Environment Watch - the Coalitions track record on environment

The federal election campaign of 2013 was environment 'lite', with mainstream media concentrating on a range of domestic and international issues, and very little coverage of climate and environment.

This suited the Coalition, as it  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.

Just a few days into the job as Prime Minister, Tony Abbott started making worrying announcements on the environment. This page will track how the Coalition agenda plays out.


Key environmental issues & Coalition policy

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.

GOVERNMENT ACTION - Climate change & energy

Nov 11, 2013

a worrying start on renewables

Tony Abbott has made his first comments on wind energy and the Renewable Energy Target as Prime Minister. During an interview with Alan Jones (2GB) the Prime Minister cited two common misperceptions about renewables energy: Firstly, that renewables aren’t up for the job of powering the Australian economy because they’re intermittent. And secondly, that the Renewable Energy Target makes up a significant portion of electricity bills.

Nov 7, 2013

Coalition turns back on UN climate summit

Australia will not be represented by a senior elected member of the Abbott government at next week's major round of international climate change negotiations starting Monday in Warsaw.

Sept 30, 2013

Will the government increase targets, as promised?

The Coalition's policy document commits it to a 5 per reduction ''without the need for a great big new tax''. But it confirmed during the election campaign it would honour a commitment of the previous government to cut further if ''conditions relating to the extent of global action are met''.

A new analysis by the Climate Institute finds some of those conditions have been met.

''The agreements say we would be prepared to move to a bigger cut, anywhere up to 15 per cent, if we got comparable commitments from other developed countries and policies in major developing countries that would substantially slow emissions growth,'' acting chief executive Erwin Jackson said.

''Work by the Climate Change Department obtained under freedom of information concludes that the conditions surrounding developing countries have already been met. For instance, China has made commitments consistent with a 25 per cent cut. Now the United States has committed to a 17 per cent cut on 2005 levels, which is equivalent to [about] a 20 per cent cut on 2000 levels.

"The average of what developed countries have committed to is somewhere between a 10 and a 12 per cent cut.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/government-may-be-...

Sept 29, 2013

Minister says no to extra climate measures despite urgent call for action

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt said there would be no additional measures to counteract climate change after the release of an authoritative scientific report recommending swifter action by governments.

The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report has warned Australia has much to lose if climate change continues unabated.

Sept 27, 2013

The Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, has directed his department to shut down the Climate Commission website, so now its taxpayer funded research that has been produced over the last two years can no longer be accessed by the public.


Sept 24, 2013

The Climate Change Authority will be free to continue its work until the Coalition introduces legislation to repeal the advice-giving body, the new government says.

Environment Minister Greg Hunt told ABC's Lateline that the authority which was set to release a draft review of emissions reduction targets next month could continue to operate until legislation passes the parliament.

"In this case (the Climate Change Authority), we have to do it legislatively, so they continue to do their work until the repeal process has been completed," Mr Hunt said. (Source: Business Spectator).

This is a small bit of good news, at least for the short term.

Sept 19, 2013

The Abbott government has abolished the Climate Commission, which had been established to provide public information on the impacts and potential solutions to global warming.

It is understood Environment Minister Greg Hunt rang chief climate commissioner Tim Flannery at 10am on Thursday to tell him the body had been shut down.

Sept 19, 2013

The Australian Financial Review has reported that Mr Hunt has also ordered the closure of another key body in Australia's climate change policy, the Climate Change Authority. (Source).

The authority was created to advise the government on emissions reduction targets and caps and to detail international efforts to combat climate change. The authority was due to release a draft of a report on targets and caps next month.

Sept 13, 2013

Coalition climate spokesman Greg Hunt confirms that the Coalition still intends to kill off the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC), labelling it a ''giant green hedge fund''. In statements made before the election, the Coalition has said it will make shutting the bank a priority.

Meanwhile, the CEFC, which is a $10 billion green investment bank, has this week issued a loan to Pacific Hydro to build the final stage of its Portland wind farm (VIC) in what is likely to be among the bank's final deals. Around 400 jobs will be generated during the construction phase, with Australian suppliers to build the wind towers - an outcome which would not have happened without the CEFC.

Sept 10, 2013

The Coalition has announced it will reduce the amount of money it is spending on its Direct Action carbon reduction plan by more than $300 million.

The biggest saving, $200 million, comes from halving the amount the Coalition plans to rebate consumers for installing solar panels and solar hot water systems.

