Is the government out to punish the Australian Conservation Foundation?
Friday’s Sealed Section contained this item:

All the catcalls and jeering directed at Mark Latham since October 9 have distracted attention from the other big loser of the federal election. That’s right. Bob Brown.

Six new Senators and one million votes? Hah! When’s he going to get a going over? Even if his party is too acquiescent, why not anyone from the Gallery?

They might like to widen the story out, too. They could look at some of our major environmental organizations, like the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Wilderness Society, just how closely they are linked with the ALP and what this actually means for delivering outcomes, what it means for future access to the Government and influence on decision making.

No one doubts that they care, but – if you leave the gestures out – what do they actually accomplish? Groups like the Wilderness Society and the ACF have many, many members. They seem very quiet. Shareholder in major corporates would not tolerate CEOs who posted massive losses wouldn’t react that way. Business commentators would be bagging them. Fair point?

Well, a very nice response from the ACF has landed in the Crikey mailbag:

Dear Crikey

Your bulletin of 3/12 calls on journalists to ask of ACF and another organisation “just how closely they are linked with the ALP and what this actually means for delivering outcomes, what it means for future access to the Government and influence on decision making”. I thought I’d help out with some comments. First of all, ACF is not linked with ALP or any other political organisation, it is an independent non party political organisation. During the recent election it did not advocate a vote or issue how to vote cards. Prior to the election ACF had good access to the Government, Opposition, Greens and Democrats.

We make no excuses for speaking out on what we believe might threaten the chances of handing on a healthy environment to our kids. This sometimes makes us unpopular with governments and some Ministers, but doesn’t usually prevent ongoing dialogue. You mentioned outcomes. We aren’t making the headway necessary to see Australia cut its greenhouse pollution or taking proper international leadership on this issue which not only threatens our environment but public health and the economy. Fair cop on that but rest assured we’re working on ways to lift our game. Elsewhere though, there were significant outcomes this year – Queensland has moved to end broadscale landclearing (the next biggest threat to our plants and animals after climate change), protecting some 20 million square kilometers from the bulldozer. Commonwealth and State Governments agreed to put water back into the Murray and even though they’ve only agreed to a third of what ‘ s needed, the fact that water will be returned to the Murray (instead of being constantly sucked out) makes this an important first step. The Jabiluka uranium mine in Kakadu has been plugged up and the Commonwealth increased the full protection of the Great Barrier Reef from 4% to 32%. ACF has been involved in all of these historic achievements, working with other environment organisations and Indigenous communities.

It’s hardly a blank sheet and the outcomes have come from working with governments, business and the community using a mix of research, education and advocacy. We neither shy from accountability nor claim infallibity. There are lessons to be learnt from the recent election for all working for a just and sustainable future, we intend to learn and move on.

John Connor
ACF Campaigns Director

Onya John and thanks. But what exactly is the political environment (geddit?!?) like for the ACF up on the Hill?

Wandering the corridors of the Min Wing, one gets the distinct impression that the Government wants to punish the ACF. The Libs are sitting pretty. Why should they accommodate shrubhuggers?There’s a strong view in the Government that ACF head Don Henry ran interference for the organisation’s former president, Peter Garrett, when he outed himself as a Labor supporter, warning the Libs to play the ball, not the man. Hullo! Garrett was entering politics. Henry didn’t have to act as his minder. (That’s Simon Baulderstone’s job, anyway – the job of the bloke many old time Labor hands blame for Paul Keating’s capture by the environment movement.)

The appointment of Professor Ian Lowe, the former head of the School of Science at Griffith University, as Garrett’s successor (see The AustralianScientist replaces Garrett) is presumably aimed at giving the ACF a more respectable face. The organisation, however, is in trouble. Senior Liberals refer to the ACF as “a branch of the Labor Party”.

If environmental organisations crank up a major campaign to get the Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol over the coming weeks, Lowe will have little chance to build any bridges.

And what about what Connor calls “another organisation”? Why won’t he name them?

Wilderness Society. There. We’ve just said their name. Anybody got anything to say about them? Or are they just a bunch of ferals?

There are some interesting politics here.

It’s fair to say that the ACF kept their heads down during the election – but they have form. Just look at this Green Left website, for example.

Indeed, it’s virtually impossible to find an example of the ACF supporting the Liberal Party at a state or federal election. They have, however, leant towards Labor many times – most notably after being chatted up by Richo in the lead up to the 1990 poll.

There’s some interesting material in Pamela William’s account of how the Liberal Party came to power, The Victory. She tells how the Wilderness Society wanted to campaign against the ALP and teach them a lesson – and how ACF tried to pull them back into line.

The ACF’s new president isn’t some boffin as the ACF would like to paint him as. He’s actually a bit of a feral himself. Have a look at this petition organised by the Socialist Alliance that Lowe signed up to in the West Papua News.

His name turns up on the Green Left website, too. It also seems as if Lowe might have some problems with global capitalism from the look of the Socialist Worker website.

That’s not a good start. And think about it from the Government’s point of view.

Take one nice, populist example – the Barrier Reef. The Libs get stroppy that they get no credit for the work they’ve done on protecting the Reef – but look at what AM had to say on the subject yesterday:

An international study on the state of the world’s coral reefs reveals that 20 per cent of them are now considered so damaged that they’re beyond repair.

But the future for the Great Barrier Reef is looking brighter.

The survey found that Australia leads the world in managing reef ecosystems…

Does the Government get any public acknowledgement from groups like the ACF over this sort of thing? Naaah! Instead, the Barrier Reef is just one in a long list of complaints.

And this is where the problems really begin for the Government and groups such as the ACF.

Not only does the Government feel – with pretty good reason – that the ACF is generally unfriendly. There is a whole range of issues the green lobby run on that create a myriad of problems.

Working for “environmental outcomes” causes blackouts because greenies make it tougher to build power plants. Greenies, coupled with state government reluctance to invest in infrastructure and build new dams, lead to water restrictions. And they help worsen bushfires, because they make it tougher to implement traditional fuel reductions strategies for fire management.

Indeed, the Commonwealth Government suspects groups like the ACF are not interested in real solutions, because their business model – for want of a better term – is not designed to find solutions, but rather to create problems.

For once you might be able to believe them.