Guest essay by Eric Worrall
The Guardian discusses declining environmental protections in Australia, for hydro ready alpine valleys and old growth stands of leafy biofuel, yet somehow ignores the fact that greens themselves were responsible for dismantling a lot of environmental protections, through their efforts to save the world from climate change.
‘The Franklin would be dammed today’: Australia’s shrinking environmental protections
The nation is losing the political will to protect our pristine places – and biodiversity is suffering
by Adam Morton
Tue 30 Jan 2018 06.02 AEDT
What if the Franklin river hadn’t been saved?
Stopping the Gordon-below-Franklin dam was one of the Australian environment movement’s great victories: in the late 1970s, the state-owned Hydro-Electric Commission wanted to flood one of three last temperate rainforests in the southern hemisphere to create a power station.
About 33km of the Franklin, a pristine wild river home to breathtaking ravines and rapids, and surrounded by untouched Huon pine and myrtle beech forest, would have drowned. After years of heated debate, pro-dam Liberal Robin Gray took power in 1982 and passed legislation allowing construction to begin. What happened from there was partly down to luck and timing, but could not have been achieved without one of Australia’s most successful acts of mass civil disobedience.
An estimated 6,000 people headed to the town of Strahan to join the protest, and nearly 1,500 were arrested on the river. Rallies and newspaper ads helped build an extraordinary level of buy-in throughout Australia. At a byelection for the Victorian federal seat of Flinders, 41% of voters scribbled “No Dams” on their ballot paper..
Legally and politically, they say environmental protection is harder to win than at any time since before the wave of landmark 1980s decisions to recognise the Daintree rainforest and Kakadu national park and to block mining in Antarctica.
Bob Brown, whose role in saving the Franklin launched him onto the national stage, believes the campaign would now fall at multiple hurdles: it would be unlikely to win crucial government backing for world heritage listing, as it did in 1982 under the Liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser; that no political leader since had shown Hawke’s willingness to prioritise the environment over development; above all, that activists would be highly unlikely to turn out in large numbers given increased risk of serious fines or other criminal penalties.
The last point is key, he says, as it would deny a campaign momentum.
While Brown won a recent high court case that struck down harsh Tasmanian forestry laws that threatened fines of up to $10,000 and up to four years jail for anyone obstructing a “business activity”, that judgment was as much about the shoddy way in which the laws were written as the principle. The court found the aims of the laws were legitimate. The former Greens leader believes laws challenging peaceful protest will return.
“The Franklin would be dammed if it were today,” Brown says. “It would be just a dead moat around [nearby peak] Frenchman’s Cap.”
Who speaks for the birds, when even the Audubon Society calls for more bird choppers?
Who speaks for habitats destroyed by hydropower reservoirs, or forests fed into the hungry maws of biofuel furnaces, when environmentalists are behind the demand for low carbon energy?
How many people ever get the opportunity to learn to love the wilderness, when rampant fuel poverty limits family travel to remote destinations?
What about the vast acreages which would have to be cleared, to support solar arrays sufficient to power our modern world?
If there has been a drop in support for protecting the environment, greens only have to look in the mirror to see who is responsible.