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Decision to block the Traveston Dam no more than what should have been expected of a Minister for the Environment

Peter Garrett's decision to stop the building of the Traveston dam is to be heartily applauded. However, he did no more than what should be expected of a Federal Minister for the Environment when faced with such an environmentally reckless proposal.

This is the second significant occasion, that I can recall, on which Garrett has acted in favour of the environment, that is, in other words, treated his statutory obbligations seriously. The other occasion was when he blocked the Bligh Government's similarly environmentally reckless plan to build a coal loader in Shoalwater Bay..

Garrett's overall dismal environmental record

On every other significant issue that I can recall, he has acted against the environment.--- Uranium mining, the Dredging of Port Philip Bay the Tasmanian Pulp Mill, the Car Rally in the environmentally sensitive Tweed and Kyogle Shires, failure to act to protect the Murray Darling system, the building of a massive deslanation plant on Victoria's Bass Coast, the North South pipleline, the overall massive expansion of Australia's coal exports, not to mention his failure to take a visible stance against the Federal Governent's reckless plans to grow our populaiton, etc., etc.

If Garrett's decision is truly a sign of him changing heart back to become the environmentailst he once claimed to be, then we would explect to see him, from now on to act consistently in favour of the environment and to find ways to reverse previous decisions harmful to the environment.

I hope to be proven wrong, but I am not expecting that to occur.

If I am right, then it would be more accurate to conclude that Garrett's decision against the Traveston Dam was the result of a political calculation concerning how much he needs to do for the environment in order to retain any political credibility.

The Save the Mary River Group had no plan B

One alarming aspect of this controversy is that the Save the Mary River Group had no strategy for dealing with an adverse decision from Peter Garrett.

Environmentalists should never put themselves in a position where they have to virtually beg of our political representatives to do the right thing. If the Minister for the Environment does not fear environmental groups such as the Save the Mary Group and does not go out of his way to meet their reasonable demands, then they are not doing their job properly.

Prior to that Save the Mary River Group's principle strategy was to campaign for the Liberal National Party (LNP) and against the Labor Government at the 2009 state elections, thereby alienating many environmentalists who had good reason to be concerned about some of the LNP's poor environmental policies.

The Save the Mary Group explicitly damned the Greens in their election literature for their reluctance to give their preferences to the LNP when the Greens were (for all their considerable faults) at least as consistently agains the dam as the LNP.

With the re-election of the Bligh Government, and a cross-bench not holding the balance of power, that strategy got them nowhere.

In the 2008 local Government elections they failed to back the Integrity Gympie team, which was committed to fully utilising the resources of the Gympie council to fight the dam, and, instead allowed candidates who were prepared only to pay lip service to the fight against the dam, to win.

Astonishingly, in a referendum held in Toowoomba in 2006, anti-dam campaigners, together with the Queensland Greens, campaigned, ultimately unsuccessfully against community activists for the imposition of recycled water by the City Council. As a result, relations between them and a group of people in South East Queensland, who would naturally have been sympathetic towards them have been poisoned ever since, including during the critical 2009 Queensland State elections.1

At the moment, the Save the Mary River Group can count themselves very lucky that, this time, Peter Garrett's political calculations came down on the side of the environment.

James Sinnamon

Brisbane Independent candidate for
truth, democracy and economic justice,
Australian Federal elections, 2010

Footnotes

1. For their part, anti-water-recycling and anti-fluoridation campaigners largely reciprocated the Save the Mary Group's counterproductive stance, and this appears to have also harmed, rather than helped them at the ballot box.