As the dust of the election settles, Australia’s wildlife still needs a pathway for recovery



The Darling River near Louth NSW, April 2019, in the midst of a drought compounded by upstream irrigation policies.
Jaana Dielenberg, Author provided

Rachel Morgain, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Charles Darwin University

The environment was a key concern in the recent federal election. It was also a polarising one, with concerns raised about regional industries and livelihoods. But jobs and environment need not be locked in battle: there are pathways that secure a better future for both our environment and future generations.

It’s just over two weeks since the global announcement that extinction looms for about a million species. The warning may have been partially lost in the noise of Australia’s election campaign, but it should resonate long after the political dust settles. This scale of loss will have catastrophic consequences not only for nature, but for us too.




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The good news is many of the key steps to addressing Australia’s ecological challenges are also wins for jobs, industry and social well-being. Others involve more difficult choices, but could be helped with careful strategic planning and the active involvement of all those with a stake. All require factoring in costs and benefits not only to our generation, but also to generations of the future.

Here are seven suggestions to get us started.

1. Support wildlife-friendly agriculture

More than 60% of Australia is managed for agricultural production. Agriculture is a major driver of species loss both at home and abroad. Yet we know it is possible to manage our agricultural landscapes for wildlife and productivity. Actions like restoring native vegetation, establishing shelterbelts, and creating wildlife-friendly farm dams can help maintain or even boost farms’ productivity and resilience, including in times of drought.

Many farmers are already doing this but their efforts are undermined by policy instability. Political leadership and incentives such as stewardship payments and direct carbon investments are needed to support farmers as they increasingly support the nature from which we all benefit.

2. Nature-based solutions for our cities

About 90% of Australians live in cities, and the rapid expansion of our urban areas brings serious livability challenges. Urban nature can be a key part of the solution, providing a remarkable range of health and well-being benefits.

Urban greenery keeps cities cooler, improves air quality, and even boosts economic prosperity.

Cities can be hotspots for threatened species, and are justifiable locations for investing in nature for its own sake. There is substantial opportunity to create policy and regulation that can allow investment and innovation in nature-based solutions in cities.

3. Help Indigenous Australians care for natural heritage

Indigenous people prospered for millennia in Australia by forging deep connections with land, water and sky. But these connections are ever harder to maintain in the face of two centuries of colonialism and disruption to traditional lore and custom.

Traditional ownership is now recognised for nearly half of Australia’s protected area estate. Increasing investment in Indigenous ranger programs from the current 6% of the conservation estate budget and incorporating traditional knowledge could deliver many social, environmental and economic benefits.

Long-term stability with these programs provides for healthy communities, maintains connection to country, and delivers enormous environmental benefits.

Foreshore revegetation is one process that can help species recover.
CSIRO, CC BY

4. Invest in species recovery

Many valiant efforts to help threatened species are undertaken by dedicated groups with often limited resources. They have shown that success is possible. But to prevent extinctions we need much greater investment in strategic and committed management of species, and of pervasive threats like changed fire regimes and changed water flows. Australia’s investment in biodiversity conservation is low compared with other countries, particularly in light of our high rates of species loss.

Investing in threatened species and conservation works. Involving the community in recovery actions can also create employment, skills and many other benefits, especially to rural and Indigenous communities.

5. Build strategically important safe havens and strengthen biosecurity

Much of Australia’s wildlife is threatened by introduced species – predators, herbivores, weeds and disease. Chytrid fungus, introduced through the pet trade, has devastated frog populations. New pathogens like myrtle rust, which affects many Australian plants, look set to repeat this scale of loss. Invasive predators such as cats and foxes are the single biggest threat to most of Australia’s threatened mammals, some of which survive only on islands and inside fenced areas.

Strong biosecurity, of the kind that has long helped Australian agriculture, is vital to prevent introductions of new invasive species. New havens are needed in strategic locations, underpinned by national coordination and partnerships, to help protect species like the central rock rat that are still not safe from predators.

Invasive species harm Australia’s native wildlife.
Shutterstock

6. Support integrated environmental assessments

Regional development, mining and urban expansion are part of our economy. They can also harm species and ecosystems.

Improving resourcing for decisions about environmental approvals can ensure they are underpinned by sound science. Independent oversight and review could help ensure environmental approvals are credible, transparent, and consistent with Australia’s conservation commitments. Strengthening and expanding protections for critical habitat could ensure our most vulnerable wildlife is protected.

Development can be designed to avoid wholesale devastation or “death by 1,000 cuts”. But ensuring that crucial species habitats are protected will require careful planning based on strong environmental and social science. Applying existing provisions for integrated environmental assessments, fully resourcing these processes, and ensuring all affected people – including local and Indigenous communities – are involved from the start, can help plan a future that works for industries, communities and natural and cultural heritage.

7. Minimise and adapt to climate change, including by investing in biodiversity

Climate change threatens our communities, economy, health, and wildlife – it is changing our country as we know it. It has already contributed to the extinction of species such as the Bramble Cay Melomys. Impacts will certainly worsen, but by how much depends on whether we take strong action.

