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Coogee Greens candidate defends phasing out gas and coal in NSW by 2030

In an exclusive interview with Tharunka, Rafaela Pandolfini discussed climate action, public transport, housing, the Voice referendum and more.

Ahead of the 2023 NSW state election, Rafaela Pandolfini, Greens candidate for the Coogee electorate, gave an exclusive interview to Tharunka on March 2nd. Challenges to clean energy transition were a central part of the conversation, which also featured public transport, housing, arts funding and the Indigenous Voice referendum.

An artist and mother of two, Pandolfini has been a local councillor since 2021 and deputy mayor of Randwick since October 2022. She is now running for the NSW Legislative Assembly in the electoral district of Coogee in East Sydney, which is currently held by Labor’s Marjorie O’Neill since 2019.

Climate action and energy

“We have a new government, but we are not seeing the action that we need”, declared Pandolfini as she criticised the Albanese government’s environmental policies. Condemning the new fossil fuel developments authorised since Labor came to power less than one year ago, she claimed that “only the Greens can hold the government accountable” and “actually address climate change”.

In their 2023 electoral platform, the Greens are calling for a complete phase out of gas and coal exploration in NSW by 2030 and making the state carbon neutral by 2035. These goals are more daring than anything proposed by either Labor or Liberals, both of whom plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

When asked about the feasibility of the Greens’ environmental targets, Pandolfini said “we are a very long way from being ambitious”. According to her, the state government is not doing everything within its powers to secure a green energy transition. Requiring all new buildings in NSW to be installed with solar panels was one of the examples of important actions she said the government is not currently undertaking. 

“I don’t think we are advocating to turn it [fossil fuel sources] off tomorrow, I am just saying I think what we are arguing for is that the state government do the absolute maximum [to transition to renewable energy]” Pandolfini told Tharunka.

Rejecting what she called “Tony Abbott’s bylines” that renewable power sources are not reliable to contend with Australia’s economic needs, Pandolfini claimed that it is possible to balance energy security with a green transition. However, she stressed that governments have to be more committed to making renewable energy available to everyone. 

Public transport

The Green candidate also discussed the importance of improving mobility in Sydney, emphasising that public transit systems play an essential role in reducing emissions. She defended her party’s proposal to make public transport in NSW free, including to international students, who are not currently eligible to concession Opal cards. 

Pandolfini said that she wants to bring back bus routes in the Eastern suburbs that were cut by the Coalition state government. Additionally, she supported Labor’s proposal to re-nationalize bus services, while not discarding a possible expansion of the Junior Kingsford light rail line further south to Botany Bay. 

Housing and development

On the topic of housing in the Eastern suburbs, Pandolfini rejected the notion that “all kinds of development are bad”, but stated “I don’t think giant big houses are gonna cut it anymore. I don’t think that is fair. I think we all have to sacrifice a little bit so everyone in the community can live in a better way”. 

She criticised current developments in the Randwick area that “do not really serve the people who need affordable housing”, calling for projects with “clever designs” that would be cheaper, more environmentally sustainable and well-integrated with public transport. 

Arts funding

Pandolfini also proposed expanding state funding for arts and culture, but she made it clear that financial support is not enough. “There are huge amounts of money that go to project managers, construction, and artist administrators. It doesn’t actually go to the artists themselves” the Green candidate told Tharunka. She proposed making public grants more accessible to independent artists, while ensuring that they go to those who really need them. 

The Voice referendum

Pandolfini also talked about one of the most important political issues of 2023 — the federal referendum on the Indigenous Voice to Parliament. Recent disagreements over the Greens’ position on the vote led to Victorian senator Lidia Thorpe, who is in support of the “No” campaign, to leave the party in February.

Commenting on those internal disagreements, the Coogee candidate stated, “I think that the Greens do encourage independence. It is not like one moving group of people.” Pandolfini also expressed concern over the Voice to Parliament becoming just a symbolic body and not delivering real change to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands people. However, she concluded her stance on the referendum saying, “I could never envision voting ‘No’ to that Voice”.