SPEECH: Stop the cuts to our environment

South Australians are proud and protective of our wonderful natural environment.  We love our national parks, our bushland, our rivers, mountains, deserts and the wide range of species that call these precious places home.

Which is why so many of us were horrified to learn that the Marshall Liberal Government was prepared to put our environment up for sale. 

The Chief Executive of the Department of Environment and Water notified staff recently that the Department was to become an Economic Development Agency. No longer are they to be protectors and defenders of the environment. They were also warned to prepare for more staff cuts and more budget cuts.

South Australians are not going to take this lying down.  In the last week nearly 1200 people have signed my petition calling on the Environment Minister David Speirs MP to stop the cuts and do his job properly.  1200 people are saying “No more cuts!  Protecting the environment shouldn’t depend on whether or not the Government or their corporate mates can make money out of it. Our environment deserves protection for its own sake as well for future generations.” We’re saying “Enough is enough!”.

We owe these revelations to an InDaily report two weeks ago by experienced political journalist, Tom Richardson.  Quoting from a bulletin issued to Departmental Staff in the new year, it was revealed that Chief Executive John Schutz had told staff they would be “transitioning to a new agency” in the coming year.  He then went on to outline that the first key shift was that “we are an economic development agency”.

“We balance environmental protection with economic development – this means we contribute to our state’s economy by driving sustainable economic development, and unlocking the potential of our natural and heritage resources.”

“Unlocking the potential of our natural and heritage resources” is Polliespeak for “Let’s find ways to exploit our natural environment and make private profit from our public assets”.  The Marshall Liberal Government has already approved a private golf course development and luxury private accommodation on public coastal conservation land on Kangaroo Island and are now looking to approve private luxury accommodation in KI’s Flinders Chase National Park.  Then there’s the private hotel development at Adelaide Oval, on the publicly owned Adelaide Park Lands.

This is not what the people of South Australia want or deserve.

Our environment deserves a properly funded Government Agency whose main responsibility is looking after our precious native plants and animals, not the financial interests of business.

To quote the Chief Executive: “I want everyone to be clear that we will have less staff and smaller budgets.”

This bad news is all too common when it comes to the Environment Department.  In the first Liberal budget last year, over 100 jobs were axed and millions of dollars were stripped from the environment budget. 

In previous years under the former Labor Government, the situation was similar.  Every year the budget was cut.  Every year, jobs and programs were cut.  For over a decade, the environment was devalued, and programs were defunded so that spending on our special places and biodiversity was cut from around 3% of the State budget to just over 1%.

So, it is not surprising to hear that many staff are up in arms about the cuts as well as the fundamental shift in focus to become an “economic development agency”.

It must be depressing in the extreme to those hard-working environment staff to see their agency so de-valued.  Many of these people have devoted their lives to the South Australian environment.  They put their heart and soul into their work only to see it undermined.  How must they feel to see billions spent on ribbon-cutting opportunities for Ministers and other vanity projects whilst their modest budgets are cut year after year.

The Greens say “enough is enough”.  The honeymoon period for the new Liberal Government is over.  It’s now time for them to step up and take their responsibilities seriously.  In these early days of government, they are setting the scene for what is to come.  So far, the news is all bad.

What we must remember is this:

When the environment is neglected, we are all impoverished. 

When species go extinct, we are all diminished. 

It’s time to stop the cuts!