In the immediate aftermath of last season’s bushfires, Mr Constance gave a number of emotional interviews and criticised the Morrison government’s response. However, he steered clear of linking climate change to the severity of the event.
Now, though, Mr Constance is prepared to make that call: “Certainly it was my first experience of a global event that had a raft of causes but the predominant one was climate change.”
The comments have been welcomed by Matt Kean, the state’s Energy and Environment Minister, who has braved criticism from right-wing commentators and some of his colleagues for his climate action advocacy including support for renewable energy over fossil-fuel alternatives.
“It’s great to have one of the most popular and one of the most respected members of the government speaking up for the environment,” Mr Kean said.
Mr Constance said it was important the debate moved on from “left-right, green-brown” divisions and towards “great outcomes that everyone benefits from”.
While declining to challenge the Berejiklian and Morrison governments’ support for more gas production in NSW – such as Santos’s planned $3.6 billion coal seam gasfield near Narrabri – Mr Constance said “energy generation needs to be done locally”.
“We lose 30 per cent in transmission – how stupid’s that?” he said.
Mr Constance said proposals such as the federal government’s so-called technology roadmap to reduce greenhouse gas emissions needed to make its objective clear.
“We talk about tech road maps but there should be an absolute road map for making sure this event doesn’t happen again,” he said.
Within his own portfolio, Mr Constance said one of his objectives has been to electrify the bus fleet.
“They’re noisy, they punch out toxins into our community which is bad to breathe and they’re bad for the environment,” he said. “It’s a bit of a no-brainer to do the transition.”
The switch to electric cars would happen “organically but we need to speed it up,” Mr Constance said.
As the MP for Bega, Mr Constance has also overseen his fair share of battles about logging in native forests, typically taking a stance in favour of logging over conservation.
After the bushfires, though, his view on this contentious subject may be changing too. Asked about whether Forestry Corp should reconsider logging in state forests the wake of the last season’s fires, Mr Constance said “absolutely … it does need to be reviewed”.
While private plantations could take up some of the supply slack, the effect of planting more trees along water courses would also need to be considered.
“The whole system needs to be examined,” Mr Constance said.
“With climate change, we tend to look up at the atmosphere but we need to look at our vegetation, our soils and our water catchments.”
Peter Hannam writes on environment issues for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.