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Climate champion SA Labor's dark stain

  • 16 March 2018


South Australia heads to the polls this Saturday, and clean energy has been a major battleground in the campaign. With pledges to create the world's largest 'virtual power plant' and boost the state's renewable energy target to 75 per cent, on top of previous commitments like a solar thermal power station at Port Augusta, Labor seems the best choice for the environment.

Except it's not that simple, and the complexity echoes a broader trend in political coverage of environment issues: climate change has monopolised the debate, squeezing out local conservation concerns. The upshot is a Left-leaning government can be progressive on clean energy, while holding a regressive stance on less prominent topics.

Over the last few years, South Australian Labor has been a flag-bearer for renewable energy, bravely charging forward despite constant flak from the federal Coalition. What the Weatherill government has announced really is world-leading stuff. Yet when an alliance of environment groups released their scorecard on the policies of the major parties, Labor only got two stars out of five, just ahead of the Liberal party with one and a half stars.

Why? Because when it came to a range of nature conservation commitments, the Libs were actually better than Labor. In response to questions from the 'Our Future' alliance, the Liberals reconfirmed a ten-year moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, including fracking, in the agriculturally rich south-east of the state. Labor, however, has maintained its support for an expanded gas industry in this area.

The Liberals also got a better score than Labor on fire management and protecting the Kalakoopah Creek wilderness in the Simpson Desert.

But the big sleeper issue for the state's environment is opening up the Great Australian Bight to risky deepwater oil drilling, and on this the South Australian Labor Party has also been a major letdown.

Remote and pristine, the Great Australian Bight is home to one of the world's most important southern right whale nurseries, located in shallow water just below the Bunda Cliffs of the Nullarbor Plain. Further east, a series of islands support populations of vulnerable Australian sea lions, including Kangaroo Island, where wildlife tourism is a lynchpin of the local economy.


"If Labor wants to be seen as the party of clean energy, then it needs to tell a consistent story, and that means a much harder stance against oil and gas exploration in the Bight."


In 2015, BP submitted plans to explore the area for oil,