Some fact checks on the new minister for the environment

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Melissa Price and friend. You know any time a politician pats a dog, they're a good, honest and reliable person (Image via YouTube screenshot)

Now that we have a new cast of Parliamentary characters, Sue Arnold gives the details on our new Environment Minister, Melissa Price.

NO ATTENTION is being paid to the fate of Australia’s beleaguered wildlife under a Morrison Government. Yet a clear message has been sent to conservation organisations and an increasingly concerned public with the appointment of Melissa Price, Western Australian MP for the regional seat of Durack, as Environment Minister.

A former lawyer, according to her website, Melissa worked for Clayton Utz and has more than 20 years experience working in the mining and grain industry including Crosslands Resources,  wholly owned by Mitsubishi Corporation.

In a media statement she released on 27 August, Ms Price stated:

‘In my role as Assistant Minister (for the Environment), my responsibilities included reviewing our national waste management strategy, preserving Australia’s biodiversity, delivering targets under the Threatened Species Strategy and overseeing the transition to new management plans for our world-leading marine reserves.’

Let’s go through that list for a fact check. 

Reviewing our national waste management strategy

Australia's waste generation per capita has continued to increase faster than the rate of population growth, growing at 0.8% a year between 2006-07 and 2014-15.  

In July, 2017, China decided to no longer take foreign garbage affecting an annual average of 619,000 tonnes of materials in Australia alone.

Preserving Australia’s biodiversity

Australia is facing an extinction crisis. Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world. One out of every three mammal extinctions in the last 400 years have occurred in Australia.

The WWF/RSPCA Report on tree-clearing causing Queensland's greatest animal welfare crisis detailed the fact that tens of millions of wild animals each year suffer injuries, deprivation and death due to bulldozing of their forest and woodland habitats. WWF estimated clearing in Queensland kills about 34 million native mammals, birds and reptiles every year, comprising 900,000 mammals, 2.6 million birds and 30.6 million reptiles. The report also notes that this underestimates the true number of animals affected.  

Koalas are the most visible example of the biodiversity crisis, facing a wipe-out in NSW and Queensland as a result of politically-driven policies of extinction.

According to a research paper, The Rescue and Rehabilitation of Koalas in Southeast Queensland, 10,000 koalas were admitted to four wildlife hospitals in southeast Queensland from 2009-14. The paper details that koala populations in South-East Queensland are under threat from many factors, particularly habitat loss, dog attack, vehicle trauma and disease.

A National Koala Recovery Plan, as required under the 2012 designation of koalas in Queensland and NSW as vulnerable under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), is now six years overdue.

Both the NSW and Queensland Governments are considering adopting translocation of koalas as policy. Although both governments claim that translocations would be solely for “conservation purposes”, neither government can be trusted as recent evidence demonstrates.

The Queensland Minister for the Environment, Leeanne Enoch, was forced to admit in an estimates hearing in the Parliament earlier this month that 42% of koalas translocated from Coomera purely for the purpose of allowing major development projects to proceed had died.

In NSW, the Berejiklian Government has repealed environmental legislation, ensuring there are no provisions for legal challenges to the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, which replaced previous environmental protections. As development at any cost has been the hallmark of her premiership, the environment has been ignored.   

A recent draft translocation policy by the Office of Environment & Heritage was circulated to a select few for comment and IA was advised by a bureaucrat that the draft was circulated “because there’s an election coming up”, whatever that means.

No effort has been made by the former Federal Minister for the Environment, Josh Frydenberg, or his Assistant Minister, to urge koala states bring in legislation to protect remaining habitat. Given the ongoing weakening of the EPBC Act, the likelihood of any National Koala Recovery Plan including translocation as policy is on the cards.

Bilateral Agreements between the Commonwealth and state governments on the environment allow states to make assessments on projects which will impact listed species and ecological communities. The agreement between NSW and the Commonwealth provides the relevant information.   

Meanwhile, the Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARTC) is seeking Queensland/NSW and Federal approval for a massive infrastructure project known as the Inland Rail. A cursory glance at the mountain of documents demonstrates that remaining koala habitat in the path of the Inland Rail will be lost.

Delivering targets under the Threatened Species Strategy 

The Strategy was put together by Greg Hunt when he was Minister for the Environment, there are no updates on the strategy under Frydenberg.

The Strategy identifies key action areas that are priorities for the Australian Government:

  • Tackling feral cats;
  • safe havens for species most at risk;
  • improving habitat; and
  • emergency intervention to avert extinctions.

Hunt also delivered a Memorandum of Understanding between the Federal and State Governments known as the Common Assessment Method, which the Department of Environment has interpreted as:

'When an Australian jurisdiction undertakes an assessment using the common assessment method, the outcome of that assessment may be adopted by other states and territories where the species occurs, as well as the Australian Government (under the EPBC Act). This means that a species is only assessed once and is listed in the same “nationally threatened” category across all relevant jurisdictions.'

What this means, in reality, is that local  populations of vulnerable wildlife, such as the koala, which need to be upgraded to endangered status may no longer be eligible for that listing as only one national listing applies. 

Overseeing the transition to new management plans for our world-leading marine reserves

The Turnbull Government has wound back the highest level protections for a host of sensitive marine areas including marine waters near the Great Barrier Reef. Almost 70% of the Coral Sea will be given “yellow zone” protection, which protects the sea floor but allows some extractive activity.

Overall, 80% of Australia’s marine park waters would be opened to commercial fishing, up from 63%.

Melissa Price is now answerable to PM Morrison, an avowed Pentecostal Christian. His attitude to the environment may well be summed up by the following quotes from a 2006 blog by the faculty of the Southern Cross College on Pentecostal Discussions, which noted:

‘Pentecostals read world events through literalistic interpretations of biblical apocalyptic literature, looking forward to the imminent return of Jesus, which was to be accompanied by the rapture of the saints and subsequent global devastation.’

As Dwight Wilson, Pentecostal historian observes

'Since the end is near, [classical] Pentecostals are indifferent to social change and have rejected the reformist methods of the optimistic postmillennialists and have concentrated on "snatching brands from the fire" and letting social reforms result from humankind being born again. This indifference extends to the movement’s concern for environmental matters, since there is little point in focusing attention on a doomed environment, made even less significant by the shadow of eternal life in heaven (or death in hell).

You can follow Sue Arnold on Twitter @koalacrisis and Koala Crisis on Facebook here.

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