Gippsland News & Views

Geothermal Gippsland Continued

A recent article in The Conversation by Graeme Beardsmore* of Melbourne University outlined the potential for geothermal energy in Gippsland – a subject I have blogged on before (see here and here). When I ran on a platform of geothermal energy under the coal in the 2010 State election in the seat of Morwell I envisaged that the geothermal heat would replace brown coal as the power for electricity generation. I considered this the near perfect solution for Victoria with the dirtiest generators replaced by clean energy at the same location, utilising established infrastructure and limiting job loss and relocation problems. This has not occurred and the increasing supply of emissions free energy is coming from the decentralized source of solar, wind and batteries.

Beardsmore noted the “hot aquifer was first reported as long ago as 1962, when government geologist J.J. Jenkin noted many “occurrences of high temperature waters in East Gippsland”. We now know the hot water underlies about 6,000 square kilometres of Gippsland, from Morwell in the west to Lakes Entrance in the east, and holds the equivalent of Au$30 billion of heat at today’s natural gas price”. And “beneath the Latrobe Valley, thick coal layers act like a blanket, which makes the underlying aquifers hotter than aquifers in other locations. The result is unusually hot natural water without needing to burn any fossil fuels – emissions free. At deeper depths we can capture natural steam, and use it to turn turbines for a generator”.

Other than the established Aquatics centre in Traralgon there are only a few projects planned. At Traralgon the geothermal energy is cheaper than the natural gas alternative and perhaps this form of heating will eventually be adopted at other pools, possibly Bairnsdale and Lakes Entrance in east Gippsland. The Metung Hot Springs are supposed to be opening in March next year and there is a large hot springs project at Seacombe west on the banks of Lake Wellington. Currently there are no geothermal exploration permits for Gippsland.

There are some indications that the remaining brown coal generators may be gone as early as 2032 bringing the transition from coal to renewables to the fore again. Beardsmore is working with “the Latrobe City Council, the Latrobe Valley Authority, the Geological Survey of Victoria, local business and community groups – to help realise the potential of this massive, undervalued source of clean energy” and currently involved in mapping the geothermal resource.

Earlier this year I wrote whilst “these advances are interesting, it is disappointing that this huge and sustainable energy resource remains untapped. Instead, our region remains stuck with the declining energies of the past and the criminal exploitation of our most valuable carbon store – native forests.” Nothing much has changed.

*Beardsmore is a senior fellow in ‘crustal heat flow’ at Melbourne University and author number of articles and reports on the geothermal energy potential of the Gippsland basin. An interesting study completed in 2017 examined the use of geothermal energy to support the “recreational barramundi fishery in the Hazelwood Pondage” after the closure of the station. For more on this see here.

Pledges and Independent Candidates

A Pledge is defined as a “solemn promise or undertaking to commit to a certain action”. In an era of political lies on a grand scale, it may be a very handy tool for climate independents to differentiate themselves from the pack in the run-up to the next election. There are a number of options open in this regard. My personal preference is for a science pledge* and I noted previously that it “can be signed by a few, by many or even one. Rather than requiring action or changes from the higher authority it is a statement by the signatory declaring how he or she will alter, modify, or carry out their activities”.

Some years ago “I circulated a ‘Science Pledge’ lifted from Shawn Otto’s War on Science (Milkweed Editions, 2016)  and, as he noted “Science builds on the latest recorded knowledge…and makes and tests bold predictions. Science is our very best tool against prejudice and unexamined attitudes… (p.185)” A pledge to follow the best science is not only applicable to climate but equally to the current pandemic (see also here and here).

Ruth McGowan in Get Elected offers a different ‘Politicians Pledge’ (p.175-6). The pledger agrees that “In the pursuit of power I will Act in good conscience… (and) Act to merit the trust and respect of the community.” In the exercise of power she or he will “Give effect to the ideals of democratic government and represent the interests of my electorate”, “uphold the rule of law” and “discharge the duties of public office with dignity care and honour” amongst a number of others. This pledge is an ethical one – outlining a mode of behaviour the modern party system has critically damaged.

To make their climate credentials clear candidates can also sign the Climate Emergency Declaration Petition as did the late Deb Foskey – Greens candidate in Gippsland in 2019. Whilst it is certainly not as compelling as a pledge, it is a precise indication that urgent action is needed on this existential crisis. I suggest that independents sign one or both these pledges and if they want to emphasise climate as their priority the Climate Emergency Declaration as well. A statutory declaration of this action should then be signed outlining (and legalising?) your pledge actions giving a clear indication how you will act if elected. This should then be promoted and broadcast during your election campaign.

*I signed (and made a stat. dec. on) the Otto science pledge during the 2016 election

Climate Independents and Preferences

(artwork Deirdre Jack)

When promoting climate independents one of the main questions from those rusted on to the major parties is where are your preferences are going? And then whether they are eventually directed to the ALP or the LNP, they are immediately attacked by the other side. There are a number of solutions to this problem. The first is not to issue any ‘how to vote cards’ (htvc) at all, but a major implication of this is that the candidate has little support in the electorate. Another is to issue a card asking for the primary vote and then suggesting that voters arrange the order of their own preferences (image) as I did in the 2014 state election, but widespread support of volunteers at the booths is still needed. A third is to issue a split ticket for voters of the two major parties.

The way a candidate allocates preferences depends specifically on their strategy. The aim should be to get as many first preferences from those normally voting for the major parties. Giving preferences to opposition candidates may be self-defeating (except in very safe seats) as it may turn away otherwise sympathetic voters. It is essential that the independent candidate polls well in primaries and must be in the first three candidates, preferably one or two, and if third on the list a very close one. The second aspect of the strategy is that preferences must be very tight and hopefully the candidate is preferenced before the majors. As it appears that coalition seats are the most vulnerable to climate independent in the coming election this means they will need the preferences of the ALP and the Greens.

Having said all that it is surprising how many Australians do not understand the preferential voting system. At the pre-poll booth in Bairnsdale in 2014 a young voter approached the Conservative incumbent and enthusiastically endorsed him. On returning some time later from the polling booth he stated that he had voted for him “but didn’t vote for any of the other bastards though” – a very amusing informal vote. On another occasion, a farmer acquaintance indicated that he had put me second after the incumbent, little realising that, for me, it may as well have been last.

Ruth McGowan in Get Elected noted that “Love it or hate it, you need to get a handle on preferencing if you want to get elected” and “Preferencing deals are an important campaign tactic which can make or break your chance of getting elected. Ultimately, if you have a high number of first preference votes, backed by a preference flow in your favour of second and third votes you can get over the line…”

A htvc indicates to the elector that you are a serious candidate and are worth considering for their first preference. In a recent blog on competing Indies in the electorate of Hughes I suggested that one of the candidates should drop out before the election but, if not, it is essential that they swap preferences. As someone recently pointed out on twitter the htvcs don’t decide how you vote – you do.

Competing Climate Independents

The Guardian recently ran an article on two climate independents already up and running in the Hughes electorate in Sydney. Hughes, of course, is the current home of Craig Kelly, serial climate change denier and now beneficiary of the Clive Palmer bankroll and all the baggage that contains including provoking the anti-vaxxer demonstrations influenced by right wing extremists. No doubt Kelly is one of many current MPs overdue for the dustbin of history and hopefully by the end of next year he will be gone. Rest assured that there will probably be a ‘football team’ field of candidates in his electorate and it will be interesting to see where the preferences go.

As the name indicates there is no guarantee how many Independent candidates will present themselves in any electorate and two or three is quite common, along with a few of the minor parties. In my first foray into federal politics at the 2013 election, there were 10 candidates in the seat of Gippsland. Without a large band of volunteers, how to vote cards (htvcs) and strong media presence the task for Independent candidates is formidable. Few of them issue htvcs. Out of the seven elections I have contested I did so only once – in 2014 and struggled to maintain a continuous htvc volunteer presence at a single polling booth (pre-poll) in the large Gippsland East electorate. As Ruth McGowan emphasised in Get Elected organisation and a large supporter base is essential for any chance of success. More on the matter of preferences on htvcs in a later blog.

Whilst The Guardian article noted “that disunity is death in politics” the problem in Hughes with its two groups with similar aims, similar policies and already announced rival candidates can be overcome. There is plenty of time for one to pull out in favour of the other and in the short term the rivalry helps publicise and promote the need to vote climate and to make this the main campaign issue. But when we finally get to election time the importance of the issue is paramount and leaves no room for personal ambition or rivalries. Good guides to a preferred climate candidates may be Independents CAN or Climate 200, and perhaps Vote Earth Now. Meanwhile it would be nice to have a similar problem in Gippsland.

