13 Worst Things To Happen To the Australian Environment?

Melbourne-based think tank the Institute of Public Affairs publishes a quarterly journal of politics and public affairs called ‘Review’.

The last Review devoted 8 pages to the ‘Top 20 books you must read before you die’.

The list included John Stuart Mill ‘On Liberty’ (1859), Ayn Rand ‘Atlas Shrugged’ (1957), Friedrich Hayek ‘The Road to Serfdom’ (1944) and George Orwell ‘Animal Farm’ (1945).

Following the “overwhelming response to our list of books” the Executive Director of the IPA, John Roskam, has suggested the next IPA Review include a list of the “the 13 worst things to happen to Australia” (in a policy sense).

It got me thinking. What are the 13 worst things to happen to the Australian environment … after rabbits?

I’m a Senior Fellow at the IPA.

37 Responses to 13 Worst Things To Happen To the Australian Environment?

  1. Pinxi July 18, 2006 at 8:30 pm #

    (admittedly not policy, but neither are rabbits policy)

  2. rog July 18, 2006 at 9:30 pm #

    Some Kiwi farmers are fed up with environmentalists saying that they are the enemy to mankind.

    “I say shame on the people who elevate environmentalism to a religious status, shame on you for your arrogance, shame on all of us for allowing the environmentalists’ war against the human race to begin, and take hold”


  3. Ann Novek July 18, 2006 at 9:43 pm #

    Interesting rog,

    But just the other day some friends of mine, who are as far away as possible to be called environmentalists, people working in hospitals,schools and offices, wanted to be enlighted on environmental issues since they didn’t have the time or interest to browse the internet on environmental issues.

    They told me , we know zero about environmental issues, and wish more high profile campaigns on those topics from enviro groups.

  4. Ender July 18, 2006 at 9:51 pm #

    Cane toads – the only thing the bloody things didn’t eat was the cane beetles.

  5. Luke July 18, 2006 at 10:25 pm #

    Can the planet have a long term economic well being at the expense of an long term social and ecological well being.

    Maybe Charlie has some shares? Maybe he needs to have a Middle East holiday and see what real enemies are like.

    The worst thing that can happen to the Australian environment is that we take and not put back.

  6. Neil Hewett July 19, 2006 at 7:01 am #

    The delusion that humankind is above nature.

  7. Pinxi July 19, 2006 at 9:49 am #

    “The delusion that humankind is above nature.” yeah, and that still exists in conservative (and possibly also in new age?) circles. Originally implicit in religion, now it’s implicit in over-confident reductionist science (I’m not science-bashing, just conscious of limitations in some areas). Hence the introduction of the precautionary principle.

  8. Ian Mott July 19, 2006 at 11:46 am #

    The worst thing to ever happen to the Australian environment was, and still is, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

    By every objective test, be it species diversity, animal density, extent of variation from the natural footprint, compatability of interests etc, every other effect has had only a fraction of the impact of urban concentration in the capitals of political units.

    The second worst thing was, and still is, the green movement that grew out of those urban concentrations with such arrogance that they seriously believed that they knew more about environmental problems than the people on the land who deal with those issues every day.

    The third worst thing was the wholesale destruction of the social contract between city and the bush that has led to a system of social, economic and environmental apartheid where urban dwellers enjoy the economic benefits while rural dwellers shoulder the environmental burdens with only marginal economic returns.

    The fourth worst thing was the destruction of institutional standards, primarily at the urging of the green minority, that has substituted perception and assumption for fact. This has allowed legislation to be passed on the basis of perception of risk but which is not rendered invalid when the perception is subsequently proven to be a gross misrepresentation of fact.

    The fifth worst thing was the “nationalisation” of ecology, the belief that the thoroughly discredited notion of centralised, publicly owned and directed production could be successfully applied to ecological services.

    But thats enough for now. More to follow.

  9. Paul Williams July 19, 2006 at 12:18 pm #

    Why not the 13 BEST things to happen to the Australian environment.

  10. Pinxi July 19, 2006 at 2:24 pm #

    What room is left for social contracts between city and bush in the swing to a neo-liberal fend-for-yourself political environment?

    When pressed to explain her position, Jennifer once declared that public choice theory explained it. According to public choice theory the most powerful interest groups influence self-interested govt parties and bureaucrats. A lot of commenters on this blog often argue for liberal freedoms and minimal govt. Isn’t the obvious outcome a growth in interest groups that then compete in their attempts to influence public policy (as does the IPA which also goes further by trying to influence the ability of other interest groups to influence policy). Argue for unfettered liberal freedoms and then without any trace of irony, decry the breakdown in social contracts?

    of the 13 best things: Evolution in isolation.

