It is unsurprising that the new state and federal conservative governments would introduce policies and legislation that are anti protection of the environment. Not only did they flag specific anti-environment policies during state and national elections, but the Liberal Party seems to me to be determined to define itself principally by being less green that the Labor Party.
Following the unsuccessful attempt by the Australian Government to remove 74,000 hectares of the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, the state government has, as promised, introduced legislation to revoke the Tasmanian Forests Agreement Act and is developing a process which encourages proposals for developments in reserves. And although it was not an election promise, the new state government did not waste any time in ruling out a ban on the use of 1080 poison to control native animals.
More shocking are the moves by both national and state government to attack conservation organisations, removing grants, threatening our tax-deductibility status and cracking down on protest activities.
In the fine detail of the 2014–2015 Federal Budget, the Abbott Coalition government has proposed the axing of the Grants to Voluntary, Environment, Sustainability and Heritage Organisations Program (GVESHO), which dates back to the Whitlam Government in 1973. In recent years GVESHO grants have been provided to 150 state, regional and local conservation and heritage groups around the country, including the Tasmanian Conservation Trust, to cover operating costs incurred by working with the federal government and its departments and advisory bodies.
In recent years the TCT has received $45,000 to support me and Jon Bryan to participate in government processes; unless we can raise money elsewhere to replace this grant, we will be forced to reduce our efforts in relation to national environment priorities.
More recently the Liberal Party of Australia passed a policy, proposed by Tasmanian Federal Member for Bass, Mr Nikolic, that certain conservation organisations be stripped of their tax-deductibility status for reasons that included their involvement in lobbying of governments (shock!) and illegal activism. Although the Abbott Coalition government supports this policy, we are yet to see a specific response. We expect the government to, at the least, target groups involved in market-based campaigns or other activities that the government considers harmful to business interests.
Worst of all is the legislation that passed the Lower House of the Tasmanian Parliament on 26 June 2014 to crack down on protest activities. It remains to be seen whether the Legislative Council passes this bill, but it is greatly encouraging that conservation groups have been joined by unions, the Law Society, the Civil Liberties Council of Tasmania and academics, as well as the Labor and Greens parties, in opposing the proposed laws.
I cannot add to what Jess Feeley has written on the Bill to crackdown on protest activities , other than to repeat a point made by many lawyers: the proposed law goes well beyond the stated goal of punishing protesters who inhibit the operation of businesses; existing laws allow for protesters to be removed from workplaces and very severe penalties, including prison terms, apply and have been applied. What is proposed seems to be aimed at suppressing virtually all forms of protest.
It has been a real struggle to find good news to report in this newsletter, but the article on sewerage management includes some surprisingly positive outcomes, and the promise of many more, resulting from reforms instituted by the previous state government. It seems that the less direct control the state government has over its departments and other agencies, the better the result is generally and, in particular, for the environment.
One very positive policy that the Liberal Party took to the state election was to implement a moratorium on all fracking operations in Tasmania for 12 months. Yes, a positive policy, but we cannot obtain any information from the government to confirm whether it has been implemented.