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The environmental aftermath of Australia's Federal Election

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(Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons)

In the wake of the Federal Election, not much seems to have changed with the Government's stance on climate change, writes Sue Arnold.

SEMANTICS PLAYED a major role in the Federal Election. Climate change became “the environment” and “environment” was code for “greenie”, thus allowing shock jocks to crow over the “greenies vs rednecks” battles so typified by the Stop Adani convoy reception in Rockhampton.

The National Party environmental vandals were also happy to keep the message simple. In NP terms, protecting the environment means Left wing radical greenies running the country, losing your jobs and being forced to give up your ute.

The catastrophic loss of biodiversity was not discussed by Morrison, his ministers or mainstream media. Instead, the environmental focus was always on climate change, despite the release of the U.N. report indicating the looming loss of one million species and irrefutable evidence of the strong interrelationship.

The IPBES Assessment showed climate change has been identified as a primary driver of biodiversity loss, already altering every part of nature. Likewise, the loss of biodiversity contributes to climate change, for example when we destroy forests we emit carbon dioxide, the major “human-produced” greenhouse gas.

IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Watson, said:  

‘We cannot solve the threats of human-induced climate change and loss of biodiversity in isolation. We either solve both or we solve neither.’

Also adding:

“We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.”

“Biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people are our common heritage and humanity’s most important life-supporting ‘safety net’. But our safety net is stretched almost to breaking point,” said Professor Sandra Diaz, who co-chaired the Assessment.

Australia is home to between 600,000 and 700,000 native species, many of which are unique to Australia. More than 1,700 species and ecological communities are known to be threatened and at risk of extinction.

Evidence of why these ongoing catastrophic environmental crises are happening in Australia is not hard to find.

The Community and Public Sector Union's (CPSU) submission to the Senate Inquiry into faunal extinction detailed extraordinary criticism of the Federal Government’s environmental record. The union employs Department of the Environment staff who are responsible for enforcing the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

Australia also leads the world on mammal extinctions, with 27 confirmed extinctions since European settlement. In many cases, the follow-on impacts of extinction events are poorly understood, however, it is known that losing species out of ecosystems can have wide ranging ramifications for ecosystem function.

 

Despite this, there is a lack of effective monitoring and long-term reporting on biodiversity. It has been raised in every jurisdictional report and multiple other reports and papers as a major impediment to understanding the state and trends of Australian biodiversity.

 

Resources for managing and limiting the impact of key species mostly appear inadequate to arrest the declining status of many. New approaches and major reinvestments will be required across long timeframes to reverse deteriorating trends and prevent the accelerating decline in many species. This makes the role the Commonwealth plays in protecting biodiversity and conservation even more important.

Professor Hugh Possingham at a Sustainable Population Australia workshop in April at Griffith University underlined the ramifications of the Government’s failure to protect biodiversity:

“The key problem is simply that the EPBC act doesn’t work, 7 million plus hectares of habitat that contains listed species were destroyed without referral to the Federal Government.”

CPSU members were surveyed about the Commonwealth Government’s performance regarding faunal extinction.

93% thought the Government was doing poorly or very poorly in fulfilling international and domestic obligations in conserving threatened fauna.

87% believed the adequacy of Commonwealth environmental laws was poor and very poor.

Over 77.2% thought the Government was doing poorly or very poorly when it came to prioritising the protection of fauna and their habitat to prevent extinction.

In May 2018, department staff lost 60 full time staff from the Biodiversity and Conservation Division, nearly a third of the staff. Funding cuts have affected the department’s ability to support programs that protect critical habitats for threatened fauna and enforce environmental legislation.

As one CPSU member stated: 

More than 1,700 species of animals and plants are listed by the Australian Government as being at risk of extinction, yet Government deems it fit to reduce the number of staff in the threatened species section of the Department of Environment and Energy. About 85% of the country's plants, 84% of its mammals and 45% of its birds are found nowhere else, yet the Federal Government does nothing to stop the incessant clear felling in Queensland. Marine Protected Areas have become ‘Marine Parks’ where bottom trawling is allowed. The list goes on.

According to the Budget Statements, program expenses for the conservation of Australia’s heritage and environment shrank from $47.740 million in 2014-15 to a projected $35.745 million in 2021-22.

The Australian Academy of Science in their submission made the crises abundantly clear:

Given the vast majority of Australian species are unique to our continent and not found anywhere else on the planet, the Academy considers that ensuring the survival of these species is the responsibility of the Australian Government and the Australian people. Indeed, several extinct or threatened species represent significant parts of the tree of life.

 

The situation is especially dire for our globally unique mammals, 10% of which have become extinct since European colonisation and a further 21% now classified as threatened.

 

The major threatening processes in Australia today are invasive species, broad scale ecosystem modification, inappropriate fire management, habitat clearing for agriculture and climate change.

In spite of this IPBES report being published during the campaign, together with the considerable evidence provided to the Senate Inquiry into faunal extinction, Morrison managed to ignore all the findings.  

Was it because Melissa Price, his Environment Minister, didn’t brief Morrison? Or did he ignore the mountain of evidence ensuring that biodiversity loss was confined to the electoral closet? Will Morrison continue to ignore the mounting evidence?

Significant and successful efforts were made to ensure his Minister for the Environment was invisible, thus providing no target for any environmental questions. The mainstream media followed suit. Murdoch’s propaganda machine focused on creating division, eradicating wildlife and ensuring that anyone who mentioned forests, rivers or ecosystems was never given a centimetre of media space.

Not only was biodiversity a forbidden subject during the Election, a number of articles chastised any politician or member of the public who raised the issue of the PM’s Pentacostal faith. Yet his beliefs are critical to the future survival of Australia’s rapidly disappearing iconic wildlife.

In the Pentacostal statement of faith, the following can be found:

‘We believe the Bible, comprised of the Old and New Testaments, to be the inspired, infallible, and authoritative Word of God.’

This is what the Bible has to say about Creation:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the Earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

There’s little doubt that the PM is doing a great job of subduing the Earth, with potential Pentacostal members lurking in Sydney and Brisbane Premiers’ offices.

But the real question remains. How can any leader of an educated Western nation ignore the writing on the environmental wall? And at what cost to our children and their future survival?

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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