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Wild Rivers

1 Oct

Today the federal government announced a comprehensive parliamentary inquiry into the Wild Rivers Act 2005 (Qld) and whether it should be overturned by the Commonwealth. The legislation states:

The purpose of this Act is to preserve the natural values of rivers that have all, or almost all, of their natural values intact.

[by] providing for the regulation of particular activities and taking of natural resources in a wild river and its catchment to preserve the wild river’s natural values; and having a precautionary approach to minimise adverse effects on known natural values and reduce the possibility of adversely affecting poorly understood ecological functions; and treating a wild river and its catchment as a single entity, linking the condition of the river to the health of the catchment; and considering the effect of individual activities and taking of natural resources on a wild river’s natural values.

The Act is controversial because despite the fact that it is an environmentally beneficial law, it detracts from the ability of aboriginal peoples to enjoy the use of their land. Opponents of the Queensland Act claim that aboriginal custodians have successfully maintained the rivers in the past and that the Act is an offense to the concept of native title. As Wilderness Society spokesman Tim Seelig points out, however –

“The Wild Rivers Act does not stop all development. We have to be absolutely clear about what it does. It stops large-scale development like mining, like damming, like intensive irrigation in and very close to some of the most pristine rivers in the country.”

Land rights activist Noel Pearson takes a different view. He believes it imperative that we preserve the ancient traditional rights of Aboriginal peoples to use intensive irrigation techniques for large-scale agriculture, construction of high-density houses and open cut mining that allows minerals to be exported to China. These activities have been practised uninterrupted for millennia before the colonial hegemony that is Peter Beattie arrived to deprive them of these important rights.

Some people might suggest that Abbot is seeking to remove the Act because he’s in bed with the business lobby. And that he is using the cover of aboriginal rights to allow mining companies such as Cape Alumina and Rio Tinto to establish a bauxite mine near the Wenlock River (below). But that’s just cynical.

The Wenlock River

The question of whether or not the federal government should feel entitled to overrule Queensland’s legislation is one that has received little attention. With some legislation, such as that concerning euthanasia, it is logical for the federal government to impose its will on the states given how easily people could move between states to subject themselves to euthanasia. With matters such as stationary rivers, which are of no importance outside Queensland, justification of any action at a federal level becomes a feeble exercise. A question of whether a decision by federal Parliament to overrule the Act would be constitutionally permissible was raised in the earlier Senate inquiry.

While Abbott is demanding the issue be addressed immediately, the completion of the report commissioned by Gillard is a lengthy process that serves as an ingenious political manoeuvre. If a vote on the issue can be delayed until after the Greens hold the balance of power in the Senate, the passage of the bill is granted a guaranteed impediment. The Wild Rivers Act certainly has a future, and this fact is a welcome blessing for the environment.

Climate Change and International Politics

25 Sep

Ice

George Monbiot is a British author and journalist with a history of inspired and untempered political activism. In his weekly column in The Guardian, he has illustrated a bleak and hopeless depiction of the future of addressing climate change through law reform. He claims that consequential action on the part of governments is unlikely with a result in Copenhagen that could only be described as utter failure and no considerable consensus on any matter between countries. Monbiot decries the feeble policies of the United Kingdom and European Union in no uncertain terms; in short, he claims that “the harsh reality we have to grasp is that the process is dead”.

With disproportionate weight given to those too hopeful, stupid or short-sighted to make a reasonable consideration of the evidence and comprehend its ramifications, governments have realised that it is politically undesirable to take any meaningful steps to combat this self-induced horror that has the potential to wreak unspeakable damage on all life on earth, including the basic mechanisms that allow society to function.

The domestic situation may seem slightly more hopeful now that we have a government that is prepared to introduce a carbon tax, but the international situation is far worse. Although Monbiot has presented a considered and well-informed view, he has underestimated the ability for people to changing circumstances. Despite the fact that system justification leads people to resist change, unavoidable developments are consistently adapted for more easily. The likelihood of any considerable action being taken by governments to slow climate change in the near future is unlikely. As a direct result, it can be concluded that little will be done to address climate change at all before the impact it will have on the environment and the economy becomes apparent. As soon as the full ramifications of climate change begin to take hold, however, there is little doubt that the governments and people of the world would acknowledge and address them. The environment will suffer and the economy will suffer; the cost of inaction is far greater than the cost of action. This will have been foretold in the Garnaut Climate Change Review and the Stern Review, but until an immediate and empirical imperative to act materialises no action would have been taken.

There is little doubt that serious and irreversible damage will have been will have been done to the environment and the economy. In the decades to come, it will be clear to all that the benefits of strong, early action would have outweighed the benefits of the acquiescence that was to be. International treaties will be signed and a colossal disaster averted. With the failure of Copenhagen, the approaching expiry of the Kyoto Protocol and the political apathy of developing nations contributing to a belated response to this situation, Monbiot is correct in his grim view of international politics in relation to climate change. Nevertheless, his claims do not amount to a disastrous set of consequences but a result that affirms the view that change of any sort is impossible without a serious problem. What is perhaps most disheartening about this likely course of events is that we will not learn from it and will gladly set about placing ourselves in parallel circumstances again. We are truly a dim-witted species.