green tape Scott Morrison
(Image: AAP/Mick Tsikas)

A day after a major UN committee report revealing unprecedented and disastrous levels of species and habitat loss, Scott Morrison says “green tape” is a major threat to jobs, along with militant  unions, in an effort to ramp up the government’s campaign against Bill Shorten.

Does Australia have a problem with too much environmental regulation? The 2016 State of the Environment report produced for the government itself found “Australia’s biodiversity is continuing to decline (with some exceptions…), and new approaches are needed to prevent accelerating decline in many species.” It concluded:

The poor state and declining trend of Australia’s biodiversity are an issue of particular concern. For instance, the number of species listed as threatened under the EPBC Act continues to rise. Since 2011, the number of species listed in the critically endangered category has increased by 31, and two species have been reported as likely extinct. Overall pressures on biodiversity have mostly increased since 2011, and the status of biodiversity has mostly decreased…

But let’s look at it from the opposite point of view. Do mining companies think there is too much environmental regulation? Plainly not enough to deter Australia’s biggest ever mining investment boom, maxing out at 9% of GDP under the Gillard government. Mining investment has since fallen back under 4% of GDP, but lest you think that decline is evidence that investors have been deterred, late last year the WA mining sector was boasting of a $75 billion investment splurge in that state, which will create “thousands of jobs associated with these projects. Too many for just Western Australians to fill”. Indeed, federal coal minister Matt Canavan himself declared just two months ago that “Australia remains one of the best locations for investing in mineral resources”.

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No warning about “green tape” then.

Mining companies and mining analysts agree. Until 2013, independent mining analyst Behre Dolbear listed Australia as the top destination for mining investment in the world. After the election of the Coalition in 2013, Australia lost the top spot to Canada but still remained the second best destination.

Last year the far-right Fraser Institute in Canada listed Western Australia as the second-best mining investment destination in the world, up from fifth place the previous year. A Canadian mining lobby group found that “Alberta, Canada; Queensland, Australia; and the United States, Gulf Coast were consistently leading in a comparison of existing environmental policies, laws and regulatory systems”.

So foreign mining companies and independent analysts say Australia doesn’t have a problem with regulation compared to other jurisdictions, the government itself says we’re a great destination for investment, and the government’s own report says we are failing to even stabilise biodiversity loss let along improve it under existing laws. Still: there’s too much “green tape”, Morrison insists. This is despite peer-reviewed evidence of an accelerating global crisis around human impact on the environment — on which nothing has been heard by alleged Environment Minister Melissa Price, who has been invisible since signing off on the Adani Carmichael project right before caretaker period commenced.

In fact, Melissa Price hasn’t been heard from since April 24, more than two weeks ago, and her campaign activity has been limited to just six media releases (half of them with other ministers) and zero media events. No one would have thought it possible for her to be even less visible than she was in government, but she’s achieved that improbable feat as the evidence mounts of an environmental crisis.