Penny Wong for Eco-Minister

Cate Blanchett
Cate needs a green role

Cate Blanchett�s delighted Australian PM Kevin Rudd is on top of the green agenda, but don�t believe everything in the garden is suddenly groovy. Penny Wong as Climate Change Minister is an excellent choice, but she does not have a firm party power base if the going gets tough. Peter Garrett had been Labor�s environment spokesman in opposition and now he is Minister for Drought. But the former Midnight Oil band member is a party hack.

We wish Rudd had found a place for Cate Blanchett, who has proved her commitment to real environmentalism. Just because her third child�s on its way, we hope doesn�t rule Cate out as Oz’s new green ambassador. Garrett could be her deputy and parliamentary rep, leaving her free to do the important work.

For those off-grid, it’s good news about the new adminstration’s commitment to universal broadband, but Labor�s current eco-policy is to serve us up bullshit and call it caviar. They�ve announced they are endorsing Kyoto. So what? Kyoto�s out of date anyway. Labor promised loans to green your home. Big deal � the loans are only $10,000 and they will come in 2009 with loads of red tape and make a fortune for �authorised installers�. Rudd claimed the policy could generate up to $2 billion worth of green inspired investment and work for small business, especially tradespeople. Our guess: it will mainly be used to buy bottled water and batteries.

They�ve targeted 20 per cent of electricity to come from renewables in 12 year�s time. Oh yeah? Will Rudd still be in office by then? What happens if they don�t meet the target, does Garrett go to jail?

It was me-too-ism-plus � an election statement matching what the Coalition has already promised (15%), and adding a bit more.

And after labor’s big win Garrett isn’t saying whether he will take on that politically charged portfolio in Kevin Rudd’s new Cabinet.

“I will serve in any capacity that Kevin and the party want me too,” said the former rock star, environmentalist and indigenous rights activist.

Mr Garrett was the author of one of the few major gaffes by the ALP during the campaign when he was caught out saying that Labor would “change everything” once it got into power. He later said he had been joking.

Today, he was subdued about the future.

Earlier this years Rudd promised households would also be given a free ”green renovations” pack with tips for green living, energy efficient light globes, a shower timer and water efficient shower heads.

Under the solar and water loan plan, plan households will be able to get up to $10,000 loans to buy solar panels, rainwater tanks, roof insulation. solar hot-water heaters, high-efficiency gas hot-water heaters replacing electric storage systems, awnings, grey water recycling and energy efficient lighting.

Mr Rudd said the loan scheme would help people struggling with home loan interest repayments to make their homes green without getting another loan at commercial rates.

The policy provides loans of up to $10,000 to 200,000 households with an income of up to $250,000 by 2012. The scheme will begin in January
2009 and run for four years.

The average home now costs nine times the average annual wage � up from six times 10 years ago; first home buyers are now spending 31.7% of their total income on mortgage repayments, up from 17.9% in 1996; and the share of homes being bought by first home owners has fallen from 21.8% in June 1996 to 17.1% today. As a result, young people are staying longer in rented accommodation, leading to increased rents and shortages of rental properties.

Cate Blanchett is taking her Sydney Theatre Group completely off the grid � getting all its energy from renewables they install themselves. Why can�t the government build thousands of off-grid homes for its low income people?

The only serious solution requires a massive expansion of social (public, cooperative and community) housing combined with a 20% limit on rent as a share of income. It requires not only a reversal of the massive cuts to the funding that have occurred to the Commonwealth and State Housing Agreement under the Howard government, but an increase of billions of dollars of  CSHA funding.

Quality, environmentally sustainable housing, designed and developed with full input from building industry workers, environmentalists and sympathetic experts is the only long-term solution.

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