Civil Disobedience and Climate Politics

Neil Rankine at 2019 XR demonstrations in Melbourne

The recent draconian jailing of a young climate activist in Newcastle for 12 months for delaying a coal train for 5 hours by standing on it highlights the difference between violent and non-violent direct action and the inconsistent responses of authority to them. By contrast, in recent anti-vax demonstrations in Melbourne hangman’s nooses have been displayed and political figures given death threats without, as far as I am aware, any charges being laid. Further, some conservative (read reactionary) political figures have participated in these demonstrations and worse still figures of prominence in the conservative parties have failed to condemn them.

The mainstream media are complicit in this in that they tend to concentrate on the ‘acts of violence’ often with little condemnation. Recent anti-vaxxer demonstrations commanded a huge media presence, whilst various climate demonstrations over the last decade numbering up to 100,000, have been ignored. The media are also complicit in that they have failed dismally to highlight or criticise fossil fuel propaganda and the politicisation of climate science.

The actions of civil disobedience demonstrators by comparison are non-violent and those carrying out these demonstrations are prepared to be charged, fined, or even jailed for their actions. Extinction Rebellion (XR) members are the main proponents of civil disobedience in Gippsland and their activities have mainly involved chalking signs on pavements in prominent areas in towns. A number in the pre-covid era were arrested for blocking traffic in Melbourne in 2019 (image) whilst more recent actions at Parliament House Canberra attracted international media interest.

Against this we can compare the real crimes of the fossil fuel protagonists who have done their best to delay meaningful climate action for three decades and worked hard to divide and politicise. How many deaths around the globe these actions have caused is impossible to calculate but must already be a large number. Recent studies* from the CSIRO on bushfires indicate that this century there has been an 800% increase in burnt areas due to a warming planet. One wonders how many of the over 400 fatalities in our 2019-20 bushfires were caused by global warming?

In this legal hypocrisy I am reminded of the anonymous quatrain about the land enclosures in England during the 18th century which went roughly as follows:- “The law does punish man or woman / who steals the goose from off the common / but leaves the greater villain loose / that steals the common from the goose.”

One thing is obvious. The current proposal for a massive expansion of the fossil fuel industry by our Federal government is madness, contrary to all the science and criminal. To stop global warming we must exit all forms of fossil fuel as quickly as possible and there must be no new developments. Against these proposed developments – currently a long list including Adani and Woodside’s Scarborough gas field – all forms of non-violent action are legitimate.

*brief summary of early CSIRO predictions here.

Independent Candidates and the Senate

I have been a member of Independents CAN (formerly Independents for Climate Action Now) and strong supporter since just before the last election. In 2019 ICAN fielded a number of candidates in the Senate in 3 states but they were unsuccessful. My personal preference has always been to concentrate on lower house seats for a number of reasons and my own candidacy as an independent was always in this direction. Minor parties are often attracted to the Senate as, with proportional representation, it offers the slim chance of election. On the other hand, the seat of power is in the lower house and Independents candidates there can succeed as both Zali Steggall and Helen Haines have shown.

However Independent candidates in the Senate nearly always fail and I am unaware of any candidate in the ‘ungrouped’ section of the ballot paper in any state being successful. An example of this was the candidacy in 2019 of former mayor of the East Gippsland Shire Council, Cr Mendy Urie – an excellent candidate who was invisible to all, but local voters, on a mammoth ballot paper and hidden amongst a group of other hopefuls. On strategy, proportional representation means that the crossbench in the Senate will be relatively large, with the Greens guaranteed to win a fair number of seats, and thus making positive climate action certain. This is another reason why climate activists should direct their energy to the lower house.

I am not privy to the ICAN strategy but think there are a number of Senate candidates in the wings. This will be jeopardised if ICAN fails to get the 1500 members required by the new electoral laws and are deregistered. Any of their candidates will then be classified as Independents and ungrouped. On the positive side even if they are deregistered, the finances and organisation of ICAN can still be directed towards Independent candidates* in lower house contests who agree to ICAN’s five core policy areas. (see image)

Locally I am unaware of any climate candidate in Gippsland or Monash but there is still plenty of time for them to appear. Realistically in Gippsland the best Independent candidate has little chance against the incumbent and should be aiming to put the issue forward as much as possible and to get at least 4% of the vote. There is a Voices group operating in Monash and a well-known candidate there may be able to poll much better and even affect the outcome.

