Grievance Debate: COVID-19 and Green New Deal
Mr HIBBINS (Prahran): I rise to join this grievance debate to grieve for all those Victorians who have become unemployed, who have lost work or who have had reduced hours who are now facing both financial and housing insecurity brought on by the COVID economic crisis. It is an understatement to say that 2020 has been a difficult year, but getting through this pandemic is only the first step. We now have a massive opportunity to recover, to rebuild and to build back better than ever before, and we know that the Victorian government, like governments right around the world, are going to be spending billions of dollars in budgets—in Victoria the upcoming state budget—to get us out of this recession.
The big question is: how is this money going to be spent? Are we going to use this money to solve the big issues—climate, environment, inequality, poverty—or is it going to be business as usual? That is why the Greens have put forward our plan for a Green New Deal for Victoria. It is our economic recovery plan for Victoria. At the heart of our Green New Deal for Victoria, it is about creating jobs, it is about protecting our environment and it is about looking after people most in need.
The movement for a Green New Deal is gaining momentum all around the world, including here in Victoria, and those bells that members will have heard ringing recently were actually our Green New Deal motion passing in the other place. The Green New Deal takes its name from the New Deal implemented in the United States by FDR to recover from the Great Depression, and today we are facing yet another global recession—just a decade after the last one, I might add—and it will have generational impacts. This is a generational responsibility that we have—to seize this moment, not to squander it.
What is in a Green New Deal for Victoria? Well, it means a renewables-led recovery, getting us to 100 per cent renewable energy over the next decade.
We have just come off the back of the biggest climate disaster in our country’s history: last summer’s bushfires and the devastation that they caused. There were lives lost, people fleeing their homes in the middle of the night and smoke covering our city. The climate emergency is here. It is real. It is exactly what the science predicted and when we would experience it. In case people were not aware, burning coal is causing climate change, and here in Victoria we are burning a lot of it. Half of our emissions come from coal—a million tonnes a week. That is more than the proposed Adani coal mine would produce. In a renewables-led recovery we need publicly funded big solar, big wind and big batteries. Certainly it was good to see the government announcement for a Big Battery recently.
A Green New Deal means putting energy efficiency for our homes back on the agenda. So many of our homes, particularly those that are being rented, are just not up to scratch. They are not well insulated—too cold in the winter, too hot in the summer. Funding home energy upgrades will make our houses, our homes, more livable. It will cut bills, cut emissions and create jobs for those in trades.
A Green New Deal for Victoria means a big build of public housing that will help end homelessness. Homelessness is the number one social justice issue facing this state. Thousands of Victorians are without a safe place to call home, sleeping rough in unsafe or unsecure accommodation. More than 100 000 people, including children, are on the public housing waiting list, and it is just unacceptable in a wealthy society like ours. The best way to solve homelessness is quite straightforward: build homes for people. That is why we are calling for a big build of public housing—100 000 over 10 years—to help end homelessness, cut the public housing waiting list and create jobs in housing and construction, which are much-needed as we face a downturn in the housing sector. We also need to rebuild and upgrade our existing public housing homes. Some of them are just not fit for purpose—run-down, poorly maintained. It is not good enough.
A Green New Deal for Victoria means employing more teachers, nurses, carers and social support workers in well-paid, secure jobs. Our Victoria Cares initiative would fund thousands of jobs in caring professions. This is a really, really important initiative for a few reasons. Number one, people are going to need a lot of help, particularly due to this pandemic, from mental health support and housing services, as more and more people are pushed to the margins of economic security. We are going to need to employ more people to care for people. We certainly welcome the government’s announcement today to employ more people in areas like child protection, Aboriginal-controlled organisations and mental health and certainly the funding to further subsidise kinder.
Another reason why this is so important is that investing in people, health care, education and social services is actually the most effective way of creating jobs, as the vast majority of funding would go to wages. There is a role for sustainable infrastructure, renewable energy, housing and public transport, but an economic recovery just cannot be photo ops for politicians in hard hats.
Women have been hardest hit by the fallout from COVID-19. They are experiencing here in Victoria higher rates of unemployment but also, let us face it, carrying more of the burden at home with unpaid work. So there does need to be a gender focus on the economic stimulus to make sure that there are jobs created in female-dominated industries. Those industries within the caring economy—childcare workers, community sector workers—are often poorly paid. It is insecure work, and for the very reason that historically it has been seen as women’s work it has not been valued. I think throughout this pandemic we now do have a new appreciation for the work they do—the frontline workers, nurses, childcare workers, disability workers.
