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The Government’s War on the Environment

On Tuesday, the Abbott government delivered their much anticipated budget, putting an end to the age of ‘reckless spending’ and ‘entitlement’ and saving Australia from its path to economic destruction.

There were some winners.  The mining industry was generally happy with budget, finally rid of that pesky stamp duty and useless environmental regulations.  They even got to keep their much needed tax breaks and fuel subsidies, because paying tax can really eat into their billions of dollars of profits which is no good.

White Australia lovers also won big, with hundreds of millions of tax dollars committed to defending our borders, keeping those menacing asylum seekers from clogging up the highways of Western Sydney.

However, the budget delivered little good news for the young, poor, homeless, unemployed, disabled, indigenous, sick, refugees… pretty much everyone else.

Nor was it kind to the environment sector.  This was expected, with the budget reflecting the Abbott government’s relentless attack on science and the environment, raising legitimate concerns for the health of our most precious ecosystems.

Green groups have been united in criticising the deep cuts to funding and staff, and the removal of green tape, serving only to enable big business to pollute and destroy.  As Greens Leader Christine Milne says, “There is no plan for renewable energy jobs, just a tunnel vision for motorways and stranded fossil fuel assets that will be worthless to our economy within decades.”

Budget Losers

Amongst the environmental agencies abolished were the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the National Water Commission.  ARENA was created in July 2012 to support and boost clean energy production.  Legislation will now be introduced to dissolve it as an independent agency.

The National Water Commission will be closed in December 2014, with future cuts to the Murray-Darling Basin Authority flagged.  Chief executive of the Australian Water Association Jonathan McKeown says, “in a nation where water scarcity needs to be well managed, (the cuts) will reduce Australia’s ability to maximize the productive use of water.”

Many more agencies have had their funding slashed including carbon capture and storage programs, Landcare and the CSIRO.  The government’s $500 million plan for ‘One Million Solar Roofs’ was dumped.

The government cut funding to its own, and already watered-down, ‘Direct Action’ plan from $3 billion pre-budget to $1.1 billion.  They have instead assigned over $2.5 billion to their Emissions Reduction Fund, helping businesses to reduce their emissions which Greg Hunt says, “reaffirms the Government’s strong commitment to reducing Australia’s emissions by five per cent below 2000 by 2020.”

Any action on climate change is going to be rolled out even more slowly than expected.  Luckily, the world doesn’t need urgent action to avoid climate disaster.  Oh, wait… And with the abolition of the carbon tax, the cost of emissions reduction is being shifted from big polluters to the taxpayer.  Nice one.

The Great Barrier Reef will receive the $40 million promised in the election.  It will be invested in a new reef trust which will guide the management of the reef.  Together with the QLD Government and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the reef trust will implement the government’s Reef 2050 plan.

With the QLD Government being advised by the coal industry and the GBRMPA granting approval for industry to dump dredge spoil in reef waters, I am 100% content that our reef is in good hands.  In fact, the water will probably be in better nick than it was before mass industrialisation.

A small grant fund, a tiny but crucial $1.3 million program which supports over 150 enviro groups, was axed.  There was no warning about the cuts, which have left some small conservation groups facing closure.  “In effect, the cut undermines the effectiveness of grassroots, community-based conservation groups to engage with people where they live and to work with local councils and state governments.”  These groups are being silenced.

Most overwhelming is the 16,000 public service jobs expected to be axed following this budget.  The devastating losses flagged for environmental staff have left many wondering how the government expects it will effectively enforce environmental regulations.  With less resources to monitor industry, ensure compliance, report infringements and to punish offenders, it will be extremely difficult to keep the self-serving resources industry in check.

Numerous large scale mining projects have been approved by the government in the last six months.  It’s imperative that these dirty industries are rigorously scrutinised given their history of negligence and ecological damage.

A Repeat of the Gladstone Disaster?

Without adequate staffing and resources, experts are concerned that we are leaving Australia open to another Gladstone type ecological disaster.

The Gladstone community has demanded answers ever since an outbreak of dead and diseased fish, dugongs and turtles occurred following industrial dredging in the harbour.  Greg Hunt commissioned an independent review into Gladstone, which was released last Friday.  It exposed extensive negligence, and contained a series of recommendations to ensure that the disaster is never repeated in Australia.

Of particular interest in light of the budget, is the finding that there was insufficient allocation of government resources to adequately monitor the strict environmental conditions applied to the dredging project:

  • Finding 30:  “Insufficient resourcing for Department of the Environment monitoring compromised the Australian Government’s ability to adequately ensure compliance with its conditions of approval.”

The report goes on to recommend:

  • Recommendation 14:  “Resource levels within the department of the environmental should be sufficient to ensure adequate monitoring capacity, including for active participation in post-approval technical committees.”

Given these findings, why has the government slashed so many crucial environment jobs?  As Chief Research Scientist at JCU John Brodie asks, “On paper at least, numerous, stringent conditions have been set for environmental management at Abbot Point by our governments and GBRMPA… But will the Australian or Queensland governments have the skilled staff to adequately oversee all those conditions?”

 

We all knew it would be a tough budget, but the cuts have been extreme.  The government continues its war on the environment, but with every crooked decision they make or dodgy deal they sign, more and more Australians are galvanised into action.

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