Environment Opinion

Coalition's callous neglect evident in disastrous 'State of the Environment'

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Former Environment Minister Sussan Ley and her colleagues have failed the environment (image via YouTube)

The recently released 'State of the Environment' report illustrates the mismanagement and neglect of the environment under the former Morrison Government, writes Belinda Jones

THE FEDERAL Election has come and gone and the dust has settled. The 47th Parliament is eager to start next week. There will be ceremony and tradition, speeches from nervous new members and senators, a gathering of kindred spirits, new friends, old friends and adversaries. It's an exciting time for democracy, to be sure.

Since the 2022 Election, Australia’s new Federal ministers have been forensically picking through their inheritance and they’re discovering things are worse than they thought.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine King was scathing in her description of former Infrastructure Minister, Barnaby Joyce. Minister King was “shocked” to discover “shameful” decisions that left her with a “substantial mess”.

Minister King said:

“I just think they did not care.”

Last Tuesday, Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released the 'State of the Environment' report and delivered an address to the National Press Club that same day.

Minister Plibersek was equally as scathing of her predecessor as King had been of hers, perhaps more so. Plibersek’s predecessor, Sussan Ley, was deserving of criticism.

With barely concealed contempt, Plibersek told the audience that the 'State of the Environment' report had sat gathering dust on Ley’s desk since last December. Its contents revealed a desperate situation of decline on every measure. The authors of the report had urged the former Environment Minister to act with urgency and publish it.

At the Press Club, Minister Plibersek said:

“As Professor Emma Johnston told the Sydney Morning Herald in April: ‘We have put a huge amount of effort and hard yakka into this, and we really hope the report can be used for long term planning, immediate action, for changing our investments … but we can’t start that work until the report is released’. I agree."

Ley ignored them. Just as Morrison had ignored the fire chiefs before the catastrophic 2019-20 bushfires. A whole series of Australians, eminently qualified in their respective fields, had beat a successive path to the door of the former government, pleading with them to act to protect our environment.

The Morrison Government handed down the Federal Budget on 29 March 2022 and they took Australians to an election on 21 May 2022 while refusing to publish this important report, ensuring Australians went to the polls without this crucial information to inform their vote. Information deliberately kept from us all. Australians were lied to by omission. 

All the while, Ley rejected calls to release the report while simultaneously appealing a previous court decision that found 'she had a duty of care to protect young people from the climate crisis when assessing fossil fuel developments'

She was re-elected — convincingly.

This is despite her safe seat of Farrer being a rural community that fundamentally relies on a healthy environment and water for its very existence.

The seat of Farrer has only ever had four MPs, three Liberal and one National. Ley’s predecessor was former Deputy Prime Minister, Tim Fischer. Year after year, the good people of Farrer have voted conservatively. And year after year, their elected representatives have made decisions that have resulted in the 'State of the Environment' report that we read this week.

This report should send seismic shockwaves through the most conservative of voters’ hearts and make them fundamentally reassess if their political ideology is conducive to their lifestyle.

During election campaigns, we often wonder why people vote the way they do. Some voters embrace change, some don’t. Some seats prefer the certainty of more of the same rather than risk change. Farrer is one of those seats. Maranoa in QLD is too.

It has taken years to convince some MPs to act on climate change, some are still not convinced, despite everything. The climate debate is over, deniers lost and instead of accepting defeat gracefully, rolling up their sleeves and pitching in to help, they send out Hollie Hughes and Matt Canavan to do their media.

Meanwhile, Australians are now reading the 'State of the Environment' report and Sussan Ley hasn’t been seen or heard from in days. 

The 'State of the Environment' report is to the environment what the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety Interim Report 'A Shocking Tale of Neglect' was to aged care. A damning indictment of incompetence, at best; a blueprint for willful neglect, at worst.

A benevolent voter would dismiss this duo of scathing reports as mere happenstance, but then we remember King’s words “substantial mess” and “shameful”.  There is a theme here that goes beyond incompetence from the previous custodians of these portfolios, as Plibersek said at the National Press Club on Tuesday, “willful neglect”

The root of apathy is an inability to connect the dots between political decisions and their implications.

The 'State of the Environment Report' connects the dots. Seldom are the dots connected so obviously. Its contents and its delay in being released should be a dealbreaker for even the most loyal rural voter who is wholly dependent on water and the environment for their survival. And that’s all of them.

The 'State of the Environment Report' is 'a new 2,000-page document of evidence' cataloguing the holistic and cumulative effect of years of poor decision making on a wide front, non-decision making, ignoring experts, failing to keep critical environmental legislation abreast of the times and allowing it to fall into a state of impotency.

The Nationals, Sussan Ley and others have long claimed to be the champions of the bush. Champions don’t destroy, they protect and in that moral duty the Nationals, Sussan Ley and others have failed catastrophically.

To be fair, when in government the Coalition has long used pork-barrelling to make voters think their representatives were truly working for them. Former NSW Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the quiet part out loud when she told the NSW ICAC pork-barreling was “regular political activity” and revealed pork-barreling as a systemic culture of thinking rather than the shenanigans of the odd rogue decision-making Minister.

The Coalition made pork-barreling a colour-coded spreadsheet art form. 

At the end of the day, nice new sporting stadiums are great but really, it’s just putting make-up on a rotting corpse. The fundamental duty of the government to protect the lives and livelihoods of their constituents has been neglected at the expense of sandbagging the next election for the comfortable incumbent. No bloody wonder they sat on the report.

In 2019 and 2020, then Agriculture Minister David Littleproud announced invitation-only grants for $23.7 million to combat weeds and pests. At the time, the Courier Mail interviewed a farming couple from Iredale about their pest problem.

I was reminded of a Twitter thread I did about pests and weeds back in November 2020 when I was reading the 'pressures' section of the report. Long story short, in that round of funding, former Minister Littleproud bestowed upon his electorate the lion’s share of that pest and weed funding, to the tune of $9.3 million. Barnaby Joyce’s electorate came a distant second on $2.8 million. 

 Despite Littleproud acknowledging weeds and pests being a widespread problem and Farrer being prime, nation-feeding agricultural land with a major pest and weed problem, Farrer got nothing in that round. 

That lovely couple from Iredale? Iredale is in the electorate of Wright, which shares a boundary with Maranoa. But their next-door neighbours in Wright didn’t get a cent in that round of funding. Despite that, the incumbent "champion-of-the-bush" was re-elected.

The report says pests and weeds have worsened in Farrer and Wright. Are the dots connecting now?

Next week, Australians will witness all the pomp and pageantry of a new Parliament, oaths and affirmations will be said, it will be round one in a three-year battle of wits and stamina. 

Politicians of the 47th Parliament are the authors of their own destiny and the architects of their own failure or success. When future voters connect the dots, let’s hope they find surprisingly better outcomes than the legacy current voters and the Albanese Ministry are discovering from their predecessors.

You can follow Belinda Jones on Twitter @belindajones68.

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