Greens contributed to life-threatening, property-destroying fires

Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 24 January 2020.


A BIG contributor to this summer’s bushfire crisis has been the fact that as a nation we have not dedicated enough effort to fuel reduction burns.

Fires need fuel to burn, and the amount of fuel that has built up in a fire-prone area is of enormous importance to the scale and severity of a bushfire. Managing fuel loads is therefore critical to combating the threat of bushfires. In the words of Victoria’s Chief Fire Officer, “By reducing fuel loads, we won’t stop fires from starting, but we can reduce their spread and intensity when they do, making it easier for our forest firefighters to bring them under control quickly”.

Figures on the Green Left have taken faux exception to the valid identification of the role played by environmental activists, often with ties to the Greens Party, in obstructing fuel-reduction burns. They say that because the Greens do not control majorities at any level of government, they cannot bear any responsibility for preventing fire mitigation.

The Greens, who politicised this summer’s fires by blaming the Coalition for what they claim is a lack of seriousness to the so-called “climate emergency”, now complain their party is being criticised.

Let us examine the facts, which prove the truth about fuel loads prejudicing our capacity to minimise bushfires.

To take one example, the Environment East Gippsland group became the centre of attention this month when some members were caught celebrating the destruction of the Eden Woodchip Mill on the NSW South Coast, a business that had provided hundreds of jobs. The group is headed by former Victorian Greens candidates and staffers and organised protests in 2018 and 2019 against burn-offs in Gippsland under the guise of protecting biodiversity. As readers will be aware, Gippsland has been savaged by fires. Had it been possible for local authorities to perform proper controlled burns to manage fuel loads, the fires need not have been so large and uncontrollable.

Consider the dissenting report presented to a House of Representatives Select Committee into Recent Bushfires by Greens MP Michael Organ. Mr Organ quoted approvingly an academic who claimed “broadscale hazard reduction is threatening biodiversity conservation and must therefore be avoided by land managers and resisted at a political level”.

He concluded that “broadscale hazard reduction must be replaced”. Mr Organ’s report opposed prudent measures such as large-scale fuel reduction burns and expanding fire trails.

In Tasmania, the Greens have a similar track record of obstruction, notwithstanding former state minister and now senator Nick McKim saying in 2013 that “the Greens, in all the history of our political party, have never opposed a fuel-reduction burn, ever”. Yet in April 2013, the Tasmanian Greens voted against a motion by the then-opposition Liberals for the state government “to adopt in principle an annual fuel reduction burn target of 5 per cent of suitable public land”, a target that matched the expert recommendations of the 2009 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission established after Black Saturday.

The previous year a Greens media release said the residents of Maydena “deserved better” than the “burn-offs that they were subjected to this week”, adding that “this practice has simply got to stop” and “we’re all better off when this Neanderthal practice stops and disposing of forest by-products is done far more responsibly”.

How responsible is it to let forest by-products accumulate on the ground to provide fuel for a conflagration.

Paul O’Halloran, when a Greens MP, had declared burn-offs were a threat to health and wellbeing, moaning that “once again Tasmania’s beautiful autumn days are blighted by the dense smoke plumes blocking out the sun and choking our air” and blaming the forestry industry.

In 2016 former Greens federal leader Bob Brown attacked autumn burn-offs, stating “the picturesque autumn scene is filled with manufactured smoke. It’s outrageous. These forest-destroying burns should be banned”.

The Greens claim in their official policy they support burn-offs for the purpose of saving lives and reducing the intensity of fires. In practice, they always find a reason to oppose each proposal. Not once have the Greens publicly endorsed or promoted a fuel reduction burn. Given recent protestations I look forward to their first public support for a fuel reduction burn. Because of the scale of the fires this summer, it is more important than ever the Greens’ track record of contributing to the problem is exposed.

Pill testing creates a risky illusion

Ill-informed calls to introduce “pill testing” at Australian music festivals, such as the impending the Falls Festival in Tasmania, need to be resisted. Drugs kill and harm. No “ifs”. No “buts”.

Pill testing is in no way a proven way of preventing drug-related deaths. The evidence we have about how pill testing works in practice, both overseas and in Australia, should give policymakers strong reservations.

