The environment seems to have gone missing in the South Australian election campaign, with no acknowledgement of the environment that underpins our economy. The state’s current tourism campaigns promote the rich natural assets of the state, but there is no election promise to protect and maintain those assets. The campaign ‘the magic is in your backyard’’ promotes the tourism assets of the Murray River, Lakes and Coorong, but resources to protect and manage those assets are being reduced.
The SA Labor Government has imposed severe cuts on the environment agency, with 30% staff reductions to date. A major block of knowledge and experience is walking out the door with departing staff, while those left behind are stretched to the limit to protect our natural resources. There is concern about the low number of rangers left to manage parks and reserves, with most of their energy directed to collecting revenue and minimising risks to public safety, with little time to manage ecosystems. A further 25% staff cuts are proposed for next year. Community-based Local Action Planning groups along the River Murray, operating effectively on minimal funds since 1998, now have to find their own funding to keep their experienced and dedicated project staff.
The Federal Coalition recently scrapped the listing of the River Murray below the Darling junction as a Threatened Ecological System, just one day before it was signed into law after five years of thorough science-based evaluation and consultation. The new Environment Minister called it a hasty, unsubstantiated decision, deferring to opposition from irrigator groups. Now the Prime Minister says we have more than enough national parks and the environment is meant for man, not just the other way around. He says Australia is open for business, including opening up protected forests for forestry.
The State Liberal Party is focused on growing the economy, creating jobs, educating our next generation, improving roads, easing the cost of living and delivering quality health care. The Labor Party has their ‘Building a Stronger South Australia’ campaign with a focus on building major pieces of sports, transport and health infrastructure as the priority for the state’s future. Neither party proposes any investment into the environmental assets which support the state economy.
When ‘The Advertiser’ recently posed a series of 30 questions to voters to determine their priorities, the major categories were law and order, transport, education, health, and lifestyle and community. There was no sign of their earlier ‘Save the Murray’ campaign, or debate on any other environmental issues.
The River Murray is far from recovered from the damage caused by years of over-allocation of water, and the severe effects of the Millenium drought. The floods of 2010-2012 started the recovery process, but there is much more to be done to sustain the River Murray ecosystem into the future. Recent savage bushfires have devastated ecosystems in the Mallee and the Southern Flinders Ranges, and caused further damage to red gum woodlands on the Murray floodplain.
The level of environmental protection in South Australia is inadequate and declining, with supposedly protected areas vulnerable to droughts, floods and fires, lacking management resources to control threats such as weeds, and potentially also vulnerable to changes in policy like those seen interstate, allowing hunting, grazing and mining in parks.
Without the environment, there is no economy. The environment should always be a key issue in election campaigns, right up there with the traditional themes of health, education, and law and order. There is still time before the South Australian election to include it.