Learning From Tony

It’s been a stormy few weeks for the Liberal party ship. Captain Tony and the crew left the political shelter that Bill Shorten and the Trade Union Royal Commission had provided, entering the murky waters of marriage equality and carbon emission reduction targets. These topics generally prove to be tricky sailing for Abbott and the Liberals at the best of times, but ships are all the more difficult to navigate when Bronwyn Bishop tries to land a helicopter on it.

The recent blockage of the Adani Carmichael Mine Project in the federal court is yet another issue that hasn’t gone the Government’s way. The coal mine’s initial approval by Environment Minister Greg Hunt last week was overturned on the grounds that he did not adequately consider the impacts of the mine on two species, the Yakka Skink and the Ornamental Snake.

Fortunately for the Government, they have an age-old rhetoric for dealing with complex environmental issues, handed down through the conservative generations. The latest revival of “greenie bashing” has seen Tony Abbott criticise green groups for “sabotaging” mining projects. Amongst other things, green organisations such as the Mackay Conservation Group, who organised the legal challenge to the mine-have been accused of “lawfare” and “sabotage”, labelled as “vigilantes” who are against jobs and Australia more generally.

This political move has two main purposes. Firstly, the Government is now looking to remove the legal mechanism that overturned the mine, using this anti-green rhetoric to build momentum. If they do so, the ability for green groups to oppose large scale development projects in the court system will be severely reduced. Although this may be unlikely to actually eventuate, the Government nonetheless reassures foreign investors such as Adani that their economic development projects are welcome in Australia ‒ something the Government sees as particularly important at a time when international commodity prices are in free-fall and coal’s future as a key energy source looks uncertain.

Secondly, the traditional anti-green rhetoric reassures conservative voters who may not have been convinced of the Government’s performance of late, directing any blame for the Carmichael mine decision away from Abbott, and instead towards the conspiring green groups.

Will either of them work? Only time will tell, but it’s a pretty extreme picture that the Government is attempting to paint of organisations that, as many commentators are pointing out, have simply asked for the law to be enforced.

However, there are lessons to be learnt from this act of political opportunism. Last year around this time, the divestment referendum was looming large over students at the ANU. Together with opposing higher university fees, ANUSA parties were likewise united in supporting ANU’s divestment from coal.

This year however, the environmental policies of the major student political parties are virtually non-existent. For a university such as the ANU, in a city such as Canberra, both of which I consider generally supportive of the green agenda, this seems like a pretty big hole in the policy checklist. And considering the state of ANU politics, where competition for votes has ensured nobody ever makes it through Union
Court unscathed, it might be time for the student parties to update, or rather create, some of their own environmental policies for ANU. Why not partake in some political opportunism – minus the greenie bashing.