Winner calls for climate action

Matthew Kirwan in Fotheringham Reserve - a natural area that he's promoted as a sustainability champion. 388173_03 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

by Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong’s 2024 sustainability champion has urged the council to stop lagging on climate action.

Matthew Kirwan was recently crowned with the Sustainability Award at the council’s Australia Day Awards.

In early 2020, the Greens then-councillor was at the forefront of Greater Dandenong declaring a climate and ecological emergency and committing to “emergency action on climate change”.

Action was “critical” because many Greater Dandenong residents, particularly the older and disadvantaged, were bearing the brunt of climate change, he says.

“Greater Dandenong rates as the worst municipality in the southeast on the heat vulnerability index and one of the worst in Melbourne overall.

“Put simply it is the poor and the aged that will die first in a heatwave.

“Despite that vulnerability, by its own admission in a public council report 12 months ago, Greater Dandenong is well behind other Councils in resourcing action climate change and other environmental issues.

“And publicly supporting new infrastructure like the South-East Sports Hub in our flood-prone Green Wedge, certain to get more flood-prone as climate change increases.”

The Green Wedge is a “valuable asset for future generations both for its intrinsic value but also because of not wanting to encourage urban sprawl into what is flood prone land”, Kirwan says.

“Climate change is happening, and we cannot risk any further development on flood prone land, whether in the Green Wedge or along creeks which is why I was outspoken in 2022 on the proposed cemetery along Dandenong Creek near Heatherton Road.”

Kirwan has also spoken out for tree protection laws on private land which were recently enacted by the council.

Other priorities were the council’s Biodiversity Action Plan, the Greater Dandenong Sustainability Festival and enhancing areas like Fotheringham Nature Reserve.

He’s also been a long-time member of Greater Dandenong Environment Group, and recently joined Defenders of the South-East Green Wedge’s committee.

In the award citation, Kirwan was recognised for “helping to empower residents to tackle climate change and make a difference”.

On receiving the award, he said it was an “honour” because of how important sustainability is.

“For sustainability is just not a nice thing to have, it’s a matter of survival.”