thomas m wilson

Politricks for WA’s 2006

December 4th, 2006


Welcome to the land of the black swan.

First some context… In 1870 Western Australia was granted representative Government, cutting loose from mama’s apron strings back in London. Until 1964, only those people who owned property were entitled to vote in Legislative Council (upper house) elections. Pathetic! That would have counted me out from voting on that one.

Parliament house is on a hill just west of the Perth CBD (and, incidentally, just around the corner from King’s Park, an area of wild woods bigger than Central Park in New York City). The two Chambers of Parliament House were completed in 1904. Later, in 1964, the eastern front was added. This is the main entrance for the public and it isn’t extremely august looking, but at least you get to walk up some stairs to get to the entrance. I’m sitting on these stairs in the above photo.
And now, after a searching and extensive historical discourse, I turn to WA politics in 2006.

Let us start with good news. The state government Department of Planning and Infrastructure is concerned about cleaner transport options such as hydrogen fuel cell buses, biofuels, gas buses (179 provided so far) and cycling paths ($68 million spent) and a initiating a program of community education to reduce car trips. This state government has significantly expanded Perth’s public transport network, for example between 2001 and 2006 putting $1.6 billion into doubling passenger rail capacity. They are also encouraging new developments along rail lines. This department is currently developing a mandatory building sustainability index (like the one in NSW), which will require energy saving measures be incorporated in the construction of new buildings in WA. Not bad stuff.

However, figures on, for example, transport show that the state government certainly should be busy. At present 8 out of 10 people in Perth drive to work. Check these figures out:

CBD parking spots per 1000 people
Perth: 631
Australian average: 489
US average 468
European average 238

Percentage of work trips on public transport
Perth 9.7 %
Melbourne 15.9%
Sydney 25%
Australian average 14.5%
US average 9%
European average 39%

My environmentally based focus on politics continues… From the Department of Agriculture and Food we have heard, as usual, concern for invasive species that plague crops and pastures, for example the newly arrived Starling in Western Australia, and the Rainbow Lorikheets in the Perth metropolitan area. As per normal, much concern for the breeding of crops and animals, and the export of agricultural produce from the state (no concern that the export of primary products in large amounts is not a sustainable industry due to its impact on global heating and its reliance on increasingly expensive oil).

From the Department of Conservation and Land Management there has been concern with containing the soil-born disease dieback in areas where it has infected the native flora, with maintaining and creating national parks and marine parks (any time now we should hear about some good news in protecting the waters of Rottnest island), and with combating the spread of invasive fauna such as pigs, camels, goats, wild cattle, foxes and cats. Conservation through the nomination of national parks as well as the encouragement of nature-based tourism are also priorities.

As for the Department of the Environment, well this one and the previously mentioned department have now merged. Climate change is a concern here and on this matter the declining rainfall has motivated the construction of a desalination plant which will be powered by wind energy. Government agencies have been required to gradually reduce their energy usage. Carbon trading is being investigated. Despite some concern over climate change, WA only gets 3% of its electricity from renewable energy, smaller than any other state, and only plans to get 6% by 2010 (and this is not even a legislated target). South Australia gets 11% and has legislated to get 20% by 2014, NSW gets 8% now and has legislated for 15% by 2020, and of course Tasmania gets 81% from renewable sources as we speak. The Greens, the Liberals, the Nationals and the Independants are all pressuring Western Australia’s Labour government to commit to 20% renewables by 2020.

Today I heard, from an source not to be named, that the Premier of Western Australia saw An Inconvenient Truth last month and had a moment of truth and revelation. The government will release its climate change action plan in the first quarter of 2007. If Al Gore’s message has really sunk in with the head of state government, then we may have something exciting waiting for us some time in the new year.

Looking back, one of my favourite recent moments of clarity from Parliament House came from the Green member of Parliament Paul Llewellyn when he, in his inaugural speech to the upper house, envisaged Western Australia in 2055. Among other things he put forward a picture of an ‘internationally recognised tourism industry based on sail and solar powered ocean liner technology’. I can imagine how beautiful my little port town of Fremantle would look full of such ocean liners. Huge swathes of white sails lazily flapping from towering masts… The masts festooned with elaborate computer-controlled riggings… In a sense, we would be moving forwards by moving towards Fremantle’s historical.

At the start of last year over 3000 people voted for me to take a seat in the lower house of state parliament, representing the Greens. I received sixteen per cent of the vote, which was more than double won by the previous greens candidate for the area. True, I didn’t end up with a seat in Parliament House with my name on. But ever since I’ve believed, like Al Gore, that you’ve got to change public opinion before the politicians will shuffle along in its wake.

Now you’ve read this blog entry, don’t worry about lumbering old state politics. Just talk to your neighbour. Get back to the politics of you and me. Ask that only half convinced friend to see An Inconvenient Truth. Leave a copy of Gore’s book of the same name on the kitchen table.