Chester’s office picketed over donations

LATROBE Valley environmental activists have called on Gippsland MHR Darren Chester to support a nation-wide push to ban political donations from mining companies.

The Latrobe Valley Sustainability Group converged on Mr Chester’s Traralgon office on Thursday asking the politician to support a ban on the donations, along with subsidies to “polluters”.

Sustainability group president Lorraine Bull said she believed these donations were affecting the government’s decisions when it came to planning for climate change and transitioning into renewable energies.

She said politicians had an important role to play in addressing climate change and wanted Mr Chester to sign a gofossilfree.org pledge calling for an end to the donations.

“These companies have donated $3.7 million to various political parties since the last federal election, with $2.4 million to the Coalition and $1.3 to Labor,” Ms Bull said.

“In return, the fossil fuel companies get $2.5 billion back in subsidies, benefits and diesel rebates.”

According to Ms Bull, these subsidies benefited Latrobe Valley coal companies to the tune of $1 million annually.

She said political donations encouraged diesel consumption in the mining industry because “they’re not looking for alternative sources”.

“It undermines community efforts in reducing greenhouse waste no matter how many times we turn the light switch off, it gets wasted by what these companies are doing,” Ms Bull said.

“It costs each tax payer $182 annually to subsidise fossil fuel companies … should you and I be subsidising them to pollute the environment and increase climate change?”

She said under the current government, the rate of subsidies to fossil fuels was more than four times that at which renewable energy was subsidised.

Thursday’s demonstration included sustainability group members giving randomly selected residents fake money which they were asked to place into buckets labelled renewable energy, health, education and fossil fuels in order of where they thought the cash should be spent.

The results were that 39 per cent went to renewable energy, 37 per cent to health, 24 per cent to education and zero per cent to fossil fuels.

Ms Bull said the activity showed government spending did not reflect community desires.

Mr Chester said the country’s system of democracy allowed for individuals and companies to exercise their right to support political parties of their choice.

“It’s important that we have an open, transparent system of declaring any political donations and that is a process which is managed independent of the government of the day,” Mr Chester said.

“Hardworking Latrobe Valley power station employees and their families have made an enormous contribution to the wealth of Victorians and our nation, and I will continue to back them 100 per cent in the future.”

Details of the petition, including a list of politicians who have pledged their support, can be found at www.gofossilfree.org.au.