Many communities, businesses and governments are aiming to tackle climate change. Strategies such as greening cities to reduce heat islands can help native species too. Investing in biodiversity-rich carbon storage (such as old growth forests) can boost regional economies. Options include restoring native ecosystems, boosting soil carbon, managing fire, and transitioning native forests from timber harvesting to being managed for carbon, while sourcing wood products from plantations.




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Our economy, communities, cultures, health and livelihoods depend on environmental infrastructure – clean water, clean air, good soils, native vegetation and animals. As with Indigenous sense of place and identities they are entangled with the creatures that share our unique and diverse continent. We steal from future generations every time a species is lost.

For our sake and that of our descendants, we cannot afford to disregard this essential connection. Investing in natural infrastructure, just as we invest in our built infrastructure, is the sort of transformational change needed to ensure our communities and economy continue to flourish.The Conversation

Rachel Morgain, Knowledge Broker, Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; Bradley J. Moggridge, Indigenous Water Research, University of Canberra; Brendan Wintle, Professor Conservation Ecology, University of Melbourne; David Lindenmayer, Professor, The Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University; John Woinarski, Professor (conservation biology), Charles Darwin University; Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Sarah Bekessy, Professor, RMIT University; Sarah Legge, Professor, Australian National University, and Stephen Garnett, Professor of Conservation and Sustainable Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Shorten distances himself from Green overtures on climate policy


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Bill Shorten has rebuffed overtures by the Greens leader Richard Di Natale to work closely with a Labor government to promote a strong policy on climate.

Shorten accused the Greens of “trailing their coat and saying, ‘Look at me’”.

“The fact of the matter is that if we get elected we’ll be making decisions in a Labor cabinet and the decisions will be made by members of parliament of the Labor party,” Shorten said, in anticipation of Di Natale’s Wednesday address to the National Press Club.

“What we will do is we will implement the policies we’ve put forward,” Shorten said.

In fact a Labor government, which would be in a minority in the Senate, would probably have to negotiate with the Greens to get its climate policy through the Senate.

After the backlash against the formal Labor-Greens alliance under the Gillard government – in which the two parties worked in conjunction on the carbon pricing scheme – Shorten is anxious to keep maximum distance between the ALP and the minor party.

For its part the government paints Labor and the Greens as “joined at the hip”. Scott Morrison said on Wednesday: “We know who holds the chain – if it’s not the Greens it’s the militant unions”.




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In his Press Club appearance Di Natale ran a double line – attacking Labor policies on climate and the environment as inadequate, while stressing the need for co-operation in government.

The Greens were “deeply concerned that Labor has taken a weaker climate policy in 2019 than what they proposed in 2016, which was weaker still than what they took to the 2013 election”.

Di Natale said he was not seeking a formal alliance between the Greens and Labor as in 2010 – rather “we want to work constructively. We want to negotiate”.

He was “not surprised to hear the response from Bill Shorten today […] we hear that time and time again in the lead-up to an election.

“But we need the Greens in the Senate working with the Labor party and other voices to ensure that the policy that’s delivered meets the science and that is up to the challenge of transitioning our economy”.




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A Shorten government “will have two pathways open to them after the election, ” he said.

“They can either pursue a climate and energy policy designed to pass through a divided Coalition party room […] or they can negotiate a comprehensive response, based on science, with the Greens.

“My message to Bill Shorten is that you can’t achieve bipartisanship with the Liberals because they can’t even agree among themselves,” he said.

“The decision for Bill Shorten is whether he follows the take-it-or-leave-it approach of Kevin Rudd in 2009, or negotiates with the Greens, just like Julia Gillard did in 2011, to deliver a climate policy that gives future generations a chance”.

Di Natale would not be drawn on what approach the Greens would take if negotiating climate policy with Labor. “The key part of any negotiation is not to conduct it publicly through the media.”

The Greens leader defended his party against criticism over its refusal to support the Rudd government’s scheme, saying Rudd’s policy “would have locked in failure”.




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Meanwhile a number of independent MPs and candidates have signed a statement initiated by the Australian Conservation Foundation committing, if elected, to work with each other and other parliamentarians to promote initiatives on climate.

“We recognise that to be a true servant of our communities and our national parliament, we must demonstrate and deliver strong leadership on climate change,” they say.

Among the objectives they commit to are:

  • opposing the development of the Adani mine

  • ensuring Kyoto Protocol carryover credits are not used to meet Australia’s 2030 emissions education target

  • developing a roadmap to power Australia from 100% renewable energy, aiming to achieve at least 50% by 2030

  • opposing attempts to commit public money to new or existing coal or other fossil fuel operations, including any government underwriting of coal or gas power plants.

Those signing the statement are Andrew Wilkie, member for Clark; Kerryn Phelps, member for Wentworth; Julia Banks, member for Chisholm who is running as an independent candidate in Flinders; Dr Helen Haines, independent candidate for Indi; Zali Steggall, independent candidate for Warringah; Rob Oakeshott, independent candidate for Cowper, and Oliver Yates, independent candidate for Kooyong.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

NSW election: where do the parties stand on brumby culling?