*as does the Climate 200 organisation which is supporting climate independents in lower house coalition seats.

Comment on COP26 from Metung

Weekly Commentary No.5*

So COP26 in Glasgow has come to a close. What did it actually achieve? One answer seems to be that it has kept alive the idea of limiting global warming to below 2 degrees. That’s some sort of good news for our recent guest contributor Christine Danger, because the scientific consensus is that at around 2 degrees the Great Barrier Reef will be gone. But what was actually achieved?

The final agreement known as the Glasgow Pact is 10 pages long and the Conference of the Parties continually use words like “urges”, “requests”, “calls upon” etc, rather than words suggesting mandates of any kind. The reason for this language is presumably because the agreement is voluntary (not legally binding). That said however, the document has been signed by virtually every country on Earth and as such, it is clearly expected that all signatories will take the appropriate actions. The final text says;

“[The COP] requests Parties to revisit and strengthen the 2030 targets in their nationally determined contributions as necessary to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal by the end of 2022, taking into account different national circumstances.”

Where does Australia stand on this issue? Well, unfortunately within hours of signing the agreement, our Federal Government told voters that it had no intention of abiding by the terms of the Pact and would not be revisiting our 2030 targets! This is, apparently, a demonstration of the Australian Way of doing business! And, in the meantime, our esteemed Deputy Prime Minister has stridently pointed out that The Nationals didn’t sign the Glasgow Pact and neither did he!

We also should note that, in a last-minute change to the wording of the final draft, China and India pushed for a change in the words accelerating the “phase out” of coal and fossil fuel subsidies to the much weaker  statement – accelerating the “phase down” of coal and fossil fuel subsidies. It is widely understood that these two signatories were working on behalf of a wider group of “silent” countries, including Australia, who opposed the language around phasing out coal but did not want to be seen publicly expressing that view. It was also worth noting that Australia released the modelling of its climate policies close to the end of the conference – we can perhaps wonder why?

The overall verdict on COP 26? I think we should hold off on that for a while as it will very much depend on government actions rather than words. However, there can be some optimism around the issues discussed and agreed upon – not the least the financial aspects of supporting climate mitigation in those countries that have done very little to create the problem but will nonetheless bear the brunt of changes to come.

* Metung Science Forum

Venus Bay Renewables by Darren McCubbin

Facebook Post on Gippsland Community Power Hub (GCPH) page

On the narrow peninsular of Venus Bay off the South Gippsland Coast, electricity is provided by Venus Bay Community Centre to locals who don’t have it in times of emergency. The Centre’s new solar and lithium battery system gives hundreds of locals a place to charge their devices, have access to water, heating, and emergency information in times of increasing power outages.

Venus Bay’s community energy plan is an inspirational project on track to become one of Gippsland’s innovative renewable energy towns. The centre’s solar and battery instal is the emergency access stage one part of the community’s exciting plan to establish a community energy solar and battery microgrid to transition the growing town to a secure, renewable energy supply.

“As our community grows and together we face issues of climate adaptation, food security, biodiversity loss, increased fire and flood risk, we want to improve our sustainability and provide a showcase for community owned energy and civic resilience” said Alyson Skinner, Manager of the Venus Bay Community Centre, of the town’s commitment to clean energy change. The details of this project bear the hallmarks of smart community energy project focus  –  strong  partnerships, an eye on feasibility and viability – but under it all action and drive.

Assessment for the larger microgrid system is being undertaken by Heather Smith, Chair of Coalition for Community Energy Energy (C4CE) and principal of Changing Weather, Alyson says. Heather is working with AusNet Services who are actively supporting the project by providing local data. “This is a long-term project – we are in the initial feasibility stage – working with load modelling and industry stakeholders to initiate the project. We know it will take 3-5 years. In the investigation of this, we realised we need to become a showcase for renewable energy and become a more resilient community hub ourselves.”

GCPH is proud to be supporting this important project, providing over $50k in funding for the Community Centre’s solar panel, inverter and battery install so far. “This is an amazing partnership project, and we are thrilled to be part of projects that provide local solutions to global issues”.