  11. chthoniid July 19, 2006 at 4:08 pm #

    I see someone has beaten me to cane toads.

    Foxes and feral cats are pretty high up on the list.

    Steve Irwin is also worth an honourable mention. Memo: crocs aren’t cute lovable creatures that are safe to bring infants into proximity of. They’re fascinating, admirable unrepentant maneaters that kill people. Proper ecological management means we need to kill some crocs some of the time.

  12. Travis July 19, 2006 at 7:51 pm #

    The assertion that crocs aren’t cute lovable creatures is yours, based on your idea of what is cute and lovable. Whilst Steve Irwin’s tactics can be over the top to say the least, he has also done a lot to highlight the diversity and wonder in the world of reptiles, something that has been long overdue in this country. Whilst most Australians would willingly save a koala or whale, they couldn’t give a damn about a fish, invert or herp. Calling crocodiles unrepentent maneaters is stupid. They are animals that are opportunistic, just like humans. The best way to deal with predators is not necessarily to wear them on your feet purely because of an idea we are the only beings allowed to go around and kill other humans.

  13. rog July 19, 2006 at 8:26 pm #

    Everything that we see today is the environment; cities, farms, bush, wilderness. To say that cities have destroyed the natural environment is to say that man is not part of the natural environment, which is totally incorrect. Cities evolve, as does thought. Man is most definitely at the top of the evolutionary food chain.

  14. Ian Beale July 19, 2006 at 8:28 pm #

    For rangelands (repeated from a previous blog item) – “a major problem of rangeland management is that politicians and bureaucrats have undying faith in the efficacy of pious hope and regulation to rectify problems now largely caused by previous doses of pious hope and regulation”. And dryland salinity isn’t the only beat-up.

  15. Luke July 19, 2006 at 9:36 pm #

    But Rog – Man does live by bread alone.

  16. Pinxi July 20, 2006 at 12:06 am #

    So if we’re to learn from this thread:

    Environmental problems didn’t actually exist until environmental regulations created environmental problems.

    These same environmental problems that really didn’t exist were already being successfully fixed by rural people alone, without urban interference.

    If pollies & bureaucrats hadn’t have interfered, we wouldn’t have any environmental problems today.

    What was it exactly that the people in rural Aust were doing together, solely off their own bat, to successfully solve all the environmental problems before bureaucrats messed it all up?

    And the rabbits, toads, noxious weeds etc were all introduced by city folk I assume.

    Life is much simpler when you see only in black and white. This US and THEM mentality gets us nowhere though, it just compounds the problems.

  17. Chthoniid July 20, 2006 at 7:00 am #

    “The assertion that crocs aren’t cute lovable creatures is yours, based on your idea of what is cute and lovable.”

    It’s not based on my idea. I’m a zoologist- and a member of the IUCN-SSC Croc Specialist Group. I *like* crocs. Part of what I do, is to help conserve crocodilians (not shoot them, eat them or wear them).

    The major conservation problem with crocs is they are a charisma-free zone. People don’t like animals that kill and eat their livestock, pets and family members. Illegal (and sanctioned) destruction of crocs has been one of the major conservation problems facing this group. If they really were lovable, we wouldn’t be have had this problem.

    If I took you out into the estuaries of the NT to play with a bunch of 5m salties, could you honestly see you would feel ‘love’ towards them?

    ” Whilst Steve Irwin’s tactics can be over the top to say the least, he has also done a lot to highlight the diversity and wonder in the world of reptiles…”

    Many croc species were well on to the path to recovery before Steve was harassing his first snake. Public awareness is not a precondition of conservation success. Often the absence of Govt or NGO interference is.

    Steve has opted to attack one of the most successful recovery programmes for crocs in the world. There are a number of highly endangered croc species (that are not harvested) that Steve does not contribute to it all. The people that are trying to save these species, are exactly the same scientists that Steve attacks.

    Steve doesn’t seem to be around when we’re talking about the the Tomistoma, Chinese alligator or Phillipine’s crocodile.

    “Calling crocodiles unrepentent maneaters is stupid.”

    They can’t be trained or conditioned not too- so they’re unrepentant maneaters. All else is semantics.

    “The best way to deal with predators is not necessarily to wear them on your feet purely because of an idea we are the only beings allowed to go around and kill other humans.”

    Then it’s a damn good thing I never claimed that.

    The option however, to turn some predators into handbags has succeeded as a conservation measure. And for my purposes, that’s what counts. Steve’s ‘lock-them up and love-them’ strategies doesn’t work. And if people believe that, real conservation efforts become a lot harder.

