November 25, 2014
While I was in beautiful Far North Queensland, the G20 – and the hottest November temperatures on record – came to Brisbane. Like me, a lot of people escaped. I didn't want to hear about the already eroded human rights of Queenslanders being disregarded further by vastly outnumbering, multiple-weapon-wielding, US-styled police. I didn't want to know about the voices of outrage being smothered by a News-Corp-dominated media. I would, however, have liked to have gone to the pub with Angela Merkel, or the University of Queensland to observe what real leadership looks like.
While Barack Obama succeeded in highlighting climate change at UQ just before the G20 kicked off, Tony Abbott failed to grasp the nettle in respect of any of the tricky issues. There was little shirt-fronting in the end but lots of koalas and sausage sizzles. He just isn't up to the job of international statesman. Even his BF Stephen Harper, the Canadian PM, got in line with the rest of the world and is at least considering donating to the Green Climate Fund. Poor little lonely Tony No-Mates.
What are Abbott's speech-writers and senior advisers doing with themselves these days? First there was the 'coal is good for humanity' nonsense as he opened the Caval Ridge Mine in Central Queensland. Then he wittered on in his opening address to G20 delegates about his $7 fee for GP visits, stopping the boats, road-building and other domestic issues. Even though I deplore the duplicity and the policies, his excruciating performances long ago ceased to be amusing. Instead, I cringe with embarrassment on his behalf. Along with millions of Australians I suspect.
Climate change was not mentioned only by Obama. The Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, reaffirmed his commitment to supplying electricity to all his country's people, but not by a means that causes 'our glaciers to melt'. Increasingly, both China's and India's plans for their future energy generation undermine the once almost-certain role for Australian coal exports in the coming decades. This has resulted in an awful lot of jitters back here, especially in the state that prides itself most on its coal business – Queensland. Mike Seccombe reported in last weekend's The Saturday Paper that, 'according to analysis by the usually bullish global energy research consultancy Wood Mackenzie, half the coal mines in the world now face [commodity] prices below their costs of production.' Mine closures and layoffs are no longer uncommon or isolated in Australia. Glencore, the largest coal exporter, have announced they will shut down operations at all their mines for three weeks over Christmas to avoid producing another five million tonnes of coal for sale in a depressed market.
The current lack of progress of the Galilee Basin's mega-mines may not be music to Jeff Seeney's ears (Queensland's Minister for State Development, Infrastructure and Planning), but for those of us campaigning to prevent the obliteration of nature refuges and other so-called 'protected areas' by these follies, economist and climate change expert Professor Ross Garnaut's prediction that the upward pressure on fossil fuel prices will not be seen again – largely as a result of China's shift away from coal – has reinforced the distinct possibility that economics will prove biodiversity's saviour rather than conservative ministers 'for' the environment.
Queensland's unpopular premier, Campbell Newman, has had the spotlight taken off him at the moment, so the rather unlikeable Seeney has announced the stuff of implausible nightmares. Having spent a lot of money finding out what Queenslanders wanted of their state government, and learning most emphatically that it was not the sale of state assets, the government recently announced that some assets will be 'leased' instead. I doubt a different word has pulled the wool over many eyes. And now comes Seeney's outrageous proclamation that revenue generated will not go to building more hospitals, schools and roads but bolstering flagging coal infrastructure construction in the Galilee, as one after another private investor pulls out.
Last week saw the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) World Parks Congress take place in Sydney. This event happens once every ten years, and the emphasis is firmly on protected areas and the threats they face. Delegates came from all over the world. This year's Australian venue was doubtless chosen long before this country acquired climate-change-denying, environmental-red-tape-cutting, miners' crony Tony for a leader. I have it on good authority that some delegates would have preferred not to attend under the circumstances, especially as there was a significant mining presence lobbying at the event. Those same delegates were shocked to learn about what is happening to protected areas that are in the way of coal and coal seam gas development in this land. Friends and colleagues who attended the conference spoke with disappointment and disillusionment of unrealised potential.
To be honest, it was great to have a break from environmental consternation and political befuddlement for a while. When will Australia's governments realise they have to change tack? Reminiscences following the passing of Gough Whitlam back in October only served to highlight the yawning chasm between the political commitment of his era and the blatant self-interest of today.
I love Far North Queensland. Especially north of Port Douglas, I find peace and solace in the lush vegetation and stunning beaches. Here are some of those moments.