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No wonder Scott Morrison told the congregation he addressed in Perth not to trust in government. Given the rats' nest of disaster uncovered in the State of the Environment Report, which his administration sat on for months before the federal election, you'd be a mug to put your faith in government - well, his government anyway. Morrison's environment minister Sussan Ley had been quite voluble in opposition until yesterday, when the damning report was made public by her successor Tanya Plibersek.
To be honest, we didn't really need the report to know the environment was crook. We saw a large part of it incinerated in the the Black Summer fires. The haunting images of stricken koalas trying to escape the flames carved a deep wound into our national psyche. Some three billion animals were killed or displaced in that inferno, regarded as the worst single event for wildlife in our recorded history. An estimated 5.2 million hectares - or 7 per cent of NSW - was burnt in the fires. In many places it has not recovered.
A good chunk of Plibersek's address to the National Press Club on Tuesday was given to chastising the former government for not releasing the environment report before Australians went to the polls. "This report was delivered to the government last year. The previous minister, Sussan Ley, received it before Christmas but chose to keep it hidden, locked away until after the federal election. And when you read it, you'll know why. But while it's a confronting read, Australians deserve the truth," Plibersek said.
Some 2000 pages long - just the overview runs to 274 pages - the report paints a damning picture. It says Australia has lost more mammals than any other continent and has one of the fastest rates of species decline in the OECD. Progress on emissions reduction "stalled" after the Coalition came to power in 2013, making its 26-28 per cent pollution target for 2030 most likely unachievable. Essentially, the report torpedoed any narrative the Morrison crew might have spun that it cared one bit for the environment.
But that is all history now. Morrison is gone, cosplaying a preacher and unlikely to sit on the backbench for too long before quitting Parliament altogether. Ley snipes from the opposition sidelines with depleted credibility and Labor is in charge - in the House of Representatives anyway, with fences to mend with the Greens in the Senate. Far from being demoted as was claimed when she was handed the environment portfolio, Plibersek now has one of the toughest gigs in government.
In her press club address, Plibersek pointed proudly to Labor's environmental record in the Hawke era, citing among its achievements the saving of the Franklin River in Tasmania. In 1983, the newly elected Hawke government was at loggerheads with the Tasmanian Liberal government, which wanted to dam the World Heritage-listed Franklin for hydro electricity. New Attorney-General Gareth Evans organised RAAF overflights of the area to check no illegal work was being done in the wilderness area, which would have been in contravention of Australia's international obligations. It earned him the nickname "Biggles".
Plibersek faces a very different political landscape in 2022. Underpinning all the environmental challenges is climate change. Labor premiers in Queensland and Western Australia and the Northern Territory chief minister are keen to develop new gas fields. The Greens, who hold the balance of power in the Senate, want to stop them and this is a major point of friction.
With the environment in a dire state, federal environmental legislation in need of an urgent reset, and a political fight brewing with the Greens, Plibersek has her work cut out for her.
HAVE YOUR SAY: Were you surprised the Morrison government kept the State of the Environment hidden for so long? Should Morrison leave parliament sooner rather than later? If you were environment minister what would you fix first? Email us: email@example.com
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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:
- The Therapeutic Goods Administration granted the Moderna jab, currently only available to children aged six or over, provisional approval for those aged between six months and six years.
- While recent first home buyers are particularly vulnerable to financial stress with the Reserve Bank poising to raise the cash rate in the coming months, Reserve Bank deputy governor Michele Bullock told the Economic Society of Australia most households had large buffers and equity in their homes, preparing for rate increases through low fixed-rate loans and savings.
- A refugee who spent 14 months locked inside two Melbourne hotels is taking the federal government to court alleging he was unlawfully detained. Mostafa Azimitabar was detained on Christmas Island after trying to arrive in Australia by boat in 2013. He was brought to Australia in November 2019 to receive medical attention, but instead of being transferred for treatment he was detained at the Mantra Hotel for 13 months and the Park Hotel for one month.
THEY SAID IT: "We won't have a society if we destroy the environment." - Margaret Mead
YOU SAID IT: We asked about the energy crisis Europe will face in the coming winter as Russia responds to sanctions by withholding gas and oil.
"We will need to tread a fine line between working towards a world without greenhouse gases and supporting otherwise millions of people who will perish in the freeze in the northern winters or keeping them in work in order to keep them alive. A big responsibility and many big decisions as we navigate the looming crisis," said Rosemary.
Carl, who has seen war up close as a correspondent during the Vietnam War, said: "What a bloody (avoidable) disaster in the first place and don't call me a Putin apologist. I'm a pacifist, remember them? And now Biden wants to start a war with China over Taiwan, flex American muscles across the South Pacific and join Israel to destroy Iran if they ever get a nuke. And despite all the hype about wonder weapons etc, Russia is winning the war and those sanctions have been one gigantic chest wound to Europe and the US whilst the Global South just carries on as normal. And, yes, nothing to do with Australia. Why send our superseded gear - damn, we even flew the stuff there - of artillery, rifles and those damned trucks just to show we're part of the world?"
Murray agreed: "No, we should not be supporting Ukraine in any way, we should stay away from problems in Europe and focus on the very real issues in our own region and here at home, as there are many that need to be solved urgently."
Tony, on the other hand, said: "Yes, a higher cost of living is a reasonable price to pay for supporting Ukraine. The war in Ukraine will probably only end when Putin dies, or he's overthrown in a coup."
Donald said the conflict would escalate: "I wish I could see another outcome of the Putin fiasco but it seems to me that sooner or later the war will escalate. To coin a phrase, God help the entire world then. Some 'players' (the US comes to mind) will try to look after themselves and others will go in boots and all. However, it will nonetheless and ultimately become all-in, just like World War II but with more final weaponry."
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