NSW Treasurer Matt Kean has blasted the Coalition for its lack of climate policy but has yet to prove itself as an environmental champion, writes Sue Arnold.
IT WAS The climate change election.
The Real Concern Index 2022 surveyed over 5,000 Australians, rating their concerns out of 100. According to the index, 65% of us are more concerned about Australia’s response to climate change and environmental issues than they realize were in the past.
Of those polled, 79% see Australia becoming a weather disaster zone and 78% worry about the legacy we are leaving for our children. And 80% agreed that time and money have been wasted on ineffective responses to climate change.
The level of public concern will no doubt be a major driver of the Liberal-National NSW coalition’s strategies heading into next year’s election.
NSW’s L-NP Climate Champion is Matt Kean, now Treasurer, officially Minister for Environment and Energy.
Kean regularly made headlines when he lambasted Morrison over his shockingly poor zero carbon targets.
Three days after the election, Kean was back in the headlines calling on liberals to stand up on climate. The New South Wales Liberal Party has announced it will conduct a review of the federal election defeat, which Kean described as a “absolute disaster”.
“The community has said loud and clear that not having solutions to the big challenges facing our nation, like climate change, is not acceptable.”
Another major issue of the election was the issue of integrity, which brings us directly to Kean’s position.
Does the speech work?
Many conservation and community organizations have expressed and continue to express concern over the contradictory nature of Kean’s responses to climate change and environmental issues. Especially when he was Minister of the Environment.
Prior to the Treasury move, Kean, along with former Deputy Prime Minister John Barilaro, was responsible for approving logging in the state’s native forests.
Almost two-thirds of New South Wales state forests set aside for logging were damaged in the Black Summer bushfires, according to data compiled by the New South Wales Regional Department.
With the catastrophic loss of species and ecosystems in New South Wales, Kean’s failure to insist that his government declare a moratorium on the logging of badly burned native forests has earned him no environmental credit.
In New South Wales, logging of native forests is carried out under the terms and protocols of the Coastal Integrated Forest Operations Approval (CIFOA). The only entities that can make changes to the endorsement are Joint Ministers. No changes can be made by legal challenges.
Neither Kean nor Barilaro took action to deal with the dire scenario. Barilaro has led the battle to allow industrial logging to continue in burned and still viable forests.
The critical role of forests in storing carbon has been and continues to be ignored.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN):
“Forests are also one of the most important solutions to deal with the effects of climate change. About 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, a third of the CO2 released by burning fossil fuels, is absorbed by forests every year.’
Hundreds of species of forest fauna and flora have been identified as requiring urgent protection. Instead, logging continued to ensure contracts were fulfilled. The majority of species affected by the fire are still awaiting emergency protection.
The koala was a beacon for donations that poured in from abroad and domestically. People were deeply distressed by the sight of thousands of burnt koalas. Millions of dollars have been raised to ensure the protection of surviving koalas by ensuring that healthy habitat is available and maintained.
After the devastation, Kean received countless calls, petitions and submissions calling for the creation of the Great Koala National Park on the North Coast. A region where former Environment Minister Sussan Ley recorded the death of more than 8,000 koalas.
Kean firmly ignored the request despite the support of millions of people, businesses, scientists and councils for its creation.
In November 2021, Kean announced that the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service would commit to being carbon positive by 2028 with the publication of the NPWS Carbon Positive Plan.
“This is a visionary plan that underlines the importance of national parks in the fight against climate change as well as the essential role they play in the conservation of biodiversity, being home to 85% of the threatened species of the State.
The plan indicates “Our national parks are one of the greatest carbon reservoirs in New South Wales. Ensuring safe and long-term protection of these carbon stocks is an essential contribution to managing climate risk.”.
Apparently, as long as the positive carbon policy didn’t apply to native forests or support the creation of the Great Koala National Park.
The green energy boom has given Kean an opportunity to make further statements about the importance of climate change. In November 2021, the New South Wales government decided that green hydrogen projects would not be funded if an input is derived from native forest biomass.
However, the decision was not binding and did not prevent state-funded companies from using biomass.
After Dominic Perrottet took over as Prime Minister, Kean was elevated to Treasurer – an important and influential role.
But there was no comment on Perrottet’s plan to push for a “Explosive level of 2 million immigrants over the next five years”.
Population growth and climate change are intimately linked. Each additional person increases carbon emissions. In a 2019 Planning Department report, the population projection showed that NSW was expected to grow by an average of more than 100,000 people each year until 2041.
Coal mines are also ignored in any Kean rhetoric about climate change. The New South Wales government has in the past 12 months approved two major state extensions of existing mines and approved an amendment to extend the life of a coal mine.
Tim Buckley, director of Climate Energy Finance, a private consultancy, summed up the double standards of government reaping the benefits of coal mining while trying to maintain a semblance of environmental consciousness.
“The idea that the NSW government is continuing to approve massive new coal developments is highly hypocritical.”
Perhaps the most devastating evidence of Kean’s ‘greenwashing’ is his assurances to Sydney’s south-west communities and conservation groups that the “The only disease-free population of koalas in the Sydney Basin, one of the most important koala populations in the state will be protected in perpetuity”.
Given the growth plans for massive urbanization involved in the Great Macarthur 2040 plan and the ongoing destruction of koala habitat in south-west Sydney, Kean’s words are hollow.
There is currently no evidence that major population growth in koala habitat is causing the koala population to increase.
Nor can continued industrial logging, population growth and increased permits for coal mines be said to reduce carbon emissions.
One can only hope that the Liberal Party’s election review raises the question of the integrity of climate change policy.
Kean needs to be called out on his climate stance and explain why major threats to carbon emissions continue to be ignored by him.
Go ahead, treasurer.
Sue Arnold is an AI columnist and freelance investigative journalist. You can follow Sue on Twitter @koalacrisis.
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