File 20190321 93063 1k3xosw.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Feral horses have severely damaged the landscape in Kosciuszko National Park.
Travelstine, CC BY-SA

Don Driscoll, Deakin University

The future management of New South Wales’s national parks is one of the issues on the line in Saturday’s state election. Other states will be watching the outcome closely.

Depending on who wins, the outcome for Kosciuszko National Park spans from restoration and recovery to ongoing environmental decay, with feral horses given priority over native species.




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All political parties have been well informed about the science behind feral horses in the Australian Alps. The peer-reviewed literature shows that:

  • feral horse impacts put multiple species at greater risk of extinction

  • streams and bogs are degraded, threatening water quality, and will require restoration

  • even small numbers of horses lead to cumulative environmental degradation

  • a range of high and low elevation areas are severely degraded by feral horses; it is not clear whether any areas can withstand horse impacts

  • rehoming and fertility control are not effective control methods when horses number in the thousands and are hard to reach

  • aerial culling is humane, effective, and cheaper than other methods.

But despite the clarity of recommendations emerging from research, political parties have taken a broad range of approaches.

A feral horse exclusion fence. But which side of the fence are the major parties on?
Author provided

Liberal/National Coalition

The Liberal/National coalition has pledged to enact its Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill, which was passed by the state parliament last year and aims to “recognise the heritage value of sustainable wild horse populations within parts of Kosciuszko National Park”.

This legislation would ensure several thousand feral horses remain in the park, potentially compromising the conservation goals of the park’s management plan.




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This month, Deputy Premier John Barilaro said the government would “immediately” reduce horse numbers by 50%, through trapping, rehoming, fertility control, and relocating horses to “less sensitive” areas. Although he appeared to endorse an ultimate population target of 600 feral horses in front of an audience that was receptive to that idea, under pressure from the pro-brumby lobby, he later clarified that the coalition would aim to keep 3,000-4,000 feral horses in Kosciuszko.

Labor

Labor, along with the Greens and the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party, has pledged to repeal the Kosciuszko Wild Horse Heritage Bill if it wins the election, and has committed A$24 million to restore the national park.

Its six-point national parks restoration plan bans aerial culling, instead proposing to control horses using rehoming, while expanding research on fertility control.

Labor’s plan also mentions active management of feral horses in sensitive ecosystems, and ensuring large horse populations do not starve to death. It plans to achieve these two goals by trapping and rehoming brumbies. Labor also plans to keep a “smaller population” of feral horses in areas within the national park “where degradation is less critical”.

Greens

The NSW Greens has arguably the most evidence-based policy, aiming to reduce horse numbers by 90% in three years, with a longer-term goal of full eradication.

This means national parks would be managed for native Australian species. That is important in NSW, where only 10% of the state has been allocated to protected areas, well below international standards of 17%. They would achieve this reduction using all humane methods currently available, including trapping, rehoming, mustering, and ground-based and aerial shooting.

The Greens would also fund rehabilitation of damaged habitat, and has flagged substantial funding for conservation initiatives.

Shooters, Fishers and Farmers

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party supports immediate action to reduce feral horse numbers using humane methods, including ground shooting, but not aerial culling.

The party, which holds one lower house seat and has two upper house members, has announced no plans for restoration of the national park.

Animal Justice Party

The Animal Justice Party, which has just one upper house member in the parliament, has endorsed “non-lethal control measures” in areas that are clearly being degraded by feral horses. It says this should be achieved entirely using fertility control and relocation. The party has also described brumby culling proposals as “horrific” and called for urgent national legislation to protect them.




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There is pressure from pro-brumby lobbyists to keep feral horse populations in Guy Fawkes, Barrington Tops, Oxley Wild Rivers, the Blue Mountains, and other NSW national parks. In Victoria, a pro-brumby pressure group will take Parks Victoria to the Federal court later this year to prevent removal of a small but damaging horse population on the Bogong High Plains in the Alpine National Park.

When NSW voters decide the fate of Kosciuszko National Park on Saturday, their verdict could have broader ramifications for protected areas throughout Australia.The Conversation

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Three ingredients for running a successful environmental campaign


Andrea Gaynor, University of Western Australia

Here in Perth, a battle is raging over a 5km stretch of road known as Roe 8. Work on the project, part of the proposed Perth Freight Link, began late in 2016 and as legal avenues to halt construction were exhausted, opponents resorted to non-violent direct action. Some protest “mass actions” have attracted more than 1,000 people from all walks of life and by the end of January, as bulldozers tore through the Coolbellup bushland under costly police protection, well over 100 had been arrested.

