The Radical Ambitions of Green Sustainability

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) brought in by the then Environment Minister, Robert Hill, in 1999, has become a pernicious piece of legislation that is slowly shackling Australia. Along with its enthusiastic handmaiden, the 2003 Native Vegetation Act, it has grossly expanded its dominion, giving the environment movement carte blanche to canter off, hugely funded, to the detriment of a productive Australia.

The genesis of this folly is the Declaration on Environment and Development, a global treaty signed by Gorbachev, Bush, Keating and other luminaries who met in Rio in 1992 under the auspices of the United Nations. As Bob Brown’s Earth Goddess, Gaia, hovered in the background, their “global partnership to conserve, protect and restore the health and integrity of the Earth’s ecosystem”, later given the appealingly folksy name of Earth Summit, meant they committed Australia to follow international conventions and obligations dictated by the UN. 

Couched in emotively seductive language, the Summit’s aim in its official report, Agenda 21, is to achieve “sustainable development in the twenty-first century”. Under the guise of protecting the environment, the code words are part of the push to promote a changed world. Sustainability is the word du jour. It has a reassuring, authoritative ring of robust practicality, but its interpretation depends on what is being “sustained” and why. Sustainable development for the golden-backed tree rat means no human activity may disturb its habitat, however extensive that may be. Once it receives “the sustainable development” imprimatur an issue becomes non-negotiable and the justification for legislation, projects and “initiatives” that are slowly stifling Australia’s economy. 

Arrogantly brazen, yet travelling under the radar, the government’s response to this insidiously powerful nonsense reads: “Australia’s commitment to Agenda 21 is reflected in a strong national response to meet our obligations under this international agreement.”

The EPBC Act, its multiple sidekicks and our commitment to Agenda 21 are being used by those whose goal is to undermine and eventually destroy a prosperous, independent Australia. Using the Fabian principle of gradualism, it is the subtext that is running Australia. 

To protect and “sustain” wildlife flora and fauna, sanctions and regulations now prohibit man-made development in ever-increasing areas of Australia as protection of wildlife and the natural environment take precedence over the need for economic independence and development. Stark evidence was provided by Minister Tony Burke’s strident hostility to allowing starving cattle into national parks. Meanwhile, crafty timing ensures legislation passes almost unnoticed: Burke’s National Wildlife Corridors Plan to connect wildlife areas throughout Australia (“connectivity”) was quietly announced on a Sunday evening, two days before the Melbourne Cup. Under the shield of secrecy, in haste and without any consultation, Burke recently gave the green light to the World Heritage Committee in Cambodia to extend Tasmania’s Wilderness Area by more than 170,000 hectares.

Australia has more than 500 national parks “where commercial activities such as farming are prohibited and human activity strictly monitored”. In addition, the National Reserve System has more than 9700 protected areas of “other types of conservation dedicated to the protection and maintenance of biological diversity” but seems averse to saying where they actually are. 

Without human endeavour, land cannot generate income; it is the gradualists’ way of ensuring private property becomes untenable.

To monitor the EPBC Act and our international agreements, government environment bureaucracies proliferate, overlap and duplicate resources, while producing torrents of words in convoluted reports, inquiries, discussion papers, working groups, draft frameworks and, of course, working up new legislation. Bureaucracies alive with acronyms multiply, feeding off each other and creating an ever-expanding web of interlinking agencies to suck up your money. 

Absurdities abound: there are over 200 “definitions” of words used in the EPBC Act, each with multiple sub-headings, as bureaucrats busy themselves defining terms such as “live plant”, “aircraft” and “newspaper”.

Meanwhile, we’re told that pestilential bats, euphemistically called flying foxes, “Play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems in good health” and are “important in ensuring the survival of our threatened rain forests”. But as the bats “are likely to be extinct in 100 years” the EPBC Act has assessments, case studies and recovery plans to ensure this doesn’t happen.

To fulfil our “international obligations” we are closely monitored by the International Commission on Sustainable Development—and it costs us heaps. Government junkets travel to Sustainable Development talkfests world-wide; NGOs, often referred to as E (environmental) NGOs and becoming increasingly active, go along for the ride.  

Meanwhile, any voluntary group that rattles on about threatened species (generally “critically endangered”), ecologically sensitive areas, biodiversity, ecosystems or wildlife habitats is likely to be welcomed aboard the government’s gravy train. Of the 200 grants given last year under the government’s “Grants to Voluntary, Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations”, funding to outfits like the Environment Defenders Office, the Association for Sustainable Communities and the Earthwatch Institute far outstripped funding to heritage groups. 

The Biodiversity Fund is another rich lode to mine for government largesse. Recipients tackle “rehabilitating the degraded habitat of native fauna” and “easing grazing pressures on fragile ecosystems”. Beating the drum for the Wildlife Corridors Plan, the Fund states that “the majority of projects will improve connectivity within the landscape”.  

Before extremists and ideologues sabotaged the movement, sensible environment groups did exist, and a few of them still do. Landcare, a hands-on group, has farmers onside and Greening Australia has many positives. But both should take note of the fate of the Conservation Foundation, which was set up in the 1960s as a sensible, altruistic organisation until taken over by extremists. 

But don’t mess with the EPBC Act: environmental thuggery through “enforceable undertakings”, and “penalty notices” hits anyone found guilty of mismanaging “critically endangered ecological communities” or “threatened species habitat”. 

When a departmental investigation found New South Wales landowner Douglas Rutledge “disturbed the Weeping Myall Woodlands”, he and his contractor were issued penalty notices of $3300 each and his were stock banned from the area. Destroying the habitat of “an important population” and a “nationally protected species”—the striped legless lizard—cost two Victorian companies dearly. “Ploughing a wetland of international importance” cost a productive New South Wales wheat farmer $450,500, as the Ramsar Convention, another of the UN’s multitude of sidekicks, deemed it “a wetland refuge for native plants”. With its secretariat in Switzerland, Ramsar has “the sustainable use of wetlands” as its mantra, and it keeps tabs on sixty-five of our wetlands and exercises its mind over protecting our river snails and over-exploited sea cucumbers.

The precautionary principle in the EPBC Act is called up shamelessly: if a project is considered likely to have a detrimental impact on the environment, those responsible are in big trouble. Land clearing deemed likely to have “significant impact” on the red-tailed black cockatoo cost the company involved $242,500.

The Earth Summit brought the environmental heavies into our lives, their followers infiltrating the bureaucracies and government, including local government. Clever marketing captures the well-intentioned but gullible and those who scent the money trail.

Now, under the smokescreen of protecting the environment, the ever-increasing reach of the EPBC Act gives those who find the present Australia distasteful the opportunity and means to remake Australia as a socialist state. It is sabotage from within. 

Julia Patrick wrote on Lucy Sullivan’s recent book False Promises in the June issue.

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