Environment correspondent Sandi Keane says that, to get elected, Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu deceived Victorian voters into thinking he was a moderate. In just 12 months, he has gone a long way towards scrapping the state’s natural heritage.
“…in the end, our society will be defined not only by what we create, but what we refuse to destroy.”
~ US veteran environment campaigner and conservationist, John C. Sawhill.
In less than a year of conservative government in Victoria, the scales have fallen off the eyes of those voters who thought that a vote for Ted Baillieu in the 2010 state election would shore up the last vestiges of ‘small-l’ liberalism in Australia.
In the weeks leading up to the election, progressive community leaders exhorted voters to vote for Baillieu.
“Reject the last of the Liberal progressives and the conservatives will take over”
warned Dr Leslie Cannold, author, ethicist and president of Pro-Choice Victoria.
The idea that a vote for Labor would spell the end of the small-l Liberal Party as we once knew it was a refrain taken up by many, including traditional Labor voters. In the hip haunts of Melbourne’s burgeoning Slayer espresso design-shrines, the politically savvy intellectualised over their single origin ristrettos that voting for Baillieu would somehow hold back the barbarians at the gate — those Mad Monks or, even worse, the mega-mad Moncktons. Baillieu, as Premier, would stem the tide of anti-intellectual, anti-environment, anti-progressive, Tea Party-styled converts that were devouring the soul of the once progressive Liberal Party.
Comparisons were made with that much loved and admired Liberal Premier, Sir Rupert Hamer, whose legacy to the environment included strengthening the Environment Protection Authority and the creation of Melbourne’s famed green wedges. The Hamerite Liberal tradition of the 70’s would be brought back to life by his reincarnate, Ted Baillieu. All Victorians would benefit. Labor had been in long enough. Let’s think long-term here. And so on, or so we thought.
How naïve. In less than 12 months, those expectations are now in tatters.
The word “eco” in “economy” means the same as the “eco” in “ecology”. It means “home”. To quote eco-warrior, David Suzuki:
“...we are the environment. What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves. But what we have done is elevate the economy above ecology.”
It’s hard to know where to start on the transformation of Ted Baillieu from the champion of small-l liberalism to the worst environment Premier on record.
Conservative politics these days displays little conscience about robbing future generations of their heritage. Suzuki rightly calls this an “intergenerational crime”. He’s issued us with a challenge to find a way to throw such leaders into jail because what they do is a crime against both the environment and their own grandchildren. In a perfect world, where greedy multinationals and powerful media moguls like Rupert Murdoch were unable to corrupt the democratic process, this might be possible.
It isn’t, nor is it ever likely to be.
But we can do more to hold our leaders to account.
We’ve seen what a fizzer of a plan it was to allow cattle grazing in the fragile, heritage-listed Alpine National Park under the guise of scientific research into fire control. The research claim was revealed as a con. The National Parks Association compared it to ''…the terrestrial version of Japan's scientific whaling''. This clumsily handled political sop to a small posse of coalition-voting cattlemen gave the Federal Labor government a free kick when it intervened to protect the park.
In spite of the evidence that the study was a sham, Baillieu is yet to abandon his plans to repeat the exercise even in the face of new legislation planned by the Federal Labor government to stop cattle grazing, mining and logging in National Parks.
How is destroying the fragile mosses, lichens and bogs of a heritage listed National Park a positive benefit for Victorians? Could he do that in NSW? No way.
So, cattle are OK in National Parks but not so wind farms. Draconian new legislation, Amendment VC82, prohibits wind farms from being constructed in National Parks, near the coast or any area thought to have “environmental value”.
The earlier Amendment VC78 by the Baillieu government already gave local councils the power to reject wind farms. Interestingly, if you read through the legislation, you’ll see that the designated “no go” zones for wind farms are the very same areas of the state singled out by the Landscape Guardians whose agenda appears to be stopping wind farms from replacing coal fired power. For more facts on the Guardian’s phony health claims, their links to the mining industry and the climate skeptics in the Liberal Party, read here.
