Budget: The climate emergency response is in the detail

Does the Geelong Council’s proposed budget reflect that the Council has acknowledged that we are in a climate emergency?
We took a benchmarking-look at what Queenscliffe and Surf Coast currently are doing in comparison.

What to make of Geelong Council’s proposed budget

The Geelong Council’s proposed budget for the next year is out for public commenting. Geelong Council encourages you to review the draft documents and share your feedback either by the online submission form, in-person at a Listening Post, or in writing.

The community engagement period closes on Tuesday 25 May 2021.

Read more and have your say

To the Councillors of the City of Greater Geelong

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal – our best chance of tackling climate change and limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius – make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced.”
~ Fatih Birol, executive director, International Energy Agency, May 2021

And what is Geelong Council doing to step up to what Fatih Birol recently called “perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced”?

I looked closely for figures and priorities that would show that you, the Councillors of Geelong, have understood the challenge that is confronting us all. But in vain. All I could see was business-as-usual, with tiny funding directed towards climate-related community initiatives, equivalent to the funding of the Geelong Air Show and other community activities. Nothing that shows Council has understood – or even acknowledged – that Geelong along with the rest of the world now is in a climate emergency.

Why not? Have you not noticed what is happening to the world around you? Have you not seen the news of extreme weather events and melting icecaps? Here in Victoria at the current level of warming, we’re already suffering more frequent and intense extreme weather events – heatwaves, bushfires and drought. Did you not see and breathe in the catastrophic bushfires of 2019-20 together with the rest of us? – and did you not hear about the devastating impact they had along the entire east coast of Australia? 

It is just one example of many, but still, the figures are ‘screaming to the sky’ (a Danish expression): 830 million tonnes of greenhouse gases released when an estimated 12.6 million hectares of bushland was scorched and 3 to 7 billion trees burnt, nearly 3 billion animals impacted, and hundreds of rivers and creeks polluted by ash and sediments when the flooding rains came and doused the flames. 

This is exactly what scientists warned back in the 1980s and 1990s would happen if we didn’t manage to curb our carbon emissions. And according to the scientists, the damage we are seeing now is only the beginning. Our world is rapidly approaching climate disaster.

Scientists say we need to be aiming for emissions cuts of at least 75 per cent this decade to avoid the worst climate impacts. Many would like to see it happen much faster.

Have you not spoken with the youth of our city and understood how they feel about your inaction on this?

If Council wants to make a difference and show some leadership in these dire circumstances, we will first of all need to see this reflected in the budget. Greenwashing and kind words about ‘hope’ are not enough.

There’s a saying that goes, “If you can see it, you can be it.” True. The Covid-19 crisis showed us how willing and accepting Geelong residents are to changing their behaviour, when only they know that this is what is asked of them, and they can see others doing the same. What citizens need to step up and take action is education and some genuine, trustworthy leadership. We saw it under Covid-19, we saw it under the Second World War. With the climate crisis, it is no different. With its new Climate Emergency Response Plan, our neighboroughing Borough of Queenscliffe has recently shown beautifully how the issue can be dealt with. So why should Geelong be different?

So dear Councillors and CEO of Geelong, this budget proposal of yours is pathetic, considering the promises you have given us about that you intend to be taking the climate crisis seriously and deal with it responsibly. The budget shows you are able to find funding for all kinds of projects, including a climate-wrecking air show, while you neglect to adequately fund Council’s climate emergency response embedded in every department in the organisation, putting climate first in every decision. You keep being busy renovating the kitchen while ignoring that the house is on fire.

You will have to do a LOT better than this.

   . . .

And PS: Don’t be afraid that the business community of Geelong won’t support you in taking much bolder climate action and becoming much more outspoken on the truths about this issue. The business community is coming on board fast now, and like everyone else, it is looking to our local, state and federal governments not for cowards and liars, but for leadership with integrity.

“Sustainability is defined as recognising that environmental health, social equity and economic vitality are interconnected, and all are critical in ensuring we create thriving, healthy, diverse and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come.”
~ Reuters


Geelong Councillor Ron Nelson informing his Facebook followers about his Councils projected spendings in the budget for next year:
$3 million dollars for the golf players in Kardinia Ward, but no mention of any Council initiative whatsover which will deal with the climate emergency and the city’s carbon emissions. It is obviously not even on the radar.

