EPBC Act reform must offer a sustainable future based on science

Mar 27, 2024
Human hand with digital technology

The operation of democracy in Australia is incapable of addressing the impending environmental and climate crises because of conflict between tested truth – and convenient lies.

Speaking about the State of the Global Climate report launch 2024 United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said,

“Sirens are blaring across all major indicators… Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding-up.” Thousands killed, millions displaced, crops failing, and vast economic losses.

The rapid progression of climate change is breath-taking and devastating signs indicate that chaos may soon dominate life in all countries including Australia.

The first duty of government is the protection of its citizens. Currently our government is more involved in Aukus than ensuring the sustainable protection of our life supporting water and environmental resources. This is madness.

It has been said, “Political language, as used by politicians, does not venture into any of this territory (truth), since the majority of politicians, on the evidence available to us are interested not in truth but in power and in the maintenance of that power. To maintain that power, it is essential that people remain in ignorance, that they live in ignorance of the truth, even the truth of their own lives. What surrounds us therefore is a vast tapestry of lies, upon which we feed”.

This was said about the US by Harold Pinter in his 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech. Today his words with embellishments could be applied to most Western democracies. Democracy is breaking down and appears incapable of addressing the environmental crisis with climate change as the driving force.

It is clear that major government decisions involving truth and power are subject to influence from mining companies, often with the connivance of banks, financial houses and consultants all imbued by capitalism and economic growth. This is but one example of Julian Cribb’s World War Three – a universal conflict between tested truth – and convenient lies.

We see this with the capture of Western Australia by mining interests and the abject failure of the Northern Territory to have effective government seems related to the endeavours of a mining industry and subsidised projects. South Australia’s minister for energy and mining has told a conference of the oil and gas industry that his State government is “at your disposal, we are here to help and to offer you a pathway to the future.” Countless malfeasances in the remaining States and the Federal government fit the same pattern.

Much of the disappointment with the Albanese government lies with their deafness to other sirens across all major environmental indicators which have deteriorated steadily in the 2 years since their election. The continuation of land clearing has been unabated.

To date capitalism is integral to addressing the impacts of climate change technologically with wind and solar energy, electric cars, carbon capture and with geo-engineering to come. Renewable energy fits into a growth economy for there is money to be made; but what happens when money cannot be made?

By contrast, the natural environment and its ecological services are poorly understood by our governments, hence attempts to monetise them with nature repair and other markets remain as experiments as they did a decade ago.

Unfortunately this lack of understanding and the influence of industry may be raising its ugly head in the current negotiation on the revised Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999.

In his wide ranging and thorough 2020 report on the Act, Professor Graeme Samuel detailed a litany of defects in environmental protection. A fundamental problem was the standard of Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) made by the States in the assessment of development projects.

These should include Health Impact Assessment (HIA) which is public health process based on scientific and community assessment of possible harms, their risks and methods of prevention. Clean air and water, nutritious uncontaminated food and ecological services are crucial contributors to good public health and all may be adversely affected by resource development. Threats to human health and wellbeing are evident in most gas, oil and coal developments around the nation but are inadequately assessed without HIAs. The impacts are ill health, social division, prolonged legal cases brought by communities and further damage to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and culture.

This year there have been three consultations on reform of the EPBC Act between government and a range of interested environmental organisations, the Business Council and Mineral Council of Australia. A fourth meeting is scheduled.

The sessions are behind closed doors and with restrictions on disclosure. How extraordinary. The environment is like a patient in intensive care but closing the doors and curtains raises suspicion that palliative care might be occurring instead.

Survival of the environment needs strengthened by Health Impact assessment, inclusion of water and agricultural science in the new EPBC regulations. How do we know this is occurring?

The Environmental Defenders Office, an attendee, states diplomatically “We have serious concerns about how certain elements of the reforms are tracking, but believe that transformational law reform is possible this year, and ‘nature positive’ is within reach.”

It is clear that democratic reform is badly needed especially to address the climate and environmental crises on a scientific and open basis.

Pinter was correct that the majority of politicians are interested in power and in the maintenance of that power. This obstructs action to address climate and environmental crises or it may mean curtailment of some freedoms and our consumer habits with restrictions which carry a risk to re-election.

Within democracy, two party systems now foment divisions in society already simmering with anger in social media. It impedes a cohesive caring society needing more equality in incomes, housing and health services if we are to have resilience for the coming crises; the end point in not addressing it is already evident in the USA.

These issues are now on notice with the election of Teals, independents and courageous Members of Parliament who prioritise climate and environmental action above personal and party gains. These individuals have brought integrity, expertise and political ability not evident in many who have had their minds and values processed through the party machines.

The election of more such individuals at the next election must be the main reform to our sick democratic system for we need to act now to have more purpose to address the coming crises. Perhaps some of those with badly needed expertise would be prepared to give 3 years of their lives and contact Climate 200?

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