November 21, 2014 – 10:50PM
By Keryn Reynolds
At a Ballarat forum two weeks ago political candidates from Buninyong and Ripon pledged to improve rail services, protect forests, increase wind farms and push for renewable energy targets within the electorates.
The forum, hosted by Ballarat Green Drinks – an environmental group not affiliated with any political party – was attended by Buninyong candidates Ms Sonia Smith for the National Party, Labor’s Mr Geoff Howard, and Ripon’s Greens candidate, Mr Rod May.
All candidates committed to upgrading public transport and trains in the electorate if elected. Mr Howard and Mr May said they would reinvigorate regional train lines and improve local bus services, while Mr May further pledged to revive main line train passenger services between Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.
All candidates agreed it was important to protect old growth forests and state forests including the Canadian forest. Labor has already pledge $2 million towards the Canadian Forest. Mr Howard agreed that special old growth forest areas needed protection but ‘some forest areas can be harvested, but this needs to be sustainable.’
Mr May said his party was against ‘clear felling’ and wanted to extend state parks. Both Mr May and Ms Smith support a multi-use park in Canadian Forest, but Mr May had ‘no dollar figure’ on funding. Ms Smith said she disagreed with the National’s recent announcement of ‘no new state parks’, saying this policy had come from ‘left field’ and needed to be reviewed.
All candidates generally supported wind farms in the electorate, although Ms Smith did not directly answer the question. She later told UniPollWatch that she supported a wind industry in the electorate if regulated by the Environmental Protection Authority.
Mr May supported wind energy if ‘the 20 per cent renewable energy target is maintained or increased’.
On Federal and State renewable energy targets, the Nationals and the Greens agreed to support a return of the Victorian RET. Mr Howard said he was ‘undetermined’ on a Victorian RET as the state had ceded its rights to the Federal government on this issue.
‘We want the Federal government to maintain the RET so investors can invest in wind and sun confidently. We want to maintain 20 per cent RET but how we do it isn’t certain,’ Mr Howard said.
Water resource within the electorate revealed the different priorities of candidates, with few solutions. Mr Howard said there would be ‘no new dams, so desalination and pipelines are important.’
Mr May said Ballarat’s water supply was ‘relatively secure’ but precautionary principles should be adopted with more water capture programs started.
Ms Smith said she would return water to the Moorabool River and make it easier for farmers to have natural catchments that are sustainable.
Ms Smith and Mr May were vehemently against fracking in the electorate, while Mr Howard said the current Victorian moratorium on fracking would ‘stand’ as Labor was ‘waiting for further scientific evidence to show if fracking is safe.’
All candidates said climate change was real and were scathing of climate change deniers.
Buninyong’s Greens candidate Mr Tony Goodfellow, attended the environmental forum but did not speak, while Liberal candidate, Mr Ben Taylor, declined to attend the event due to other commitments.
Keryn Reynolds is a Master of Journalism student at the University of Melbourne