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New Australian Prime Ministers’ anti-environmental agenda

September 27, 2013

Article written by Maxine Newlands for The Ecologist.

In the first few days of his Premiership Tony Abbott announced the eradication of key environmental policies. Abbott wants to repeal both the carbon and mining taxes, abolish key green government bodies, and increase industrialisation along the Great Barrier Reef. UNESCO World Heritage committee have already warned the Australian government that further coal port expansion could put the Reef on the ‘in danger’ list.

Environmentalists are outraged at Abbott’s plans to tackle climate change. Australian Greens environment spokesperson, Larissa Water says, “Less than a week into the top job, Tony Abbott has confirmed he is an absolute environmental vandal. Mr Abbott’s plans to rip up the carbon price, mining tax, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Climate Commission and the Climate Change Authority, show he is a climate criminal”.

Carbon tax has been a political stick to beat each side of the climate change debate, set up by the Gillard government as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, Kevin Rudd had already planned to scrap the carbon tax, and bring in an Emissions Trading Scheme next year. Abbott has taken Rudd’s promise one step further, shifting away from taxes as a solution to climate change.

The mining tax or ‘resource super profits tax’ (RSPT), is a tax on any profit made by mining companies that is above 6% of their capital investment, in addition to corporate tax. Abbott’s government claim scrapping the mining tax will mean workers will be an extra £270 ($450 Aud) a year better off.

Abbott has stuck by his other pre-election pledges to shut down the Climate Commission along with a range of other climate-change related institutions, and cancel plans for a Clean Energy Future Act (2015). The Commission established just less than three years ago, (Feb 2011) was set up to inform the Australian public on the science of climate change, international actions on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the economics of carbon trading.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific Programme Director, Ben Pearson says “Australia’s new government is abolishing key institutions like the Climate Change Authority, overturning critical policies to reduce emissions like the carbon price and working with the Queensland Government to open up massive new coal deposits like the Galilee Basin”. The abolition of key climate change policies is as good as “a health policy that involves closing all hospitals” adds Pearson.

North Queensland Conservation Council spokesperson, Wendy Tubman thinks Abbott’s changes show a “fundamental shift in the way the government sets Australia’s interaction with the environment. No longer will it be the framework within which our society and economy work. It will now become a resource to be exploited in order to increase the monetary income of industry”.

A move that seems plausible as the Department of Environment, – responsible for Australia’s participation in international climate change negotiations will now be overseen by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Australian environmental groups are equally concerned about Abbott’s plans for the Great Barrier Reef.Greenpeace Australia Pacific’s Ben Pearson says “In his first 100 days Greg Hunt will make a number of decisions that will demonstrate whether he is serious about protecting the magnificent Great Barrier Reef, and addressing climate change by not allowing our massive coal export industry to expand even more. It is critical to his credibility that he rejects these reef and climate destroying projects“.

New Environment Minister Greg Hunt is tasked with the policy changes and placating the mining industry. Hunt’s first big job will be to decide whether to approve the expansion of the Abbott Point Port and whether to approve to massive new coal mines in the Galilee Basin that will increase shipping the length of the Great Barrier Reef.

If Hunt approves the expansion at Abbott’s Point Port it will become one the largest coal ports in the world, backing-up environmentalists long held the belief the Australian government is in the back pocket of the mining industry.

Senator Waters says “Abbott has promised his big business buddies that he will devolve national approval powers for developments that impact on matters of national environmental significance to state governments. That would leave approving developments that impact the Great Barrier Reef up to [Queensland] Premier Campbell Newman, who when asked about the reef declared ‘we’re in the coal business’.”

Environmentalists will fight hard to stop the Abbott governments ‘anti-environment’ plan. “The Greens won’t stand by and let Mr Abbott rip up our progress on climate action and give the big mining companies open slather on the Great Barrier Reef. Australians love the Great Barrier Reef and we know we have a responsibility to the rest of the world to act on climate change” says Senator Waters.

Maxine Newlands is a freelance journalist and academic researching environmental politics and the media. She currently resides in Australia.


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