This is a proposal for a koala strike. For as long as the Albanese government continues to approve fossil fuel projects, there should be a ban on ministers entering zoos and animal parks for photo opportunities. If the government insists on contributing to catastrophic climate change, it should not benefit from the positive feelings people have towards the animals and environments it is destroying.
Late on Monday, in the shame hours where governments hide bad news, Tanya Plibersek approved the expansion of a fracking project in Queensland’s Surat Basin. There was no press release. No announcement was made. The decision was tucked away on a website of notices relating to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
Two days later, Plibersek announced the government would triple the size of the marine park around Macquarie Island. Standing in front of a cage full of penguins, the minister for the Environment promised to conserve the oceans for the country’s children and grandchildren. “We’re adding an area the size of Germany to the highly protected waters around Macquarie Island,” she said. “That means better protection for animals that rely on the ocean for their home or for their food.”
This is the essential contradiction of Plibersek’s portfolio. She is aware of the urgent need to preserve habitat. She is conscious of the extinction crisis. She is promising the largest overhaul of environmental protection laws in two decades. And she is approving new coal and gas projects.
She knows that the Murray–Darling Basin is again drying out. The Barrier Reef is bleaching. The oceans are thick with plastics. There are for the first time more introduced species of plants in Australia than there are native ones. And she is approving a project that will sink another 116 gas wells into Queensland over the next 30 years.
“Of course, this disturbing list is being made worse by climate change,” she said almost a year ago, six weeks after taking the portfolio. “Global warming multiplies environmental pressure everywhere. It heats our oceans. It deepens drought. It intensifies disease. It destroys habitats. And it worsens extreme weather events, which tilt the balance of ecosystems beyond recognition.”
If this were true – and it is – Labor would place a moratorium on all new fossil fuel projects. It would recognise the disaster in front of it and do everything in its power to arrest global heating. It would acknowledge the shockingly small window available to prevent irreversible climate change and focus its full powers on whatever intervention is possible.
Instead, the government continues to pretend that the systems in place are adequate. “This proposal, as with all proposals, was assessed on its merits,” a spokeswoman for Plibersek said after the Santos approval in Queensland. “It was subject to robust scientific assessments, and strict environmental approval conditions have been applied.”
All this says is that the assessments are specious, that they don’t consider the cataclysm to which these projects will contribute. Plibersek knows this, as does Anthony Albanese. It is embarrassing to pretend otherwise.
Until they confess this, however, there should be no more picfacs. There should be no laughing faces on the evening news, no pythons laid across narrow, uncourageous shoulders. Plibersek’s portfolio should not be one of contradictions. It should be very simple: its focus should be on stopping the rising temperatures that will ultimately destroy the globe.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on February 25, 2023 as "The koala strike".
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