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If Abbott is elected, Australia’s natural wonders will gradually be rubbed away

A Beach in Australia

The expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point would threaten coral, dugongs, turtles, dolphins and much of the rest of the Great Barrier Reef’s profusion of life. Photograph: Graeme Robertson


Powered by article titled “If Abbott is elected, Australia’s natural wonders will gradually be rubbed away” was written by George Monbiot, for on Thursday 5th September 2013 01.35 UTC

His views have changed, but don’t expect Tony Abbott to acknowledge this, let alone apologise to Australians for misleading them. In 2009 he maintained that manmade climate change is “absolute crap”. Now he says “I think that climate change is real, humanity makes a contribution.” But he has merely switched from denying global warming to denying the need to act on it.

Abbott is following a familiar script – the 4 Ds of climate change inaction promoted by fossil fuel lovers the world over. Deny, then defer, then delay, then despair.

His Direct Action program for reducing emissions is incapable of delivering the cuts it promises, absurdly underfunded and surrounded by a swarm of unanswered questions. Were it to become big enough to meet its promises, it would be far more expensive than a comparable carbon trading scheme, which Abbott has falsely claimed would incur “almost unimaginable” costs. But it won’t be big enough, because he refuses to set aside the money it requires. Direct Action is a program designed to create a semblance of policy, in the certain knowledge that it will fail to achieve its objectives.

Why? The answer’s in the name. Coalition policies begin with coal: getting it out of the ground, moving it through the ports, stripping away the regulations that prevent mining companies from wrecking the natural beauty of Australia – and from trashing the benign climate on which we all depend. The mining boom in the world’s biggest coal exporter has funded a new, harsher politics.

Environmental Activism in Australia

Climate change protesters wait for Tony Abbott at Penrice Soda Holdings in Adelaide. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAP

Like the tar sands in Canada, coal has changed the character of the nation, brutalising and degrading public life. It has funded a vicious campaign of mud-slinging against those who argue for the careful use of resources, for peace and quiet and beauty and the health of the living planet. Australia, like Nigeria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, suffers from a resource curse.

To those four Ds you can add an R: retreat. Like Canada, Australia is slipping back down the development ladder, switching from secondary and tertiary industries towards primary resource extraction. Note Abbott’s disparagement of what he calls a “restaurant-led economy” in Tasmania, and his intention to replace it with the businesses that preceded it: logging and pulping, mining and unregulated fishing. A 21st century nation is returning to a 19th century economy. It makes no financial sense, but mining and logging corporations are more powerful lobbyists that restauranteurs and eco-tourism companies.

That R also makes the difference between coal and coral. If, as we can expect, Abbott allows a massive expansion of the coal port at Abbot Point, which means the dredging and dumping of 3m cubic metres of material inside the Great Barrier Reef marine park, it would threaten coral, dugongs, turtles, dolphins and much of the rest of the reef’s profusion of life. If it happens, it will be a simple declaration that nothing – not even the Great Barrier Reef, on which so much of Australia’s image and revenue depends – will be allowed to stand in the way of extraction and destruction.

Abbott will dump coal onto the bonfire of environmental protection lit by some of the state governments. He intends to cut what he calls “green tape” – the rules that protect humankind’s common heritage from greed and selfishness – and withdraw the federal powers that are often the last line of defence against state governments captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate.

None of this is to suggest that Labor has distinguished itself on these issues. The announcements of the past few weeks look like a last minute scramble to help voters forget its record of vacillation and cowardice. Labor’s failure to protect the natural world ensures that Abbott’s philistinism is harder to contest. As usual, it’s only the Greens who have consistently been advocating responsibility and statesmanship.


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