Clearing machinery arrives on site under heavy police protection, January 2017.
Gnangarra

Proponents say the road is necessary to improve the safety and efficiency of freight traffic to and from the Port of Fremantle. Opponents point to freight alternatives that will avoid Roe 8’s destruction of Aboriginal heritage, endangered banksia woodland, and important wetlands. Critics have also decried the government’s lack of transparency and prudence in decision-making, and highlighted serious shortcomings in environmental policies and laws.

The state’s Labor opposition has promised to scrap the project if it wins government at the state election on March 11, yet to the shock and dismay of many, bulldozing continues.

How will the conflict end? While history provides no sure guide to the future, it does reveal that successful environmental campaigns have tended to share several key features that unsuccessful campaigns have lacked. What are they?

1. Elections

Some of the biggest environmentalist victories have been won at the ballot box. This was the case for the proposed Franklin River dam, which became a federal election issue and helped to bring Bob Hawke’s Labor government to power.

By-elections have also decided the fate of environmentally contentious developments. Wayne Goss’s proposed “Koala tollway” between Brisbane and the Gold Coast cost Labor nine seats in the 1995 state election; a by-election in February 1996 saw the end of both Goss’s majority and the toll road.

Similarly, the campaign against a proposal for agricultural development in Victoria’s Little Desert delivered a shock metropolitan by-election result that, along with sustained public pressure, quashed the proposal.

More recently, the East-West Link toll road in Melbourne was, like Roe 8, hurried into the construction phase before an election with no full business case available for public scrutiny. The campaign against the Link, which united public transport advocates and local councils, ran for more than a year and attracted A$1.6 million in policing costs. Labor promised to halt construction and following his electoral success in November 2015, the incoming premier Daniel Andrews tore up the contracts, setting what might turn out to be a crucial precedent for WA Labor’s Mark McGowan.

Even electoral failures can help environmental causes in the long run. Advocates for Lake Pedder in Tasmania didn’t attract political support for their cause from either major party, so they formed their own: the United Tasmania Group. It narrowly failed to win a seat at the 1972 state election, and Lake Pedder was lost.

But those who were galvanised by this failure were instrumental in the victory 10 years later over the Franklin dam, which transformed federal-state relations and launched the Australian Greens as a political force.

2. Unions

Many past environmental campaigns have succeeded only through union involvement. In the 1970s and ‘80s, almost 50% of the Australian workforce was unionised, giving the unions significant power to shut down contentious projects.

The 1970 campaign against oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef claimed success when the Transport Workers Union and affiliates placed a black ban on drilling vessels in the region. The 1970s “Green bans”, led by Jack Mundey and the NSW Builders’ Labourers Federation, blocked a range of threats to heritage sites and bushland, including urban bushland at Kelly’s Bush on Sydney’s lower North Shore.

With union membership today at only around 15%, and the environment a low priority for some key unions, this opportunity for intervention has all but vanished.

3. Alternatives

Campaigns are more likely to be successful where environmentalists can point to viable alternatives for the projects they oppose. For example, opponents of woodchipping in East Gippsland in the 1980s produced a report showing how developing agriculture and tourism in parallel with a restructured and modernised timber industry would produce 450 extra jobs in the region.

This material was then used in political lobbying, as well as campaigning in marginal seats, leading to the declaration of the Errinundra Plateau and Rodger River National Parks in 1987. Logging continues, however, in adjacent areas.

Similarly, Citizens Against Route Twenty achieved success in 1990 with an intense media campaign that included an alternative vision for Brisbane’s urban transport.

Back to Roe 8

In sprawling suburban Perth, the track record of opposition to new roads does not inspire much hope for those campaigning against Roe 8. Previous protests against the Kwinana Freeway, the Graham Farmer Freeway and the Farrington Road extension were all more or less futile.

In each case the opponents were deemed to be “anti-progress”, with progress implicitly represented by the construction of new road infrastructure. Similar language pervades the current rhetoric around Roe 8, which is portrayed by supporters as a solution to all the traffic problems of Perth’s southern suburbs.

Sustainable transport advocates take a longer view; for instance, in the alternative plan laid out by Curtin University’s Peter Newman and Cole Hendrigan. This, however, has been rejected by the Barnett government in favour of the Roe Highway extension, which was originally planned for different purposes in the 1950s.

The protest against Roe 8 has two of the three key historical ingredients for success (an election, and a clearly outlined alternative plan). It has also harnessed the new power of social media and drone footage.

Opponents of Roe 8 at the end of an hour-long silent protest in Forrest Place, central Perth, January 2017.

Rarely has direct action clinched an environmental campaign, although there are precedents: protesters’ destruction of felled timber at Terania Creek in 1979 brought an end to logging. Tree-sitting and human barricades bought enough time for political change to halt the Cape Tribulation-Bloomfield Road in Queensland’s Wet Tropics. In Coolbellup numerous lock-ons and tree-sits have delayed works, but time is running out for the wetlands in the path of Roe 8.

After the March 11 election we will know whether the already bulldozed area will be restored, or whether the road will be built. Whatever the outcome, one thing is certain: pressure is building on resources and urban spaces, and the indicators of environmental health are continuing to decline.