  18. Travis July 20, 2006 at 9:47 am #

    Chthoniid, thanks for your reply and some clarification.

    “If I took you out into the estuaries of the NT to play with a bunch of 5m salties, could you honestly see you would feel ‘love’ towards them?”
    Well, I wouldn’t accept your offer based on playing with them, just as I wouldn’t go and play with a tiger or white shark. I love and respect all animals, and accept them for the roles they play in the ecosystem. Knowledge of what animals do in this world can help reduce fear and promote understanding and conservation. It may not be a precondition of conservation success, but it can help. My point about Irwin is that he has helped to put herps into a better light, and hopefully there are some kids that will be interested in these animals (having not had much exposure to them previously) and will want to do something perhaps similar to yourself.

    “They can’t be trained or conditioned not too- so they’re unrepentant maneaters. All else is semantics.” As a zoologist, I cam surprised you use such terminology. But that would be a discussion best had over a good meal (pardon the pun).

    I am not an Irwin supporter, for some of the reasons you have mentioned, but I do see some good, such as the points I have raised re education. I do question if using animals for fashion accessories is the best conservation option, and I am not opposing culling with this statement.

  19. Russell July 20, 2006 at 5:59 pm #

    1. extinction of pleistocene megafauna – early human immigrants implicated.
    2. alteration of flora and fauna by use of fire as a hunting tool – early human immigrants implicated.
    3. introduction of feral species – too numerous to mention all, but rabbits, pigs, donkeys, goats, camels, horses, buffalo, foxes, cats, Indian mynah, starlings, sparrows, pigeons, cane toads, mosquito fish, carp, tilapia, mimosa, salvinia, water hyacinth, prickly pear, etc, etc.
    4. modification of savannah woodlands for agriculture –clearing, grazing, salinisation.
    5. modification of natural flows on rivers – loss of habitat, reduction of water volumes reaching estuaries.
    6. decline in water quality of rivers, lakes and estuaries – pollution by nutrients, sewage, heavy metals, PCBs, hormones, etc, etc.
    7. loss of mangroves and coastal forest cleared for sugarcane in Qld and NSW and now aquaculture development.
    8. loss of benthic and demersal diversity due to prawn trawling.
    9. loss of habitat and biodiversity in cities and towns due to urban development.
    10. increased nutrient and pollution loadings on the GBR – fertilisers, pesticides.
    11. contamination of groundwater resources – metals, organics
    12. Air pollution in major cities
    13. Pollution of nearshore waters from aquaculture industry – particularly tuna aquaculture in SA.

  20. Luke July 20, 2006 at 8:12 pm #

    14. Mesquite, rubbervine, prickly acacia, lantana, mother of millions, cat’s claw creeper
    15. Woodland thickening
    16. Inappropriate fire regimes
    17. soil loss in cropping and grazing lands
    18. decline in soil carbon
    19. soil acidity
    20. Ongoing extinction of small mammals
    21. Rapid climate change

  21. Ann Novek July 20, 2006 at 8:27 pm #

    I especially like your points 8) and 13).

    How many people really know what harm prawn trawling does to the marine environment( the by catch is huge) and how harmful tuna/salmon farming is as well?

    But I guess not many people will abandon those delikatessens.

  22. Ann Novek July 20, 2006 at 9:49 pm #

    Tropical prawns (farmed and wild)

    • Wild caught tropical prawns have one of the highest bycatch rates – overall, trawls for tropical prawns take 35 percent of the world’s bycatch. For every 1 kg of prawns, over 10kg of other marine life is thrown away as discard. Among this bycatch are endangered species such as sea turtles.
    • Bottom trawls for prawns also destroy the seabed.
    • Farming tropical prawns has significant detrimental impacts on the environment, particularly through destruction of mangrove forests and pollution. There are also many human rights issues associated with these farming practices, including the loss of fishing grounds from local people.

  23. Ian Mott July 21, 2006 at 2:29 pm #

    When you have restored the Tank Stream and the the Brisbane CBD riparian zone, come and have a chat about missing environmental values.

  24. Ken July 21, 2006 at 4:13 pm #

    1. People being paid to say there is no environmental problem

  25. Russell July 21, 2006 at 5:16 pm #

    Your smug, self righteous comment is reminiscent of some of the urban, tree hugging, greenies you so dislike.
    There is nothing in the premise to this thread that leads automatically to a “country good – city bad” argument.
    There is also nothing in the premise for the thread that implies that any of the impacts people might list should/could/can be reversed.
    Identifying an impact does not imply that it must be rectified, merely that it exists as an impact. I believe the list I provided does summarise the majority of large scale impacts – maybe you can find more or others? Or disagree with mine?
    Your comment on the Brisbane CBD would be covered by the general category of urban development would it not?

