Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2007 Week 12 Hansard (Wednesday, 21 November 2007) . . Page.. 3593 ..
At a sustainability breakfast once regularly hosted by mecu and Green Globe, Peter Ottesen, the head of the sustainability office as it was then, described the work that was taking place in his office in developing a discussion paper on the legislation. I am not sure, but I think he may even have said that a draft of the legislation itself was in progress. It is hardly surprising, then, that I keep asking the government where the process is at: like the climate change strategy, the sustainability legislation was imminent. However, each time I have asked about it, I have been told that it has been put off till its priorities are reassessed, that it has been put off until after the climate change strategy is released and so on.
Now what is the excuse? In January this year, we were told, through the annual reports process, that the ACT government is embedding sustainability into its decision making—that is pretty much the thrust of this amendment—and that, while this work continues, consideration is being given to the shape and form of sustainability legislation. So sustainability legislation was still being talked about in January this year. I was glad to hear that it has not been dropped, but the process has taken so long that, frankly, I am worried the problem is that the government does not know what sustainability legislation is. Or perhaps the embedding of sustainability in government practice requires such a profound rethinking of business as usual that the government is afraid to introduce it.
The Greens believe that that fear is misplaced. The consequences of business as usual will put off the difficult process of change, but all that means is that, instead of being in control of the process of adaptation, we will be the victims of it. As biodiversity loss—meaning the possible extinction of species such as the golden sun moth and the earless dragon and the loss of local populations of native birds—and the worst effects of climate chaos kick in, then we as a society will fully understand how much we rely on the ecosystems around us.
Thinking through sustainability legislation will be an important and large step towards a Canberra which sets an example for other inland cities. A number of sustainability policies have been put forward by the Stanhope government, though we are still waiting for a legislative framework for implementing sustainability. This is an opportunity to turn the general concept of sustainability into tangible practical outcomes.
A key strategy is institutional change in the way we make decisions. The Environmental Defender’s Office knew that the Office of Sustainability was developing this legislation. In July 2005 they put in a submission to the minister for the environment called Options for sustainability legislation in the ACT: a critical analysis of sustainable development legislation in other jurisdictions to inform drafting of ACT sustainability legislation. It is on the EDO website and is a thorough examination of what other jurisdictions have and a summary of what we could practically do in the ACT. It was not radical. What it was proposing was not much different from what we already do. The key difference is that it is legislation. It means that expert reference groups will not just disappear overnight and greenhouse targets will not disappear when they do not suit the government. Instead we will have a set of rules about sustainability which we can agree on and work with. The EDO put forward similar points. It said: