The Problem with Australia

By Rowan Sylva

Isaac Cordal’s “Follow the leaders.” Berlin, Germany, April 2011. (Cement Eclipses/Facebook)

Isaac Cordal’s “Follow the leaders.” Berlin, Germany, April 2011. (Cement Eclipses/Facebook)

A few years ago I was campaigning for The Wilderness Society on the streets of a north-eastern suburb of Melbourne. When a ruddy faced man approached me to enthusiastically declare that I was responsible for the death of his uncle, or in his words, “ah, you’re a greenie. You killed me uncle.”

My response was naturally sympathetic and I offered my sincere condolences for his loss. But I did politely express my surprise that I should be accused in such a fashion and professed that I was unaware of how I might have been complicit in such a horrible crime.

“Well,” the man informed me, “Me uncle died in the bush fires. If there weren’t of been any bush there wouldn’t been any fires. Yous are trying to save the bush. You killed me Uncle.”

After delivering this unassailable train of logic the man stared at me, awaiting my reply.

I told him that his logic was indeed faultless, and it was certainly true that if their were no trees there wouldn’t be any bush fires. But I humbly suggested that there might be other problems. I inquired if he thought that climate change might have anything to do with the  deadly Black Saturday fires.

He told me that it didn’t because, “there’d always been fires in Aussy bush.”

I assured him that he was correct but asked if had heard of the national firefighters union report that made a direct link with climate change and an increase in catastrophic bush fires and called on the government to take urgent action to reduce emissions.

He told me that he hadn’t, and I proceeded to discuss with him the Wilderness Society’s valuable work in the area of bush fire prevention.

The argument put forward by this fellow may seem absurd, but it was not anomaly. It was a widely held belief that “the greenies” were to blame for the Black Saturday bush fires that killed 173 people, including the unfortunate uncle of the man I spoke to.

How was such a factually incorrect, insidious, disingenuous, and down right ridiculous belief held by so many people? Answer: It was hammered by the all dominant Murdoch press. The Black Saturday fires were immediately politicised by the major newspapers as a reason to attack the state’s already lax environmental regulation under the argument aptly stated by my friend: if there weren’t of been any bush there wouldn’t have been any fires. In fact academic studies show that logging and land clearing actually increases the risk of fires. But the rabid Australian media is seldom interested in facts being much more concerned with its own hostility to environmental regulation, a hostility so vile and intense that many normal Australians end up blaming it for everything from the state of their own finances to the death of their relatives.

Thus when Tony Abbot was asked early this year if the bush fires in Australia had anything to do with climate change, in reference to to the claims made by a united nations executive, and he replied, that not only was she, “talking through her hat,” but that it was inappropriate politicise the bush fires, it made it want run to the nearest toilet and vomit in disgust.

Since coming to power, Tony Abbott, in less than a year, has launched a devastating attack on Australia’s environment. He abolished the ministerial posts of climate change and science. He abolished the climate commission. He provided 2.2 million in legal aid for farmers and miners to fight native title claims. He abolished the Maritime Workforce Development Forum, an industry body working to build a sustainable skills base for the maritime industry. He abandoned emission reduction targets. He Removed the community’s right to challenge decisions where the government has ignored expert advice on threatened species impacts.He approved the largest coal port in the world in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. He approved Clive Palmer’s mega coal mine in the Galilee Basin. He overturned the “critically endangered” listing of the Murray Darling Basin. He began dismantling Australia’s marine protection system. He Requested the delisting of World Heritage status for Tasmanian forests so that logging could begin again. He defunded all international environmental programs. He exempted Western Australia from national environment laws. He Axed funding earmarked to save the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction. He overturned a ban on cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park. He cut 480 jobs from the Environment Department. He Terminated the Office of Water Science research programme. He Slashed the Biodiversity Fund. Finally, he axed australia’s carbon tax replacing it with nothing. Indeed the list of Abbots crimes are so long and so heinous, I recommend checking out the full list.

How was this vile assault on the environment allowed to happen in Australia, an educated first world country? The same reason why old mate blamed environmentalists for the Black Saturday bush fires: the rabid Australian Murdoch media. On the 31st of July a New South Wales farmer shot dead an environment officer who was approaching the man regarding his illegal land clearing. I have an inkling this man’s views, views that drove him to murder, were formed from unhealthy amount of reading The Australian. English speaking countries have the highest level of climate skepticism in the world. One explanation as to why that is, it the prominence of the Murdoch media in those countries. Yes Australia needs a change of government but above all, its media monopolies need to be broken.