Happy World Environment Day PM… Now Put Down That Axe


Today is World Environment Day – the United Nation’s annual reminder that conservation is an international effort.

Sadly, it’s a way of thinking that seems to be escaping our current Prime Minister.

This week Barack Obama told his people, "As a president, as a father, and as an American, I am here to say we need to act," when announcing strong action to cut carbon pollution.

In dire contrast, last week Tony Abbott told his buddies at the Minerals Industry dinner that:

“It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental  problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold.”

That’s right, this is the Tony Abbott who campaigned on the lie that a price on carbon paid by the big polluters would impoverish families. What he really meant was that he didn’t like it because it would paint his mining magnate mates in a bad light and because it would work – it would keep fossil fuels in the ground.

The Prime Minister immediately went on to say, “Well, really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future."

Well Prime Minister, it seems that the rest of the world, especially China and the US, can.

With your complete disregard for science, exemplified by your crippling cuts to the CSIRO, your decision not to have a science minister and the fact that you’ve made it cost tens of thousands of dollars more to study science; perhaps it’s not surprising that you refuse to see it.

Climate change, Prime Minister, is more damaging to our future than unburnt coal.

Your attempts to repeal the carbon price, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which are both lowering emissions and making money, are far more damaging to our future than keeping coal in the ground.

So too are your attempts to defund the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Climate Commission, and your decision to put climate sceptic Dick Warburton in charge of the Renewable Energy Target Review.

And, on World Environment Day especially, I can think of quite a few more things that are more damaging for our future than letting your big mining buddies get off scot free without having to pay for their pollution.

There’s your plan to hand hard-won federal environmental approval powers back to state governments, who have let Coal Sean Gas extraction run rampant and have threatened our national parks with shooting, logging, mining and grazing. 

There’s your attempt to remove protection for old growth Tasmanian forests, much to the alarm of the World Heritage Committee, so that these ancient trees, some of the world’s oldest, can be logged in the place of plantation forests.

There’s your approval of the world’s largest coal port in the Great Barrier Reef, which will see five million tonnes of dredge spoil dumped into this World Heritage Area, which is already on the brink of being listed as World Heritage ‘In Danger’.

Then there’s your attempt to silence dissent to your attacks on our environment by completely removing federal funding for Environmental Defenders’ Offices.

And the list goes on… your cuts to the environment department, undermining its ability to check whether mining companies are complying with their environmental conditions; scrapping grants for long-standing voluntary environment organisations; dismantling our national marine reserve network and leaving the Murray-Darling Basin with less water to face the next drought.

Oh, and how could we forget, your words to foresters: “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.”

For the record, our national parks, which you like to call “locked up forest”, only make up four per cent of the country and our nature-based tourism industry contributes $23 billion to our economy every year.

In fact, Australia’s environment provides us with more than a $1.5 trillion a year through ecosystem services, such as clean water, clean air, nutrient cycles and crop pollination.

But our environment is worth so much more than a dollar value – it’s too precious to lose.  And even though our Prime Minister doesn’t respect that, the community does.

We saw this just a few weeks ago in Bentley in Northern New South Wales, after passionate community members stood together to protect their land, water and climate, which underpin their livelihoods, from unconventional gas.

I was honoured to go and visit to congratulate them on their win. There, surrounded by so much community spirit and goodwill for future generations and the planet, it was just so obvious how out of touch Tony Abbott is with how Australians feel about our environment and climate. 

World Environment Day is a time to celebrate our iconic Australian plants, animals and precious places. It’s also a time to celebrate that community spirit, which despite his continual attacks on the environment, Tony Abbott can’t touch.

* Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson on the environment.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.