Silencing dissent in Victoria

Victorian ParliamentIn what appears to be an act of petty political recrimination, the new Victorian Coalition Government has slashed its funding for Environment Victoria, the state’s leading independent environment group (not to be confused with Victoria’s Environment Protection Authority, a statutory body). The recent state budget included no further funding for any of the programs that successive previous governments initiated, including money to help households become more energy- and water-efficient.

Although the Government has so far refused to clarify the situation, media reports suggest that Coalition members are upset at EV’s support for a price on carbon. EV has also criticised the Coalition for its refusal to consider replacing Hazelwood, Australia’s dirtiest power station, with clean energy – a proposal that many credible environmentalists and mainstream policy-makers have backed. (See here for The Australia Institute’s analysis of shutting down Hazelwood.)

EV has been careful to point out that no public money is used in its various campaigns. Instead, government funding has for many years been used to roll out specific education and awareness programs. Like any other holder of a government contract, EV is required to report on how taxpayers’ money is spent.

Cutting EV’s funding may just be a budgetary oversight – to be corrected any day now by a government still finding its feet – but there is good reason for thinking that a less generous motive is at work. In April this year, the Institute of Public Affairs published a report called Green Groups and the Government: A dangerous duopoly? This bizarre report called for a review of all funding of ‘third parties’, but the only third parties mentioned were seven environmental organisations, including EV. These groups, it was claimed ‘advocate, defend and preach a number of policy positions which flow against the interests and values of ordinary Australians.’ According to the report, if governments fund such groups then they are ‘actively seek[ing] to reduce the living standards of the general public.’ (By contrast, it would seem that the Victorian Government’s funding for the State Chamber of Commerce and Industry is in keeping with the need for ‘support or … espouse mainstream values’.)

Given the mainstream consensus on the need to act to prevent dangerous climate change, it is strange indeed that the new Victorian Government should give credence to the minority views of the IPA. Moreover, the amount in question is paltry when compared with the massive taxpayer-funded subsidies to heavy polluters currently in place.

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