Wednesday, 29 October 2014


 ‘Who took conservatives out of conservation?’ is a headline in the latest issue of Habitat Australia, the magazine published by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF).

It’s a question that’s close to the ACF’s heart. This organisation was established in the mid-1960s at the behest of the Duke of Edinburgh with a grant from the Menzies Government and with Sir Garfield Barwick (Chief Justice of the High Court and previously a minister under Menzies) as president — it was conservative to the core.

The Abbott-Truss Government’s hostility to the environment has been surprising in its breadth. Their targets haven’t just been the carbon tax, renewable energy and curbing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, but also the Tasmanian Wilderness and Great Barrier Reef World Heritage areas, the network of Commonwealth marine reserves, the National Water Commission and the ‘green tape’ of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

It wasn’t always so with Coalition governments.

The EPBC Act was drafted and passed by the Howard Government. Howard proposed the national representative system of marine protected areas in 1998 and set up the National Water Commission in 2004.

The Tasmanian Wilderness and Great Barrier Reef were nominated for World Heritage listing by the Fraser Government, which also ended sand mining on Fraser Island and whale hunting in Australian waters.

At the state level, the original and current National Parks and Wildlife Acts were passed by the Askin Government in NSW which, in 1970, also brought in the Clean Waters Act and the Pollution Control Act.

Nick Greiner brought in the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991 which set up the legislative framework for ecologically sustainable development (including the precautionary principle) and replaced Askin’s State Pollution Control Commission with the Environmental Protection Authority.

Care for the environment — and willingness to introduce laws and regulations to protect it — has never been the exclusive territory of left-leaning governments. It is puzzling why the current crop of Liberal-National governments is now disowning and dismantling the legacy of their conservative forebears.

-          J Cavanaugh