The environment: while we weren’t looking….
Written by: Nick G. on 9 September 2020
Just a week ago, the government gagged debate in the House of Representatives on its Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Streamlining Environmental Approvals) Bill 2020.
The Bill is part of its attack on so-called “green tape” which its mining and agri-business backers accuse of delaying project approvals and requiring duplication of efforts under both federal and state regulations.
To make life easier for the big monopolies and corporations, the government wants to devolve the power to make decisions about national environmental issues to the States and Territories.
The States and Territories, in their competition to attract investment and create jobs, are often the weak link in environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.
In our submission to this year’s Review of the EPBC Act, we wrote:
If regulation is resulting in uncertainty and delays for industry, then the answer is to make the regulations more, rather than less, proscriptive so that the boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable impacts on the environment and biodiversity are clearer from the start. Confusion arises from competing federal and state/territory responsibilities for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation.
We also called for a stronger Commonwealth role rather than devolution of power to the states:
Our Constitutional model of “cooperative federalism” is anything but cooperative. It was a failed model even before the ink was dry on the signatures of those who adopted it. Its weak compromises have never served the Australian people. They continue to frustrate what many Australians want to achieve through legislation such as the EPBC Act. We are proponents of a stronger, not a weaker, Commonwealth role, but the problems inherited from our Constitution will continue to bedevil and frustrate such outcomes until we finally win genuine anti-imperialist national independence and socialism and craft a new Constitution that is fit for the purpose of the Australian people exercising power.
Water theft continues
Another issue the government has failed to address is the continuing theft of water from the Murray-Darling Basin. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists has just released a report showing that 20% of waters that should have entered the river system during 2012-2019 just “disappeared”.
The main reason is almost certainly up-river water theft by big agri-businesses, including unmetered floodplain water harvesting (see photo above). Following a 2017 Four Corners investigation, several of the water thieves have been successfully prosecuted, but the practice is wide-spread and has now been quantified for the first time: more than 2 trillion litres of water — enough to fill Sydney Harbour four and a half times.
According to the ANU’s Jamie Pittock, a co-author of the report, ““It means that there are all sorts of things that Australians value that won’t be sustained … like more water for towns … the floodplains, growing grass for sheep and cattle, in terms of biodiversity being conserved, waterbirds, red gum forests and conserving our fish.”
Meanwhile, the government has announced the end of the water buyback scheme which, although rorted by one of its own ministers, aimed to put environmental flows back into the river system. The move has been condemned by the Greens, the Wentworth Group and other scientists for depriving the government of its most effective means of retrieving water.
Robert McBride of Tolarno Station on the Barka (Darling) River, said in a Face Book post: “With no respect of nature, First Nations and every honest irrigators and farmers in Australia, the puppets in government have betrayed us all.” He condemned the “degree of greed and corruption killing all our futures”.
Scientists afraid to speak out
Not all environmental scientists have the authority and independence of the Wentworth Group. Many are constrained by their employers from openly reporting on things such as threats to biodiversity. Some universities dependent on funds from mining have put pressure on their own scientists. Details can be found in today’s online media outlet The Conversation in a piece titled “Research reveals shocking detail on how Australia’s environmental scientists are being silenced”.
Program for environmental protection and biodiversity conservation
Our Party program notes that “The only two sources of wealth are human labour power and nature. Capitalism attacks, devalues and destroys both. In the early stages of the 21st century, the damage to the environment as a result of capitalist plunder has reached potentially catastrophic proportions for humanity and the planet.”
The Party and the working class must exercise leadership in protecting the environment and ensure that a socialist society works not to “conquer” nature, but to co-exist with it, restoring the balance between humanity and nature.
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