In a comment thread on Facebook, Geelong Councillor Eddy Kontelj reminded resident Monica Winston that Council has allocated $365,000 dollars in the budget for the creation and promotion of a new sustainability action plan:
Excerpt of a longer Facebook communication between
Geelong Councillor Eddy Kontelj and climate activist Monica Winson

Climate emergency response: reflected in the budget?

Does the Geelong Council’s proposed budget reflect that the Council has acknowledged that we are in a climate emergency?

Let’s have a look. A simple word-search informs us that the word ‘climate’ appears on three pages in the budget document:

1) On page 18:

“2.2 Strategic Direction 1: Healthy, caring and inclusive community
A healthy community is one where everyone has the opportunity to experience their best possible health and wellbeing. As our health and engagement data shows, there are some pressing issues impacting the health and wellbeing of our local community, including mental health issues and impacts of climate change.”

2) On page 21:

“2.3 Strategic Direction 2: Sustainable growth and environment
As Victoria’s largest regional city, Geelong’s proximity to Melbourne, lifestyle, strong employment growth and affordable housing have seen the population growth rate increase from 1.5 to 2.7 per cent. It is anticipated that Greater Geelong will continue to experience strong growth and demand for housing over a sustained period. Our role will be to manage population growth while maintaining what people love about living in this region, both now and in the future.
With global pressures to consider, such as climate change and waste, and significant flora and fauna in our region that need our protection, it’s clear that the stakes couldn’t be higher.
It is therefore vital that we respond by creating high-amenity neighbourhoods that are wellconnected, liveable and sustainable.
The four-year priorities we will focus on to help achieve our desired outcomes.
• Meet the housing needs of our future community
• Meet existing and future transport needs
• Create engaging places and spaces
• Deliver best practice Environmentally Sustainable Design principles and vibrant neighbourhoods”

3) On page 80:

Community Climate Action Partnerships
New funding to achieve the City’s Environment Strategy goal to become a zero emission, climate-ready City and region: $100,000.”

Have a look at the Geelong Council budget yourself and see whether you think it properly reflects that the Council has declared a climate emergency. → Read more and have your say

   . . .

Climate Emergency Response Plans
in Queenscliffe and Surf Coast

We’ve seen recently in two of Geelong’s neighbouring municipalities, Surf Coast Shire and Borough of Queenscliffe respectively, how the realisation that we are now in a true and life-threatening emergency can lead to strong Climate Emergency Response Plans and zero carbon targets, though we are yet to see how it is followed up in the budgets of these municipalities.

“It’s all about the dollars”

Analysis: Looking at the relationship between the Climate Emergency Response Plan and the budget

How do the dollars in the budget tie into the Council’s climate emergency reponse plan?
This is Rusty’s analysis of Queenscliffe’s and Surf Coast Shire’s climate emergency response plans

“Both Queenscliffe Council and Surf Coast Shire Council has done excellent,” is Rusty’s judgement on the quality of their CERPs, but generally, he calls for more transparancy in the budgets of councils that have declared a climate emergency so that each program which relates to the Climate Emergency Response Plan is highlighted as such and linked back to the plan.

Kitty Walker from Queenscliffe Climate Action Group
Interview with Kitty Walker in The Sustainable Hour no 361

Kitty Walker is founder of the very busy and effective Queenscliffe Climate Action Group. In The Sustainable Hour no 361 she told the story of how her climate concerns forced her to call a public meeting in her town. Step by step she saw that concern solidify as a community, which she didn’t know the extent of which existed previously, formed around her. This led to a strong connection with their small local government borough and its recent declaration of a climate emergency.

All through this process Kitty surprised herself by what she was able to achieve by getting out of her comfort zone – the same happened to the committee that formed around her to take their concerns forward. They have worked hard with Council to develop a climate emergency response plan that spells out how they will act as a community to implement policies and practices consistent with a climate emergency. On 19 May 2021, Council approved the plan.

