Environment protections dead in the water

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

Anti-environmentalism is rampant and our political leaders should scare the hell out of us, writes Sue Arnold.

THE ENVIRONMENT has sunk to the bottom of political focus. 

We’re living in the best and the worst of times. As pollution lifts its black cloud off the planet and Mother Nature dances in the empty bushlands, parks and streets, there’s a sense of joyfulness.

It’s little wonder that people flock to the beach illegally. Or go for illicit walks in national parks, or take the tinnie out for a quick fish. As a nation, we love nature. Or do we?

Let’s take a look at the messages from our leaders. Given the forces of darkness attempting to drown the environment as an issue, once and for all, it’s worth investigating the leadership messages currently driving this nation.

In April, Minister for Resources, Water and Northern Australia Keith Pitt said “cashed-up activists” should not be able to hold up developments that have been approved by a government agency “simply because they can afford to”.

Pitt’s comments followed comments by Environment Minister Sussan Ley, who announced that if she could, she would introduce “early pieces of legislation” to parliament to “really get moving with reforming and revitalising one of our signature pieces of environmental legislation”.

Eyebrows were raised by many, given that the ten-year review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Act (EPBC) has not been completed, yet the Minister appears happy to ignore any potential findings. Yet another example of the "tick a box" policy adopted by state and federal governments in lieu of actually doing anything.

The review is merely a required cover for the Morrison Government’s dedication to getting rid of "green tape" and speeding up project approvals.

A curious anomaly between the EPBC review and the provisions in the EPBC Act, which dictate the terms of reference of the mandated ten-year review, has been ignored at every level. 

The terms of reference for the review state: 

In accordance with section 522A of the EPBC Act, the review will examine:

  1. the operation of the Act, and
  2. the extent to which the objects of the Act have been achieved.

There is no mention of "getting rid of green tape”.

In November 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison described environmental protesters as “anarchists” and threatened a radical crackdown on the right to protest in a speech claiming progressives are seeking to “deny the liberties of Australians”.

In a speech to the Queensland Resources Council, the PM said a threat to the future of mining was coming from a “new breed of radical activism” and signalled the Government would seek to apply penalties to those targeting businesses who provide services to the resources industry.

The New York Times reported in November that a surge of climate activism is flooding Australia as the country falls behind on its promise to reduce emissions. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has responded with a threat that has alarmed scientists and free speech advocates, stating that the Government should outlaw “indulgent and selfish efforts by environmental groups to rattle businesses with rallies and boycotts”.

Morrison said:

“New threats to the future of the resources sector have emerged. A new breed of radical activism is on the march. Apocalyptic in tone. It brooks no compromise. It’s all or nothing.”

Deputy PM Michael McCormack on ABC Radio National disparaged the ravings of people he categorised as

“...pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies.”

These being the people who dared to link the catastrophic bushfires with climate change.

According to McCormack, climate change protestors in Melbourne were getting “way too much publicity; they crave and they yearn for that”.

These people, he went on, were “inner-city raving lunatics".

And then there’s Barnaby.

According to Crikey:

During his period as Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce halted any efforts to improve animal welfare standards in live exports, expunged animal welfare from his department and degraded existing protections. And his department of Agriculture has followed his example...


Before the end of 2013, Joyce also killed off the Australian Animal Welfare Advisory Committee, silencing one of the few institutional voices for animal welfare within the agricultural bureaucracy at the federal and state levels.

In September 2019, Liberal Senator Eric Abetz compared The Conversation to Hitler, Stalin and Mao, after it announced a zero-tolerance approach to climate change deniers.

The academic news and analysis website reported it would remove comments and lock accounts that put forward those views, outraging the Tasmanian Senator, who told Parliament:

“Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong couldn’t have put it better themselves. They’d be so proud...
To so superciliously and arrogantly deny a voice to an alternative point of view is reminiscent of totalitarian regimes.“

Apparently, Abetz is happy to be a champion for climate change deniers but there’s no recognition of the zero tolerance for environmental issues adopted by the Coalition Government in which he serves. It may also have slipped his mind that his great-uncle was Hitler’s ambassador to Paris and a convicted Nazi war criminal.

Not wishing to omit state leaders, it’s hard to go past NSW Deputy Premier and National Party Leader John Barilaro.   

Last year, Barilaro introduced the country’s toughest penalties on activists who invade farms to document animal cruelty, commenting:

'Vigilantes who are entering our farmers' property illegally are nothing short of domestic terrorists. They don't deserve, nor have time, to be dealing with illegal trespass and vile harassment from a bunch of virtue-signalling thugs.'

Apparently, this action by Barilaro was in support of Federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management David Littleproud, who had accused state governments of doing “bugger all” to stop animal activists invading farms.

No focus on the appalling evidence of animal cruelty was mentioned.

Barilaro wanted to remove protection from the Murray Valley National Park and open its 42,000 hectares to logging of river red gum forests.

In 2018, the Turnbull Government introduced legislation designed to allow the use of the military to break up protests, assisting the state police forces with public incidents.

According to Sydney Criminal Lawyers, the new legislation also allows the PM and other authorised ministers to send in the troops when state authorities haven’t requested assistance, but Commonwealth interests are at stake. And it provides the Australian Defence Force with enhanced search capabilities and limited shoot-to-kill powers.

Meantime, In October 2019, new anti-protest laws were pushed through in Queensland, which threaten sentences of up to two years in prison for using “lock-on” devices to disrupt transport or hinder business in Queensland. Under this law, police also have the power to search anyone they reasonably suspect is in possession of a lock-on device. The legislation, justified on “public safety grounds” was reportedly drafted in consultation with the State’s key mining industry lobby.

Not to be outdone, the Right to Farm Bill 2019 in NSW increases the penalty for "aggravated unlawful entry on inclosed lands" from $5,500 to $22,000. It also adds a three-year prison term for people who merely "hinder" a business while trespassing.

Says Emily Howie, Legal Director at the  Human Rights Law Centre

“These laws are so broad they could see knitting nannas slapped with $22,000 fines or even gaol just for protesting to protect farmland from gas exploration.”

In a world where words are important and leadership increasingly non-existent, Australians need to be aware that President Trump is not alone in his madness. Anti environmentalism is rampant and our own political leaders should scare the hell out of us.

Sue Arnold is an IA columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.

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