This trend makes it ever more likely that our economic and political priorities will find themselves on a collision course with communities seeking to protect their local environments. It seems safe to say that we will see plenty more protests like this in coming years.

The Conversation

Andrea Gaynor, Associate Professor of History, University of Western Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The sound of silence: why has the environment vanished from election politics?


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

There’s a deafening silence in the ongoing Australian election campaign over the environment. Polling shows increasing public support for greater action on climate change but debate has been mostly missing.

And despite some blows traded over the Great Barrier Reef, the wider environment has made almost no appearance. But this hasn’t always been the case.

From the origins of the environmental movement in the 1970s to the 2007 climate change election that toppled Liberal prime minister John Howard, the environment has been a key battleground, and it could become one again.

Green origins

The environment first emerged as a voting platform in the 1970s, in the wake of controversial proposals to dam Lake Pedder. The United Tasmania Group – a precursor to the Australian Greens party – was formed to oppose the project.

Were it not for the mysterious disappearance of a plane carrying environmental activist Brenda Hean in September 1972, the election that brought us Labor prime minister Gough Whitlam might have had more of a green tinge. Hean’s plan was to sky-write “Save Lake Pedder” over Canberra.

According to Hugh Morgan – former president of the Minerals Council, the Business Council, and the climate-denying Lavoisier Group – the first indication that environmentalism had arrived as a major political force in Australia was the Whitlam Labor Party caucus’s 1975 debate over uranium mining and nuclear power.

But it was not until the 1983 election, with incumbent Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser facing off against Labor leader Bob Hawke, that the environment became politically salient with another Tasmanian dam.

After losing the Lake Pedder battle in 1972, the green campaigners were older, wiser and more determined in their fight to stop the Franklin dam.

Fraser offered the Tasmanian government a A$500m coal-fired power station instead of the dam, but was rejected.

Labor said it would use federal powers to forbid the dam if elected. It did so, and won the inevitable High Court case.

Hawke and Paul Keating, prime minister from 1991, prioritised financial and political changes (bringing down tariffs, floating the dollar) over environmental challenges. However, the issues of logging and uranium wouldn’t go away, and were joined first by ozone and then carbon dioxide.

In 1984, with a tight election looming, Hawke failed to make the Queensland government’s refusal to nominate forests for World Heritage listing an issue.

Labor won the 1987 and 1990 elections, and environmentalists’ preferences helped them squeak home on both occasions. Climate change hardly rated a mention.

Conned by greenies?

With their rising power, both sides of politics initially courted green voters. But this tactic quickly fell out of favour, first with the Liberals and then with Labor. In 1992 the Greens, despairing of being able to influence either of the big parties, formed their own.

By late 1992, Keating was lashing out at green groups, saying:

…the green movement was extremist and not listened to any more … The environmental lobbies have no moral lien over the environment. The issue belongs to the Government, to the nation.

It’s perhaps unsurprising then that, according to a source of scholar Joan Staples, Keating reportedly walked into an election planning meeting and announced that “the environment will NOT be one of the priority issues in this election.”

A “bomb” planted on a railway line in northwest Tasmania two days before the 1993 federal election suggested otherwise (it didn’t have a detonator). While media and politician accused “ecoterrorists”; Bob Brown suggested at the time and since that it was a setup to thwart public favour for the Greens.

Nothing changed under the next three year’s of Keating’s government. Another source of Joan Staples recalled that when Keating met green groups before the 1996 election, he walked into the meeting room and pointed at each representative, saying: “Don’t like you. Don’t like you. Don’t know who you are. Don’t like you. She’s alright.”

Despite climbing greenhouse emissions and international pressure on Australia, the environment didn’t feature in the 1998 or 2001 elections, and made only a small but perhaps crucial appearance in 2004 around forestry.

The greatest moral challenge

Liberal prime minister John Howard was unable to ignore the environment three years later. Upon becoming opposition leader in late 2006, Kevin Rudd made climate change not just an issue but “the greatest moral challenge of our generation”.

Howard, who had already tried to keep climate change in a box by reaching for the nuclear option, the Asia Pacific Partnership for Clean Development and Climate and even emissions trading, had no effective reply.

The 2007 federal election, at which Howard became only the second sitting prime minster to lose his seat, has been called, with some justification, “the first climate change election”.

Despite the blood and ink spilt over climate change, it was strangely absent from the 2010 campaign, from which Labor prime minister Julia Gillard eventually emerged victorious. As Laura Tingle has said “it [climate change] wasn’t really something that ever really featured … it just wasn’t there”.

In truth, Gillard had floated a much-derided Citizen’s Assembly ahead of the election. Three years later, despite opposition leader Tony Abbott proclaiming the 2013 poll as a carbon tax referendum, researcher Myra Gurney has found climate change actually rated surprisingly few mentions.

Why the silence?

Besides international positions on climate change, there are any number of local environmental flashpoints that could blow up any day – the Carmichael mine, fracking in New South Wales, or something currently regarded as trivial.
“The environment” has been around as political issue for more than 30 years, and isn’t going to go away, as the environmental and social stresses grow, and the institutional responses lead to “creative self-destruction”.

