If Gladys Berejiklian wants something as much as a day without stadiums, it is one without a mass fish kill.
In January, surrounded by a million dead murray cod, the Premier showcased the profundity of her green attachments. “Of course I care about fish,” she ventured. “But I care about people more.”
Almost a case for killing off pesky native species and unleashing prosperity across the Murray-Darling basin.
If she had visited the graveside of her predecessor Bob Askin, premier from 1965 to 1973, to lay a wreath and recite Tennyson, she could not have better conjured another age. Her homespun words — people before fish —whisked us back to an era when politicians raised in the Depression would recite “you can’t stop progress” as they razed old-growth eucalypts or sent wrecking balls into colonial sandstone.
Since those golden days unencumbered by heritage or planning, we have had, at a guess, 50 years of experience in marrying economic growth and environmental protection. It’s called sustainability. You deliver jobs while nurturing the natural world which, in the end, underpins prosperity. That a Premier does not grasp this is worrying.
It was Tom Lewis, the premier who succeeded Askin, who set up the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Malcolm Fraser saved Fraser Island. But since John Howard, Liberals have decided the environment is a Leftist cause. Not for them the heroic spirit of US president Teddy Roosevelt, the Republican Roosevelt, who rolled out maps on the floor of the White House and drew borders for sprawling new western national parks.
Right now I can’t think of a single Liberal with an enthusiasm for saving endangered species or extending wilderness protection.
Under Berejiklian, rates of land clearing, curbed by Labor, have soared as landholders are invited to rip out the trees and shrubs anchored in dried-out soils. Koala habitats are logged. By mid-century, we will be bidding farewell to the last arboreal marsupials, thanking them for their years gracing tourism posters and enchanting visitors to wildlife parks.
In its 16 years, Labor declared 350 national parks, adding three million hectares to the conservation estate. At its present rate, it would take the Coalition 325 years to match that record.
In this spirit Berejiklian has gifted land use outside Sydney to Nationals party ministers. True to their instincts, they drained Menindee Lakes to favour upstream irrigators. That the cotton kings are a major source of campaign donations to the Nats should not distract us from the Premier’s one quotable dictum: people before fish — that’s all there is to it. No less than tragic, because there is a better way.
Bob Car was NSW Labor premier in 1995-2005 and federal foreign minister in 2012-13.