'Blindsided': The Reef is in danger but our government claims it didn't know

‘Blindsided’: The Reef is in grave danger but our government claims it didn’t know


The Great Barrier Reef is in danger and Australia has not done enough to protect it, according to UNESCO. But the Coalition Government doesn’t want to hear about it.

It certainly doesn’t want to hear about it within days of another leadership head rolling in the Coalition.

The UN body has recommended that the Great Barrier Reef be put on the list of key World Heritage sites that are now “in danger”, noting the significant damage it’s suffered due to mass bleaching events over the past five years, as well as a failure to meet water quality targets. Should this decision be ratified, it will be the first time such a site has seen its listing downgraded due to the impact of climate change.

The Coalition claims it was “blindsided” by this decision — no doubt a prelude to how it may approach future rulings or listings, or even future significant weather events.

It may have been looking elsewhere, given the leadership spill in the Nationals on Monday morning that saw Barnaby Joyce returned as leader of the Nats, less than four years after he stood down amidst claims of sexual harassment. The suggestion was that former leader Michael McCormack had been too weak on a number of issues, including on standing up to the Liberals over climate action. Joyce is now expected to push Morrison to actually do less on the climate front, if that’s actually possible.

Meanwhile the Morrison Government also claims it was “”blindsided” by the official suggestion that the Reef is “in dangeer”, despite the 2019 finding by out own Reef committee downgrading the Reef’s condition from “poor” to “very poor”.

The CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Marine Science have all been emphasising the risks to the Reef from climate change for years. We’ve also seen the direct devastation from mass bleaching events in 2016, 2017 and 2020 which has led to large sections of coral weakened by the warming water and fading into death.

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s warned (which was ignored by the Morrison Government) that 70 to 90 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are expected to be damaged at 1.5 degrees of warming. And yet our government continued to sit on its hands.

Australia will not see this potential listing as an opportunity to step up and do more, but rather throw its hands in the air in indignation. Led by Environment Minister Sussan Ley, we will continue to claim another “gold standard” approach in how the Reef is managed. We’ll continue to claim we are doing everything possible to protect it, whilst still being the global laggard on setting any meaningful targets on addressing emissions.

You’d think this potential “in danger” listing would be a moment to consider our approach and the options currently in place to try and save one of our nation’s greatest natural wonders. You’d think it’d be a time to check in with the scientists and experts and traditional custodians who live with and study the Reef every day.

Indeed, it could be an opportunity to explore the recommendations of this committee and draw attention to the Reef’s plight. To get more Australians invested in protecting it and encourage more people internationally to passionately engage in possible solutions. To promote what this Reef offers and what could be lost: 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fish, the home of intriguing and rare species, like the large green turtle.

Not for the Morrison Governent. It’s a time for denials. To play politics. It’s time to deal with a new leader in the Nationals. A new Deputy Prime Minister who is outspoken in his support for coal mining, is pushing for a new coal mine in Queensland, and wants the Clean Energy Finance Commission to actually invest in new fossil fuel projects.

And our Environment Minister, sadly, is doing nothing to defent the environment. Rather, Sussan Ley is set on defending her government’s denials.

“I will stand up in any community, and I do, and say that we have the best managed Reef in the world. The gold standard. And no one has contradicted me yet,” Ley told reporters on Tuesday.

“This decision [by the committe] is flawed. Clearly there were politics behind it. Clearly those politics have subverted a proper proces.

“For the World Heritage committe to not even foreshadow this listing is I think appalling.”

The politics she’s referring to may include the fact the group is chaired by China. There are 21 nations together forming the World Heritage Committee.

It’s true Australia has thrown billions of dollars at the Reef — although much of that funding has been controversial, with its actual impact seriously questionable. We should absolutely have the “gold standard” on management because we have such a precious natural resource on our doorstep, one with world cultural significance that boasts the label of being the world’s largest reef system. Australia is one of just three rich countries to have such a major reef, with the remain

The Government is embarrassed. We all should be. Years of political squabbling on climate change leave us with nothing to say and no plan in place. Australia has diverted the issue. It’s continued to use language trickery around targets and commitments.

We now risk losing our Reef or at least see it seriously further depleted. But even upon being told off the potential for such loss, this Government continues to play the game. To claim being “blindsided”. To fight back. To talk of meaningless “gold standards.”

The precious gold is turning deathly grey.

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