Sunday 1 September 2013


The major parties - Australian Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party Coalition -  in the campaign leading to the federal election on September 7 have largely avoided discussion of the environment.  Should we then we assume that the natural environment, on which we humans all rely for the services it provides, is doing well? Or is it simply a case of "it's all too hard"?

Despite the lack of general discussion on the environment, the major parties have policies which will impact on the environment.
For example both major parties have announced that they intend to encourage mining development. 

Do they want to see more coal mines?  Is this wise – both from an environmental and economic aspect?  We should be phasing out the use of coal as a fuel because of its carbon emissions and the other pollutants it produces.  It is quite obvious that, while they are still burning huge quantities of coal, countries such as China, which buy our coal, are steadily moving to cleaner energy sources.

We should also be very cautious about investing in the infrastucture to support coal-mining and its export.  Spending billions on port development could well be an enormous waste of money given that coal is approaching its use-by date. 
Does their desire to see more mines mean both the ALP and the Coalition would be pushing for the expansion of gas mining in the mistaken belief that it is much more "greenhouse-friendly" than coal?   The Northern Rivers could well be one of the areas affected if this is the case.  While in the Page electorate both Janelle Saffin and her major challenger Kevin Hogan have declared they are opposed to gas mining in their electorate, it is unlikely that their views will be considered important if their party decides it wants gas mining expedited here.

On climate change in general both parties could do much more.  "Direct Action", the Coalition replacement for the carbon tax which they intend to scrap, is vague and there are serious doubts about whether it can achieve the emissions reduction to which the party committed. There are also questions about the cost of this policy.  The ALP, with its focus during the election campaign on reducing electricity costs, would seem to have lost the plot about the reason for taxing emissions. 

A draft of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change leaked recently stated that the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions "at or above current rates" are that the world is likely to become 5 degrees hotter.  Moreover there is a 95% likelihood that human greenhouse gas emissions are driving the rise in extreme weather events now being observed around the world. This means that there should be a sense of urgency about effective action on emissions reduction.  Neither major party indicates that this major environmental problem is in any way urgent.

Other policies which have not been discussed above and which have environmental implications include transport, biodiversity protection, fuel subsidies, renewable energy and environmental law. 

Ignoring the natural environment and its many problems will not make those problems go away. Future governments will be forced into action whether they like it or not.