Another green attack out of the blue
Australia's Treasurer, Joe Hockey, presented his second budget on Tuesday evening. I can't tell you what was in it because at the time I was listening to Geoffrey Robertson at QPAC. I relied on First Dog on the Moon for my analysis the next day. Hockey knew he had to do better than last year. Again he's been criticised, not for harshness, but for providing sweeteners to small business and families in case there's an early election.
I'm pretty sure the budget contained few surprises: a lot of details had already been drip-fed. Most likely it was same old, same old: robbing Peta to pay Pauli. There was a big omission, however: the 'budget emergency' seems to have gone AWOL. And the budget surplus is but a futuristic figment of Joe's imagination. He blamed iron ore prices. I don't know if he banged on some more about inheriting 'Labor mess'.
In politics, surprises are more likely to be created by the electorate. In Queensland at the end of January, voters delivered a result not believed possible prior to polling day – bye-bye Campbell Newman et al.
A much nastier surprise was waiting in the cold early hours of last Friday morning for the people of the UK. Despite pollsters indicating a hung Parliament, much the same as five years ago, they were all wrong, and Posh Boy David Cameron was elected with a majority, dispensing with the need for sad Liberal-Democrats, who had climbed into bed with him previously and were annihilated for it by voters. The United Kingdom now faces a referendum to take it out of Europe; even more punitive austerity measures; and the repeal of the Human Rights Act. A grim day, indeed.
Political surprises are more often than not of the unpleasant variety. One thing the Newman government will be remembered for is the Mineral and Energy Resources (Common Provisions) Bill 2014. Innocuous as the name may have sounded, late-night fiddling with the legislation just before the vote – more specifically, the removal of an amendment – deprived landowners' right of appeal against big mining projects unless they are directly affected. So, a property abutting a mine lease area cannot object to the potential risk of drawdown impacting on its bores once the Co-ordinator General has decided environmental protection is adequate. The CG's say now prevents investigation of the most high-impact mining proposals (so-called co-ordinated projects) in the Land Court prior to the issue of an Environmental Authority.
The Newman government was furthering its intention to speed up approvals of mining development and hobble the efforts of environmental protectors to improve scrutiny of the most potentially damaging of those projects. This policy was no surprise, but the undermining of Parliamentary process and democracy – there had been many submissions made about the bill – was outrageous.
There is little doubt that the current Federal government's environmental record is deplorable. It has been joked that Enviro Minister Greg Hunt plays solitaire all day. Unexpectedly, however, has come a House of Reps Enquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations. These are groups that have tax-deductable status. If you support organisations such as WWF or the Australian Marine Conservation Society, the idea is you will no longer be able to claim tax relief on your donations, thus potentially depriving the groups of essential funds. It'll be OK if they just work 'on the ground'; but advocacy and lobbying will be prohibited.
I'd love to give you more detail, but I'm just off to the Land Court to hear the final submissions in the case against Adani's Carmichael mine. If one such group of environmental protectors, Coast and Country, had not been able to bring this case, important new research (in the form of expert witness reports) about the ecology of the Desert Uplands would not have come to pass, and, more significantly, huge doubts about the financial viability of this enormous mine would not have been admitted by Adani's own economists or received such exposure.
The Enquiry needs to know what the public wants: for environmental groups to carry on enabling a more rounded discussion about key threats to this nation's landscape and biodiversity, or be restricted to planting trees and litter-picking beaches. You can read a lot more here which includes instructions on how to make a submission.
I implore you to let the government know your views. This is an unprecedented attack on people whose motivation is transparent and genuine. I wish the same could be said of the resources industry and their mates in Canberra.