Queenscliffe’s Climate Emergency Response Plan 2021-2031

Excerpt: “In partnership we have agreed to work together on the following, ambitious targets:

1) Our community’s electricity consumption will be matched by a 100% renewable electricity supply by 2025
Acknowledging that electricity is one of the most significant contributors to emissions and one of the easiest to improve, we will be more efficient in consumption and source all of our community’s electricity from renewable sources, either locally generated or imported by 2025. Where it is unavoidable for non-renewable supply to be used, this will be matched and offset by our community’s ability to export the surplus electricity we produce.

2) Our community’s energy needs will be matched by a 100% renewable energy supply by 2027
In addition to electricity as an energy source, our community also relies on gas and wood for heating, hot water and cooking. We will reduce our reliance on these fuels as far as possible, improve our energy efficiency and match our overall energy consumption with a completely renewable supply by 2027. This
means that even where gas or wood is still used, we will offset that usage with the generation and export of surplus renewable energy.

3) Our community will have transitioned to a Zero Carbon Community by 2031
Carbon emissions across all sectors of our community – energy, transport, land use, waste and wastewater – will be reduced, drawn down or offset so that our community produces zero-net emissions by 2031.”

→ See the plan

Queenscliffe Council votes on the CERP

Kitty Walker wrote on Facebook:

“At the May 19 Borough of Queenscliffe Council meeting, Councillors voted to adopt our Climate Emergency Response Plan (CERP)! We did it! Urging them on were more than 160 amazing community members forming a sea of red, filling town hall and watching the meeting from outside the venue once capacity was filled.

Thank you to all who attended. It was so powerful to see the community show out in force and remind Council that this plan is a plan we want – it’s by us, for us, and for those who come after us.For those who couldn’t make it:

  • Councillor Fleur Hewitt, who holds the Environmental portfolio, made the first address in moving to adopt the CERP, saying “The community backing for action now is powerful and unmistakable.”
  • Councillor Susan Salter, who moved the original motion to declare a climate emergency in 2019, was “pleased to make another contribution to this community. I believe we need to learn from the past to take steps into the future, to leave our community a better and more thoughtful place,” she said.
  • Other Councillors spoke in support of the CERP, noting the impacts on future generations and the urgency of acting now. Mayor Ross Ebbels, visibly moved by the crowd, said “Business as usual no longer applies…It’s nights like tonight that remind us why we live where we live.”
  • All councillors voted to adopt the CERP, except for Councillor Donnie Grigau who abstained from voting.

This is a huge win for our community. From Councillors and council staff to panel members, community organisations to Wadawurrung Traditional Owners, young people to those that provided feedback throughout the process to strengthen the CERP, and anyone that showed up at any time to support this work – we thank you for your time and passion to keep our Borough beautiful and safe.

The hard work now begins, and developing an implementation plan for the CERP will start immediately. We look forward to your ongoing support in rolling out the CERP’s 49 actions, which will help us achieve three incredible goals, including transitioning to a zero carbon community by 2031.

As always, with thanks,
Queenscliffe Climate Action Group”

  . . .

Geelong budget: Some more observations

Geelong Council’s Sustainability Framework implementation is listed as one of the council’s major initiatives. As number three and last on the list, not as number one, that is.

Under ‘Other initiatives’ is listed:

“11) Increase in funding for Environmental Sustainability Grants”

On page 49 is mentioned, in one and the same paragraph:

“Increase in 2021-22 for major event funding including the Australian International Airshow. Also increase Environmental sustainability contributions for 2021-22.”

On page 78:

Sustainability Framework Implementation
The integrated sustainability performance framework is a foundation piece needed to create integrated dashboard reporting, which will break down silos and show each department’s contribution to strategic outcomes. It will ensure our decision makers are provided with holistic, transparent insight.
Expenditure 2022-23: $365,000
Expenditure 2023-24: $365,000
Expenditure 2024-25: $370,000
Expenditure 2025-26: $0″

On page 79:

“Environmental Sustainability Grants Community Grants
Grants to not-for-profit community groups and organisations for programs and activities that help to achieve Council’s strategic objectives relating to environment and sustainability
2020-2021: 70,000
2021-2022: 150,000″

Geelong Council wrote that the budget “balances fiscal responsibility with policies and funding to support those hit hard by COVID-19, and investment to meet population growth demands across the region.”

