Comment: The top 10 environmental mistakes made by the Abbott government

A woman carrying an poster is among about three thousand people gathered in Sydney's Hyde Park for a 'March in August' event, August 31, 2014. (Newzulu)

Once we're done with this one, there isn't exactly an entire universe to choose from.

In the 12 months since its election the Abbott Government’s reckless mismanagement of the environment has condemned Australians to a more polluted, sicker and less secure future.

There should be no reason why a conservative government cannot be a good manager of the environment. Creating more renewable energy and less dirty and dangerous pollution is good for blue bloods, comrades, PUP-pies and greenies alike.

Good management of the environment secures the natural life-support system upon which homes, cities and food-producing farms depend. These life-support systems are created by places we love and species we honour and respect.

The extremism of the Abbott Government sits awkwardly with the legacy of previous conservative governments.

It was Robert Menzies’ who signed the first Antarctic Treaty in 1960.  Malcolm Fraser first declared Kakadu a national park and signed an agreement with Japan to protect migratory bird species.

John Howard’s government established the National Greenhouse Inventory and National Carbon Accounting System and committed $10 billion to deal with national water security.

Only seven years ago, John Howard’s environment minister said: “...we all know that down the track, by mid-century, we’ll need to be in a world where all of our electricity and most of our energy comes from zero emission sources, we know that”. 

Contrast that pragmatic vision with the extreme and regressive approach of the Abbott Government towards the environment.

In the Abbott Government’s first year, we reckon these are the 10 worst examples:

Repealing the carbon price, leaving Australia without an effective climate change policy

The carbon price not only reduced Australia’s carbon pollution, it also helped bolster global action to cut pollution.  Repealing a working national policy to address the most significant threat to our country was a pointless backwards step.  Experts don’t think the government’s Direct Action policy will work.  Australia now has no effective national policy to address climate change.

Attempting to delist Tasmanian World Heritage forests

The government tried to have the United Nations delist 74,000 hectares of World Heritage listed Tasmanian forests.  It also took an axe to the historic ‘peace deal’ between conservationists and the timber industry.  The peace deal, delicately negotiated over two years, paved the way for a more sustainable future for the industry and the state.  The UN, thanks to the efforts of ACF and other conservation groups and our supporters, rejected Australia’s proposal.

Abolishing the Climate Commission and attempting to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA), while maintaining fossil fuel subsidies.

Each year the Federal Government spends more on subsidising the fossil fuels industry than on public education. In contrast, the investment in clean energy through the CEFC and ARENA is tiny.  And the CEFC makes money! The Climate Commission was the body charged with providing accurate and relevant information about climate change to the public.

Reviewing the Renewable Energy Target.

The Renewable Energy Target helps drive investment in clean energy research, development and deployment.  It lowers power bills and pollution. Reviewing the RET has de-stabilised the clean energy industry, delayed billions of dollars’ worth of investment and put at risk continued investment, growth and jobs.

Reviewing the network of national marine reserves

Despite the Coalition’s proud marine legacy under John Howard, who increased protection for the Great Barrier Reef and initiated the Marine Bioregional Planning process, the Abbott Government has sought to review and weaken Australia’s world-renowned network of marine reserves.

Handing national environmental approval powers to the state governments

Without national leadership, our national environmental treasures cannot be protected.  The EPBC Act is Australia’s key federal environment protection law. The Federal Government’s plans to pass off its duties to conflicted state governments is bad news for the environment, but great news for coal miners and coal seam gas developments.

Approving the Carmichael mine.

Carmichael will be Australia’s biggest mine and will come with disastrous impacts.  Coal from the Carmichael mine will be shipped through the Great Barrier Reef.  The mine will take 297 billion litres from underground aquifers and destroy habitat of the endangered black-throated finch.  When burnt, coal from the mine will release massive amounts of air pollution.

Slashing spending on nature protection.

$483.8 million has been cut from nature protection programs by replacing Caring for our Country and Landcare with a new, narrower National Landcare Program. 

Abolishing the National Water Commission.

The NWC provided independent assessments of government progress to manage water sustainably.  Its abolition will create more opportunities to fast-track resource extraction and dam-building in northern Australia and weaken environmental safeguards.

Defunding Environment Defenders’ Offices.

Defunding the EDOs means Australians are less able to speak up for themselves, ensure the environments they value are looked after and keep political decision makers honest.

A responsible government safeguards the life support systems on which we all depend for clean water, air and food.  A responsible government does not recklessly endanger them.

Our elected leaders must step up to their responsibility as stewards of Australia’s magnificent environment – they are the people we entrust to protect the things we care about.

Dr Paul Sinclair is director of environmental campaigns at the Australian Conservation Foundation.

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