Local state Member Danny O’Brien’s recent speech to state Parliament on the current South Gippsland Shire election was an unambiguous attempt to silence the community’s voice.

In telling voters they “should not be distracted on national and international causes that are beyond their remit”, Mr O’Brien was clearly implying that those in the community who believe local government has a role to play in addressing climate change should not be listened to.

In fact, all levels of government have a role in addressing climate change. To say that local government should limit itself to roads, rubbish and rates is like saying state governments should just look after schools, hospitals and trams, or that the federal government should focus only on quarantine, vaccination and defence.

In telling South Gippslanders what does and doesn’t count as a political issue, it’s hard to read his comments as anything but anti-democratic.

Beyond that, Mr O’Brien doesn’t seem to realise that the Councillor Code of Conduct in the Local Government Act 2020 specifies in its principles of good governance that:
* The economic, social and environmental sustainability of the municipal district, including mitigation and planning for climate change risks, is to be promoted.
* Priority is to be given to achieving the best outcomes for the municipal community, including future generations.

The Act explicitly requires that councils and councillors do exactly what Mr O’Brien tells them not to do.

Many in the community would be interested to hear Mr O’Brien’s justification for telling those on the incoming council that they should ignore the principles laid out for good governance.

Just as interesting would be his motivation for doing so.

We seem to be living in an ever more divided society, with growing narratives of division and blame. And despite Mr O’Brien’s claim to be seeking to “put divisions, discord and conflict behind us”, his statement does just the opposite.

Dog-whistling about “those grandstanding on political topics”, which can be only taken to mean climate change, does nothing to promote community cohesion and cooperation and everything to fan the embers of suspicion and antagonism. And what’s the point?

Why not instead at least listen to those voices that are, after all, only echoing what every credible authority on the matter of climate change is saying: that we all need to be working together, with empathy and understanding, to move to a low-carbon world that’s fairer and inclusive and equipped with solutions for a better, cleaner, brighter future for all.

As we are on the cusp of the next major meeting of world leaders, at the Glasgow global climate talks to discuss our future, it seems worth noting that the last such meeting – which delivered the Paris Climate Agreement – recognised the importance of authorities at the local and municipal level as key drivers in strengthening local resilience to climate change.

The Paris Climate Agreement notes that “regions may be powerhouses of ambitious mitigation and adaptation measures that are hard to legislate and implement at the national level”.

Rather than trying to undermine the many voices in the community who are concerned about climate change, why not listen to what they’re saying and lead the way with the people you say you represent?

Mr O’Brien should recognise that people all over the country are forming and joining groups like Just Transition South Gippsland because they’re feeling frustrated and helpless about the lack of action, the lack of leadership and the stark failure of politicians and institutions to engage honestly with the question of how we create a safe and just future.
Their concerns about the future of the region and its people are reasonable and sensible. Danny O’Brien shouldn’t be fighting against them; he should be joining them.

Tony Walker, Fish Creek, for Just Transition South Gippsland.