The Other Shoe Will Not Drop: What the 2019 Federal Election Means for Local Government Action on Climate Change

Alexi Lynch

“Penny”

“No, shoe”.

“It’s penny, Paul. It’s ‘when the penny drops’”.

“I know that expression. But this is a different one”.

It was back in early 2018 and we were talking about State Government funding for councils for climate change projects. Should councils hold off on projects until the funding was announced? Or just move ahead, especially when there was a clear business case for action?

Paul Brown, Ironbark Sustainability’s Managing Director and Founder was talking about the dropping of other shoes. We thought he was doing his best Ringo Starr impersonation and mixing his metaphors. But of course, on this one he was – and is – dead right.

Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop

“Waiting for the other shoe to drop” means waiting for a seemingly inevitable event. Like government action on climate change. Like funding for energy efficiency projects. Like fixing the electricity grid to cater for more distributed generation. 

Families living in tenement houses in New York and other large cities during the late 19th and early 20th century would literally wait for the other shoe to drop before they could sleep. Apartments were built with bedrooms on top of one another so it was common to hear your upstairs neighbour take off a shoe, drop it, and then repeat the action. As one shoe made a sound hitting the floor, the expectation for the other shoe to make a similar disturbance was created.

It became shorthand for waiting for something you knew was coming… drop shoe! Drop! Ahhh… now I can sleep. 

When Paul mentioned this again on the Monday after the Coalition’s 2019 election victory, we’d forgotten the original reference and accused him of getting it wrong (again) but it was a timely reminder of where local government sit in the scheme of broad climate action and what we need to do. If you’re holding on for Federal support or a signal or funding then stop! It’s not going to happen. 

The other shoe is not going to drop.

We Know How This Story Goes 

Luckily, we know what to do because we’ve been here before. Over the last few decades local government action on climate change has flourished in the absence of support at the Federal level. 

Flagship projects like the Melbourne Renewable Energy Program (MREP), the Light Years Ahead Energy Transition in Western Sydney and the Sunshine Coast Solar Farm and the Australian Smart Lighting Program have all been developed and implemented by local government and are the tip of the iceberg.

There are a few thousand other projects I could add to the paragraph above. Solar, biogas, community renewables, active transport, electric vehicle charging stations, solar power purchasing agreements, energy efficiency everywhere, organic waste diversion, heating and cooling upgrades, environmental education, environmental upgrade agreements, community solar bulk buys, sustainability criteria into planning processes, the list goes on and on. Check out the Australian Local Government Climate Review developed by Ironbark, BZE and ICLEI Oceania to get a nice little snapshot. The majority of this action has occurred under Federal governments that have, as we know, removed a carbon pricing mechanism, slashed the renewable energy target and have an energy minister who is stridently anti-wind.

Meanwhile around 40 Australian councils have joined 9,300 other cities around the world through the Global Covenant of Mayors undertaking climate action directly contributing to limiting global warming in line with the Paris Agreement. On top of that, over 10 have signed up to the Cities Power Partnership program to celebrate and accelerate the emission reduction and clean energy successes of Australian cities. 

But this isn’t new. Local government have always led the way. 

The largest and most successful council climate change program in Australia, if not the world, was ICLEI Oceania’s Cities for Climate Protection program which in 2006 had 240 councils across Australia participating in the program, representing 84 per cent of the population. This was under the Howard Government at a time when Australia’s Chief Scientist, Robin Batterham, was also Chief Technologist at Rio Tinto.

Think we’ve got it hard in 2019? Imagine if Alan Finkel was also Head of Coal Propaganda at Hancock Prospecting.

Keep It Up and Ramp It Up

Councils are always open for business on collaborative approaches and funding with other levels of government. So as a sector we'll hope for the best from Canberra and keep advocating for stronger climate action even though in the words of former PM and former MP Tony Abbott, “Labor has a much better climate change policy than the Coalition”. Working in close collaboration with other levels of government is critical. But don’t stake your projects on getting that extra support or funding, regardless of whether it’s the Feds, the state government, or potential subsidies from the Climate Solutions Fund (formally Emissions Reduction Fund, which we realised years ago wouldn't end up helping councils). A “lack of funding” is not an acceptable excuse for delaying climate action in local government land where the costs of doing nothing are rising every year.

If your council is still holding out, please don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. 

The penny must instead.