No doubt both parties will fall over themselves to spruik their support for renewable energy, which is akin to motherhood and apple pie.

What is striking about the history of climate change and federal politics is just how quiet politicians become once they get into campaign mode and face scrutiny for the specifics of their policy proposals.

Perhaps they simply have no answers to awkward questions of what we do to replace our fossil fuel infrastructure and the power of the fossil fuel lobby.

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The fossil-fuelled political economy of Australian elections


David Holmes, Monash University

The endorsement for coal mining from the Labor-Coalition duopoly that the election campaign has seen in the last week makes the token appeals that have been made about tackling climate change even more disingenuous.

In this election campaign, the major parties have only brought up climate change when they have been pressed to do so at public forums, like leaders’ debates, the ABC’s Q&A, or when they treat social media as something that needs to be quelled.

The Coalition’s response is simply to say that Australia participated in the Paris agreement, and that is good enough. Labor, on the other hand, points to having outbid the Coalition on targets. Yet neither party is planning to deliver the cuts needed for Australia to play its part in keeping global warming below the 2℃ threshold.

Which leads us back to a question I will deal with at the end of this article: if polls are consistently showing that Australian voters want climate change on the election agenda, why are the leaders keeping so quiet about it?

Neither party is shy of talking up coal, however. Bill Shorten declared last week that a Labor government would not ban coal mining – and that it would be part of Australia’s energy needs for the foreseeable future.

But then on Tuesday, Attorney-General George Brandis, campaigning for Queensland’s most marginal seat of Capricornia, put in one of the pluckiest coal-selling performances of the campaign. He cited the gigantic Adani mine in central Queensland a saviour for the electorate.

We know that Adani, the massive Indian coal company, wants to develop the Carmichael mine, which according to some estimates could generate up to 10,000 jobs. And people in Rockhampton know that and they know that the Greens are doing everything they possibly can to prevent the development of the Adani mine.

They see their future prosperity as being bound up in the development of the Adani mine, and they know that if there were to be a Labor-Greens government, that would be the end of the Adani mine, that would be the end of coal mining in central Queensland, and that would be the end of their best shot at economic prosperity in the future.

But what doesn’t add up here is that around the world, coal is in terminal decline, while the future for renewables is looking very bright and secure.

Just to the north, the federal government has quarantined A$1 billion from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation for projects to “save” the Great Barrier Reef. But this money is demonstrably not going to create any jobs that are relevant to Capricornia. Apparently pork-barrelling is not needed in Capricornia, as the promise of coal is a ready replacement.

But the largest contradiction of all is the complete illogicality of claiming (even if without foundation) to save the reef and solve climate change in one Queensland electorate, while proposing to unleash one of the largest deposits of CO₂ to the world’s atmosphere from the electorate next door.

It is worth heeding 350.org’s Bill McKibben’s warning that if all the coal in the Galilee Basin, of which the Adani mine holds one of the largest deposits, is exported for burning, it would use up 30% of the world’s carbon budget. 100% of the budget gets you 2℃.

And new climate research looking at the difference between 1.5℃ and 2℃, suggests the latter will make what we experience at the upper limits of present-day climate variability the new normal around the globe, and worse closer to the equator.

The influence of the mining and energy industry on election campaigns

This leads us to ask serious questions about the influence that mining and energy companies have on major political parties during election campaigns.

There is some variation in which particular mining companies are favoured by particular parties. Labor is certainly not as keen on Adani as the Coalition is. But, in general, the support for fossil-fuel industries is part of the DNA of the major parties today.

It is well known there is a perpetually revolving door between mining/energy companies and politicians/staffers from the major parties.

Take the Labor Party. When Labor lost the last election, Martin Ferguson, Craig Emerson and Greg Combet either took up management jobs with mining and energy companies and associations or worked as consultants for them.

Combet, a former climate change minister, took up consultancies for coal seam gas companies AGL and Santos. Ferguson, resources minister during Labor’s last term of office, landed the position as chairman of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association’s advisory committee only six months after leaving politics.

With the Coalition, former National Party leader Mark Vaile is chairman of Whitehaven Coal, the company at the centre of protest and controversy at the Maules Creek mine. Another former National Party leader, John Anderson, became chairman of Eastern Star Gas only two years after quitting Canberra.

The Sydney Morning Herald’s Anne Davies last year found a complex web of interlocking networks of influence that tied together NSW Premier Mike Baird’s office, then-prime minister Tony Abbott’s office, and energy and mining companies including AGL and Santos.

At times, these companies brought together high-profile Liberal and Labor politicians. Santos engaged a lobbying company, Bespoke Approach, which listed former Labor senator Nick Bolkus and former Liberal South Australian premier John Olson as directors.

AGL lays claim to the same cross-party alliance between former Labor minister John Dawkins and former Liberal senator Helen Coonan, who co-chair lobbying firm GRA Cosway.

