The Great Barrier Reef is at the front and centre of the 2016 Federal Election.
The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, officially called for a July 2 election on May 8 2016. The formal announcement came after months of speculation by members of the media and months of calculation on the part of the Prime Minister. The Parliament was recalled to a special session to debate two double dissolution election triggers, the ABCC and registered organisations bills. The Senate did not pass the bills and so gave the Prime Minister the trigger for a double dissolution election. As the speculation and calculation were just beginning the public learned that another record setting summer led to the worst bleaching event the Great Barrier Reef has experienced. In the same week we learned of the bleaching of the Reef polling was released, on St Patrick’s Day, coincidentally, that indicated the Reef was a vote shifting issue for Australians. A more recent survey indicates that 79% of Australians believe the health of the Reef should be prioritised over coal.
Just as an election was gathering the Great Barrier Reef appeared to be a possible battleground between the political parties. And just as Australia’s politicians were catching up to public opinion, NGOs, reef scientists, activists and talk show hosts were preparing to ring an alarm to warn the world that climate change was cremating the world’s largest living structure before our eyes.
Amongst other campaigns to save the Reef there are GetUp, Ellen, The Saving Nemo Conservation Fund, The Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and Fight for the Reef, and Greenpeace Australia Pacific.
A simple timeline can show how the Reef has been at play between the parties as they try to catch up to public opinion.
When the election officially began both the Labor Party and the Australian Green’s announced policies that would address climate change. The Liberal National Coalition offered recycled money for water quality on the Reef but made no new commitments for the Reef or Climate Change.
Greenpeace launched our Kids Party on the 26th of May.
The Reef received little attention from the political news cycle until Friday 27 May when #ReefGate broke. #ReefGate describes a story in which all mentions of Australia were removed from the final version of a UNESCO report on climate change and world heritage sites after the Australian government objected on the grounds it could impact on tourism.
The Reef was not mentioned in the first leader’s debate but the second debate, on the Sunday after ReefGate came out, the Great Barrier Reef was mentioned once by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten but not the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
The Reef as an election issue kicked off.
That same day Bill Shorten visited Cairns with Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler to announce more funding to protect the Reef.
Terri Butler, the Labor member for Griffith, told an ABC QandA audience that evening that she didn’t personally agree with the Adani Carmichael mine because the carbon it would release was so hazardous to the health of the Reef.
The next day, Tuesday 31 May, the media release from Hunt’s office about ARC survey results addressed the problem of Crown of Thorns Starfish rather than climate change and by Wednesday June 1, the Environment Minister Greg Hunt went to the Reef in order to announce even more funding. That same Wednesday Bill Shorten committed not to spend public money on Adani.
On Thursday June 2, NEMO confronted the Prime Minister during a doorstop and Turnbull committed to not spending public money on Adani.
Wednesday 7 June, Ellen’s campaign to save the Reef was launched.
Greg Hunt tweets Ellen in response.
GetUp responds to Hunt.
On Saturday June 11, the Greenpeace Kids Party crashes a ten thousand dollar a head fundraiser for the Prime Minister in Sydney.
That same day Monday 13 June, Shorten tells the ABCs Q and A he won’t match Turnbulls funding announcement because he will act on climate change. (But he also said a Labor Government wouldn’t place a ban on new coalmines.)
Last week the Reef was the second most important election issue.