Despite distinctly inclement weather, over 50 people attended NQQC’s The Election and the Environment Forum at Townsville Yacht Club on Thursday 15 March.
Undaunted by the rain (and by the fact that it was the Ides of March!) candidates from all five parties contesting the seat of Townsville or (in the case of Katter’s Australia Party candidate David Moyle) the seat of Mundingburra came along to have a three minute platform from which to present their environmental credentials and policies – and then to face a barrage of questions from the audience.
Taking their places at the top table and fielding the questions were Mandy Johnstone (ALP), David Moyle (KAP), John Hathaway (LNP), Jenny Stirling (Greens) and Michael Punshon (Family First).
And once the presentations were over, the questions came thick and fast and covered a range of topics – uranium, biodiversity, access to National Parks, endangered species (including turtles, dugongs and black-throated finches), coastal development, invasive species, water quality, fishing, renewable energy and population. But the overwhelming issues of the night were coal and coal-seam gas.
Not surprisingly, it was only Greens candidate Jenny Stirling who took a strong stance against the mining and export of coal. Other candidates addressed the issue by talking largely about the need for ‘balance’ between environmental and economic/community issues – a word that appears to be taking over from ‘sustainable’ and ‘offsets’ when it comes to accepting damage to our environment. (While Jenny Stirling also acknowledged a need for balance, it is possible that she is using scales with a different calibration). Expansion of coal seam gas was not strongly supported by any of the minor parties, a position not reflected by either Mandy Johnstone or John Hathaway.
On the issue of National Parks, John Hathaway commented that it was easy to create new NPs but such popular actions needed to be accompanied by increases in rangers to look after them. He also noted that some NPs (according to a member of the audience, only three in the State) were surrounded by private land and could not be accessed by members of the public. However, he did not elaborate on whether the LNP would resolve this perceived dilemma by buying up private land to create access or closing down the NPs in question.
In an intense but controlled night, it was the comment that we seemed to be ruled not by politicians but by mining executives that drew spontaneous applause.
All five candidates were invited to attend the launch of Big Solar on Sunday 18 March – and four accepted the invitation (the fifth having a prior engagement). One task for the Big Solar campaigners will be to explain to our politicians that Big Solar is not lots of solar panels on residential houses – but a new approach to generating megapower for the grid. Something entirely possible in the Townsville region.
At the end of the night, it could probably have been concluded that the main group to have learned about the environment and its parlous state were the politicians – a not entirely bad outcome.
Wendy Tubman, Coordinator