In the wake of the halfway mark of this term of Parliament, we felt it timely to review the performance of the Palaszczuk Government with regard to the environment and proffer advice on outcomes to be achieved prior to the next election.
In power since its unexpected win in February 2015, the Palaszczuk Government has had a challenging time with members defecting and a Minister resigning. Yet through strategic planning and, at times, the assistance of the cross benchers, this minority Labor Government has brought many benefits for the environment and its wildlife.
Prior to the 2015 election the Labor Party gave a number of commitments to Wildlife Queensland and other conservations organisations. Hon Dr Steven Miles, Minister for the Environment and Heritage Protection and Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef has ensured that some have been delivered in full, others in part, while unfortunately, in spite of valiant attempts by the Palaszczuk Government, much-needed amendments to Vegetation Management legislation were unable to be delivered.
From Wildlife Queensland’s perspective there are several standouts among Palaszczuk’s wins for wildlife, a couple of question marks and only one real failing so far:
+ North Stradbroke Island legislation that reversed the legislative changes introduced by the former Newman Government now ensures that sandmining will cease by 2019, restoring the rights of the Traditional Owners and assuring its wildlife the protection and conservation it deserves.
+ Enhanced protection of the Great Barrier Reef was an early focus and, while success was achieved, the Palaszczuk Government appreciates the work has only begun; addressing climate change and enhancing water quality through reducing sediment and nutrient loads will invigorate the health of this incredible natural wonder. The purchase of Springvale station in the upper Normanby in June 2016 for $7M to protect the Great Barrier Reef as this property contributed 30-40% of the gully sediments flowing into the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef from that catchment warranted applause. However, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection has since issued a draft environmental authority for a potential gold and tin mining operation in streams flowing through the property. Granted Minister Miles chastised the Department but the issuance of the draft environmental authority really calls into question the entire purchase.
+ Another significant action and one of special interest to Wildlife Queensland is Cash for Containers, a container deposit scheme which will be introduced by 2018. This along with the commitment to ban single-use plastic bags in Queensland, will reduce pollution and be of immense benefit to our marine species in particular.
+ The minority Labor Government is also developing action plans based on extensive consultation to reverse the upward trend in carbon emissions. It is disappointing to note that emissions were on a downward trend until 2013 when, due to a lack of appropriate strategies by the Newman Government around vegetation in particular, carbon emissions began increasing again.
+ Coastal protections have been reinstated to address rising sea levels, a product of climate change.
+ Laws have been passed to ensure that those responsible for pollution, particularly in the mining industry, are held accountable.
+ The rights of individuals and organisations to object to potential mines have been reinstated.
? Wildlife Queensland welcomed amendments to the Nature Conservation Act in May 2016 as a step in the right direction, however, the cardinal principle of management has not yet been reinstated (although claims to that effect have been made). Certain management practices approved by the Labor Government are not aligned with Wildlife Queensland’s views, in particular the use of special management areas to graze national parks (legal under the current legislation) and the approval of certain tourist infrastructure on national parks (also currently legal). Occupying in excess of 5% of Queensland, our national parks should be managed for the protection and conservation of nature – surely there is sufficient land adjoining national parks to accommodate tourist infrastructure.
? Population surveys are a good start towards enhancing the management of crocodiles in Queensland, but until the management plan is in hand and evaluated, no support can be forthcoming. Koala management is also under review and rightly so, as populations in south-east Queensland and other parts of the state are diminishing at an alarming rate.
– Unfortunately disappointing in Wildlife Queensland’s view is the Palaszczuk Government’s unnecessary, unwarranted and escalating support for the coal industry. While the continuing operations of existing and approved coal mines is understandable but not necessarily supported the starting of new coal mines is hardly aligned with strategies needed to mitigate or adapt to the threats facing us from climate change.
So when it comes to the protection and conservation of our wildlife, what can be achieved in the remainder of this Parliamentary term?
- Wildlife Queensland would welcome further amendments to the NCA and a return to the cardinal principle of management. Expansion of the Protected Area Estate and the introduction of new classes of Protected Area Estate should be on the government’s agenda.
- While not downgrading the significance of the terrestrial landscape, the state marine parks certainly need to be expanded and consideration must be given to the percentage of green zones within the various marine parks.
- The enhancement of the listing process and management of threatened species is paramount. With the decline in our biodiversity an established fact, efforts to arrest this decline and determine the most effective and efficient approach should be a high priority.
- A review of coastal development policies should be on the agenda building on the positive steps to date.
- And finally, the introduction of enhanced Stock Route network legislation would be of benefit to our wildlife.
So how is the Palaszczuk Government performing at the mid-term mark in comparison with the former Newman Government which took a wrecking ball to our environmental legislation? The difference is like chalk and cheese: Wildlife Queensland’s advice and input is welcomed by the current minority Labor Government which listens to and even acts upon it in certain instances.
Under the challenging circumstances in which the Palaszczuk Government is forced to operate, its performance to date rates higher than a pass in Wildlife Queensland’s perspective. A Distinction would be too far a stretch – a CREDIT is perhaps the answer, with the knowledge this government can and must do better for our environment and its wildlife.