptic minister now in charge of resources and northern development. Turnbull does not support carbon trading and his other climate policies are very weak. In these circumstances it is simply not believable that the combined environment and energy department will be beneficial for climate change action or for environment policy generally.

‪I am very disappointed that the ACF, Climate Council, Climate Institute and Grattan Institute supports combining environment with energy (development). Your article suggests that Kelly O’Shanassy of the ACF “urged” the government to merge the two areas.  Surely the ACF would prefer a single and hopefully powerful environment department to argue the environment and climate change case across all sectors of government?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey