The unique environment of Australia, the animals and places that make it special, has been a topic of conversation for both communities and government over the past few years but has received relatively little attention during the election campaign.
It is hard to forget what the Black Summer bushfires caused in 2020. A staggering 3 billion animals have been killed or displacedOr the impacts this year during theSixth mass bleaching event occurred on the Great Barrier Reef.
All of this occurred while Australia remained at top of an unenviable listing, as the nation that has the highest mammal-extinction rate.
The next government will be evaluated against this backdrop by those concerned about Australia’s environment standing.
Labor left it until the end of the campaign but has now released ambitious environmental policies that are significantly different from the Morrison government.
While the Morrison government continues to implement its existing measures, Labor says it will honor them and increase investment in many of them. It also added a suite new policies that aim at reducing the extinction crisis and making Australia a global leader in environmental issues.
Labor to reverse the neglect of the extinction crisis
The Coalition has been mostly criticised by environmental groups since it came to power.
According to the Australian Conservation Foundation the Coalition has decreased spending on the environment as part of its total budget by approximately 40% since 2013.
Perhaps because of the funding cut, it failed to develop recovery programs for more than 200 threatened animals. This is a key mechanism in federal environment law to reverse the decline.
Samuel stated that if the government failed to implement the key reforms recommended by him in a landmark review of federal environmental laws by ex-ACCC boss Graham Samuel, it would be accepting the “continual decline of our iconic places” and the extinctions of our most endangered plants, animals, and ecosystems.
The government did not implement these reforms.
While Labor had criticised much of this when it was in opposition, it offered little in the form of an alternative until this week.
Labor now says it will implement one the Samuel Review’s major reforms, establishing a federal Environmental Protection Agency in order to enforce environmental laws. It has also promised to respond fully to the remainder of the review if it is elected.
Labor pledged $224.5 million over four-years for its Saving Native Species Program. It claims it will clear the backlog of recovery plans and reduce the extinction rate in Australia.
Combination with Labor’s stronger Policies for emission reductionsThe policies have been praised by conservation groups.
Chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, Darren Kindleysides, stated that the policies, if implemented properly, “will provide a desperately needed boost for the protection of our oceans, and threatened wildlife, which have been hamstrung due to outdated and ineffective laws and weak enforcement, poor resourcing and poor resources”.
The Minerals Council of Australia, a mining lobby group, opposed the federal EPA idea when it was being considered previously. They claimed that it would increase red and green bureaucracy which delays projects, costs jobs, and threatens competition.
The reef, rivers and recycling
In January, the Morrison government announced it would invest $1 billion more in Great Barrier Reef water quality, management, and research.
Conservationists praised the move widely, although most complained that the government was not doing enough to address the biggest threat to the reef: climate change.
Labor announced that it will continue to fund the program and add $194.5 million more to help restore reefs damaged by pollution.
The Morrison government has been a champion of recycling while in office. It established a $280 million Recycling Modernisation Fund to help Australia kick-start a “circular economic” in Australia.
Labor has pledged to continue that effort, and to strengthen it with $60m more. They also want to ensure that government purchases of items are made from recycled materials.
Both parties are increasing Landcare (which helps local groups to improve their environment) and the Indigenous Ranger Program.
Labor has also announced a $200m plan that will improve urban rivers and a range of initiatives that will position Australia as a major player in international environmental negotiations and programs.
Greens push for even stronger targets
The Greens have issued a comprehensive environmental policy. It is similar to Labor. Federal Environmental Protection Agency to be established.
It also includes a target to zero extinctions in 2030 and a $24.5 Billion investment over 10 year for wildlife habitat restoration and planting of 2 billion trees by 2030.
The party is determined to end native forest logging, which has been implicated in increasing bushfire risks and contributing to the declines of threatened species. It is often supported Labor and Liberal-National governments.
The Greens also have a number of strong policies such as phasing-out single-use plastics, and expanding Marine Protected Areas.
Independents who are called “teal” have a variety of policies regarding the environment. They all support strong emission cuts but many have policies that go further to protect animals and habitats.
One Nation wants Australia not to join the Paris Agreement, and instead build more coal-fired power plants and dams.
It is clear that Labor will do more than the Coalition in order to stop extinctions and protect the habitats and places many Australians treasure.
Even if we have a minority government, there are good odds that both major parties would push for more action by the Greens or independents on Crossbench.