Former Federal Minister and Chairman of the Tourism Taskforce John Brown reflects. . .

In the 1980s Australia was considered one of the most admired countries in the world on an environmental scale. That record, built under the Hawke government and our ideals about environmental protection has now been trampled by the rest of the world. Today, we find ourselves at the bottom of every poll of National regard for the world’s environment and we are never offered a speaking position at any International Environmental Forums.

The strongest developed countries in the world, particularly the United States, have despaired of our paltry record in every aspect of environmental protection. A poll of all the Environmental policies of every strongly developed country finds us last. The global poll of every country in the world finds Australia 4th from the bottom in terms of our contribution to saving our endangered globe from environmental destruction.

In the mid-1980’s Bob Hawke whose environmental credentials have never really been recognised, persuaded every country in the developed world to join the International Agreement which makes Antarctica sacrosanct from any attempt at research or development in the areas of oil or mineral discovery. As a result, Antarctica is the only continent thus protected.

This and the other environmental protections legislation which emanated from the Hawke government made us the envy of and the gold standard for the world’s environmental protections.

Bjelke-Petersen was granting exploration leases on the Great Barrier Reef for oil and mineral research. Hawke legislated to make the Great Barrier Reef part of the national estate under complete control of the Commonwealth and totally out of Queensland’s hands.

Next, the Tasmanian government was about to dam those wonderful wild rivers in the south of the state for a hydroelectric powerhouse. Hawke again used the Commonwealth’s powers to declare the Gordon below Franklin area and the wild rivers, part of the National Estate. Of course, history shows that the conjunction of these wild rivers has led to one of the most magnificent environmental jewels of the world and a highly successful tourism venture. The Gordon below Franklin area is a thing of wonderful beauty and awe.

Thank God Hawke saved this area from total destruction.

Hawke then turned his attention to the rainforests of Australia. Bjelke-Petersen was promoting housing development in Queensland’s rainforest, even an abominable attempt to do so in the beautiful pristine Daintree. Again Hawke introduced legislation protecting every rainforest in Australia from the tip of Cape York to the south of Tasmania. These magnificent rainforests add a certain lustre to the whole environmental jewel which is Australia.

The world’s rainforests are being destroyed every day by unthinking, insensitive governments at an enormous rate. Every rainforest tree in Australia is protected under this Hawke legislation. The rest of the world gasped in appreciation of the move Australia made in comparison with the insensitivity of most of the rest of the world to these majestic beautiful rainforests.

Kakadu National Park is now one of the great wilderness areas of the world. It exists only because of the determination of the Hawke Government. 

So highly was Australia considered in terms of its environmental protection that I, as the Australian Minister for the Environment, was invited to launch the Japanese Blue Sky Green Water campaign to save that country from the environmental degradation into which it had sunk. Australia was invited to launch this campaign as a measure of the respect in which we were held for our environmental credentials.

The Great Barrier Reef stretching for 3000 km off the coast of Queensland is considered by most people to be one of the world’s most prized environmental jewels. Under the Hawke government, the control of the Barrier Reef was prized, protected and properly financed. I had the privilege of being appointed the original Chairman of the Barrier Reef Marine Park Council in the 1980s when the Hawke Government really accepted our worldwide responsibility to care for the Reef.

Since the Hawke years, successive conservative Governments have shown precious little regard for Australia’s responsibility to protect this most magnificent of the world’s natural beauties.

We now face the real prospect of the Barrier Reef being declared by UNESCO to be “in danger”. What a horrible thought that Australia, once the environmental leader in the world, is now considered to be a vagabond, insensitive and uncaring.

Conservative governments built that horrible coal loader in Gladstone. Its construction caused dredging right to the base of the Barrier

Reef to compound this felony. They continue to support the Adani Mine and the expansion of coal mines in the Galilee Basin. We are now considered vandals of the worst kind; condemned by the entire world for the betrayal of our obligations and led by an insensitive Prime Minister who paraded a piece of coal in the Parliament. This was his touchstone and a measure of the fact that this government is owned lock, stock and barrel by the fossil fuel industry.

All of these industrial moves have degraded the Barrier Reef to the situation which now exists. We Australians are considered vandals for the way we have allowed this magnificent natural jewel to be under threat of being declared a disaster. All thinking Australians, if for no other reason should hate successive Federal Conservative Governments for its degradation of the Great Barrier Reef. Australia, because of its geographical situation, has a responsibility to protect and nurture this greatest of nature’s gifts.

Howard started this downward spiral in environmental matters when he refused along with the United States and Kazakhstan, against all the other nations of the world, to sign Australia up to the Kyoto Accords.

It is not that long back when one of the most shocking corrupt actions of the Government gave a mysterious body called the Barrier Reef Foundation without any tender or published reasons $443 m to provide ‘God knows what’ protection to the Barrier Reef. Has anyone seen a report of the action taken by this mysterious body to justify this payment?

I’m absolutely appalled along with most sensitive thinking Australians as to how we have descended in a short 40 years from the position bestowed by the Hawke Government and applauded by the rest of the world, to our present situation of being considered the least environmentally responsible country in the world.

What a pity that our present position blames us for being the least environmentally responsible country in the world.

(First published in Pearls and Irritations.)

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