Thursday the 2nd of March 2017 was hot and sticky. Wild thunder had raged the night before. I spent my evening at the Perth Town Hall, where several well-known environment and conservation groups were hosting a forum on their policy priorities for the upcoming state election. Glossy booklets had been prepared, and the ABC’s James Lush called in to chair the discussion. Big guns from the Conservation Council, the Wilderness Society, Environs Kimberley, Aboriginal Heritage Action Alliance and the Environmental Defender’s Office (among others) were all present.
This alliance of environmental groups has outlined a clear and concise strategy for safeguarding WA’s environment. Their objectives include protecting threatened wildlife and biodiversity, reducing carbon emissions, increasing renewable energy, banning uranium mining, enacting a moratorium on fracking, protecting urban bushland, investing in public transport and cycle-friendly roads, and protecting Aboriginal Heritage. On the face of it, all pretty sensible objectives – nothing too outrageous.
The forum was intended as a way to gauge where political parties stand on the environment. However, it was hard to do so when only two MPs – Greens’ Lynn MacLaren and Shadow Minister for Environment and Climate Change Chris Tallentire – rocked up. Or maybe the others’ absence is enough of an indication.
Each organisation brought tales of their hard campaigns to the forum, which ranged from the north to the south of WA and illustrated the extent of environmental damage our State government has allowed. All of the organisations agree that the State’s current environmental regulatory system is badly flawed and that community participation has been neglected. They call for accountable, transparent processes and propose the establishment of a specialist environmental court of appeals to allow merits-based reviews of environmental decision making in the state.
The Greens are in agreement with the proposed approach. Lynn MacLaren contended that environmental policies should not come down to political manoeuver. In contrast, Chris Tallentire made it clear that the Labor party does not support the establishment of an environmental court or any other fundamental change to WA’s environmental regulatory regime.
Tallentire increasingly took the floor as the night drew on and I couldn’t help getting lost in political whitewash about how Labor are supposedly better for the environment than the Liberals (which isn’t that hard, right?). It was disheartening that Labor did not show any firm commitment to the practical strategy the alliance has devised.
I left the Town Hall that balmy Thursday night feeling nervous about the future of WA. If Tallentire is any indication of what’s to come, or the Liberals retain power, the environment looks set to remain very low on the pecking order of government priorities.
Words by Jemima Cummins