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One Nation? No, Green Nation

By Peter Mullins - posted Thursday, 15 February 2001

Much of the WA election coverage focussed on the vote for One Nation. Yet there is another clear message to come out from the weekend's poll. The environment is back on the political agenda, and will impact on what promises to be closely contested elections throughout this year.

The pressure is now on the political parties to meet public expectation to protect our environment- or ignore it at their peril. The community is demanding, with complete justification, that politicians address issues including climate change, our fossil fuel dependency, disposal of nuclear waste and a new reactor in Sydney, salinity, land clearing, protection of Australia's ocean environments and the fate of Australia's remaining old growth forests.

A look at the Western Australia election campaign and the results shows that the environment is back on the agenda. The forest debate loomed large in the West. The Court Government's policy on logging old growth forest has been criticised across a broad spectrum of the community. The backlash included the formation of a new political party - the "Liberals for Forests". The Ningaloo Reef debate re-confirms just how strongly the WA community feels about protecting its ocean environment.


The major success in the WA election is the Greens, the stalwarts of the environment debate. Early analysis suggests they have won up to five Upper House seats, an increase from their previous three. The Greens primary vote of 7.85% also compares strongly to that of One Nation's 9.54%, who appear to have won just three seats.

Then there is the Labor Party's Geoff Gallop who, in response to public outrage, promised to end logging in 99% of the States remaining old growth forests. Gallop continued to reiterate it as one of his top three issues throughout the campaign. The forests promise was part of a wider ALP policy push to make Western Australia 'clean and green'.

Against this WA backdrop, national opinion polls consistently show that environment currently ranks as a key issue for voters.

The Federal ALP has traditionally had the stronger environmental policies, but there is little to distinguish them from the Coalition. The Coalition has spent large sums of money, but questions remain about the environmental effectiveness of many of these programs. And the Democrats face a stern test, with five of their nine Senators up for re-election - seats the Greens will also be chasing.

Perhaps the surprise of the WA election has been the poor performance of the Democrats, who have failed to win a seat, and whose primary vote dropped to an average of just 3.6%. Again, there will be much discussion about the reasons for this.

However, in the context of the importance of the environmental vote, while the Democrats have considered this a key strength over the years, it is interesting to note that they have crossed horns with the nation's major environment groups several times recently. Twice in this term, the Democrats have passed legislation strongly opposed by major groups such as Greenpeace, the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society, including new national environment laws.


The message to the political parties is therefore - we want effective environmental protection - actions that will leave a green legacy to our grandchildren.

The message to candidates is even clearer - without persuasive environmental credentials, your community will not support you.

And I believe these messages are timely and warranted.

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About the Author

Peter Mullins is Chief Executive Officer of Greenpeace Australia Pacific.

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