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As the Abbott Government’s first anniversary approaches, the Australian Conservation Foundation has taken a look back over the big decisions the government has made that affect Australia’s environment in the last 12 months.
ACF has released a list (below) of the Government’s ten most significant environment policy decisions in its first year – and sadly it’s all bad news for Australia’s unique nature.
“In its first year in office, the Abbott Government has failed its responsibility as steward of our natural environment,” said ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy.
“It has taken Australia in the wrong direction, damaging nature and our fragile climate.
“It has thrown out our most effective measures for cutting pollution, letting mining and energy companies pollute for free, causing climate change and ill health.
“It has weakened our environmental laws – nature’s vital safeguards – to pave the way for big business profits.
“Our elected leaders must step up to their responsibility as stewards of our magnificent environment – they are the people we entrust to protect the things we care about.
“This government is not making polluters pay; it is making nature pay – and that will leave us all with an unthinkable cost to bear,” said O’Shanassy.
Below are the Abbott Government’s ten most significant environment policy decisions in its first 12 months according to the ACF.
1. Repealing the price on pollution, allowing big businesses to pollute for free, making climate change more dangerous.
Climate change is the single biggest challenge Australia’s environment and economy faces. The carbon price reduced Australia’s pollution, helped our economy ‘decarbonise’ in line with international economies and helped bolster global action to cut pollution. Repealing a working national policy to address the most significant threat to our country is reckless and irresponsible. Experts do not believe the government’s Direct Action policy, intended to replace the price on pollution, is a reasonable replacement. Direct Action is hampered by fundamental design flaws that leave it inefficient, inflexible and unlikely to meet targets – if it manages to pass the Senate. As a result Australia has no effective climate change policy.
2. Attempting to delist Tasmanian World Heritage forests.
The Government’s request to the United Nations to delist 74,000 hectares of World Heritage listed Tasmanian forests put at risk one of the most spectacular forests in the world and 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. Thankfully, the UN rejected Australia’s proposal. If the plan had succeeded it would have set a disastrous precedent – a first world government failing to respect and protect its own world class asset, diminishing the effectiveness of the entire World Heritage to protect globally-significant environmental treasures.
3. Abolishing the Climate Commission and attempting to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, while maintaining a range of fossil fuel subsidies.
In the context of the billions of dollars the Federal Government spends on subsidising the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels (more than it contributes to public education) the investment in clean energy through the CEFC and ARENA is tiny. In fact the CEFC is a source of revenue to the Government, not a net expense. The Climate Commission was the body charged with providing accurate and relevant information about climate change to the public. The abolition of the Commission has limited the information Australians receive about climate change.
4. Reviewing the Renewable Energy Target.
The Renewable Energy Target helps drive investment in clean energy research, development and deployment. Over time it lowers power bills and pollution. Reviewing the RET has destabilised the clean energy industry, delayed billions of dollars’ worth of investment and put at risk continued investment, growth and jobs. The Abbott Government misled the Australian people during the election by saying it supported the popular Renewable Energy Target. A report released in August by the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Climate Institute and WWF-Australia, based on modelling by Jacobs, showed weakening or axing the RET would benefit the owners of polluting coal power plants, at the expense of households and industry development.
5. 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 potentially weaken Australia’s world-renowned network of marine reserves. The marine network and management plans were based on comprehensive scientific analysis and extensive community and stakeholder consultation. Now the Abbott Government has restarted the management planning process from scratch.
6. 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 plan to abdicate its duty to protect the environment will damage sites of environmental significance across the country, biodiversity and natural resources. It leaves state governments, which have financial interests in mining, logging and other damaging activities, in charge of our national treasures.
7. 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, where dredging for a new coal export terminal will damage coral, marine life and the tourism industry. The mine will take 297 billion litres from underground aquifers, causing a drop in water table levels on which local farmers rely. The mine will destroy a significant proportion of the remaining habitat of the endangered black-throated finch. When burnt, coal from the mine will release massive amounts of carbon, escalating climate change and air pollution.
8. Slashing spending on nature protection.
In its first Budget the Abbott Government cut $483.8 million from nature protection by replacing Caring for our Country and Landcare with a new, narrower National Landcare Program. It also cut Indigenous programs and the biodiversity fund. In total the first Abbott-Hockey Budget resulted in a $29.2 billion hit to the environment. This hit becomes a knock-out punch with the $34.1 billion the government is handing to Australia’s richest companies in fossil fuel subsidies.
9. Abolishing the National Water Commission.
Managing water scarcity is one of Australia’s biggest challenges, so the advice the government receives should be independent and of the highest order. Abolishing the NWC is a worrying move when considered in the context of the Abbott government’s agenda to fast-track resource extraction and dam-building in northern Australia and weaken environmental approval processes.
10. Defunding Environment Defenders’ Offices.
Environment Defenders’ Offices have for decades empowered local communities to take action to protect themselves and their environment from inappropriate developments and to hold decision makers to account. Defunding the EDOs means Australians are less able to speak up for themselves, ensure that the environments they value are looked after, and keep political decision makers honest.