A lot of us have been saying thank you to our essential workers. Well, I think the best way to say thank you is to create more well-paid jobs and to improve pay and conditions. That should be our way of saying thank you. Tipping money straight in now to community services, to social services, to health and to education should create jobs but also be a stepping stone for those further long-term reforms like universal kinder, like implementing the mental health royal commission reforms or like fully funding our public schools, which are some of the lowest funded in the country.
A Green New Deal for Victoria means supercharging the recycling industry. We have had some really big wins in our campaign for a recycling revolution: the ban on single-use plastic bags and the container deposit scheme announced. And when the waste crisis hit, when other countries stopped taking our contaminated recycling, we saw thousands of tonnes of recycling sent to landfill. This was because we did not have a big enough industry here in Victoria. So we have got to build up that industry, build the waste recovery factories, right here in Victoria. And we are going to need them, because once the ban on exporting materials comes in, if we do not build up the industry here they will get dumped in landfill yet again. We need to make sure that there are products at the end of the day and make sure that we can recycle those products through the manufacturing industries—wastepaper, tyres, glass, plastic. We need to have a requirement that recycled materials are used in infrastructure projects, and we need to get rid of those even more problematic and just pointless single-use plastics, like when you go into the supermarket and you have wrapping on bananas and fruit and whatnot.
A Green New Deal for Victoria also means a nature-based recovery, restoring our environment—not just protecting our environment but restoring our environment. You know, our plants, our animals, our insects are experiencing an extinction crisis made all the worse because of this summer’s bushfires. So helping people restore the environment is a really good way of creating jobs, as is planting trees right across Victoria, including in our cities. So many people in my electorate have raised with me the need for more greenery and more street trees. It comes up time and time again as more development occurs. It would be such a huge improvement to make on our streets, making them much nicer places to live but also reducing the heat-island effect and providing a whole range of benefits for biodiversity and for nature.
A Green New Deal for Victoria also means reviving our local shopping strips. We love them; they are so much a great part of our communities: Chapel Street is just one in my electorate, Sydney Road in Brunswick, the CBD in Melbourne, and right across Victoria. They are the social and economic hearts of our communities. They make them great places to live, and they also employ so many people, particularly young people, in hospitality and retail—the service sectors. So we want to see the government set up a dedicated unit within the Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions to work with local governments to really take some leadership in delivering and supporting our shopping strips by supporting new entrants to set up pop-up shops and seeing if they can have long-term leases and fill those empty shops, supporting artists to set up studios to help reinvigorate areas, investing in making sure our high streets are good public spaces and supporting more festivals and events to bring people back into our communities. We have welcomed the parklets that have been popping up around our communities and we acknowledge the government’s support in that, and I think that is a really good model going forward in the range of measures that can be used to support our shopping strips.
A Green New Deal for Victoria means an investment in sustainable transport. One of the big changes due to lockdown has been the lack of cars on our roads, and every time that I have been out in my electorate I have been seeing people using our streets as public spaces—kids playing, skateboarding, riding bikes. I think that is something we really want to keep, and to do that we are going to need separated bike lanes. Now is the time to do it. More and more people are choosing to ride; bike sales are going through the roof. If we do not do it, the big risk is we are going to face a congestion crisis after this. It is something governments are doing around the world in response to COVID, and I am glad to see finally that the government has now provided some funding to pop-up bike lanes here in Melbourne.
Similarly with public transport it is going to take some time for patronage to recover, and it will, but what we need to see now is an immediate increase in operational funding to make a more people-friendly public transport network—you know, employing more train drivers and maintenance staff to increase train and tram services, particularly during the off-peak hours and weekends, and employing more customer service staff that will help you, actually sell you a ticket and help you on your journey. That will help so many people who are infrequent public transport users or people who do not necessarily commute into the city every day. Perhaps their day might involve dropping the kids off at school, some paid work, some caring duties and doing the shopping.
That will make sure that we have a public transport network that actually serves everyone, not just people heading into the city and back. But we still do need to invest in big infrastructure for public transport, in making sure that we have got a world-class metro rail system for Melbourne, in making sure that we have got a modern tram network. There is no future in Melbourne that does not need a metro rail system on par with something that you would see in London or Paris. Of course not only do you get the benefits of jobs but you get the reduced congestion, the reduced air pollution and the cuts in carbon emissions. So to conclude, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. To build back better, to create jobs, to look after people, to look after our planet Victoria needs a Green New Deal.