Comment: One year in, what has the Palaszczuk government done for the environment?

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk celebrates one year since taking office. Source: AAP

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk took office 12 months ago and brought optimism with her. But a year later, what has her Labor government done for the environment?

The year is 2040 and Queensland is flourishing. Agriculture, tourism and renewable energy contribute increasing dividends to the State’s economy. Adaptive and agile, successive Queensland governments capitalise on the natural advantages of the Sunshine State, heading off a slump after the decline of fossil fuels.

The Great Barrier Reef was never listed as endangered and increased incentives to capture carbon across the landscape have brought renewed economic prosperity to the regions. This is where we could and should be heading but unfortunately the Palaszczuk government is not delivering fast enough on this vision.

This week marks one year of the Palaszczuk Government and Labor’s return to office. The demise of the reckless LNP brought a new wave of optimism to Queensland where commitments to employment, the environment and social justice clearly resonated with an electorate sick of backroom deals. A year on however, this optimism is starting to fade.

Like its short-lived predecessor, the Palaszczuk government seem just as reliant on the outdated framing of jobs, infrastructure and royalties from the resource sector despite declining fortunes and escalating public risk of footing the rehabilitation bill.

While providing environmental approval to Adani’s proposed Carmichael coal mine, Queensland Labor claim to be committed to the sustainable development of the Galilee Basin. Clearly, they’re working to their own definition of ‘sustainable’ and departing from their election commitment to ecologically sustainable development.

Further, Queensland Labor explicitly endorsed the international scientific consensus to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees. Yet opening up the Galilee with rail and port infrastructure and giving the green light to what would be one of the world’s largest coal mines is a business as usual approach sending the planet on a trajectory beyond 2 degrees of warming.

The last 12 months has seen a hamstrung government stall on many of its commitments. This failure to deliver is starkly highlighted by months of deplorable land clearing that has been allowed to continue across Queensland.

When elected 12 months ago, a key commitment of Labor was reversing the LNP’s changes to vegetation laws. These changes had allowed an area larger than the ACT to be cleared in Queensland from 2013 to 2014. This clearing contributed over 35 million tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere.

Deputy Premier Jackie Trad’s eventual announcement to end clearing late last year was welcome but as ever the devil is in the detail and the detail is yet to emerge on the proposed changes.

In contrast, Labor’s swift reinstatement of the ban on uranium mining in Queensland within weeks of coming to office should be applauded. This decision – along with the recent welcome rejection of any plans from Canberra for a radioactive waste dump in regional Queensland – means the Sunshine State has been spared a radioactive bullet.

Claims uranium will power the rest of the world out of its reliance on coal are misguided and in stark contrast with global energy trends. Both uranium and coal are non-renewable dirty fuels with poisonous by-products and unjust intergenerational legacies.

To their credit, the Palaszczuk government has approved new solar plants and wind farms within their first 12 months. Not one was given the green light under the LNP who wanted the words climate change removed from local government planning schemes.

Eventually, as it has with uranium, Queensland Labour will have to take a principled stand on coal – and when it does it will herald the start of the needed transition to a clean energy future.

Across a diverse range of sectors there are increasing numbers of voices speaking out against the use and export of fossil fuel. Climate change is the single most important issue facing current and future generations and will remain so for decades. Coal is tired and toxic energy and the way of the future is innovation, adaptation and in the new jobs and markets in the expanding renewable energy sector.

Queensland Labor’s first 12 months has seen mixed environmental messages and results. It is time now for the Government to re-set the compass and advance a positive environmental agenda that is not hostage to an aging and aching industrial sector.

Although it seems as though the Palaszczuk government realises the light on the hill is not coal fired, opening up the Galilee Basin will be anything but sustainable.

Andrew Picone is a Queensland-based campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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