'I am a conservationist' – is Abbott the only person who believes that?

Tony Abbott recently told a community forum that "I'm as much a conservationist as Bob Brown".  Here is Bob's response, originally published in the Guardian on 16 June 2014. 

In February 2012, as leader of the Greens, I made a courtesy call on Tony Abbott. He had just pipped Malcolm Turnbull in a party room vote for the leadership of the opposition. He looked straight at me and said, "I am an environmentalist!"

I did not roll my eyes or argue. I had heard the like before. The CEO of Tasmania's Hydro-Electric Commission, after flooding Lake Pedder and at the height of the controversy over damming the Franklin River, maintained that he was an environmentalist. So have a string of other dam-builders, loggers and gougers of the Earth.

Quite a few embellish this absurdity by calling themselves the true or real environmentalists. Even the Japanese whale killers fire their grenade-tipped harpoons in the name of environmental science.

US president George Bush senior flew to the Earth summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 claiming to be the environmental president. One US cartoonist had him being greeted there by three other male heads-of-state with "I'm Little Red Riding Hood", "I'm Miss Muffet" and "and "I'm Goldilocks!".

John Howard went no further than to claim that he was "greenish", but Tony Abbott is staking his claim to be the environmental prime minister. In Washington last week he repeated his self-assessment – "I am a conservationist" – to bewildered journalists.

He has been repeating this absurdity for some years, while convincing no one but himself. In 2012, Abbott told a community forum in Victoria that he was "as much a conservationist as Bob Brown". He would have left thinking the audience believed him. He has become the Green Emperor with no clothes.

Howard included, Abbott is the most environmentally destructive prime minister in living memory. He is gung-ho about new coal mines and coal seam gas operations, despite thousands of rural Australians turning out in protest. He wants dredge spoil from new coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef to be dumped in its world heritage area.

He is doing all he can to dismantle the Gillard-Greens legislation that has polluters paying taxpayers, in favour of his "direct action plan", which will have taxpayers paying polluters. He wants to dam northern Australia's rivers. He opposed the Rudd government's 2010 challenge to Japanese whaling in the International Court of Justice.

In Tasmania, besides backing open-cut mines in the Tarkine wilderness, Abbott wants 74,000 hectares of the world's tallest flowering forests stripped of their world heritage status so that they can be logged. This week his ambassadors are in Qatar, heavying the World Heritage Commission's annual meeting to get that outcome – despite domestic polls showing a huge majority of Australians oppose his move.

His environmental watchdog, Greg Hunt, is more like a chihuahua. The prime minister has no one to bring the necessary caution to his delusory claims about his environmental prowess.

In 2011, when Abbott said that "all of us want to give the planet the benefit of the doubt" it sounded like he thought Earth's biosphere needed to prove its innocence. Or perhaps he thought that those scientists who believe the planet cannot withstand the growing impact of human population and predation should desist according to a sort of reverse precautionary principle.

In modern politics, environmental integrity is at a premium. Perhaps the prime minister thinks that if he can fake that, he has it made. Whatever the case, he is on very thin ice in a heating political environment.

Bob Brown, June 2014 


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