Shark drum lines will be removed from Great Barrier Reef beaches after a federal court ruling.
Shark drum lines will be removed from Great Barrier Reef beaches after a federal court ruling.

Little chance of smart change

STUDENTS taking part in yesterday’s Climate Strike will ultimately look back on the event as a waste time.

Either that or they will have found a way to put a bomb under the current state of politics in this country in a manner that eluded generations before them who also fought for common sense.

Political indifference to the environment remains as strong today as it was in the 1970s.

Any minor gains have been clawed back through cuts to so-called red and green tape in the interests of the expedient pursuit of a dollar.

Politicians be they Labor or LNP/Coalition remain destructively indifferent to any argument that calls for proper account of environmental cost.

The behaviour this week of Queensland Minister for Agricultural Industry Development and Fisheries Mark Furner is just the latest example of why we will not see any significant steps towards climate change mitigation or increased environmental protection without a major shift in the political mindset in this country.

The LNP’s constant negative harping has become the background music to a fully-blown race to the bottom ahead of elections at the end of next year.

In April the Administrative Appeals Tribunal found at law that Queensland’s shark control program of nets and baited drumlines made no difference to the level of risk to humans.

It had, as Human Society International campaigner Nicola Beynon observed, determined the shark program to be superficially attractive albeit unscientific.

That finding came despite the State Government’s argument its program’s success should be seen in the context that only one life had been lost on beaches where the devices have been deployed since 1962.

The cost can be measured not just in the destruction of everything from turtles to dolphins, but also includes shark species that pose no threat to humans but are being helped along the path to extinction by the program.

And of course, the body count also includes apex predators essential to maintaining the overall health of reef systems and the entire marine ecology.

Unhappy with the decision found at law by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the State Government chose to challenge it in the Federal Court.

This week two judges found against that appeal and upheld the tribunal’s judgment, a decision that should have caused the Minister pause for thought.

NSW and Western Australian governments have both started trialling and instigating innovative non-lethal approaches to improved swimmer safety including education, so-called smart drumlines, shark deterrent devices and drones.

But rather than have his department immediately begin exploring those and other options, Minister Furner doubled down.

First came an urgent appeal to Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley for her to change the law so that it would not impede the state’s superficially attractive, non-effective and ultimately environmentally destructive practices.

Then came the dog whistling.

The court’s judgment did not preclude the use of 173 drumlines in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park from north of Cairns to south of Gladstone.

It just required the lines to be checked more regularly and that caught animals be towed to sea and released.

The Minister determined that couldn’t be done legally or safely principally because it appears that since the initial court decision in April no significant attempt has been made to train contractors.

Wilful ignorance and wilful stupidity have long been the expected fall-back position of politicians who think only negatively about potential impacts to tourism or development dollars rather than the possibility that protecting the environment may also prove profitable.

What can’t be forgiven though is his statement that: “These changes, forced on Queensland by an animal activist group and supported by the Environment Defenders Office of New South Wales, would turn Queensland’s program from a ‘catch and remove the risk’ program to a ‘catch and release the risk’ program.”

In saying that Mr Furner denies the evidence and findings of two courts of law, under which we should all expect to stand equal. The statement was unworthy of the position he holds.

But just as planning laws have been changed to allow developers next to free rein to do what they want where they want regardless of either environmental cost or community-crafted planning schemes, the Minister now wants to change federal laws that don’t suit his myopic viewpoint.

Striking for climate change or marching to save the environment are rendered impotent exercises in the face that level of abuse of power.

The courts found in line with the science that killing sharks does not improve swimmer safety.

It may be a carefully-crafted illusion the shark control program saves lives, but it’s not true. But then when have facts been allowed to intrude on policy positions relating to climate or the environment.