Yes, the signs were there, but they weren’t clandestine messages written in the stars or in the chaos of tea-leaf dregs. We saw this one coming, but Australians chose to ignore the warning signs and opt for the American political model of extremism, religiosity, plutocracy and science denial.
Enter the ‘Tea Party’ of Australia – the ‘new’ Coalition where reigning Rex perditor Prime Minister Tony The Monk Abbott1 has, in just a few short months, turned back the clock on Australian environmental protection some 40 years.
Yes, we saw it coming, but it wasn’t a tautological fait accompli just because it concerned a ‘conservative’ government. It’s difficult to remember, I know, that conservative governments of yesteryear implemented some strikingly powerful and effective environmental legislation. Indeed, it was the former incarnation of the Coalition government that implemented the once-formidable Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act under the direction of then Environment Minister, Robert Hill. A colossus of sorts, the EPBC suffers from many ailments. While it’s the only really bitey environmental legislation we’ve got, that colossus is a lumbering, limping giant missing more than a few teeth – it needs a complete overhaul.
As most Australians are unfortunately aware, The Monk repeatedly and defiantly promised to repeal the Labor-government carbon price implemented in July 2012, despite the absolute necessity to tax the heaviest polluters. While somewhat sheepish about his recent climate disruption denialism following his election in 2013, a denialist he remains:
Let us re-familiarise ourselves with some of his historical pearlers:
“This is a government [Labor] which is proposing to put at risk our manufacturing industry, to penalise struggling families, to make a tough situation worse for millions of households right around Australia. And for what? To make not a scrap of difference to the environment any time in the next 1000 years.” [29 March 2011; talking about the carbon price, which has since demonstrated almost no effect on personal finances]
“Whether carbon dioxide is quite the environmental villain that some people make it out to be is not yet proven.” [15 March 2011; again, in response to the carbon price]
“I don’t think we can say that the science is settled here.” [14 March 2011; talking about climate change generally]
“I think that in response to the IPCC alarmist – ah, in inverted commas – view, there’ve been quite a lot of other reputable scientific voices. Now not everyone agrees with Ian Plimer’s position, but he is a highly credible scientist and he has written what seems like a very well-argued book refuting most of the claims of the climate catastrophists”. [2 December 2009; talking about scientific fraud, Ian Plimer, who’s book Heaven and Earth has been repeatedly and entirely debunked by the scientific community]
And there are many, many more similarly ludicrous comments, to which many others have contrasted with the scientific evidence to the contrary. Whatever the politics of the day require him to say now, The Monk is obviously now realising his denialist history in ways we couldn’t even fathom back in 2010.
Continuing on the climate change-denialist theme, The Monk has recently appointed an outspoken climate denialist as his chief business advisor, making Australia a global leader in reticence to deploy any meaningful climate change action. Let’s see – business, fossil fuels, government kickbacks and climate change denialism – all familiar themes amongst the old, white men of power.
Worse still is the Coalition’s systematic rollback of many important and hard-won environmental protections implemented over the last 40 years. Here’s a quick list of the nastiest.
- The Coalition government has requested to remove World Heritage protection for a large expanse of Tasmanian eucalyptus forest, which harbours some of the world’s tallest trees.
- Australia had promised $3 million to help save the Sumatran rhino, one of the world’s most critically endangered animals. Now the Coalition government is breaking that promise.
- A highly controversial decision to dump 3 million tonnes of dredging spoil on the Great Barrier Reef.
- The Coalition has scrapped management plans previously developed by the Labor Government for most of the nation’s representative system of marine protected areas.
- Support for state governments to rollback protection in national parks, including allowing logging, grazing, fishing and hunting.
- Allowing Western Australia to proceed with a large-scale cull of great white, tiger and bull sharks, in the face of strong opposition from many marine scientists.
- The Coalition has made efforts to weaken Australia’s recently passed anti-illegal logging bill.
- The ‘Environment’ Minister, Mr. Greg Hunt, has nearly achieved legal immunity from any challenges to his decisions on mining projects.
- The Coalition has seriously weakened the processes involved in development proposals by ‘cutting the green tape‘ associated with environmental assessments.
Regardless of your political stance, you have to be impressed (or disgusted) with the speed with which the new government has set its sights on environmental protection within this country. There’s a serious bee in the Coalition’s bonnet, and their response has been swift, merciless and bloody. This goes way beyond the normal sort of political incompetence or ambivalence regarding environmental issues – it is a dedicated extermination of anything hinting a shade of green.
Some might argue that the swings and roundabouts of the political sentiment of the day will eventually come around to a more sensible and less bilious approach to environmental protection. That might well be so, but the consequences of even those actions taken so far will have serious repercussions for decades, if not longer. We now know that once environmental degradation occurs, it nearly never returns to its former function or service provision. We are losing the very life-support system upon which we absolutely depend merely for the benefit of rapid, short-sighted development. The almighty dollar has wooed our ‘leaders’ so far from the path of sustainability that we – and especially our descendants – will suffer for years.
This isn’t the end of Australia’s long history of disrespect for its own home – I predict we’ll see, within the lifetime of this government’s current political reign, many more beheadings of major environmental policies.
1So nicknamed because of his fateful surname, his Catholic beliefs in supernatural monsters, and the fact that he originally trained to be a priest in the Catholic seminary