Investment in renewables in this state is now in freefall. The loss to the Victorian economy is expected to be around $3 billion from wind farms alone. In the same week, Energy Minister, Michael O’Brien, announced the virtual end of solar investment and manufacture in this state. Energy conscious residents who installed solar panels on the promise that the cost would be offset by a 60 cent feed-in-tariff have now seen this cut to 25 cents.
What incentive is there now for anyone in Victoria to go solar? What a backwater this state has become in less than 12 months.
Having just returned from Europe where wind farms are accepted everywhere and growth in both wind and solar on the rise, the comparison between our backward looking conservative politicians in Australia and the progressive conservative governments in Europe couldn’t be more striking.
Any idea that Baillieu will honour Victoria’s legislated 20% reduction in Co2 emissions by 2020 also appears dead and buried with Baillieu and his Ministers now calling the target “aspirational”.
So who is benefiting from the Baillieu government’s assault on the environment?
Big Mining. In spades.
The mining industry has been repaid handsomely for the millions of dollars it contributes to the Liberal Party through “blind” trusts. Until Australians demand total transparency on political donations, vested interests will continue to dictate their own agenda with the following dire consequences:
On March 3 this year, The Age reported that a controversial scheme to mine and export brown coal (regarded as today’s asbestos and shelved by the Brumby government in 2009) had been dusted off by the Baillieu government. When Big Mining saw the coming bonanza with the election of the Baillieu government, it responded with a flurry of activity.
Hundreds of brown coal mining leases have now been issued by this government for the very areas out of bounds to wind farms — coastal regions and areas of significant environment value….Oh, and Victoria’s prime agricultural land, as Phil Piper, president of the Mirboo North Landcare Group and owner of a property in rolling green hills of South Gippsland discovered, via an article in The Age. It would appear that the company, Mantle Mining, was granted a licence by the Baillieu government this year to explore for coal over 19,000 hectares at Mirboo North. According to Piper, no-one knew about it as no applications were ever advertised, a legal requirement.
If there is one thing we all agree on, it is the need to preserve prime agricultural land for food production. Heaven knows, there’s little of it in Australia.
The overriding advantage of wind farms is that agricultural production or grazing can continue unimpeded. Open-cut coal mines can never be converted to agricultural land and coal seam gas wells are notorious for leaking toxic chemicals into aquifers. For a comprehensive look at the CSG industry, check the excellent series on Independent Australia.
How any government in this day and age could, in good conscience, destroy precious prime agricultural land to mine a dirty commodity like brown coal, a designated sunset industry, is testament to the power that Big Mining has over conservative governments in Australia. Just as the mining mafia funds the Institute of Public Affairs to spruik its anti-global warming propaganda and support phony astroturf groups like the Landscape Guardians to stop windfarms replacing coal, so it funds the Liberal Party to ensure maximum profits flow to the pockets of its CEOs and Directors living outside Australia.
By far the most egregious example of an intergenerational crime coupled this time with cronyism is the massive EL4416 lease to Ignite Energy Resources issued earlier this year. Covering nearly 4,000 sq km of Gippsland’s prime coastal and tourism region, the lease, which includes the mining of brown coal, covers the spectacular 90 Mile Beach, continues then all the way to Wilsons Promontory up to part of the Gippsland Lakes and surrounds the towns of Bairnsdale, Sale and Traralogon. Have a good look at the map below:
When it was revealed that the bungled bid to rezone farmland at Phillip Island involved a former President of the Liberal party, I wondered why the mainstream media hadn’t spotted the environment’s serial offender, who co-owns Ignite Energy Resources. Executive Director, Dr. John White, was the architect of John Howard’s nuclear fantasy to turn Australia into the world’s nuclear waste dump. Through an international consortium of US, UK and Australian interests, Australia would produce, enrich and lease nuclear fuel rods and make a considerable fortune on storing the spent fuel rods. That was the plan on the table when John Howard visited Washington in May 2006 with Dr White, then Chairman of the PM’s Uranium Industry Framework. To find out more about White’s scheme to ship deadly plutonium waste to Darwin by submarine and the $45 million he invested in the scheme, read here.