But what is less-well-known is the degree to which mining and energy companies have enticed media advisors from the major parties to walk through that revolving door. Davies included an interactive graphic in her report that shows the rotation of media people between Canberra, mining and energy companies, and state politics.

Understanding the rotation of media advisors does not just open up the question of lobbying – it also explains how governments may feel obliged to legitimate their support for fossil fuel.

Such staffers are a real prize for the companies. They give them access to the media strategies of government departments, which may translate into real influence about the kind of messages that might be most favourable to their company’s operations.

Carbon-laced political donations

It is now a matter of public record that fossil-fuel interests have bankrolled climate denialism around the world for decades. The case of the collapsing edifice of Peabody Energy, once the world’s largest coal company, is a paradigm example of this. Fossil-fuel companies even sponsored the Paris climate summit.

But can the donations of fossil-fuel companies also influence election campaigns? Well, yes they can, but we won’t find out who and how this might be happening until after the election.

A recent Four Corners program delved into the lack of transparency of Australia’s donation process. For example, knowledge of who is funding the parties in this election campaign won’t be revealed until the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) releases its data in February next year.

But we do know from the last election campaign that mining and energy companies loomed large as donors for both Labor and Liberal parties. The AEC’s data release from February 2014 showed the Liberal Party received more than $1.8 million directly from energy companies that supported the repeal of an emissions trading scheme (ETS).

Even more was donated via the Liberal-linked Cormack Foundation. Two of the biggest “receipts” to the Cormack Foundation were BHP and Rio Tinto.

Labor received only $453,000 from mining and energy companies in the context of the immense industry opposition to an emissions trading scheme.

Speculating on 2016 party donations

The 2013 election was all about mining and energy companies donating in return for killing the carbon tax. This has now been completed. Job done, time to move on.

With the carbon tax gone, and millions in corporate welfare flowing directly to the mining and energy companies from taxpayers, all that the PR departments of these companies would be worried about is that climate change is kept off the election agenda.

Such an environment would suit the fossil-fuel industries as they fight for a few more years of viability in a world that is abandoning them. As constitutional lawyer George Williams has observedof all forms of corporate donations:

These companies are hoping that giving money will lead to outcomes. That’s why they’re doing it, and that’s one of the key problems of the current system.

So, here is a hypothetical PR strategy that would make perfect sense for the mining and energy sectors in this election, in eight easy steps.

Step One: Mining and Energy companies donate to major political parties with a request to drop climate change from their campaigns.

Step Two: Major political parties agree not to run on a climate platform and continue to heavily subsidise the operations of mining companies.

Step Three: Parties use money for broadcast and newspaper campaign budgets.

Step Four: Newspapers and TV and radio outlets sell the attention spans of audiences to the advertisers of political parties for large sums.

Step Five: Major parties expect that audiences will be persuaded to vote for one of them, while fossil-fuel company donations are justified by backing both possible winners who will look after their interests. The investment would only fail if one of the parties had to share power with minor parties or independents.

Step Six: Major parties continue to support coal and energy companies, offering them mining exploration licences, mining leases and export licences.

Step Seven: A part of the donations that energy companies give to parties is paid by consumers of increased electricity prices as well as taxpayers who are subsidising the corporate welfare that goes to these companies.

Step Eight: With favourable regulatory conditions for mining and electricity generation, mining and energy companies have greater certainty with which to expand their investments, operations and profits – some of which can be injected back into the political process at election time.

To the extent that this hypothesis is proven to be correct, and repeats the processes at play in the 2013 election, what emerges is that although Australia enjoys the free speech of a multi-party democracy, discussion of climate change is not free from the influence of capital in the election process.

To the extent that the major donors to Labor and Coalition are dominated by mining and energy, it is in the interests of this industry to finance a political duopoly that encourages the closure of public debates that do not conform to its interests.

The winners in this process can be identified as a media-political-industrial complex. This complex is a kind of three-way protectorate, where each group looks after itself by looking after the other two.

Broadcasters and newspapers are winners as they generate large revenues at election time that is channelled to them by political parties from the donors.

Mining and energy companies are winners, as they are able to distract voters from climate change and reduce pressure on parties to decarbonise the economy and regulate against their activities.

The parties are winners as they only need to neglect climate change in return for millions of dollars in donations to their election campaigns.

The losers are the voters, who are not only forced to subsidise the political conditions that make their per-capita emissions four times higher than the global average, but also subsidise the conditions in which climate is taken off the public agenda.

The biggest losers are our grandchildren, who are going to inherit the climate mess created by the manipulative, influence-peddling mediocrity that plays out over three-year election cycles – and not just in Australia.

The Conversation

David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, Monash University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

PolicyCheck: What are the parties really offering to save the Great Barrier Reef?


Jon Brodie, James Cook University

The Great Barrier Reef has become a major issue in the federal election campaign, with the stakes raised by the most severe bleaching ever documented and suggestions that the next few years will be our last chance to avert major damage to this World Heritage-listed icon.

