Towards a government committed to a Green New Deal

Tony Webb ‒ Labor Environment Action Network member

Judging by the news from the UK and USA in particular, it looks like the idea of a 'Green New Deal' is an idea whose time has come. Some discussions about a 21st century reprise on USA president Roosevelt's New Deal plan for recovery from last century's economic depression have been occurring with Friends of the Earth and with other interested groups about what this might look like in Australia and how to make it happen.

Of significance, the Labor Environment Action Network (LEAN) which drove the changes to the Labor Party's climate and energy policies has taken this up as a priority for the next electoral cycle. The aim is for a Labor/union oriented Green New Deal to be an overarching policy framework for the next elections – state and federal. This would provide a clear and coherent story for how Labor governments will tackle the climate emergency in a way that is relevant to working people.

Some of the key elements of the thinking that has emerged from the discussion so far are:

  • We need to counter the view that there is a choice between environment and jobs. The current challenge is unavoidable and tackling it head on is about creating the jobs for the future
  • In making the change from old industries to newer more sustainable and less polluting ones there has to be a 'just transition' – practical measures that protect the workers whose jobs will be affected.
  • These measures need to provide not just new jobs but good jobs – well paid, secure and meaningful work with rights to organise and bargain collectively for the future.
  • That expecting 'private enterprise' to do this alone would be a triumph of hope over experience – there is a need for government intervention that puts in place clear policies and programs to chart the transition pathways and channel the investment needed for the new more sustainable infrastructure.
  • The investment needed will include direct government financing under public ownership, seed funding for private and social-community enterprises, and creating new investment vehicles that are attractive to socially responsive financial institutions (for example the not-for-profit industry superannuation funds)
  • That a key element of the Labor 'Green' New Deal will involve policies that bring about fundamental changes to the political economy – reigning in the excessive short-term speculative finance sector that has been referred to as 'casino capitalism' so that funds are directed towards more patient investment in real wealth and job-creating enterprises. This might include legislation requiring clear separation of banking and financial speculation and taxes on speculative trading.
  • There is also scope for changing the nature of ownership of the enterprises to be created under the program giving workers a measure of democratic control over the key management decisions. This can be achieved in a variety of ways that include support for enterprises being set up as worker-owned cooperatives, community-owned not for profit structures, election of worker directors to management boards etc. The aim should be to introduce a measure of industrial democracy into the Australian politically democratic culture.

In order to promote these ideas – and show to a sceptical electorate that they are practical – LEAN needs to:

  • Develop a menu of ideas that indicate how this New Deal program for investment in sustainability can be applied across all the major sectors of the economy. The first draft of such a menu is attached below.
  • Develop some of these ideas as practical projects on the ground at community level that can be used to illustrate what the program might look like and build community and electoral support for the wider program being proposed for action by future Labor governments.
  • Build support for the projects with party stakeholders and branches to enable the state government (and eventually future federal government) to invest the significant funds necessary to deliver them
  • To achieve this LEAN is inviting its members and members from other interested groups to consider which among the menu of areas for sustainable development, or others they may wish to add, they and their networks of contacts (other Labor branch activists, work colleagues, union, environmental and community contacts etc.) might wish to explore as possible practical initiatives.

A menu of Green New Deal Ideas?

As a starting point for engaging affected communities the various groups and organisations working towards this policy can collaborate in two key activities:

  • developing a menu of ideas for practical projects, with gradually evolving levels of detail;
  • taking these menus into communities, particularly those at the sharp-end of the problem of transition, asking people affected which of these ideas make sense ‒ are worth considering as practical ideas for development under Green New Deal policies and programs ‒ and what ideas would they add to the list.

The evolving lists can then be offered to other communities, be worked up in detail as practical local initiatives and build public and hence political support for the whole Green New Deal idea. As a starting point for such a menu of ideas we might consider:

Energy projects:

  • Development of community scale renewables including solar hot-water, electric heat pumps, solar phot-voltaic generators, local wind generation, battery storage installation, and engineering for hydro pumped storage.
  • Expanding current levels of household installation of panels and batteries with smart metering that allows for demand response to reduce need for peaking generation capacity and linking households and businesses into virtual power plants
  • Extending the benefits to families renting, in public housing and on low incomes.
  • Larger scale wind and solar farms and storage that can become part of existing rural/agricultural, mining rehabilitation, water infrastructure and other land use strategies.
  • Investment in a new publicly owned national grid based on High Voltage direct current that existing state and future community mini-micro grids can feed into.
  • Development of cooperatives engaging in manufacture and supply of renewable energy equipment.

Transport

  • Investment in electric vehicle manufacture for private passenger use, public transport, light to heavy goods vehicle transport and for conversion to and maintenance of electric vehicles.
  • Investment in network of local charging points.

Forestry

  • Better management for old growth forests, expansion and increasing diversity in plantations and value adding to harvested forestry timber.
  • Also potential for carbon capture and storage

Waste management

  • Developing new products from plastic wastes – road material, seats and other street furniture, railway sleepers, wheel stoppers, pallets, garden edging, cable covers, fence posts etc.
  • Waste to energy plants for local heating and electricity generation.

Land Use, Food & Agriculture

  • A national stakeholder forum of unions, industry employers, public health, and environment groups, to identify transition' initiatives promoting jobs that add value to sustainable food production and processing.
  • Review of food standards and regulations and better management of land clearing, biodiversity, irrigation, drought and other sustainability issues.
  • Changes to agricultural practices that sequester carbon, improve soil quality, and develop resilience in the face of climate changes.

Water ‒ infrastructure investment that can deliver:

  • increased and timely environmental flows,
  • secure and affordable water supplies for local communities,
  • and irrigation water for sustainable food and fibre production.

Housing

  • A national public rental housing program for a wide range of working families not just those predominantly in the 'welfare' category or focussed on homelessness.
  • Standards for effective passive solar design, insulation, integrated solar and battery storage technology and integration into local virtual power plant and mini/micro-grid systems.

Aged care disability and general welfare

  • Training for alternative employment (including in cooperatives) delivering aged care, support for people with disabilities, families in crisis, young people at risk

Industrial transformation.

  • Transition from Carbon to Hydrogen based smelting industries.
  • Production of 'renewable' hydrogen as fuel for domestic use and exports.

Next steps

The above is by no means exhaustive. Critical in all of this is the need for a broad community-based discussion about the Green New Deal idea with particular focus on identifying the practical initiatives that will have direct impact on people – in their homes, families, community life, at work, and in transition to new jobs under such a program.

LEAN invites anyone interested to contribute to this menu of practical projects and develop the practical details for how these can be implemented at local level and the impacts that they will have for local communities, particularly for those communities that will be affected by the transition from the current to a more socially-democratic and environmentally sustainable economy. If interested in exploring this please contact Tony Webb via: [email protected] or 0418 212 632.

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Published in Chain Reaction #137, December 2019. National magazine of Friends of the Earth Australia. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction


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