The UK first began pill testing in 2013 and, with government sanction, it operates at many major music festivals. If the argument that pill testing prevents deaths was correct, we would expect to see a reduction in the number of fatalities since 2013. Instead, the opposite occurred, with ecstasy-related deaths in the UK more than doubling from 43 in 2013 to 92 in 2018.

A study from the Australian National University into a pill-testing trial at a festival in the ACT gives further genuine cause for concern. It unsurprisingly found that testing resulted in a “significant overall rise in patrons” intention to use the tested drug”.

In other words, testing made people more, not less, likely to consume drugs. Pill testing gives a false sense of security and legitimises the use of a highly destructive substance.

Pill testing promotes drug use by changing individuals’ perception of the very real risk involved. By giving the illusion that testing means drugs can somehow be safe, individuals are actually encouraged to take them. But there is no such thing as safe ecstasy use, and to give young Australians any illusion to the contrary is irresponsible.

These concerns have been raised by toxicologists Andrew Leibie and Dr John Lewis, who note that any claim that pill testing increases the safety of illicit drugs is dangerously misleading.

This is because the methods used in pill testing are imprecise. They are poor at detecting mixtures of different substances in a pill, are not able to detect newer varieties of drug, and, crucially, cannot measure the dosage.

Leibie and Lewis make another vital observation that is willfully ignored in the debate — the six individuals who died after taking ecstasy last summer died from its side effects, not because they took contaminated pills. Testing the pills would have only confirmed them as ecstasy.

These shortcomings expose both the danger and uselessness of pill testing.

Policymakers should not do anything to encourage young people to take drugs in the false confidence that they are doing so safely. And this is not to mention the serious long-term health impacts of ecstasy use, or the incidences of injury or death caused indirectly by its consumption (such as car accidents).

When the wellbeing of the next generation is at stake, good intentions in public policy are never good enough.

We should not be seduced by trendy policy ideas that implicitly endorse the use of drugs, by suggesting it can be done safely.

The only proven and guaranteed way to prevent harm from drugs is to not use drugs. We need the strength, courage and conviction of policy-makers to protect our young from the devastating impact of drugs.

We need Canberra to help put out these bushfires

Opinion piece published in The Australian, 4 December 2019


It’s time for the federal government to seize control of fire mitigation and management in our nation. The human, financial and environmental costs of bushfires are immense. The states have largely failed in this area because of the insidious green influence in our state bureaucracies, locking up vast tracts of land, destroying access tracks and refusing permission to reduce fuel loads. A new federal approach would prise the management of fire mitigation from the states and, if done properly, offer a counter-intuitive way to restore effective local control.

Now the most recent fires have abated, it is time to reflect on why we continue to allow them to devastate us and our landscape without proper mitigation strategies.

For the 2007 federal election I prepared on behalf of the Howard government a $10m bushfire mitigation fund, announcing it in the ruins of the Wielangta Forest in Tasmania after a massive burn. This was an area the Greens wanted “preserved” from forestry. With sustainable forest practices and a ready workforce, the devastating fire could have been extinguished before it took hold, with wildlife and habitat preserved. Instead, habitat and wood production were both lost. 

The important role of local mitigation strategies has been neglected in relation to the recent fires due to an exaggerated focus on climate change. Yet this interpretation fails to provide any explanation for the recorded history of fires in Australia from the first days of European exploration. Captain James Cook described Australia as “this continent of smoke” during his maiden 1770 voyage. My home state of Tasmania has the Bay of Fires, given its name by Captain Tobias Furneaux in 1773 for the obvious reason.

Since European settlement destructive bushfires have been a regular occurrence. The biggest remains Black Thursday, in 1851, which affected a quarter of Victoria and burnt five million hectares. This compares to 1.5 million hectares burnt in NSW in the most recent fires. Bushfire has been a constant menace in our history, as even the most casual examination of the record will reveal.

Even if we accept the mantra that the recent fires are principally due to climate change, however, then this surely suggests that more stringent mitigation activities need to be undertaken to reduce the risk. But that would require something the inner-city Greens don’t want to acknowledge — an uncompromising reduction of the fuel loads in our forests. Yes, the cold burns would put CO2 into the atmosphere, but the forest litter ultimately will be burnt in a hot fire or slowly decompose releasing the trapped carbon dioxide in any event.