Almost $50 million will be saved by scrapping plans for three clean energy research centres. These centres were planned for the Latrobe Valley, the Hunter and central Queensland regions.

Other savings come from spending money on solar energy projects over six years instead of four, and moving $50 million for geothermal and tidal energy projects to the industry budget.

Sept 9, 2013

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has instructed his department to begin drawing up the legislation to dump Labor's carbon pricing scheme, and says Federal Parliament will resume in late October or early November to deal with it.


The Coalition has committed to abolishing the Climate Change Authority.

The Authority plays an important role in the governance of Australia's mitigation policies, undertaking reviews and making recommendations on:

  • the Carbon Pricing Mechanism (excluding household assistance and the Jobs and Competitiveness Program)
  • emissions caps under the carbon price
  • emissions reduction targets and carbon budgets
  • the Renewable Energy Target
  • the Carbon Farming Initiative, and
  • the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System.



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.

GOVERNMENT ACTION - coal and gas

Oct 10, 2013

Minister approves CSG drilling in Pillaga forest

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has given the federal tick to an expanded exploration and drilling program by mining company Santos in the Pillaga forest, despite concerns from scientists about possible long-term impacts on the Great Artesian Basin.

The Pillaga is one of the recharge areas for the Great Artesian Basin, and CSG wells could impact on both the basin and the water supply of local communities. The proposed exploration wells will drill through two aquifers in the Pillaga forest, and there is a risk that one of poorer quality may contaminate the other.

Sept 23, 2013

backflip on gas?

While he was opposition resources spokesman, Ian Macfarlane, supported the NSW government proposal that no exploration or drilling would occur within 2km of a residential area, a proposed residential area, or "critical industry clusters" such as horse studs and vineyards.

But now that he is part of government it would seem he has changed his tune. According to Guardian Australia, the federal industry minister Ian Macfarlane said that while NSW needed a buffer zone to protect people from CSG operations, "the bottom line is … it needs to be a buffer from major urban population centres not from hamlets, and the gas companies are saying the system in NSW right now is simply not practical or workable". Mr Macfarlane obviously thinks that the industry concerns should be able to over ride community opposition.

Mr Macfarlane then attacked what he called "anarchist" anti-CSG protesters who "disrespect the law", saying they "will not sway its determination to kick-start the industry".

Sept 17, 2013

New energy minister Ian Macfarlane has told The Australian newspaper that the government wanted to make sure that “every molecule of gas that can come out of the ground does so.”




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.

GOVERNMENT ACTION - Environmental powers

Oct 17, 2013.

Federal Cabinet signs off on plans to hand over responsibility for environmental approvals to the states.

Federal Cabinet has signed off on plans to hand over responsibility for environmental approvals to the states.

It will mean projects that impact flora or fauna deemed to be of national significance will no longer have to be considered by the federal Environment Minister as well.

Industry groups have welcomed the move, saying it will make it quicker and cheaper to get projects up.

Oct 15, 2013

Deals near on one-stop mining project approvals

Tony Abbott is close to clinching deals with Queensland and NSW to create a one-stop shop for environmental approvals in a move that could impose a 12-month deadline for signing off major projects.

Federal cabinet yesterday backed a framework for the plan, which is designed to cut ‘green tape’ in a bid to fast-track major project developments.

Under the plan, the federal government will sign a memorandum of understanding with each state willing to co-operate on achieving a single process.


Sept 29, 2013

Environment Minister Greg Hunt is refusing to release a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed with Queensland last week to streamline so-called ‘‘ green tape’’ . Mr Hunt’s spokeswoman said this was the first step in the government’s development of its ‘‘ one-stop shop’ ’ for environmental approvals and the government says the document is likely to become a template for other states.

The reform raises the prospect of the states approving their own applications under federal environment law. The Coalition-governed states of Victoria , NSW and Queensland have proposed grazing, shooting, tourism development and even logging in national parks in recent months (despite the name, national parks are largely established and managed by state governments).

Sept 26, 2013

Environment Minister Greg Hunt invokes federal environmental powers

Environment Minister Greg Hunt has called for water studies on 47 large coal seam gas (CSG) and coal mining projects before federal approvals are granted.

The comments appear to fly in the face of Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane, who said he was intervening to fast-track CSG projects in New South Wales in response to the state's "gas crisis".

