NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has lambasted the Coalition over its lack of climate policy but has yet to prove himself as an environmental champion, writes Sue Arnold.
IT WAS THE climate change election.
The Real Concerns Index 2022 surveyed over 5,000 Australians, rating their concerns out of a score of 100. According to the index, 65% of us are more concerned about Australia’s response to climate change and environmental issues than they were in the past.
Of the survey, 79% see Australia becoming a weather disaster zone with 78% worried about the legacy we are leaving our children. And 80% agreed that time and money have been wasted on ineffective responses to climate change.
The level of public concern will no doubt be a major driver in the Liberal-National NSW Coalition strategies as next year’s election draws closer.
NSW’s L-NP climate champion is Matt Kean, now Treasurer, formally Environment and Energy Minister.
Kean made regular headlines when he blasted Morrison over his outrageously poor zero-carbon targets.
Three days after the Election, Kean was back in the headlines calling on liberals to stand up on climate. The NSW Liberal Party announced it would conduct a review into the Federal Election defeat which Kean described as an “unmitigated disaster”.
“The community has said loud and clear that not having solutions to the big challenges our nation is facing, like climate change, are not acceptable.”
Another huge issue in the Election was the question of integrity, which brings us directly to Kean’s stance.
Does he walk the talk?
Many conservation and community organisations have and continue to register their concern over the conflicting nature of Kean’s responses to climate change and environmental issues. Particularly during his time as Environment Minister.
With the catastrophic loss of species and ecosystems in NSW, Kean’s failure to insist his Government declare a moratorium on logging badly burnt native forests didn’t win him any environmental credit.
In NSW, logging of native forests is carried out under the conditions and protocols of the Coastal Integrated Forestry Operations Approval (CIFOA). The only entities that can make amendments to the approval are the joint ministers. No changes can be made by legal challenges.
Neither Kean nor Barilaro took steps to address the disastrous scenario. Barilaro led the battle to allow industrial logging to continue in burned and remaining viable forests.
The critical role of forests in storing carbon was and continues to be ignored.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN):
‘Forests are also one of the most important solutions to addressing the effects of climate change. Approximately 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, one-third of the CO2 released from burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year.’
Hundreds of species of forest fauna and flora were identified in need of emergency protection. Instead, logging continued to ensure contracts were fulfilled. The majority of fire-affected species are still waiting for emergency protection.
The koala was a beacon for donations that poured in from overseas and nationally. People were deeply distressed by the sight of thousands of burned koalas. Millions of dollars were raised to ensure surviving koalas would be protected by ensuring healthy habitat was available and retained.
After the devastation, Kean received countless appeals, petitions and submissions requesting the creation of the Great Koala National Park on the mid-north coast. A region where former Environment Minister Sussan Ley is on record indicating more than 8,000 koalas died.
Kean has steadfastly ignored the request in spite of millions of people, businesses, scientists and councils supporting its creation.
“This is a visionary plan that highlights the importance of the national parks combatting climate change alongside the critical role they play in the conservation of biodiversity providing home to 85% of threatened species in the state.”
The plan indicates ‘our national parks represent one of the largest carbon stores in New South Wales. Providing secure, long-term protection for these carbon stocks is a vital contribution to managing climate risk’.
Apparently, as long as the carbon positive policy did not apply to native forests or support the creation of the Great Koala National Park.
The green energy boom gave Kean the opportunity to deliver more statements on the importance of climate change. In November 2021, the NSW Government ruled that green hydrogen projects would not be funded if any input is derived using biomass from native forests.
However, the ruling was not mandatory and failed to eliminate publicly funded corporations from using biomass.
After Dominic Perrottet took over as Premier, Kean was elevated to Treasurer — an important and influential role.
But there was no comment on Perrottet’s plan to push for an ‘explosive level of 2 million immigrants over the next five years’.
Population growth and climate change are intimately linked. Every additional person increases carbon emissions. In a 2019 Planning Department report, the population projection showed NSW expected to grow on average by over 100,000 people each year until 2041.
Coal mines are also ignored in any Kean rhetoric on climate change. The NSW Government has, in the last 12 months, approved two state significant expansions of existing mines and approved a modification to extend the life of one coal mine.
Tim Buckley, director of Climate Energy Finance, a private advisory consultancy, summed up the double standards of the Government reaping the benefits of coal mining while trying to maintain an appearance of being environmentally conscious.
“The idea that the NSW Government continues to approve massive new coal developments is very much hypocritical.”
Perhaps the most devastating evidence of Kean’s “greenwash” is his assurances to southwest Sydney communities and conservation groups that the “only disease-free koala population in the Sydney basin, one of the most important koala populations anywhere in the state will be protected in perpetuity”.
Given the growth plans for massive urbanisation involved in the Greater Macarthur 2040 plan and the current destruction of koala habitat in southwest Sydney, Kean’s words are hollow.
There’s currently no evidence that major population growth in koala habitat results in increases in koala population.
Nor can it be said that the continuation of industrial logging, population growth and increasing approvals for coal mines is likely to lower carbon emissions.
One can only hope that the Liberal Party’s election review raises the issue of climate change policy integrity.
Kean needs to be called out on his climate stance and explain why the major threats to carbon emissions continue to be ignored by him.
Walk your talk, Treasurer.
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