So, after 16 years of Labor we have a Liberal Government. What does it mean for South Australia’s environment?
To be honest, no one’s really quite sure. Perhaps — like many others — my working life in policy (spanning two government departments, two not-for-profits and a stint at Parliament House) has all been with Labor at the helm.
We’re in unfamiliar territory.
In some ways, the changes will be profound. To paraphrase ex-Prime Minister Keating: ‘When the government changes, the state changes.' We are all going to have to create new relationships, learn new language and use different arguments to win the day.
But in many ways it will be business as usual. The philosophical shift may not be all that great.
One of the blessings of our beautiful state is we don’t tend to have the ideological pig-headedness of other states. Here, there is more of a pragmatic, steady, middle-of-the-road-ness that means we all run along a little more easily here. Perhaps it goes back to our free colony roots.
Labor tried to convince us that the 2018 state election was going to be a ‘referendum on renewables.' Accepting that logic, we should all be now in deep despair, as our state’s shift to a cleaner energy mix has excited many and caught world-wide attention.
Any sense that the SA public’s love affair with renewables has soured would be a huge set-back not just here, but across the globe.
But Labor’s frame was faulty for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the incoming Marshall Government isn’t anti-renewable, with an energy policy mix not too dissimilar to Labor’s. Steven Marshall is no Tony Abbott, and new Energy Minister Dan Van Host Pellekaan is no Josh Frydenberg.
Secondly, and even more importantly, South Australia’s leadership in renewables is being driven as much by individual decisions of households and businesses as by government. The overwhelming market attractiveness of renewable energy looks election-proof.
And when it comes to climate change action, renewable energy is only one half of a two-sided equation. As well as producing more clean energy, we have to stop digging up dirty fuels like oil and gas as well.
In this, the incoming Marshall Government looks like it has a lot to offer. As well as a ten-year moratorium on fracking in the South East, it has committed to protecting the Kallakoopah Creek region of the Simpson Desert, an area the gas industry has in its sights.
Throw into the mix an enthusiastic new Minister for the Environment — David Speirs — who appears to have a genuine interest in his portfolio and there is even more reason for optimism.
Minister Speirs’ first statement on the Murray is certainly a heartening sign.
New governments of any persuasion tend to be more acutely aware of the community’s view. They don’t tend to have the sclerotic tone-deafness of entrenched administrations, making this the perfect time to exert our collective influence on the issues we care about.
However, the window for this is small — and shrinking.
A tilting of the scales happens over time as political leaders start to listen more to the wily tongues of smooth corporate lobbyists, and listen less to the community that elected them.
So while the Marshall Government’s good election promises are welcome, we cannot take them for granted. They will be eroded unless we are vigilant.
And there are already some areas where we are already on the back foot. Especially a potential ‘review’ of our wonderful marine parks sanctuaries, code for winding back the largest increase in nature protection in our state in a generation.
So, for those who care about nature, the answer to the question: ‘what happens now?’ is what it’s always been: it depends entirely on how willing we are as a community to stand up for the places we love and a more sustainable path for our bit of the planet.
The good news is there is a window currently open when the government will be more open, accessible and approachable.
It’s up to us to use it.
Craig Wilkins, Conservation SA Chief Executive