Last week, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and federal environment minister Greg Hunt announced a further commitment of up to A$1 billion over ten years, from an existing A$10 billion “special account” administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

Turnbull said that this new Reef Fund will provide loans to finance more energy- and water-efficient irrigation systems on farms, as well as improved pesticide and fertiliser application systems. He also raised the possibility of the fund being used to finance solar panels on farms, saying:

The Reef Fund will support clean energy projects in the Reef catchment. It will finance solar panels and other renewable energy substitutes on farms as well as more energy efficient equipment in agriculture, local government and tourism.

The government says that this financing will be on top of A$461 million already pledged for the Great Barrier Reef, currently planned to be spent on incentive programs to help farmers move to more “water quality friendly” management practices as has been happening over the past seven years.

Labor, for its part, has pledged A$500 million over five years – including A$123 million as a continuation of an existing Coalition pledge – to be split between scientific research, pollution reduction and restoration projects, and reef management.

Is this enough money?

We already have relatively robust estimates of the funds needed to bring the reef’s water quality into line with the government’s official water quality guidelines set by Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in 2010. Unfortunately, we also know it will cost much more than either major party has pledged so far.

One estimate (on which I worked) puts the cost at between A$5 billion and A$10 billion over ten years. These amounts are far in excess of the current spending trajectory, based on what has already been spent: just under half a billion dollars on farming and water-quality management, as outlined above.

This funding has achieved some limited success in reducing pollution on the Great Barrier Reef. But it is now clear that much more funding and regulation will be needed to meet the required water quality guidelines.

How much money have the parties pledged?

Financial commitments, both in government budgets and election pledges, are difficult to assess accurately. Funding can be committed across several budgets, and it is important to distinguish between no-strings funding and loan financing.

Here is a breakdown of what the three leading parties are promising to deliver.

The Coalition will spend A$450 million over 6 years (from various programs including Reef Trust and Reef Plan) or about A$350 million over 5 years (from this July) plus the new A$1 billion loan facility, which will be portioned out over 10 years.

Labor has made a A$500-million, five-year commitment, albeit contingent on maintaining A$123 million of funding previously pledged by the Coalition, with A$377 million representing newly pledged funds.

Labor’s half-billion-dollar total can be broken down into A$377 million of direct, on-ground spending plus other current ongoing budget funding. The other roughly A$130 million is designated for research and organisational management.

The Greens have pledged A$500 million in new funding, to be spent on improved farming practices and other land restoration projects, plus a A$1.2-billion loan facility to help farmers transition to low-pollution farming methods. Both schemes would be administered over five years.

The Greens have also promised to retain A$370 in existing funding for water-quality projects, which it says brings its total financial plan for the reef to more than A$2 billion.

The Greens have also promised to use the law to protect the reef, by using the powers of the GBR Marine Park Act of 1975 to regulate polluting activities in the reef’s nearby river catchments. Tightening these regulations could help to reduce pollution faster, potentially reducing the amount of money needed to hit the reef’s pollution targets.

The Queensland government has also allocated A$90 million to spend on direct water quality improvement measures over the next few years. It will also use its regulatory powers under the state’s Great Barrier Reef Protection Amendment Act of 2009 to improve the region’s farming practices.

Loans and profits

One large question hanging over the the Coalition and Greens’ loan pledges is whether farmers will be keen to accept this financing, even at “low” interest rates. As many farmers are currently unwilling even to accept grant money to improve practices which provide them with little financial benefit, it is difficult to foresee a wide takeup of a loan facility.

Many environmentally beneficial changes to farm practice bring no net profit for the farmers themselves. Farming lobby group Canegrowers has questioned whether this is the best approach, arguing that the industry would rather receive dollar-matching grants than loans.

The Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) is currently providing loans via the major banks to allow farmers to invest in energy-efficient equipment, with interest rates discounted by up to 70 basis points relative to commercial rates. This would be the model that would most likely be followed for the new proposal.

Future loans doled out under the Coalition’s A$1 billion fund would need to remain within the CEFC’s broad investment mandate of funding projects and technologies that reduce greenhouse emissions. Thus, more efficient fertiliser use, higher-efficiency irrigation pumps, and low-till cropping would all fit the bill.

It is unclear, however, whether other farming improvements that could benefit the reef – such as gully stabilisation or repair – would be judged to come under the mandate of the CEFC loans, or whether they might be excluded.

Regardless, the proposed loan program will still not put nearly enough funds into what is a pressing issue, and a parallel system of focused grants for individual pollution-reduction projects would seem to us to be a sensible approach.

Without stronger regulation (which only the Greens are suggesting) and considerably more funding than any of the main parties is yet willing to provide – not to mention stronger action on emissions reductions throughout the economy – none of these policies promises a particularly rosy future for the Great Barrier Reef.

This article was co-written by David Rickards, Managing Director of Social Enterprise Finance Australia.

The Conversation

Jon Brodie, Chief Research Scientist, Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research (TropWATER), James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.