There is no doubt that cold burns will reduce CO2 emissions over time and also preserve trees for sustainable harvesting, providing a much-needed, genuinely renewable resource and habitat for wildlife. I’ve seen “reserved forests” preserved for koala habitat, denying forest workers and their communities a livelihood, being turned into an eerily silent scorched landscape without a single ant or bird left, let alone a koala. Yet koalas had cohabited with forestry in the region for more than 100 years.

Recent experience proves that locking up our forests neither preserves biosecurity nor our native wildlife. In fact the opposite is true. Policies formed on a lack of basic understanding in our cities stifle locals from clearing their land, reducing fuel loads, removing trees from nearby houses, and so on. As a result, there is considerably more fuel for fires that break out, increasing their scale and severity.

The counter-productive impact of green and red tape imposed by state governments in the name of environmentalism needs to be acknowledged. Realistic and practical approaches should be the order of the day and the warm, fuzzy, feel-good policies leading to disaster after disaster, and which have led to so much destruction, need to be rejected.

When it comes to our approach to bushfires, we can no longer afford the status quo. The cost to taxpayers, not to mention the human cost, is profound. We need to pursue a coherent national approach that will combine the weight of the federal government with local knowledge and expertise. The guiding role played by the federal government under such an approach would enable a comparison of performance and practices in different areas, with the aim of compiling a national repository of knowledge local practitioners could draw on to learn from experience elsewhere. This will ultimately save the taxpayer, life, limb, property, wildlife and habitat.

It would be a far more impressive bottom line than the charred devastation with which we are left under today’s approach.

Australia needs leaders who stand up for our nation

Opinion piece published in The Mercury, 12 October 2019


The Prime Minister’s timely and cogent Lowy Lecture has sparked a lively debate among readers of the Mercury.

The speech surveyed a number of critical changes in the international environment that will shape Australia’s future, including strategic competition in our region, the rise of artificial intelligence, and the threat of terrorism.

As the PM declared, “a new economic and political order is taking shape”, and Australia must adapt in order to continue thriving in a changing global environment.

Some correspondents took exception to the PM’s criticism of “a new variant of globalism that seeks to elevate global institutions above the authority of nation states to direct national policies”. One reader, referring to the Government’s approach to border protection and climate change, fretted over Australia “losing its status as a respected international citizen”, claiming we are becoming a “pariah nation stuck at the bottom of the world”. This sense of shame associated with being Australian is so strong, we are told, that some feel compelled to identify themselves as New Zealanders when overseas.

Sentiment of this kind is a 21st century version of the cultural cringe — discomfort over how Australia may be perceived overseas. Yet the embarrassment felt by some of the cultural elite to our country is, increasingly, coming to define them. They are highly sensitive to the opinions of their elite peers elsewhere in the world, but not concerned about the views of our fellow Australians — those who overwhelmingly support the Government’s policies on border protection and rejected Labor’s radical climate change policies at the May election.

Most Australians are rightfully proud of our country. The ABC’s Australia Talks national survey, published this week, found that huge majorities agree with the statement: “Australia is the best country in the world in which to live”. I am one of them, and am always thankful to be able to call myself an Australian, especially when travelling overseas.

As Ron Cornish correctly pointed out (Letters, October 8), it makes no sense to claim that Australia’s international status is diminished when so many people are desperate to migrate here. Those who criticise Australia most harshly are invariably those who have the privilege of calling it home.

What I take particular exception to is the suggestion that there is something morally flawed about considering the interests of Australians. That is what the Australians want and expect us to do as elected representatives. The moral failing would be to not advocate for the interests of those who decide who will represent them in parliament, or to prioritise an ill-defined internationalism over real concerns of Australians.

Standing up for Australia’s interests on the world stage is not incompatible with pursuing an international order that promotes our values, including the rule of law and democracy. In the changing world we inhabit, there will be many areas in which we need to collaborate with international partners to solve common problems.

Australia must continue to work with our allies and partners on defence, trade, environmental and other issues. It is because of the greater need for co-operation that it is so important to assert our nation’s sovereignty, so our international engagement takes place on terms that do not compromise our national interests or democratic values.

It is our obligation to the Australian people as elected representatives.

Ruddock Review

Under Prime Minister Scott Morrison, the Federal Liberal Government is acting to protect religious freedom in Australia and to protect the rights of Australians to be themselves.

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About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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