Sunday, August 31, 2008

No progress months after rushed Roberts St demo

Back on 1 April 2008, I received an email from a director at the Office of Housing regarding my asbestos concerns in the demolition of the 47-unit derelict public housing estate at Roberts Street, Northcote. Given WorkSafe approval, he said, 'there is no need to further delay the work as the sooner we start the sooner tenants can be housed and I am sure you would support this.'

Indeed I very much support the timely housing of public tenants, but given that five months later the site is still lying vacant - the demolition having been completed in April - the community is entitled to ask just what was the rush to demolish the contaminated estate given valid residents' concerns about the management of asbestos in the process?

Readers of this blog will recall that just days before asbestos removal started on a day of extreme winds in Melbourne (Wednesday 2 April), the Office of Housing and Northcote MP, Fiona Richardson, were pressured to hold the only public meeting on the issue in the face of a raft of unanswered questions that were to remain inadequately addressed when the works started.

With the land now lying vacant for months despite a 40,000-strong public housing waiting list, it seems the real rush was to kill the asbestos issue. Gone from Housing's redevelopment site is the asbestos audit, and indeed any mention of asbestos on the site. They're pretty good at cleaning up public interest information. It's almost as if the issue never existed, but you can still read all about it here.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Professor Karoly offers more than 'advice'

A report by Adam Morton in Saturday's edition of The Age shows Professor David Karoly beginning his appointment to the state's climate change reference group with an admirably plain-spoken stance against the compartmentalised thinking that continues to damage our climate.

Professor Karoly is right to propose that all state government policies be assessed through the lens of climate change, where now they too often dwell in disconnected silos. New road tunnels, a new coal-fired power proposal and poor public transport all sit strangely alongside government advertising campaigns depicting our household emissions as black balloons bubbling from our appliances.

Professor Karoly's influence may yet lead to a greater acknowledgment that large-scale activities have their own massive balloons looming darkly above us.

In Saturday's report, Professor Karoly asks, 'How can you tell people climate change is important and then say "we're going to have this new black-coal-equivalent power station and we're going to put lots of money into it"?'

The question has international relevance to the fight against climate change as China continues to build coal-fired power stations at a rapid rate, and concerned citizens in the UK protest over a proposal to build a new coal-fired power station at Kingsnorth, near Kent.

What governments, including the Victorian State Government, spin as projects necessary for the development of elusive clean coal technology, climate campaigners correctly see as the encouragement of further exploitation of emissions-intensive fossil fuels. Victoria will, for example, pump $50 million into the proposed new LaTrobe power station on top of $100 million of Federal funds committed last year.

Writing recently on the UK's Kingsnorth proposal, George Monbiot provides a telling analysis of the economics of carbon capture and storage, touted as the magic bullet solution to emissions from coal-fired power proposals such as that slated for the LaTrobe valley.

Returning to other suggested climate measures reported on Saturday, a key proposal put forward by Professor Karoly would see a 5:1 funding ratio to favour public transport over roads.

This is just one example of a large-scale measure to cut emissions that would encourage benefits from widespread personal change. Faster, affordable and more frequent public transport would only encourage us to make our own small, but cumulative savings in emissions by ditching our cars.

Conversely, each small step we take - each crowded train we board - should not be viewed as an isolated and futile contribution in the face of large-scale emissions, but as part of a collective signal to our leaders that we want the kind of broad, sustainable change that would see significant investment in public transport infrastructure.

The first, deserved victim of Professor Karoly's clear-sightedness should be the Eddington road tunnel proposal, which is a traffic and revenue growth strategy that fails to address identified transport needs, but promises to contribute massively to emissions.

Yet Victorian Premier, John Brumby, echoes Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's position on Garnaut in relegating Karoly to the level of mere 'advice' among a throng of competing lobbies vying for influence. What our state and national leaders are getting from the professors is better than that - it's a dose of reality.