Tony Abbott’s government has been described as the most hostile to his nation’s environment in history. Here’s why people are pissed off.
1. One of Australia’s most stunning natural wonders - the Great Barrier Reef - will have a section of its ocean bed ripped up to create a coal shipping lane.
Under the Abbott government, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has given the go-ahead for three million cubic metres of ocean bottom to be dredged and dumped within the World Heritage area to open a new shipping route.
2. A reef that was already vulnerable thanks to a number of environmental threats.
Threats such as agricultural runoff, increased ocean acidity and rises in ocean temperatures scientists believe is caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal. Rising temperatures leads to coral bleaching. Worse feedback loop ever. A study released by the Australian Institute of Marine Science found the reef has lost half its coral cover in the last three decades.
3. Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given the nod to several vast new coal mines in the Galilee Basin, Queensland.
Altogether the Alpha coal project and Kevin’s Corner in the Galilee Basin will emit 3.7bn tonne of CO2-e once burned over their 30 year lifetime, according to estimates by The Guardian. Clive Palmer’s Galilee Basin mine, China First, will release an estimated 3bn tonne of CO2-e over a 37 year period, according to a report by UTS and Greenpeace. Environmentalists are alarmed at the potential impact on groundwater levels and water pollution, and destruction of the local environment, home to koalas and endangered bird species.
4. Meanwhile upset residents living near NSW’s Maules Creek mine walked away empty handed from their meeting with Hunt.
A heated blockade is taking place with local residents and activists, including members of the indigenous Gomeroi people, protesting against coal seam gas mining and the open cut mine at Maules Creek. According to the National Indigenous Times, a recent meeting with Hunt left the participants, “feeling ‘deflated’ and without even a ‘message to take back’ to their Elders.” The mining threatens 8,000 hectares of bushland known as the Leard State Forest, which houses critically endangered Box-Gum Woodland and several other threatened animal species.
5. In January, following a Federal exemption from environmental laws, Western Australia began a controversial shark culling program.
According to the ABC, “Since the cull began in January, 104 sharks - 30 of them more than three metres - have been caught on the drum lines.” The policy only allows for sharks larger than 3 metres to be killed, and continues despite a 6,000 person rally, 23,000 public submissions to the Environmental Protection Authority, and the danger this practice poses to endangered Great Whites.
6. Plans to create the world’s largest network of marine reserves have been suspended indefinitely.
According to the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the suspended marine park plans, which were intended to come into effect on July 1 of this year, are the result of “15 years of extensive scientific investigation and the most thorough public consultation process in Australia’s history”. Greg Hunt told the Sydney Morning Herald his department has begun its own review of how to best manage marine ecosystems.
7. The Abbott government is applying to have 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian forest removed from World Heritage listing.
It’s a move that’s been called unprecedented, coming less than a year since the World Heritage Committee approved an 170,000-hectare extension of the existing boundary under the previous government. The Abbott government’s justification is that the forest area in question is too degraded to be worthy of protection - a view strongly challenged by the Wilderness Society.
8. Australia is apparently “open for business”. And just to make that clear: “open for business for the forestry industry.”
So said Abbott in his recent address at the 2014 ForestWorks dinner. He then went on to describe Greg Hunt as a man “who appreciates that the environment is meant for man and not just the other way around.” Nor does Abbott support the creation of any more national parks, saying: “We have quite enough national parks, we have quite enough locked up forests already. In fact, in an important respect, we have too much locked up forest.”
9. Our $74.6 million dollar contribution to global environment programs last year has been slashed to $0 this year.
As part of a $650 million reduction in the foreign aid budget.
10. Environment Minister Greg Hunt was a no-show at the Warsaw climate talks.
Instead Australia sent lower level representatives to November’s talks, whose behaviour raised the ire of other diplomats. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the complaints ranged from “Australian representatives moving to block any parts of the conference negotiating text to the delegates wearing T-shirts and giggling during the talks.”
11. Dick Warburton, a confirmed sceptic of man-induced climate change, has been selected to head the review of the Renewable Energy Target.
The prominent Australian businessman told The Australian he was sceptical that “man-made carbon dioxide is creating global warming,” and previously quoted a thoroughly debunked petition to back up his view. The Renewable Energy Target is designed to deliver 20 percent of Australia’s electricity from renewable sources by 2020, and is likely to be watered down by the Abbott government.
12. And Warburton is not the only climate sceptic in Abbott’s inner circle.
Maurice Newman is the current chairman of the Prime Minister’s Business Advisory Council and has previously discussed the so-called “climate change establishment” in conspiratory terms, claiming that they are colluding with the U.N. and the media in a “scientific delusion”.
13. Abbott himself has scoffed at 25 years of scientific research linking Australia’s increased fire activity to climate change.
When the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figueres linked global climate change to increasing heatwaves, the PM responded by saying she was “talking through her hat”. Perhaps he meant a hat lined with multiple studies that back up her statement, from both Australian and international institutes?
14. The Prime Minister also seems determined to indulge anti-wind crusaders’ hypochondria.
As reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Abbott government has already committed to further study on wind farms and health, despite the fact that recent studies from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council have failed to find reliable or consistent evidence that wind farms directly cause human health problems.
15. In one of the Abbott government’s first acts after coming into power last year, we waved “goodbye” to the Climate Commission.
The independent body of experts was setup to communicate to the public the effects of climate change on Australia. Following the axing, the experts quickly reformed as the privately funded Climate Council.
16. Now get ready for a possible “adieu” to the Climate Change Authority…
Another independent statutory body established by the last government to advise on climate policy with particular regards to emissions reductions. The CCA is facing closure when the new Senate sits in July, with its fate decided by a tiny group of independents. Last month the body released a report recommended Abbott boost the current emissions reduction target of 5% by 2020 to 19% (from 2000 levels) - a recommendation that is more than likely to be completely and emphatically ignored.
17. A possible “all the best” to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation…
The CEFC is Australia’s billion-dollar “green bank”, which since last July has been investing in clean energy projects, like solar panels and wind farms. Its fate will also be determined by the new sitting Senate house come July.
18. And a “nice knowing you” to the carbon tax.
Abbott’s move to repeal the carbon tax was recently knocked down in the Senate. But when the new Senate sits in July, independent members (such as those from mining magnate Clive Palmer’s Palmer United Party) will hold the balance of power. The tax was a much contested scheme brought in by the last Gillard Labor government, and charges polluters around $25 per tonne of carbon emissions.
19. $435 million is to be cut from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency budget.
Last year Australian Conservation Foundation campaigner Tony Mohr told the Sydney Morning Herald that the cuts to the agency, which is designed to fund renewable energy projects and research, “will starve research and development of clean energy in Australia, moving us to the back of the global race for clean tech.”
20. Hey mining companies, here’s $2 billion per year for petrol money!
Under the fuel tax credit scheme, each Australian taxpayer is handing over $182 to the mining companies, in the form of a 32c per litre discount on fuels such as petrol and diesel for off-road use. Altogether the Abbott government is providing $10 billion per year in subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
21. And now Abbott seems intent on washing his hands of future projects by handing back environmental power to the states and territories.
Abbott says his new “one-stop shop” for environmental assessment cuts down the “green tape” for developers, allowing the states and territories to take on sole responsibility for approval of projects, including mines and ports. As reported in The Guardian, this has the Greens questioning the commitment of state powers to protecting the environment. Time will tell what impact this will have on risky businesses such as coal seam gas.
The office of Environment Minister Greg Hunt has been contacted for comment.