News from the front desk 459: While koalas at Port Macquarie burn alive in bushfires that are sending smoke to Sydney, while farms and farmers are dying and rivers run dry, and while topsoil blows into our oceans, the federal government picks now to review the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
The claims are that a review will streamline understanding and make the rules clearer, more accessible. That it will balance the needs of farmers, the environment and mining.
Under Professor Samuel, ex-chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, that’s the deal on offer – a review process that will be impartial and fair.
Samuel is an expert on competition issues and promises to come to the issue with a “clean sheet of paper”.
Thing is, that’s a problem. Samuel is not an expert on the environment as far as we know. And this is not the time for an impartial review that balances all needs.
Furthermore, do we trust this government with its appalling track record on the environment and refusal to ensure we absolutely cut our emissions as fast as possible to do anything that remotely resembles a fair deal for the environment and farmers? Miners, sure. They’re safely tucked in nice and close to the government’s heart.
But right now, at this time of growing urgent crisis, we do not need a balancing of these three interests, we need an outright wartime mobilisation to save our land and our climate. Whatever it takes.
Environment Minister Sussan Ley gave the game away with her choice of the words “green tape” in relation to the review.
Green tape is code to all developers and business types that “we have your back”.
Cutting red tape is when you take the taxes and levies away from your favourite cohort, cutting green tape is when you remove the biodiversity barriers and poke fun at the absurdity of protecting the hairy-noised fan-tailed funny-walking cutsie-pie tweedly-thingy that’s stopping a massive mining project going ahead.
Funny isn’t it? Never mind the inconvenient domino effect nature has of taking down a hoard of species with each extinction episode.
So pardon us if we’re not as believing and polite as the very balanced and lucid coverage from The Herald. Or the soft cooing supportive noises of the serious conservationists who know they must speak kind words to government in public or have themselves thrown in a paddy wagon, job prospects ruined, and their loved ones raided on suspicion of treason or whatever.
How can we actually ensure balance when the air is too foul to breath, the water runs out and the food is mysteriously disappearing off our supermarket shelves? Anyone who’s visited other parts of the world and seen the thin range of poor quality produce there, often imported, will know how unbelievably lucky we are in this country.
We bet the people who have pushed for this review are not environmentalists complaining that decisions to mine or take water from our aquifers should be made more quickly.
We bet that like many of us, those pushing the review will be the lucky ones who are completely oblivious to suffering of the people who put that food on our shelves, usually at the detriment to their own welfare and sanity.
If you have the stomach for it watch the rural version of “Struggle Street” that’s been on ABC lately; pay particular attention to the farmers, note how much passion and love and care they’ve invested in their patch of dirt and now must abandon it.
Or watch Monday’s episode of Q&A and see how perilously close the drought is coming to our doors.
Note the Indigenous man standing in front of a dry but once-mighty river that 100 years ago yielded fish, turtle and prawns (of all things) in abundance for his clan.
Muruwari and Budjiti man and water activist, Bruce Shillingsworth, then served it up in person from within the studio. “Capitalism and corruption have killed our rivers” he said.
Watch the clip of his words here. They’ve gone viral. People are starting to listen to what Indigenous people have to say about managing this land. The evidence is in: in 250 years we’ve pretty much wiped out magnificent ecology.
Menindee grazier, Kate McBride, just 21, was another voice of passion and anger on the program. “The environment and communities have to come first,” she said.
Poor David Littleproud, minister for drought. What a poisoned chalice that must be for him. To look into the eyes of those desperate farmers and offer them soothing platitudes. No amount of drought relief will compensate for the death of a river, disappearing species and growing numbers of towns without water.
And this government chooses now to think about winding back protection for the environment? Great timing minister.
Quite frankly, we don’t think the review will bring in faster protections for the environment. If it does it will be a massive departure from the current track record and it will deserve fulsome praise from us all.
So let’s see.
For now, let’s take a close look at this EPBC Act.
The EPBC Act is the core piece of legislation that covers fundamental elements of sustainability including reducing greenhouse gas emissions, protecting the ozone layer, ensuring intergenerational equity and making the precautionary principle fundamental to decision-making.
It builds on international agreements and approaches including the landmark 1987 Report of the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future, also known as the Brundlandt report.
That report was clearly how the whole notion of ecologically sustainable development entered the lexicon and became a thing. It contains all the seeds of industry transformation: energy efficiency, resource efficiency and sound development planning.
The expert panel appointed for the EPBC Act review has four members. One of them is a senior executive and lobbyist from the mining sector, Dr Erica Smyth.
Her bio states she has 40 years’ experience in the minerals and petroleum industry, and is chair of the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority Advisory Board.
We have to wonder, why is mining and specifically fossil fuels, which by its very nature cannot be sustained, getting that seat at the table?
Why isn’t it urban planning? A sector that affects every single one of us and must be sustained? Last we checked, there is no alternative to having somewhere for everyone to live.
The other three experts include Bruce Martin, who is a Wik Ngathan man from the community of Aurukun on the Western Cape York Peninsula, a member of the board of the Indigenous Land Corporation and the council of James Cook University.
There’s also the chair of the Climate Change Authority and former chief executive of the National Farmers Federation and of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority, Dr Wendy Craik; and Professor Andrew Macintosh, environmental law and policy expert at the ANU College of Law and member of the ANU Centre for Climate Economics & Policy.
The EPBC Act is definitely not perfect legislation. But to start the review from the position of “cutting green tape” is to ignore that the mother nature does not negotiate balanced outcomes between farmers miners and herself.
She is like Caesar: she must get what she must get. It’s the only way to ensure a viable environment for we humans (The cockroaches will be fine).
When there is a decision made to allow massive water allocations to foreign owned almond plantations in the upper Murray-Darling, “she who must be obeyed” will have no mercy with the consequences.
The legacy of the Murray-Darling’s mismanagement will be like that of unrestrained carbon-combusting and pollution, it will linger for decades, perhaps centuries.