To the Entsch degree

Fifteen years ago, Warren Entsch pushed three black-and-white photographs of a woman in lingerie across his desk. “There’s my missus. Look at that,” he told the journalist sitting opposite. “Good-looking bird and I love her to bits.”

Entsch was pushing for same-sex marriage rights at the time. John Howard was still prime minister. The former crocodile hunter and bull catcher was being described as a pink redneck. The pictures were to prove he was taking up the cause for other people: he wasn’t gay and he had two failed marriages and a new partner to prove it.

Entsch took an admirable stand, albeit through a confused, sometimes offensive line of reasoning. “They’re usually young, pretty good-looking fellas,” he said of the gay men he was representing, “and it gives us old fellas a chance at these good-looking young sheilas.”

Entsch’s new cause is the Great Barrier Reef. Two years ago, Scott Morrison made him the reef’s “special envoy”. It’s a curious title in that it has no real meaning. Entsch says he is interested in how to “leverage many opportunities for economic growth”. He won’t be “hand-wringing about impending mass human extinctions”. He says things like: “In my view helping the environment doesn’t have to cost the earth!”

Entsch’s new lingerie shots are misrepresented reports and faulty science. He slides them into radio interviews and across the desk to international officials. He claims the bleaching of the reef is worse because so much has been done to clean up the water – and sunlight gets through more easily. He says Australia is a “victim of our own success”.

As part of a campaign to prevent the reef being listed as “in danger”, he led a snorkelling trip to Agincourt Reef. The Environment minister, Sussan Ley, flew to Europe to lobby ambassadors. Both were arguing against their own scientists. The campaign was to save face and nothing else.

The pair succeeded, although the word is too generous. The United Nations will hold off in changing the reef’s listing. They will consider the decision again next year.

This is not a win. Certainly, not for the reef. The level of bleaching is catastrophic. Rising temperatures will increase bleaching events until the reef is pushed past its capacity to regenerate. Without a concerted plan to address climate change, the whole, extraordinary ecosystem will eventually die. The fact that Entsch’s answer to this is boat trips and pseudoscience is terrifying.

When Entsch worked at a crocodile park, his dog would get into the pens at night. Entsch would run out naked, waving a rake, trying to protect the dog from the crocodiles. “I often thought, if I slipped arse-over-head, what would the papers say in the morning about this kinky bugger naked in a crocodile pond with a dog?”

Entsch’s stewardship of the barrier reef is similar: his response is flailing and insufficient; it makes no attempt to address the root causes; and mostly it is concerned about what the papers will say.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on July 31, 2021 as "To the Entsch degree".

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