Australian government "most hostile to the environment"


Even the ostriches are impressed...

Even the ostriches are impressed...

Those are the words used by a mainstream politician to describe the Tony Abbott government's savage approach to the Australian and global environments, in a formal submission on Monday to Australia's national parliament.

In a parliamentary speech that must have shaken the building's rafters, the Honorable Kelvin Thomson repeatedly decried the Abbott government as "the most hostile to the environment in nearly 50 years" in Australia.

Thomson, the Member of Parliament for the Division of Wills in Victoria, laid out a barrage of environmental complaints against the Abbott government.  These include efforts to:

- Carve out 74,000 hectares of World Heritage forest in Tasmania for industrial logging

- refusing to include climate change on the agenda of the forthcoming G20 global leaders summit in Brisbane, despite urging from many other nations

- approving plans to dump 3 million tons of sediment in the Great Barrier Reef -- a move that might have the iconic ecosystem declared a World Heritage Area in Danger

- gutting federal environmental protections in favor of a 'one-stop shop' that would devolve responsibility for environmental matters to the Australian states, many of which are stridently pro-development

One might expect members of the Australian Green Party to castigate the Abbott government's environmental stance.  But when a centrist like Kelvin Thomson feels compelled to speak out so forcefully, one realizes we really have entered the dark ages Down Under.

The 'environmental group' that's anti-environmental

George Orwell would have appreciated the Australian Environment Foundation.  That's because Orwell was a master of doublespeak--where words don't really mean what they say.

These guys make perfect sense to me...

These guys make perfect sense to me...

The AEF is not pro-environment.  In fact, it's arguably anti-environment, at least by any recognizable definition of that term.

The AEF opposes lots of things--wind farms, many mainstream efforts to combat climate change, and what it labels "green thuggery".  And it likes the Tony Abbott government's efforts to carve out 74,000 hectares of Tasmania's World Heritage forests for industrial logging.

In fact, the AEF likes Abbott's anti-World Heritage efforts so much that it's written to all of the members of the 21-nation World Heritage Committee, stridently urging them to back it.

The AEF was established in 2005 by the libertarian Institute of Public Affairs, which has received funding from a number of major oil, mining, and industrial corporations and is closely affiliated with Australia's Liberal Party--"Liberal" in this case being another term that would make Orwell proud.

And one shouldn't be surprised to learn that Alan Oxley is closely associated with the AEF.  Oxley is the industrial lobbyist and former Australian trade ambassador who's become notorious for opposing a wide range of environmental initiatives both in Australia and internationally.

Three years ago, ALERT director Bill Laurance debated Oxley at Australian National University, and that day did not go well for Mr Oxley.  Laurance and others have tried repeatedly to have a video of the debate posted on Youtube, but Oxley evidently bullied ANU and so the university declined to release it.

However, Laurance did summarize his comments about Oxley in a talk at Stanford University--which you can see here.

As the debate about Tasmania's World Heritage forests heats up, the AEF is finding itself back in the headlines.  If George Orwell were still alive, he'd surely enjoy their pronouncements--for entertainment purposes only.


IUCN slams plan to de-list Tasmanian forests

The Tony Abbott government's scheme to carve out 74,000 hectares of Tasmania's World Heritage forest for industrial logging is looking increasingly battered.

Lots of criticisms of the Abbott government plan...

Lots of criticisms of the Abbott government plan...

First there was the revelation that the government's proposal was prepared without consulting outside experts at all.  This is tantamount to building a brick house without mortar--the whole edifice is likely to be exceedingly weak.

On top of that, a trainload of prominent Australians and Aussie organizations have lined up in opposition to the proposal, and it got a giant thumbs-down from the Australian Senate.

And now the IUCN--the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, the world's largest coalition of conservation organizations--has flatly denounced the Abbott plan.

The IUCN's report to the World Heritage Committee--which will consider the government's bid in Doha, Qatar next month--is unreservedly critical of the scheme.

The report labeled the government plan "clearly inappropriate" and said it provided "relatively scant information" to support its case. 

Among other criticisms, it said de-listing the forests would "impact negatively on the outstanding universal value of the property".

