Cartoon by Mark David
PRIME MINISTER MALCOLM TURNBULL has a sustained and unremarkable record of achievement in office, not least of all in the top job.
But let’s start with the Great Barrier Reef.
First, the Turnbull Government wanted to give away a billion dollars to the Indian-owned mining company, Adani, whose Carmichael coal mine would pretty much finish off the Reef — which is already suffering from the worst coral bleaching on record, brought on by climate change. The mine, if it goes ahead, will also destroy the billions the World Heritage-listed Reef brings to Australia in tourism (an estimated value of $56 billion and an annual economic contribution of $6.5 billion).
Then it established a $60 million fund to help “save” the Reef — an interesting after-thought, which does not even amount to ten per cent of the gift it was willing to give Adani to complete the destruction.
Finally, in this sorry tale of environmental irresponsibility, the taxpayer funds saved from the proposed handout to Adani were clearly burning a hole in the PM's pocket such that, now, he has actually given away almost half a billion (a lazy $444 million) to not-for-profit organisation the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, which is funded by the fossil fuel industry and chaired by former Esso CEO John Schubert.
Even to the least critical onlooker, isn’t this a bit like putting Member for New England Barnaby Joyce in charge of the entire parliamentary publicity department?
The grant was awarded to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – supposedly to save the reef again – without due diligence, a tender process (or any process, it seems) and with no visible plan in sight as to how this might be achieved.
This latest frittering of public money happened after Prime Minister Turnbull, aided and abetted by Minister for the Environment and Energy Frydenberg, had a private meeting with the said company and was evidently so impressed with its lack of an actual proposal (the Foundation hadn't even applied for the money) he decided to hand over the loot — literally.
“Most Australians would be shocked to learn this Prime Minister personally just walks into a meeting and hands over nearly half a billion dollars of taxpayers’ money without a moment’s thought."
Yes, most of us probably are.
This bizarre development, however, is just the latest in a series of actions, which can only be interpreted as designed to undermine all the environmental processes that we already have in place – dismally inadequate though they may be – and underscores Turnbull's complete lack of concern for the environment.
A brief look at his record as Environment Minister for the Howard Government is also undistinguished, to say the least. His only achievement – apart from voicing support (and then rescinding it) for the Rudd Government’s ill-fated emissions trading scheme – seems to be replacing incandescent light bulbs with toxic fluorescent bulbs, which appear to be of no help to the environment, since their disposal is also an environmental problem.
And then there are the following environmental "achievements" during his Prime Ministership:
- combining the environment and energy ministries, thereby weakening the power of the environment portfolio;
- cutting funding to the CSIRO — a qualified, scientific research organisation which should have been charged with saving the Reef;
- slashing government jobs focused on species extinction;
- persisting with plans to invest in new coal;
- blaming the SA Government for storm events causing blackouts;
- refusing to invest in renewable energies;
- allowing greenhouse gas emissions to rise but declaring his Government's climate policies a success, anyway; and
- not implementing an emissions trading scheme, despite his own rhetoric about the need for one.
No doubt there are more, as it really is impossible to provide a conclusive list of Turnbull's non-actions on climate and the environment within the confines of this article.
Then there is the endless list of other backflips such as the NBN fiasco, the escalation of asylum seeker cruelty under his watch, the slow but sure destruction of the ABC, and the ridiculous and expensive process to arrive at same-sex marriage, to name but a few. When we consider the PM's inability to get his company tax cuts through, despite ad nauseam attempts, or to achieve consensus on the NEG, spiralling Government debt, as well as his Government's Super Saturday failure, it is a stretch to find any actual successes during Turnbull's leadership.
However, #ReefGate, as it has been dubbed, risible and scandalous though it is, may also have a silver lining — it may finally show all those previously hoodwinked by Turnbull’s previous claims to any convictions (of which, I am ashamed to admit, I was one) that this particular PM has no convictions.
Malcolm Turnbull stands for nothing.
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