The importance of the environment in the recent Queensland state election is beyond doubt, writes Andrew Picone
The Newman government stubbornly over-reached in its determined push to re-write laws and strip away environmental protections. To Queenslanders this posed too much of a threat to the long term resilience of the state's environment and for this the LNP paid the price at the ballot box.
The Great Barrier Reef, front and centre of Australia's iconic image to the world is perilously close to being listed as endangered by the World Heritage governing body, UNESCO. Dredging, coal, climate change, bleaching, run-off and pollution were all deeply concerning issues in the community and yet little was being done to adequately address these threats.
In Townsville, the prospect of uranium mining in the Burdekin catchment contributed to three separate electorates voting out the LNP. With Labor's solid position to ban uranium mining in Queensland, the ALP won three out of four seats in the area.
On Cape York Peninsula, a resurgence back to Labor saw Billy Gordon elected as the Member for Cook, the first Indigenous MP for the region since 1941. This is in stark contrast to the support from the Cape thrown behind Newman the 2012 election.
With the defeat of the LNP after only one term, we now have the opportunity to address some of the most significant threats to Queensland's environment. While returning the ban on uranium mining is a high priority – there are many other areas now in need of close attention. The LNP opened up protected forest to logging, allowed grazing in national parks, fast-tracked major high carbon emitting developments and weakened environmental laws.
But how different will the Labor Party prove to be in office?
In August 2014, Queensland Labor released their State Policy Platform which outlines most of their commitments.
Broadly, there is a re-commitment to return to the principles of ecologically sustainable development – a policy the previous government explicitly rejected. In addition, climate change is acknowledged and there is a commitment to move towards a 'low emissions Queensland economy'.
More specially, there are clear and welcome statements of commitment to the environment. This includes rejecting the buck-passing of Commonwealth environmental laws to the state, restoring funding for volunteer dependent organisations, supporting a World Heritage nomination for Cape York with Traditional Owner consent, and repealing the LNP's pro-mining legislation on Stradbroke Island.
For the first time, the Labor Party have appointed a Minister for the Reef and stated its commitment to meeting UNESCO guidelines to avoid an 'in danger' listing.
The Queensland environment movement made a collective sigh of relief at last week's joint meeting with the newly appointed Environment Minister, and Member for Mount Coot-tha Steven Miles.
While not taking anything for granted, the return of national parks to the environment portfolio was seen as an immediate win. Hair-brained schemes to sell, develop or exploit state lands set aside for conservation are now under review.
Preferences from the Greens, Independents and other minor parties helped to get Labor 44 seats. Only with the support from Independent Peter Wellington is Labor able to claim Government.
From this position, Labor may be somewhat cautious in implementing the more ambitious of its policies. At the same time, the conservation movement and the broader Queensland community must prosecute its case for better outcomes and greater accountability.
Democracy is not a perfect system, but it may be the best one we've got. Voters all over the state that made their feelings known at the ballot box in January will now be looking to the Labor government with the expectation of better outcomes for Queensland's beautiful but fragile environment.