Small Business Energy Saver Program

The recent Gippsland Climate Change Network (GCCN) News had an article on the Small Business Energy Saver Program (SBESP) currently being run by the Victorian government. Improving energy efficiency is one of those actions commonly referred to as “low hanging fruit” – actions where substantial gains can be made for relatively low cost, or effort, and little or no political interference. The latter is important as the actions of our Federal government over the last decade on climate change and renewable energy illustrate in the negative. One of the important gains (and the easiest) in this field has been the switch to LED lighting.

The article noted that the SBESP “provides incentives known as ‘bonuses’ to reduce the cost of the Victorian Energy Upgrades program (VEU) activities for each small business. By choosing to upgrade to new energy-saving equipment, businesses will proactively take the next step toward becoming energy-efficient and climate-proofing their work premises.”

The GCCN “is working closely with Sustainability Victoria to introduce the Small Business Energy Saver Program to local small businesses. We provide independent advice on whether you are eligible for rebates, information about Government programs and connection to local products, installers and retailers that you can claim rebates on.

 In addition to Victorian Energy Upgrade rebates there is a bonus of up to $2000 for selected items across various sectors. If you have 19 employees or less and have a commercial (non-residential) premises you are eligible for the Program.”

“Rebates are available to various sectors including accommodation, retail, hospitality, healthcare and professional services, and small-scale manufacturing. You can use bonuses to make multiple eligible upgrades, which can include: heat pump hot water systems, space heating and cooling systems, water efficient pre-rinse spray valves, low-flow shower heads, refrigerators and upright freezers, refrigerated display cabinets, fan motors in refrigeration systems.”

GCCN projects officer Chris Barfoot noted that “to date we have engaged with 208 businesses with about 35 asking for quotes and about 10 will receive their equipment shortly. These businesses range in locations from Warragul to Lakes Entrance” and “In the case of many we have been able to provide the equipment at very low cost and some even free. Some suppliers now also offer point of sale discount meaning that the business does not need to expend funds to purchase the item and wait for the rebate. We are also investigating the interest in providing lighting upgrades.”

Get Elected by Ruth McGowan – a brief review

Ruth McGowan’s* Get Elected: a step-by-step guide to winning public office (2019)** is hopefully prominent in the library of all the Voices groups springing up around Australia – girded into action by the abysmal performances of many of our elected representatives. In particular, these groups are concerned with the failure of successive governments to act decisively on climate change and a book like this is crucial to their campaign’s success.

It is a detailed guide for independent candidates at all levels of government and is divided into three sections – decide, plan and run – and is full of tips, tables, exercises, checklists, case studies and practical advice. Ruth is well qualified as an author on this subject as she was the campaign co-ordinator for the successful election of her sister Cathy McGowan in 2013 and 2016 in the pioneering Voices for Indi campaigns.

Ruth uses the feminine pronoun throughout, with the not so subtle hint that women are the best candidates – in the Federal sphere especially, following on the success of Cathy and more recently of Helen Haines and Zali Steggall. A candidate should “be well known across the Ward and Municipality. If she is standing for State or Federal Parliament she should work hard to become well known across her electorate and perhaps beyond.” (p.91) A high profile certainly helps.

High on the agenda is the role of grass roots politicking known as ‘kitchen cabinets’ pioneered by Voices for Indi and the role of volunteers. Tony Windsor advised that a minimum of 50 friends/supporters were needed to work for you as election volunteers (p.87) and the Voices for Indi previous campaigns had many, many more. As a failed Independent climate candidate on a number of occasions, I can only stress how necessary this minimum number is, as my actual volunteer base was at best a handful, and my results correspondingly poor***.

The opportunity to ‘get elected’ is now quite favourable with suitable candidates likely to receive support from Climate 200 and the many voices groups across the country now searching for, or appointing, strong independent candidates. A number of the Voices groups already are in campaign mode and have strong finances. In west and south Gippsland the Voices for Monash group has been operating for a few months but is a relative newcomer. There is, as yet, no Voices for Gippsland movement.

What is earnestly hoped for, and desperately needed, is a strong cross bench in our next Federal government, similar to that of the Gillard minority government, holding the balance of power, that will, as a start, immediately pass Zali Steggall’s climate bill and Helen Haines federal integrity commission bill. Hopefully Get Elected and the Voices groups will help us get there.

*the author is a former councillor and mayor of Baw Baw Shire. Her website is here.

**copy in the East Gippsland Shire Library

***in my favour is that I was trying to publicise and promote the climate emergency rather than ‘getting elected’ and in this I was moderately successful.