Thursday 19/12/2013 Alexander White, The Guardian
Stay with me on this one.
The joke started something like this: a cockatoo, a potoroo, a skink and a brown tree frog go into a bar…
Unfortunately, this isn't' a very funny joke, because the Glossy Black Cockatoo, the Long-nosed Potoroo, the Eastern She-oak Skink and the Large Brown Tree Frog are all threatened species.
The Glossy Black is a fussy eater, a bit like a vegan hipster. It only feeds on the seeds in cones of she-oaks, and even then, only from selected individual trees. Like someone who's found their favourite barista and doesn't want to risk getting a bad coffee somewhere else, the Glossy Black will return to eat at the same tree time and time again, even other trees are overflowing with oak-cones. We don't really know why Glossy Blacks are so particular, but since each one can live up to thirty years, we should be able to take the time to get to know them properly. If we don't wipe them out first.
If the Glossy Black Cockatoo is a hipster, the Long-nosed Potoroo is like a shy and lonely emo with a preference for eating fungi when the stars are out. Closely related to kangaroos, the Long-nose makes up for its shyness during its twice-yearly mating season, and is notorious in the Australian outback for having a prodigious number of sexual partners. A big threat to the Long-nose's rutting, fungi-eating lifestyle is feral cats, foxes and human development.
The She-oak Skink and the Large Brown Tree Frog are less warm and fuzzy than the other two. In fact, they're scaly and slimy. I'm not clear why it's named after the She-oak, but the She-oak Skink lives the lizard equivalent of a ski-bum lifestyle in the alpine regions of Victoria around Mt Hotham and Falls Creek. (There's also a Tasmanian She-oak Skink.) The Large Brown Tree Frog is actually pretty small, around 45 mm in length, and like a mad sports fan it looks like it has painted its face with dark stripes like war-stripes.
I said the joke was not very funny. Here's why.
The Victorian government has a legal obligation to protect threatened species, but a remarkable loop-hole allows state-owned, loss-making corporations like VicForests to log their habitat so long as there was no conservation plan. This includes the picky-eater Glossy Black Cockatoo, and the war-painted Large Brown Tree Frog.
The ABC reported at the time:
A statement from the Department of Environment and Primary Industries confirmed there were 689 species, communities or processes (such as pollution of waterways or removal of species) that did require action statements. Of these, the department said 60 per cent had either been drafted, published or were due for review.
The implications of only 60 percent of these species, communities or processes having a conservation plan is ghastly; what does it say about the Victorian government's attitude to the environment?
And the Glossy Black and his three friends? They've been without conservation plans for at least 10 years.
This sense of moral affrontry is no doubt what drove Environment East Gippsland and the EDO to go to court to demand the Victorian government follow its own laws.
Dick the Butcher may have once suggested that we kill all the lawyers, but there are some lawyers we should probably spare. The non-profit lawyers from the Environmental Defenders Office are definitely amongst them.
The EDO in Victoria recently took the Victorian government to court for breaking its own laws by not preparing conservation plans (called action statements) for the Glossy Black Cockatoo, the Long-nose Potoroo, the She-oak Skink and the Large Brown Tree Frog.
The Environmental Defenders Office is a small network of nine state-based non-profit community legal centres (they're collectively the Australian Network of EDOs). They are a small but highly effective group of lawyers who make sure that Australia's environmental laws are upheld. Since they were founded in the 1990s, they've held governments and big business accountable when their actions would threaten species like the fungi-eating potoroo.
While multi-national mining companies and cashed-up developers can plough nearly unlimited funds into running roughshod over our environmental laws, everyday communities rely on organisations like the EDO.
The punch-line to this joke was delivered by Tony Abbott on Tuesday 17 December.
That's when he announced that federal funding for Environmental Defenders Offices would be removed. As a community legal centre, the EDO was until Tuesday funded through the Attorney General's office. This was worth, nationally, about $10 million, to do priceless environmental protection work.
Why exactly would Prime Minister Abbott, and the Attorney General George Brandis do this?
Your guess is as good as mine.
Brandis himself says that:
the government was having to make savings across all portfolios in a fiscally constrained environment.
The government has prioritised the funding of legal financial assistance to frontline services, he said.
(Here's what economist Stephen Koukoulas says about the LNP's recent mid-year economic forecast, and Greg Jericho on the fraud that is their fiscally constrained environment.)
But another reason may be something that NSW Mineral Council boss, Stephen Galilee, said in October. The Australian reported:
Mr Galilee said it was ridiculous that taxpayer funds were being used to appeal and reject approved projects.
We will be seeking to take up the issue of commonwealth funding of the NSW EDO with the new Attorney-General and the new government, he said.
We were dismayed when former attorney-general Mark Dreyfus decided in June to provide a $300,000 grant (per year) of taxpayer funds to the NSW EDO.
(And since we're on the topic of use of taxpayer funds, is it worth raising the $10 billion in fossil fuel subsidies that may financially benefit some members of the NSW Minerals Council? More about that here.)
This funding cut really is just yet another example of the Abbott government's ideologically driven war against the environment, and their Nixonian hatred of an enemies hit-list which includes anyone who cares about the environment.
Senior ecologist for the Australian Conservation Foundation, Dugald Murray put it well when he said:
The cost of the government's decision to cut federal funding for EDOs will be borne by Australian communities and by our unique and fragile environment.
Glen Klatovski, from The Wilderness Society, echoed those views: For thousands of people around the country one of their only avenues to protect their community, often against illegal activity, has been seriously cut, he said.
Driven by climate change denial, and by the far right in the Liberal-National party, Tony Abbott and George Brandis are engaging in a dangerous first-hundred-day fantasy romp against environmentalists.
The abolition of the Climate Commission, the snub at CHOGM and the UN climate talks, the attacks on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the scare campaign against the carbon price, the review of the renewable energy target, the obsession with building a nuclear power plant, and the building of one of the world's largest coal ports on top of the Great Barrier Reef. The defunding of the Environmental Defenders Office.
This is yet another morbid symptom of Abbott's climate denial-driven war, and his agenda of handing over Australia to global mining companies and billionaire coal barons.
Humble, harmless native Australian animals deserve to treated better than a joke; Abbott's actions this week show precisely what he thinks of them.
If you feel, like I do, that the Australian government should re-fund the Environmental Defenders Offices, please share your support.
You can also support the EDO in Victoria and in NSW to run cases that protect animals like the potoroo and cockatoo.
Postscript: And those threatened animals, the potoroo, cockatoo, frog and skink? Well, the EDO won. In a settlement, the Victorian government agreed to finalise conservation plans by 30 June 2014.