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Melissa Price and the Coalition's climate change denying non-environmental policy

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(Image via Australian Labor / Twitter)

The Government's attitude to climate change can be gathered by the cloak of invisibility that hangs heavily over Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price. Has Price has become the retainer for mining interests? 

The climate change debate – for in Australia, a debate it remains – has come in fits and starts in a Federal Election campaign that concludes on Saturday.

For the Indian mining giant, Adani, the Minister got rather whippy with approvals regarding water management plans that still reserve, in bold, question marks from the scientific community. 

Then came another approval, this time for the Yeelirrie Uranium mine located, rather handily, in the federal seat of Durack, despite the West Australian Environment Protection Agency’s warning in 2016 that the risk of extinction to native animals was too serious to ignore. Pure coincidence that Price represents the constituency?

As a sitting Member of Parliament, Price is playing a delightful role as a figure of marked redundancy. Hours after the United Nations report on the doomed nature of the Earth’s ecosystems was released, the person with the environment portfolio posted a photo of herself on Facebook featuring an opening of a miniature railway. 

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) was brutally frank.

In the words of IPBES Chair, Sir Robert Wilson

“The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, our livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” 

Featuring 145 expert authors from 50 countries working over three years with 310 additional authors, a picture of potential mass extinction emerges, with a million species threatened with oblivion within decades.

The show by Price in her electorate was a remarkable exhibition of fossilised, childlike thinking. As the extinction of a million species or so are upon us, we can have a rather cosy show of ribbon cutting between the Batavia Coast Miniature Railway Society president, vice-president and the Environment Minister, who has remained selectively mute. 

President Steve McAllister seemed happy enough at her patchy efforts; Spalding’s miniature railway had been extended at a cost of $25,000: 

“The extensions give passengers a new experience which includes … passing other trains in a more interesting track layout.” 

The Geraldton Guardian is also into a health and safety message:

'Passengers must wear closed in shoes.'

Even if the world is set for the broil and flood, it pays to heed standards before Armageddon.

Announcements on the environment have been weak and meek. The thick suggestion is that any mention of climate change equates to a discussion about energy, which equates to a discussion about shaving living standards. 

We are left with such remarks as this from May 6:

“Protecting Australia’s threatened species is one of the main objectives of the Coalition’s $100 million Environment Restoration Fund. A re-elected Morrison government will invest more than $20 million in several priority projects.”

Price is good enough to avoid anything specific to her department, which has slid into mighty irrelevance. Instead, the list of "priority projects", as she likes to call them, come from the Liberal Party Federal Secretariat. (The mistress of deferral does it again.) The wording of this most uninspiring of documents screams of evasion, speaking about plans for 'a cleaner environment' rather than a protected one. The initial part of the policy note stresses the achievement of a 'healthy recycling sector'. Plastic waste will be tackled through 'a special round of the Cooperative Research Centres Projects (CRC-P) to find new and innovative solutions to plastic recycling and waste'. 

The focus on climate change – those two dirty words – only comes in midway through the propaganda missive and even then is only merited with a small section packed alongside “renewables”. 

Goes the sotto voce (you don’t want to scare those in denial): 

'Climate change is a global issue that requires a global solution. The Liberal-Nationals Government has overachieved on our commitment under the Kyoto Protocol, something few countries have done.' 

Nothing to worry about, then. Full marks granted and we can go back to the serious business of looting Terra Australis.

All eyes are directed to the aims of the new Environment Restoration Fund, cashed up by 'a strong economy and responsible budget management'. This book-keeper’s view of ecology and sustainability obsesses about cleaning, brushing and scrubbing; it casts mere lip service to the protection of threatened and migratory species and their habitats, reducing waste and increasing recycling. 

For a grouping of politicians nervous and allergic to environmental affairs, the United Nations report was just another problematic footnote in a campaign of deflection. Prime Minister Scott Morrison was left throwing in some tinsel, claiming that a smidgen of environmental accounting had taken place during his tenure. 

A Bill restricting testing makeup on animals was seized upon last Tuesday as an example of good green thinking: 

'“We already introduced and passed legislation through the Senate actually dealing with that very issue in the last week of Parliament.”  Morrison’s staff were not so sure, leaving the prime minister on Thursday to claim that he had been “referring to a different piece of legislation.” ' 

A touch of the Trumps there.

As for Price, her period in electoral hibernation was broken on the weekend with the Liberal Party campaign launch strikingly lean of former prime ministers. Along with her other fellow Minister of recent absenteeism, Peter Dutton of the Home Affairs Department, both made brief, clipped appearances. Even then, the focus, as it has been during the entire election, was on Morrison rather than his rattled Cabinet, the baseball-bearing "dag" of a dad who advertised the glories of coal in Federal Parliament as Treasurer. 

That, even more than Price’s obscurity, is the representative statement of selfishness and species entitlement yawning before extinction, the ad man’s rebuke to the environmental apocalypse.

Dr Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. You can follow Dr Kampmark on Twitter @BKampmark.

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