The Coalition and the Environment - issues to watch

As Australians consider what the change of government might mean for them after saturday's election, there can be little doubt that we are in for a big shake up when it comes to the environment.

The Coalition came up badly against other major parties in the many assessments done by environmental organisations. And just two days before the election it released it’s policy on resources and energy, which sets a worrying direction for climate change under the leadership of Tony Abbott.

This policy doesn’t mention climate change, and is mostly focused on easing the ‘tax burden’ on the mining sector.

While we wait for the final results and a clear picture of what the Senate will look like, its worth looking at the Coalition agenda to see whats coming.

Here are some things to watch out for.

Climate change & energy

The Coalition has committed to abolishing the carbon price, the Climate Change Authority, the Climate Commission, and the Energy security fund.

While it has committed to retain the Renewable Energy target (RET) of 20% by 2020 it will review it in 2014, opening the very real possibility that the government will walk away from the target. The RET is vital for driving investment in renewable energy.

And it has announced it will ‘resolve’ community concerns over wind farms. It ignores the fact that 19 independent studies have shown there is no link between turbines and ill health. While this is a smart move in terms of getting support from some MPs outside the government, as it will make Senators Madigan and Xenophon very happy, however it goes against science and public opinion.

Coal & gas

The Coalition refused to support the call for a moratorium on coal seam gas (CSG) projects when it was in opposition. It says that the federal government has only ‘limited powers’ to regulate, while saying it wants to see no long term damage from CSG operations. In other words, it will stand back and let the States do what they want when it comes to coal and gas approvals. It has even offered $100 million in incentives to boost mineral and petroleum exploration.

 

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Environmental powers

This is one of the greatest short term threats: the Coalition intends to ‘streamline assessments and approvals’ processes for major projects. It will set up a ‘one-stop shop’ for environmental approvals, covering both Commonwealth and State Legislation that will cut ‘green tape’ (environmental protections).

In the real world this will most likely mean more coal mines, more gas rigs, and more port facilities in places like the Great Barrier Reef.
 

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Nuclear power

We know that Mr Abbott is a big fan of nuclear power:
“nuclear power is the only proven way of generating the base load power Australia needed without producing carbon pollution”.

Given how unpopular a domestic nuclear industry would be, he was smart enough not to make it an election issue. But what does his election mean in terms of potential new uranium mines?

In it’s Resources and Energy policy, released two days before the election, it says:
“the Coalition will formalise the agreement to sell uranium to India for peaceful, energy generation purposes”. It also wants to see the development of an export industry for thorium – check here for some analysis of this energy source.

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Forests & biodiversity

The Coalition has said it will abolish the Biodiversity Fund.

The Liberal Party voted to disallow management plans for marine parks. After being PM for just three days, Tony Abbott announced that the Coalition will 'review' the boundaries of Labor's marine parks and scrap the recently-completed management plans for the parks.

Mr Abbott declared: "we do not want to lock up our oceans,"

 

Old friends are good friends

Expect the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) to come in from the cold. As was recently reported in Fairfax media, corporate sources have said it was hard for multinationals and big companies to continue supporting the institute due to its hardline positions on many issues. One described its position on climate change as ''nuts'' and ''lunacy'' and embracing ''fringe'' elements.

This won’t stop the Coalition from drawing from the IPA’s wishlist of anti-environmental measures. In April, Mr Abbott explicitly endorsed the IPA’s 75 Ideas for a Better Australia, giving it a ‘big Yes’ in a speech.


Locking out the movement?

Things to look for:


·    Green groups losing access to government MPs, Ministers and departments
·    Cuts to the GVESHO program – these  are admin grants from the federal government for a large range of groups from across the country, traditionally supported by both main parties
·    ‘investigations’ into the charitable tax status of green groups (remember the IPA’s critique of green groups that have deductible gift status?) Even the risk of loss of tax status will have a chilling effect on many groups.

Don’t forget the neighbours

The Coalition has said it will cut more than $4 billion from the foreign aid budget for infrastructure in Australia like roads.

Check the Australian Council for International Development for details about the impacts of this mean spirited announcement.



Don’t get depressed – get active

There is a lot at stake. We will have to work harder and more strategically than ever before. But the last few years of our campaign work against new coal and gas operations and in support of renewable energy has given us deeper and broader networks than ever before. We are well placed to maintain our effective campaigning model.

But we need your help.

Please donate.

We need new campaigners and new capacity on the ground to build our grassroots opposition to new coal and gas projects.

Any amount will help.

Join your local FoE group.
Details here.

http://foe.org.au/get-involved

It will be a tough couple of months. But we are here for the long haul, and we know you are too. We will report back via our newsletter as things develop (you can sign up for this via the front page of the site). We will need your help and response to our call outs.

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