Apr 26, 2016

Nature is neglected in this election campaign – at its and our own peril

By Don Driscoll & Euan Ritchie

Our natural heritage, the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia’s identity, are in dire straits.
The electioneering has begun. In a campaign set to be dominated by economic issues, the Coalition and Labor are locking horns over who can best manage our finances, protect jobs and make housing more affordable. The Greens predictably decry the major parties, including their cavalier climate change policies.
These are important issues, but are they the highest priority on the political agenda? An arguably even greater issue exists that nobody is seriously championing, but which impacts all of us, socially, environmentally and economically.
Our natural heritage — the plants, animals and other organisms that help define Australia's identity are in dire straits. Yet this biodiversity crisis is barely mentioned in political discourse, nor is it foremost in the public consciousness.
The world economy is losing $73 billion a year through lost ecosystem services. It is predicted to lose $20 trillion a year by 2050 without action now. With potentially 7% of global economic product at stake by mid-century, nature conservation must surely be on the agenda in this election.
Actions needed to conserve our natural heritage, and reap substantial rewards, will challenge some of our most cherished ideas about social and economic policy. This demands reforms to reverse creeping losses to our democratic process.
Looking at the major parties' platforms, it is clear that nature is not on the agenda. Labor lists 23 positive policies, none of which deals directly with conserving Australia's plants and animals. The Coalition has done slightly better, claiming to believe in preserving Australia's natural beauty and environment for future generations. However, itsfederal platform, released last year, shows no evidence of this belief.
Public concern has also shifted away from nature issues and towards other concerns such as terrorism, as well as traditional areas of focus such as health care and the economy. This shift can be seen in some surprising places, such as the major grassroots lobby group GetUp!. Of its ten current campaigns only one, the fight to save the Great Barrier Reef, is directly about conserving wildlife diversity.