Queensland's opportunity to address significant environmental threats

Andrew Picone

Queensland has a new government. For many in the community, the Newman government proved to be too much of a threat to the environment, too fast to strip away civil liberties and unwilling to listen to community concerns. For this, the Liberal National Party (LNP) paid the price at the ballot box.

The importance of the environment in the election is beyond doubt. The Great Barrier Reef, front and centre of Australia's iconic image to the world is perilously close to being listed as endangered by the World Heritage governing body, UNESCO. Dredging, coal, climate change, bleaching, run-off and pollution were all deeply concerning issues in the community and yet little was being done to address these threats.

In Townsville, the prospect of uranium mining in the Burdekin catchment contributed to three separate electorates voting out the LNP. With Labor's solid position to ban uranium mining in Queensland, they won three out of four seats in the area.

On Cape York Peninsula, a resurgence back to Labor saw Billy Gordon elected as the Member for Cook, the first Indigenous MP for the region since 1941. In another first, Leeanne Enoch is the first Indigenous woman elected to Queensland's parliament and the first Indigenous Minister.

With the defeat of the LNP after only one term, we now have the opportunity to address some of the most significant threats to Queensland's environment. While returning the ban on uranium mining is a high priority, there are other areas now in need of close attention. The LNP opened up protected forest to logging, allowed grazing in national parks, fast-tracked major high carbon emitting developments and weakened environmental laws.

But how different will the Labor Party prove to be in office? In August 2014, Queensland Labor released its State Policy Platform which outlines most of its commitments. It is both broad in its scope and specific in some areas.

Broadly, there is a re-commitment to return to the principles of ecologically sustainable development – a policy the previous government explicitly rejected. In addition, climate change is acknowledged and there is a commitment to move towards a 'low emissions Queensland economy'.

There are some clear and specific statements of commitment to the environment. These include rejecting the shifting of Commonwealth environmental laws to the state, restoring funding for volunteer dependent organisations, supporting a World Heritage nomination for Cape York with Traditional Owner consent, and repealing the LNP's pro-mining legislation on Stradbroke Island. For the first time, the Labor Party has appointed a Minister for the Reef and stated its commitment to meeting UNESCO guidelines to avoid an 'in danger' listing.

Preferences from the Greens, Independents and other minor parties helped to get Labor 44 seats. Only with the support from Independent Peter Wellington is Labor able to claim Government. From this position, Labor may be somewhat cautious in implementing the more ambitious of its policies. Despite this, the conservation movement must prosecute its case for better outcomes and greater accountability.

Andrew Picone works with the Australian Conservation Foundation in Cairns.

From Chain Reaction #123, April 2015, national magazine of Friends of the Earth, Australia, www.foe.org.au/chain-reaction/editions/123