On the face of it the handling of the pandemic and who might be best to lead the Sunshine State out of the doom and gloom it’s caused is dominating the mainstream coverage of the Queensland election this weekend.

But on closer inspection, environmental issues are front and centre in some of the seats that really matter.

It looks like it’s going to be a close one, with talk of a hung parliament in the air.

A Labor majority is far from certain. One seat in the progressive South Brisbane electorate could be snapped up by Greens candidate, Amy MacMahon, from former Queensland deputy premier and treasurer Jackie Trad.

The Queensland Greens are aiming for four or more seats in inner Brisbane, according to The Guardian, and have signalled their intention to work alongside Labor if a minority government is formed.

Queensland Greens policy platform includes building 100,000 social housing dwellings, building 20,000MW of publicly owned wind, solar, and energy storage (and 23,000 jobs a year) and increasing mining royalties to raise $55 billion over four years to help fund its public service and infrastructure activities.

“What we know is that our messages are actually cutting through; when we get the chance to speak to everyday Queenslanders we know these policies are popular,” MacMahon says.

In the coastal town of Cleveland, south of Brisbane, the controversial $1.3 billion plan to turn wetlands that are critical habitat for migratory birds into an artificial harbour with 3600 homes is causing headaches for LNP MP Mark Robinson.

The development proposal by Walker Corporation seems to have the vague support of both Labor and the LNP but not an independent candidate, Claire Richardson.

This could see what Glenn Kefford, a political scientist from the University of Queensland, sees as the Queensland equivalent of Warringah, where the independent Zali Steggall took former prime minister Tony Abbott’s seat over climate issues.  

“There’s a parallel with Warringah in that there’s quite obviously a sizeable contingent of centre-right voters who support [environmental causes] and action on climate change but for a variety of reasons they don’t want to vote for Labor or the Greens,” Kefford says. 

North of Brisbane, things are looking quite different. In fact, there’s two very different election campaigns being run at both ends of the state.

In central and north Queensland, the government is celebrating its commitment to 18 new coal mines. Elsewhere, Labor candidates are talking about declaring a climate emergency.

Griffith Business School’s Professor Juliet Pietsch says that in Queensland, there’s a tendency to side-step key issues that dominate the agenda in other states, such as climate change and sustainable long-term employment.

Why? The power of the mining industry, for a start, with the mining lobby Queensland Resources Council running advertisements that Queensland voters should back candidates who support jobs in the mining industry.

These advertisements have come alongside outrageous claims about how many jobs the coal industry supports, according to think tank

The Australia Institute, with the mining lobby busted for claiming the Queensland electorate of McConnel owes more jobs to coal mining than there are voters in the electorate.

TAI chief economist Richard Denniss told The Fifth Estate that it’s a bit like “Whack-o-Mole” when it comes to the coal industry and its apparent job-creating potential.

“They’ve literally been telling the same lies for a decade and every time we need to go and address those validity of those claims.”

This time, the think tank took out a full-page advertisement in The Courier-Mail to counter the lobby group’s claims.

“We have seen the mining industry long-make jobs claims which can be described at best as highly exaggerated, but these latest claims are just silly,” Denniss says.

It’s all the more fitting that this ad graced the pages of a Murdoch-owned paper, with Professor Pietsch suggesting that the monopolisation of media is another contributing factor to Queensland politicians’ cack-handed approach to climate and sustainability.

“…all the large regional centres outside of Brisbane are owned by News Corp Australia, resulting in a lack of media diversity and perspective.

“Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party, for example, backed by news entities and mining interests, have run a fear campaign of death taxes in key marginal seats in North Queensland, the Gold Coast and north of Brisbane.”

So what legacy has the Palaszczuk government left so far on climate and sustainability?

The Palaszczuk government’s track record on climate change and sustainability is mixed.

For example, despite waving through several new coal mines, including the high-profile Adani mine, the incumbent government is not afraid to back renewables.

It has set a target to reach 50 per cent renewable energy by 2050 and created a new publicly owned clean energy generator called CleanCo to help it get there.

It’s also throwing $145 million at three new renewable energy zones and has plans to Invest $500 million in a new Renewable Energy Fund so that Queensland energy corporations can invest in new publicly owned renewable energy assets.

Smaller scale solar won’t miss out either, with $30 million to go towards rooftop solar as part of a broader energy efficiency program for Queensland hospitals. The Labor party is also showing interest in fostering a green hydrogen industry in the state.

The opposition is also not shying away from renewables: Its renewables target is weaker (it’s loosely aligned with the federal government’s targets on renewables) but it does want to mandate investment by government-owned companies in renewable energy generation.

Perhaps most interesting is the LNP’s decision to rule out funding for a new coal-fired power station in the state, signalling a departure from its federal counterpart on new coal generation.

While the party might be outperforming its federal colleagues on that count, it’s certainly borrowing from the Commonwealth government’s playbook to attract easy votes.

One example is LNP leader Deb Frecklington’s decision to hand out $300 to every motorist in the state. One source sees this as a missed opportunity to link incentives to something more productive, such as EVs or hybrid vehicles.

The reality is that Queensland has a lot to lose from climate change – arguably more than any other state. The Great Barrier Reef alone rakes in more than $6.4 billion each year for the economy and is the creator of around 64,000 jobs.

It’s also hedged a lot on coal exports, with the state exporting record amounts of the stuff in 2019. So what’s going to happen when major exporters such as China stop importing these wares in alignment with their commitments to drive down emissions?

It also stands to benefit the most from a rapid renewables transition, TAI’s Richard Denniss says, thanks to its abundance of sunlight.

“Who better to export renewables to the rest of the country than Queensland?
“The reality is Queensland is an enormous state with incredible opportunities and risks associated with climate change.

“The political fight is costing Queenslanders. It’s costing them jobs, a safe environment, and there’s no doubt that renewable energy is now much cheaper than new coal or new gas, so promises of new coal are promises of more expensive energy.”

Queensland’s potential as a renewable superpower hasn’t been lost on climate and clean energy organisations.

The Climate Council has offered the state a renewables-driven roadmap to a post-Covid recovery that could see 15,000–20,000 new jobs created in the state.

The Clean Energy Council has also issued a suite of recommendations for political parties looking to make the most of the transition, suggesting that the state will need 5500 MW of large-scale renewable energy generation if it wants to get anywhere near its target of 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030.

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