“A historically low rate rise and massive investment in public infrastructure are at the centre of the City’s Proposed Budget. It outlines the region’s largest ever capital works program over the next two years. The Proposed Budget caps the total rate rise at 1.5 per cent, in line with the State Government rate cap, freezes many fees and charges at pre-pandemic levels and maintains an extensive array of funding opportunities through the Community Grants program, including a larger environmental grants stream.”

Emission reduction targets
The City of Greater Geelong recognised the climate emergency in September 2019. The city’s Clever and Creative Vision from 2017 states that Geelong will become a carbon neutral city-region by 2047. However, Geelong’s carbon emissions are not reducing. Council Vision Progress report shows that Greater Geelong had a 0.47% decrease in production of CO2 or equivalent compared to the baseline (January– December 2017). Geelong should at a minimum support the Victorian government’s emissions reduction targets and preferably adopts its own much more ambitious targets in the shift to a low-carbon economy.

Last week, neighbouring Queenscliffe Council set a target of zero carbon by 2031.

In comparison, the Victorian Government’s interim target is for emissions to reduce 28–33% below 2005 levels by the end of 2025 and then for emissions to reduce 45–50% by the end of 2030.

Read more and have your say – closes on Tuesday
NB: At the bottom of the form, you’ll be asked whether you wish to attend the Submissions Review Panel Hearing. It is highly recommendable that you tick YES.

→ See Geelong Council’s draft budget document


Submission by Monica Winston, Transition Streets Geelong

To the Councillors of The City of Greater Geelong

We know from Sustainability Victoria that “Most Victorians feel some level of frustration and other negative emotions, such as sadness, outrage and despair, when they think about climate change. Young people feel these negative emotions more strongly than the rest of the population and could be more prone to eco-anxiety. They were more likely than other age groups to feel they will cope ‘poorly’ in terms of mental health as climate change impacts increase.”

This mental health effect in addition to the mental health effect of not seeing acknowledgement of the presence and severity of the problem and a matching response in terms of timing, scale and resourcing is compounding the level of stress of the population of our city and needs to be included in the Community Plan 2021-2025 and the Budget.

The Geelong Mayor said soon in October 2019…. “We now have all councillors supporting climate change action as an ‘immediate priority’.”

This is a core reason why we need to acknowledge this in BOLD throughout this plan as well as strategies to address it URGENTLY.

  • call the Climate Change Response Plan what it actually is ie a Climate Emergency Response Plan for further acknowledging it to the residents and businesses in our City and addressing the climate emergency acknowledged by Council in 2019, and
  • demonstrate adequate resourcing in this year’s and following years budgets regardless of whether it is complete now or in the next couple of months because it is an emergency and requires emergency funding and action.

For a council this size with over $400 million dollar budget that would have to look like at least $4-8 million dollars. (See the City of Darebin’s allocation for a comparison i.e. employing 5 people full time plus a budget this size). If extra funds are needed, then the $8 million dollars cost of providing free parking for 1 hour to people in the CBD (not an emergency response) would be best to go towards funding the roll out of this CERP.

The crimes of the last few decades since the climate crisis was defined in 1957 has not only been climate denial, it has been using the strategies of:

1. mislabelling the severity of what we are dealing with which dovetails with 

2. creating doubt and therefore 

3. delay in taking action and

4. compartmentalising action so that it doesn’t interfere with business as usual and

5. under resourcing action so it can’t be adequately implemented and

6. misusing the terms so as to further dilute defining the severity of the problems and solutions eg using the word sustainable in terms of economic growth and not in terms of strategies to protect the ecosystems we rely on and transforming the systems we have created. 

It appears that’s what we are seeing here. With $100,000 devoted to developing a dashboard system for the Sustainability Framework (which is only a measuring and reporting tool) and nothing for actual implementation for strategies, this certainly isn’t a response to an EMERGENCY!

