You’ve probably heard a lot about how the Great Barrier Reef is in bad shape at the moment. It's been brought into sharp focus recently due to the upcoming Australian election, which is due to be held this weekend. So, with the vote just days away, here’s your quick #AusVotes guide to the reef...
The reef is fucked, you guys.
Earlier this year scientists announced that the reef is going through a severe coral bleaching event the likes of which the world has never seen before.
Since then, it’s been a steady drip feed of terrible, terrible news. Scientists say the bleaching is due to rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change, and more than 22% of corals on the reef are now dead.
They fear that without urgent action, bleaching events will become more frequent, meaning the reef will never fully recover, and we may lose one of the Earth’s greatest natural wonders.
So what are Australia’s major parties doing about it? Let’s take a look...
The Coalition is really proud of its work on the reef, which is widely regarded as the best managed coral reef in the world. Last year, the federal and Queensland state governments managed to work together to keep the reef off UNESCO’s "in danger" list. But since then, it’s been nothing but bad news.
In the May Budget, the government committed $171 million to helping the reef, but that announcement was criticised by environmental groups because it isn’t "new" money - it's just money diverted from other environmental programs.
Facing criticism for not taking the threat to the reef seriously, the government then announced a ~ $1 billion ~ package for the reef. That money would be spread over 10 years, and again, it would also come from other environmental programs - in this case, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which the government has twice tried to shut down.
The money will be spent on initiatives to fix water quality, like preventing runoff from agricultural land, which does heaps of damage to the reef. What scientists really want is an end to coal mining in Australia, but don't hold your breath for that.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten has pledged $500 million over five years for the reef, which works out to be $100 million a year, just like the Coalition is promising. The money will go towards improving water quality and scientific research, so it’s quite similar to the Coalition's plan. And don’t expect Labor to announce an end to coal mining any time soon, either.
The real difference is in climate change policy, which experts say will make the biggest difference to the reef.
Labor wants to have 50% renewable energy by 2030 (the Coalition's target 20% by 2020) and introduce an emissions trading scheme, which it says would see carbon emissions cut to by 55% on 2005 levels by 2030. The government’s aim is to cut emissions by just 26–28% on 2005 levels by 2030.
The Greens want 90% renewable energy by 2030 and believe that no new coal mines should be built in Australia - including the Adani coal mine and the expansion of the Abbot Point mine, which are both planned for Queensland.
In terms of direct spending on the reef, the Greens want to chuck $2 billion over five years at it - that’s about $300 million a year more than the major parties. The money would be spent on water quality, land management and a fund to help farmers transition to low polluting methods.
What do the experts say?
The Australian Marine Conservation Society and the World Wildlife Fund have teamed up to give the three parties a pre-election scorecard for their election policies. This is what it looks like:
The group said the Coalition’s $1 billion pledge is “rebadged money”, with little detail to explain exactly how it will help the reef. The group welcomed Labor’s policies, but said they do not go far enough.
“This election, the reef was a top five issue for the first time, and yet this generation of political leaders has yet to step up to reflect the concerns of the vast majority of Australians,” WWF Australia CEO Dermot O’Gorman said.
“Despite the devastating coral bleaching event unfolding before our eyes, unfortunately in this election neither major party delivered the urgent funding needed to arrest the reef’s downward trajectory.
Meanwhile, the Australian Conservation Foundation has also released an environmental scorecard, giving the Greens 95 out of 100 and Labor 62 out of 100.
The Coalition scored a dismal 14 out of 100.
“It’s unacceptable for the incumbent government to run a small target strategy on climate change – the biggest issue facing our nation,” ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said.
“In a year when 93% of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by coral bleaching – a direct result of warmer than usual waters – voters expect the people who want to represent them in parliament to have strong plans to get Australia off coal, onto renewables and to make our energy systems much more efficient.”