Nothing is certain, but many believe the IUCN's detailed report--by so resoundingly slamming the Abbott government's scheme--could heavily influence the World Heritage Committee's decision.


Aussies fight attack on Tasmanian World Heritage

Australians are getting fighting mad about the Tony Abbott government's scheme to carve out 74,000 hectares of World Heritage forest in Tasmania for industrial logging. 

Easy to understand why it's a World Heritage Area...

Easy to understand why it's a World Heritage Area...

Many groups are lining up to fight the government's effort, which will be decided by the World Heritage Committee in Doha, Qatar next month.  For instance, see here, here, here, and here.

A particularly impressive submission to the Committee has been assembled by a team that includes Peter Hitchcock, the former director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority in Australia.  The submission has been formally endorsed by ALERT director Bill Laurance and other leading scientists.

If the Abbott government is successful, it would be only the second time ever that a natural World Heritage area has been de-listed from World Heritage.

Many believe this would be a major blow to nature conservation in Australia and would send a terrible signal to the rest of the world. 

If a relatively wealthy nation like Australia--and one that will soon host the World Parks Congress--won't protect its most important natural environments, how can we possibly expect much commitment to nature conservation from poorer nations? 

The World Heritage forests of Tasmania are truly amazing, but there's even more at stake here.

The Tasmanian travesty

For only the second time ever, a nation is attempting to de-list a natural World Heritage site. 

Imperiled forests in Tasmania (photo by Bill Hatcher)

Imperiled forests in Tasmania (photo by Bill Hatcher)

The first time there was a good excuse: the tiny nation of Oman de-listed a World Heritage site designed to protect the endangered Arabian Oryx, after it became locally extinct.

Now, under the conservative Tony Abbott government, Australia is about to join the exceedingly short list of World Heritage failures, in order to open up rare forests in Tasmania for industrial logging. 

And this time, there is no good excuse--only a remarkable disregard for environmental concerns by the Abbott government, as documented here, here, and here

Peter Hitchcock, a leading environmental consultant and former director of the Wet Tropics Management Authority in Australia, weighs in on the fiasco, based on his testimony to the Australian Senate:   

The Australian Government is seeking approval of UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee to DELIST part of the magnificent Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, for the purpose of commercial logging.

Targeted are 74,000 hectares of globally outstanding tall eucalypt forests (often called tall eucalypt rainforests) and other habitats along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area.

Tall eucalypt forests form only a narrow band along the eastern margin of the World Heritage Area, and in its present form that band provides ecological connectivity for habitats spanning around 180 kilometers.  The proposed delisting will destroy that connectivity and remove some of the grandest stands of tall eucalypt forests on the planet.

Where the giants still live...  (photo by Rob Blakers)

Where the giants still live...  (photo by Rob Blakers)

It gets worse.  The area proposed for delisting includes numerous other attributes of conservation importance including critical habitat for threatened species and plant communities, karst, caves, glacial features, a geological site, and more than 24 Aboriginal cultural sites including a Pleistocene archaeological site.

The Australian Government proposal demonstrates not just an appalling attitude to conservation and World Heritage, but sets a dangerous precedent globally.  If a relatively wealthy nation like Australia cannot sustain its World Heritage commitments, how could we ever fault a poorer nation for failing to do so?

The Australian submission to the World Heritage Committee is so full of misinformation that if the Committee were to approve the submission, its reputation would be severely tarnished.  Tragically, we would lose the one opportunity we have to protect the most globally outstanding tract of temperate tall eucalypt forest, in the context of a World Heritage site.


World park body slams Australian PM over 'no more parks' vow

ALERT's press release last week criticizing Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's ill-advised 'no more parks' pledge (see blog below) has been followed today by a major blast from the world's leading park body, the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA).

Now I see the PM's logic...

Now I see the PM's logic...

In an open letter, 114 Australian members of the WCPA decried the PM's stance and Australia's resulting loss of international leadership in nature protection.

The letter follows Abbott's widely publicized speech to a timber industry dinner last week when he vowed not to "lock up" any more forests in national parks.

The Abbott government also plans to remove World Heritage protection for 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian wilderness.

As detailed in blogs below, these latest steps follow a series of highly dubious actions that will weaken park and environmental protections in Australia.