“Sustainability was defined as development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.”

I wish to attend the Submissions Review Panel Hearing


Submission by Alan Barlee, Centre for Climate Safety

To the Councillors of The City of Greater Geelong

Council’s recent acknowledgement (declaration?) that it and all of us are facing a climate emergency has once again been buried in the usual raft of ‘priorities’ in its draft 20-21-2025 budget.

Surely Council will not approve this draft in its present insipid form – at a time when Victoria and many cities, provinces and nations around the world have at last set meaningful goals and initiated decisive actions that may yet save human societies and all living things from collapse!

CoGG Councillors – please put an adequate range of costed priority community climate actions out there in public view, where we can all commit to them – actions that will lead the Geelong community to a sustainable and satisfying future based on living respectfully with nature.

Please demonstrate where it counts – in your (our) budget – that Council really does see the decade of the 2020s as critical for us all, and specify just how it will lead the Geelong community to halve its emissions (at the absolute least) by 2030 – or really, to cut them by the two thirds that we should be achieving as our fair share of hitting zero net emissions well before 2050.

Having ignored the climate science for the past 30+ years, we’re now out of time. We must have a budget that demonstrates a real collective commitment to save our kids’ future. As COVID responses have demonstrated, balancing budgets and minimising debt have been shown to be neoliberal dinosaurs when massive social destruction is imminent. John Maynard Keynes got it right all those years ago, as Australian governments again did for over 30 years after World War 2.

Our kids will thank you for debt spent on the right actions now: they will curse us all if we failed to act decisively when it mattered.  


Alan Barlee
East Geelong

– I wish to attend the Submissions Review Panel Hearing

→ Also: Read the public questions and submissions for Geelong Council’s meeting on 25 May 2021

Below are two of the 18 submissions from Geelong residents:

Questions to Geelong Council

Submitter 16: Sally Fisher

City of Greater Geelong acknowledged that there is a Climate Emergency nearly two years ago which deserves an emergency response. We saw CoGG react in emergency fashion with Covid, the community expects a response on climate on at least a similar level.

In this budget there is $365K allocated for the Sustainability Framework, $100K allocated in a Community Climate Action Partnership (CCAP) and an extra $80K for Community Grants.

There seems to be no allocation made towards the Climate Change Response Plan which is due to be released very soon.

Conversely, there has been an increase in funding of $165K towards the Australian International Airshow which is highly contentious investment for a government in the age of climate change

Question 1
What % of the Sustainability Framework budget will be allocated towards GRI consultants and what % will go to on the ground programs?

Question 2
How does the CCAP investment of $100K and additional $80K for community grants compare with other Councils of similar size who have acknowledged/declared a climate emergency?

Question 3
How can the soon to be released Climate Change Response Plan be effective if it is not adequately resourced?

Response (City Services):
“Thank you for your questions, Sally.

The Sustainability Framework budget will fund multiple positions to progress implementation of prioritised actions in the Sustainability Action Plan 2020-22 and build the City’s internal capabilities in holistic sustainability. We will also continue to foster partnerships across the public sector, private sector and community for more effective and sustainable planning and service delivery. The funding will not be used for GRI consultants as the City has in-house reporting capabilities. The Sustainability Framework is not just about the environment; it also encompasses community wellbeing and social equity and responsible and transparent business.

The City has not analysed the environment and community grant budgets of other councils.

Implementation of the Climate Change Response Plan will be a collaborative effort across government, community and business and the City will play a key role in leading the change needed. The City will continue to allocate substantial investment and resources to address climate change, including actions within the Climate Change Response Plan once it is finalised. This includes the transition to renewable electricity supply for all the City’s buildings which will reduce our emissions by over 21,000 tonnes per annum, changing community streetlights from inefficient mercury vapour to efficient LED lighting, installing solar pv on rooftops, transitioning to a low emission vehicle fleet and assisting the community with a broad range of climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives through funding and other support mechanisms.

The Airshow investment was a contractual commitment and is a significant driver of economic benefit to the region.”