If you think coal has any economic benefit to the community, check Climate Spectator’s story on 4 October 2011. The latest economic analysis on coal published in the highly prestigious American Economic Review is damning, concluding that coal is doing more harm to the US economy than good — and that doesn't take into account its climate impact.
Mark Wakeham at Environment Victoria describes the thousands of square kilometres of prime coastal, bush and farmland subject to mining leases as a “ticking timebomb”. EnviroVic has drawn a line in the sand. Its new online tool, CoalWatch, urges Victorians to map coal mining activity across the state and say “no way” to this government. The situation is shaping up to be every bit as nasty as the NSW and Queensland coal seam gas fiasco.
In my recent visit to England, Scotland and Ireland, I was struck by the lack of wildlife in the UK, especially birds. Bird watching societies have sprung up everywhere in Europe. Fortunately, our wildlife in Australia hasn’t been hunted to near extinction or lost as much of its habitat. It is still a real drawcard for overseas tourists. This week I spoke to Laurie Levy, Campaign Director of Coalition against Duck Shooting.
Levy believes that Victoria could be the hub of nature-based wetlands tourism — but not until we stop the barbaric and cruel practice of duck hunting. Roy Morgan found in 2007 that 87% of the Victorian community no longer found it acceptable. Three Labor States have banned recreational duck shooting: Western Australia in 1990, NSW in 1995, and Queensland in 2005. In announcing the ban on duck shooting in Queensland, Premier Peter Beatty said:
“There will be no more duck and quail hunting in Queensland….It's time to ban the recreational shooting of ducks and quail. This is not an appropriate activity in contemporary life in the Smart State.”
One would not have thought the Baillieu government could do worse than the Bracks or Brumby governments on duck hunting, but Baillieu (or should I say, Deputy Premier and Minister of Police, Peter Ryan, whom most Victorians believe really runs this state) has stepped up pressure on the Coalition against Duck Shooting and its volunteer rescuers. On the last weekend of the season, Levy told me that rescuers
“…were arrested for just standing in the water when it was legal to do so, taken back to Prahran police station, charged and had to be bailed”.
By contrast, no charge as yet for the teenager who taunted and then shot one of the rescuers in the face. Of the 630 birds that had been shot and left in the water, 75 were protected species, along with rare threatened freckles and blue bills and 25 illegally shot swans and cygnets (is it that hard to tell the difference between a duck and a swan?).
Back in the city environs of Melbourne, the dismantling of Sir Rupert Hamer’s proud Liberal record on the environment continues with Baillieu’s latest “intergenerational crime” of tinkering with Melbourne’s famed green wedges. Incensed by the potential destruction of her husband’s “gift” to future generations, Lady Hamer wrote a moving letter to the editor of The Age warning that any encroachment into green spaces was irreversible. It was during Hamer’s premiership that Victoria took on its proudest slogan yet: “The Garden State”.
According to Shadow Environment Minister Lisa Neville, following the release of the 2011 State budget,
“Many serious environment and climate change policies implemented by Labor are now unlikely to be continued, including the climate communities program which funded action by local communities on climate change.”
Winning by just one seat, Baillieu had no mandate for a wholesale assault on the environment. But Ted Baillieuhas no such vision for the preservation of the natural world nor plans to leave a legacy for future generations. His short-term, self-serving, agenda is to shore up future preselection support from the extreme right of the party. The decent bloke we once thought we knew, the man we thought of as another Hamer, the man whose small-l brand of liberalism would save the moderates in the Liberal party from history’s dustbin has turned out to be just another Tony Abbott.
(Sandi Keane will be speaking at the 7th Australia Wind Energy Conference being held in Melbourne in mid-December. For more details, click here.)