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A National Environment Test: How do Australian politicians score?

By Peter Garrett - posted Friday, 11 July 2003

The Australian Conservation Foundation has set a test for Australia's political leaders. We want to look at what needs to be done and how our political leaders rate. It's not only a test of whether their policies will turn around the damage to our fragile land. It's also a test of how well they are listening to Australians who are speaking up for a cleaner, smarter and greener future.

On this last score, ACF judges that both major parties might be slowly waking up to how deep the environmental concern is within mainstream Australian opinion. At the same time we believe their actions remain well short of what is required.

This slow awakening is showing up in research commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation and in other polling too. Judging by the recent statements of both parties, we think its starting to show up in their research as well.


Australia needs a bold package of sustainability reforms to not only protect and repair this battered ancient land, but also generate jobs and a healthy economy.

We reckon there are five key tests for a sustainable Australia. And we need to pass them all if we are to protect our natural heritage and develop an Australian economy and a society free from environmental damage for the generations that follow.

The five tests are:

1. Show national leadership

This would involve a commitment to sustainability reforms which matches the commitment to competition reforms seen during the last decade. Prime amongst relevant measures would be a Sustainability Council backed by the Council of Australian Government, with funding and powers akin to those of the National Competition Council. Moreover, showing national leadership means being held accountable to real and substantial environmental outcomes.

2. Cut greenhouse pollution

This means not only ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, but also implementation of a package of measures including higher renewable energy targets, revenue-neutral emissions trading and a bold attack on our grossly inefficient use of energy.

3. Repair our land and rivers

Examples include repairing rivers like the Murray to restore the amount of water flowing down it, and turning around the loss of our bushland by ending land clearing. Only then will we stop the curse of salinity which is poisoning our environment, farms and towns.


4. Protect great natural areas

The Great Barrier Reef, Cape York and the great old growth forests of Tasmania are examples of national treasures which future generations won't be able to enjoy unless strong protections are put in place now.

5. Support sustainable living

This means giving greater support for Australians who want to take action to help the environment by, for example, going solar or adding rainwater tanks. Nor can there be sustainable living if Australia is still caught in the toxic nuclear cycle - building new nuclear reactors and creating very long lived radioactive waste.

These five tests make up our National Agenda for a Sustainable Australia.

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Article edited by Stuart Candy.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This is an edited version of the ACF's National Agenda for a Sustainable Future. For the full text, click here (pdf, 60Kb).

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About the Author

Peter Garrett is the Labor Member for Kingsford Smith in New South Wales. Peter is widely known as a passionate advocate and campaigner on a range of contemporary Australian and global issues. He was the former president Australian Conservation Foundation , an activist, and former member Australian band Midnight Oil.

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