Submitter 17: Monica Winston

Question 1
I can’t see anything in the 2021-22 draft budget that states that we are in a climate emergency as a defining context as an existential global threat to life on the planet which requires an emergency response. Council have already acknowledged this along with about 2000 other councils globally. Geelong has claimed the identity as a Clever and Creative city however it is delusional to define and budget for this without reference to the fact that we are operating in a world that is in a climate and ecological emergency. Many other councils and countries are taking massive action.´Why has this most important defining context been omitted from this document?

Question 2
Why has Council refused to allocate any substantial money in this year’s budget for the Climate Change Response Plan which we have been told will be completed in the next month or two so that this financial year we can get started on the emergency work that needs to be done to achieve the goals in it? During Covid we saw Council take immediate action to preserve life. We have now seen it can be done when the threat is accurately defined and action is required.

Question 3
Why has Council refused to call the plan what it is ie a Climate Emergency Response Plan? Both Surfcoast and Queenscliff Councils have had no problems in using this wording which sends a clear message to the public about why this needs our full attention together with emergency level funding.

Response (City Services):
“Thank you for your questions, Monica.

In response to overwhelming community support, the City recognised climate change as a global emergency through its Sustainability Framework, launched in 2020.

The development of a municipal Climate Change Response Plan was a priority action identified in the Sustainability Framework.

The Environment Strategy, also developed in 2020, includes a goal to ‘Move towards a zero-emission, climate-ready City, and region’ and a priority action to ‘Engage our community in developing a climate change response plan and community emission reduction targets’ and set a corporate emission target of zero emissions by 2025.

Since mid-2020, input has been sought from community groups, residents, agencies, and businesses to develop a Climate Change Response Plan. The Sustainability Advisory Committee has also been part of the plan development process.

The draft Plan is in the final stages of development and will be released for public consultation in July.

Implementation of the Climate Change Response Plan will be a collaborative effort across government, community and business and the City will play a key role in leading the change needed.

The City will continue to allocate substantial investment and resources to address climate change, including actions within the Climate Change Response Plan once it is finalised. This includes the transition to renewable electricity supply for all Council buildings which will reduce our emissions by over 21,000 tonnes per annum, changing community streetlights from inefficient mercury vapour to efficient LED lighting, installing solar pv on rooftops, transitioning to a low emission vehicle fleet and assisting the community with a broad range of climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives through funding and other support mechanisms.”

→ See more public questions and submissions for Geelong Council’s meeting on 25 May 2021

Expected population growth from now to 2030

                                                                 %                                                              Number of new people

Surf Coast Shire                                    25.7%                                                             8,397

City of Greater Geelong                      26.1%                                                            67,108

Borough of Queenscliffe                    10.4%                                                               187

Golden Plains Shire                             10.4%                                                             2,268            


“Not sure what’s so hard to understand about sustainability. Barwon Water openly say they can’t guarantee fresh water past 2029; all our water systems are stretched way beyond sensible and still the only solution offered regionally is that we need to grow. Actually we need to shrink.
Growth is not the panacea it’s the problem.”

~ Graeme Stockton, on Facebook

→ Surf Coast Times – 29 April 2021:
Neutral position: Shire budget aims for carbon neutrality by mid-2022
“The Surf Coast Shire council will be carbon neutral in just over a year in one of several environmental initiatives outlined in the council’s next budget. The Surf Coast Shire council will become a certified carbon-neutral organisation through the federal government’s Climate Active program.”

Reminder: the Geelong community engagement period closes on Tuesday 25 May 2021.

Read more and have your say

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Moreland Council signs Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty

Meanwhile, the Moreland Council in Melbourne’s inner north has become the first local government in Australia to vote to support and endorse the international non-proliferation treaty.

The action taken followed some behind-the-scenes lobbying by Climate Action Moreland and Neighbours United for Climate Action.

Moreland joins early endorsers in Vancouver, Barcelona and Los Angeles as well as two councils in the United Kingdom.

It builds on Moreland’s climate emergency declaration in September 2018.

The ACT Government has also tabled a motion for consideration of endorsement of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty.

→ Read more about the Moreland Council motion and the background for councillors

→ The Fossil Fuel Treaty campaign hub