Correspondence with Ratepayers of Port Phillip

In response to our request for candidates to complete a survey on climate action, the President of Ratepayers of Port Phillip (RoPP) sent the following letter.

Dear David and Justin

Thank you for taking the time to contact Rhonda Clark, Christina Sirakoff and Sami Maher who are candidates in the Port Phillip Council election. I am responding to you on behalf of our endorsed candidates as President of the Ratepayers of Port Phillip, Inc (RoPP) who are a local community group formed to address wasteful spending by Council, unsustainable rate increases and to represent the needs of the whole community rather than narrow party political views. Our aim is to focus on local issues, with no political alliances. We just want a better deal for residents and ratepayers. Rhonda, Christina and Sami have each received communications from nearly 20 community groups such as PECAN As you may imagine our team are busy campaigning and have not had time to respond.

Our candidates acknowledge that Climate change is an important issue for our community and agree we must all take responsibility for reducing the impacts of our actions on the environment. To council’s credit, they will achieve zero net emissions in 2020/21, a fantastic outcome. However, we have concerns about the Council’s wasteful spending on climate change measures in the Council Plan and we are disappointed about Council’s failure to stop sending waste to landfill and provide food and green waste bins when neighbouring Councils have been providing these services for years.

We would support the Council’s plan to spend $37m over 10 years on climate change and the environment, if we thought it would be effective in addressing climate change. Council can play a limited role in helping us all reduce our climate footprint through education and encouragement, but the big changes needed like less carbon-intensive energy sources and cleaner modes of transport can only be meaningfully addressed by state and federal governments. Instead of real actions and deliverables, City of Port Phillip’s Council Plan reveals that the money will be spent on a mostly bureaucratic approach to addressing climate change, without actually reducing a single gram of carbon dioxide going into the environment and into our lungs. We want our Council to deliver cost-effective, measured actions on climate change. Not write yet more reports.

Finally, we will not be participating in your survey because your questions commit candidates to delivering more of the same wasteful spending by the Council at a time when Council’s revenues are likely to be impacted further by COVID-19. We would have no such objection if your survey allowed us to prepare a considered response on an important issue. However, if elected our candidates will be available to discuss your policy objects and understand how they may be able to help your organisation. I have you see fit to publish my email in full.

Kind regards
Campbell Spence

President, Ratepayers of Port Phillip
PO Box 2043 South Melbourne 3205

PECAN has responded to this letter as follows:

Dear Campbell

Thank you for your email. We are disappointed that that RoPP candidates could not respond to our questionnaire as it would have given them an opportunity to present their policies and views to the citizens in Port Phillip. Nevertheless, thank you for communicating with us.

It is encouraging that you recognise ‘that climate change is an important issue for our community’ and that you agree ‘we must all take responsibility for reducing the impacts of our actions on the environment’. Yet it seems your email is saying that if RoPP candidates form a majority on the new Council they would withdraw most funding related to Council environmental and climate action.  This is frankly alarming and of great concern to us.

This RoPP position seems to be based on two arguments.  The first is your belief that councils do not have much of a role to play beyond ‘education and encouragement’ in ‘helping us all reduce our climate footprint’. The second, is that the specific Port Phillip Council plan is ineffective.  Let’s consider these arguments in turn.

First, while we agree that other tiers of government have vital roles to play in addressing the climate crisis and environmental issues, Councils also do have a very significant role to play, through strategies such as:

  • Taking a leading role in the reduction of community greenhouse gas emissions
  • Proactively addressing the impacts of sea level rise
  • Mitigating the urban heat island effect
  • Developing a circular economy vis waste
  • Informing, engaging and supporting citizen-initiated activities about these issues
  • Supporting and modelling decarbonsied forms of transport
  • Advocating to other tiers of government and to other municipalities

As you know, many other councils across Australia, including Melbourne City Council and very recently neighbours Bayside, Glen Eira and Stonnington are acting on climate.  The Victorian Local Government Act, 2020, now requires all Councils to act on both climate mitigation and adaptation. This has the potential for significant impact.

It is unclear why RoPP considers the current Council plan is not effective, apart from the comment relating to ‘a bureaucratic approach’. Granted, you do offer a criterion by which the council plan should be judged which is ‘the amount of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere’ and you acknowledge as ‘a fantastic outcome’ Port Phillip Council’s emissions profile which has been significantly reduced to the point that Council is now effectively at net zero emissions. However, this reduction could not have been achieved had Council not joined the Melbourne City Council-led Melbourne Renewable Energy Project, a collaboration facilitated by council public servants, which RoPP, if elected, would like to cut, and a project which was opposed by Councillors with whom RoPP is exchanging preferences.

The same Council plan enables PECAN to work with Council on the development of a large-scale power purchasing agreement for commercial and industrial users, as well as a separate proposal for residents and smaller commercial entities. These strategies should significantly reduce the two million tonnes of greenhouse gas emitted annually by industry and residents in the municipality in ways that are ‘cost effective’.  Council climate action cannot be undertaken if resources are denied it.

Further, while reducing carbon emissions is a key criterion for judging the effectiveness of council climate action, it should not be the sole criterion. To do so means missing other important environmental climate actions against which the current Council also must be assessed. Some examples are: storm water harvesting project in Alma Park; the Elsternwick Park Masterplan development; waste management including at South Melbourne market and green bin trials; the EcoCentre’s range of environmental educational practices. Candidates standing for council should not have a blinkered perspective on the reality of, and the potential for councils to act on such climate and environmental initiatives.

It is also essential that Councillors and the community organisations they represent understand the basic climate science to have any chance of making appropriate assessments of Council’s effectiveness. Your statement that ‘the amount of carbon dioxide going into our lungs’ should be a criterion for judging the effectiveness of council climate actions is incorrect.   This view mistakenly conflates the effects that pollutants, like the smoke during the bushfires, have on us, with the impact that rising levels of carbon dioxide have on the atmosphere. It is critical that those we elect understand the  science so they can make sound decisions.

Finally, PECAN would like to see both changes to the Council environmental sustainability plan and a rapid acceleration of an updated plan. Both these tasks require continued adequate council resourcing and require candidates elected who both understand the climate crisis and are prepared to direct resources to climate action. Your view that RoPP would withdraw most Council funding for environment and climate action affirms our recommendation to voters that your candidates should be placed at the bottom of the ballot paper.

The climate crisis is not just a problem of individual environmental footprints; it is a collective problem and requires a democratic community response at every community level and by every level of government. We hope that the Port Phillip Community elects councillors to our new Council who will redouble Council’s local climate and environmental actions.

We again thank you for sharing your group’s views on Council climate and environment action. As you requested, we will place your email on our website as well as our reply.

Kind Regards

Peter Moraitis, Bryn Jepson, Judy Gunson, Justin Halliday
for PECAN.