In NSW the projects Mr Hunt has identified for review include large and controversial projects such as Watermark near Gunnedah, the Cobborah mine north-east of Mudgee and the Coalpac consolidation project near Lithgow.

In Queensland, the "water trigger" has been invoked on a number of large mine projects in the Galilee Basin, including projects proposed by Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart.

Sept 24,2013

Green groups are hopeful plans to build a coal port on Queensland's pristine Fitzroy Delta will be scrapped after the federal environment minister said he wants to protect the area.

Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt says the area, south of Rockhampton, was discussed during recent talks with the state government.

"(There's been) some very important environmental progress in terms of dealing with what's known as the Fitzroy Delta or Balaclava Island," he told ABC's Lateline on Monday.

"I am very hopeful we are able to protect this wonderful area."

Sept 23, 2013

Conservation groups seeking boycotts of products linked to poor environmental practices may soon be liable for prosecution under consumer law.

The move, which could severely hamper market-based campaigns by groups such as Markets for Change and GetUp!, is to be pursued by the Abbott government.

Parliamentary secretary for agriculture Richard Colbeck told The Australian the move would "prevent green groups from holding companies to ransom in their markets". As noted in New Matilda, "the particularly concerning aspect of the Coalition’s proposal is the chilling effect it may have on public debate". "It is odd for a party that champions free markets to turn to regulation to preserve vested interests."

Sept 5, 2013

In it's policy on Resources and Energy, released a few days before the September election, The Coalition says it:

"will cut green tape, encouraging the fast commencement of new projects by creating a ‘one-stop-shop’ for environmental approvals for mining and other projects."



Please sign our petition to Tony Abbott here, asking him to strengthen, not weaken federal environmental powers.




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.



Forests, marine & biodiversity

The Coalition has said it will abolish the Biodiversity Fund.

In opposition, the Liberal Party voted to disallow management plans for marine parks.

The recently announced 170,000 hectare extension to the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is seen as the 'crowning conservation achievement' of three years of forest peace talks. On Sept 3, while still in opposition, Tony Abbott said "we will seek to have it removed." It remains to be seen if the Coalition will proceed with seeking a de-registration now it is in power.


GOVERNMENT ACTION - Forests, marine & biodiversity

10 Nov, 2013

turtles and dugongs to lose protection?

The Cairns Post reports:

A special unit responsible for protecting turtles and dugongs from illegal hunting off Cairns could be disbanded as a result of the Abbott Government's public service staff freeze.

More than 40 Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority staff in North Queensland could lose their jobs under the changes.
It is understood the freeze could spell the end for the Cairns-based indigenous hunting unit, which patrols waters as far north as Cape York and works with native title holders to reduce illegal hunting in protected areas.

10 Sept, 2013

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."


Other actions

23 October 2013

Gutting the federal Environment Department?

The government has announced a 'Strategic review' of the Department of the Environment covering 'operations over coming months to examine its core objectives, roles and responsibilities, and to inform its future priorities and organisational arrangements'.

The review is being undertaken in the context of the Government's priorities, machinery of government changes following the election and the broader fiscal environmental within which the Department is operating.

The Department will also initiate a voluntary redundancy programme aimed at reducing staffing levels by around 150 to ensure it operates within its allocated budget.

Foreign policy

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.



Sept 23, 2013

International action on climate change.

Australia's international commitment to tackling climate change is in doubt, with the Abbott government refusing to say if a senior official will lead a key meeting of a giant new United Nations fund for developing nations.

The Canberra Times reports that Ewen McDonald, acting director-general of Australia's main aid agency, AusAID, is scheduled to co-chair the board meeting of the Green Climate Fund from October 8 to 10 in Paris.

The fund is intended to become a major conduit for state and private funds totalling as much as $US100 billion ($106 billion) annually by 2020 to help poorer nations shift to low-carbon energy and build resilience against global warming impacts.

Sept 18, 2013

Australia's agency responsible for coordinating the country's international aid program, AusAID will be integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Prime Minister Tony Abbott's released a statement saying he's recommended AusAID be integrated into DFAT to make diplomacy and aid delivery "more closely aligned".

Former AusAID Deputy Director-General and research fellow at Lowy Institute, Anne-Marie O'Keefe said that the move was "a shame because I do think it does have a big impact and effectiveness of development programs if it's not really clearly focussed on development outcomes."

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