  26. Luke July 21, 2006 at 6:16 pm #

    Ian has a good point – I think restoration ecology is the next step. I think we should restore the vine forests in the South Bank area. What’s wrong with some replacing what we’ve lost.

    Some of us have been thinking about it. Would be fabulous attraction. And Ian should be getting on putting the Grafton Big Scrub back.

  27. Ann Novek July 22, 2006 at 1:45 am #

    There have been many comments from people that dislike urban greenies here.

    Personally, I’m very pleased that so many young urban people are concerned about the environment and not only thinking about driving red Porsches and wanting to be Kate Moss replicas snorting coke in a bar.

  28. mary July 22, 2006 at 6:17 pm #

    No, Ann they now think they can be Erin Brockavitch or some other environmental crusader/ activist and get their head on the telly whilst getting their rocks off by accosting ordinary people going about their legitimate business.

    A nasty vicious campaign, a bit of spin doctoring and hey presto not only have they saved the environment but they’re a hero as well. Buggar the stupid locals.

  29. mary July 22, 2006 at 7:38 pm #

    its a dislike based on sad/ bad experience- of city people who use enormous amounts of resources and enjoy luxurious lifestyles who then become concerned for the environment and devote their not inconsiderable energies, wealth, expertise (especially legal and media expertise) to demonising, terrorising and abusing those they consider to be the architects of the percieved environmental crisis. The farmers, miners foresters, fishermen thus targetted with this abuse strangely enough are then deemed to be stupid because they won’t immediately stop their legitimate activities and become tourist operators providing cheap holidays for these same city folk who have never done one practical thing for the environment except make donations to those modern day heroes the “activists” who are more interested in getting publicity and demonising others than actually doing somehting practical.

    I’m with rog – the worst thing to happen to the environment is the politics and spin doctoring which demonises some people and only gets people’s backs up.

    Screaming abuse at someone is not going to make them change their evil ways but it does make great tv..

  30. Ann Novek July 22, 2006 at 8:21 pm #

    Hi Mary,

    It is sad that you have had bad experience of environmental activism and it is also sad that organisations such as Greenpeace have their greatest support in urban areas. But there are other positive examples as well, when enviro groups actually can help local communities to survive.

    Here’s my personal favourite story from Greenpeace.

    Last summer I was campaigning for the oceans in Sweden,and went to a food chain that sold reindeer meat from indigenous Sami people in the high north.

    When I told the man , who btw was a Sami, that I was from Greenpeace the man was really pissed off.

    He accused me and Greenpeace for having ruined the Greenland and Norwegian seal pealt industry. He was ranting on that Greenpeace and Brigitte Bardot were his greatest enemies…

    I then informed the Sami that Greenpeace actually had made an offical excuse for this , so he calmed down. I continued to inform the Sami that in Finland, local indigenous Sami people had called for help from Greenpeace to help stopping the multinational forestry company Stora Enso from clear cutting ancient forest in the reindeer’s wintering grounds. The Sami people are totally dependant on the reindeers. The reindeers can only feed on lichen in winters that only grow in ancient forests.

    Now when this Sami man heard that Greenpeace now was helping local Sami people against this big logging company he totally changed opinion on Greenpeace. This ended with that the Sami man even offered me a free meal of reindeer meat.

  31. Boxer July 22, 2006 at 9:25 pm #


    The venom you see expressed here comes from people who suffer when environmental activism becomes the purpose, rather than the means to achieve a positive outcome or a reasonable compromise.

    Together with a group of friends, I had a a little experience of environmental activism a couple of decades ago and I found it interesting that the typical greens that we worked beside were really not very good at researching their topic. They resorted to standard cliches and played the political games quite well, but understanding the fundamentals of the topic was not their strong point. They were involved in one campaign after another, so spending a few months reading and coming to grips with each topic was a luxury they couldn’t afford. They knew they were doing the right thing because they were saving the planet, so glossing over the details was acceptable. It was a means to a noble end.

    I became quite concerned about my own attitudes as this particular debate raged on. I am the sort of person who needs to convince other people they are wrong to convince myself that I am right. As we began to win the debate and the other side was beginning to contemplate defeat, I found I was addicted to campaigning. We won the argument, the proposal was defeated and I felt both elated at our success and disgusted with myself.

    I don’t regret contributing to the demise of the proposal; it would never have been proposed in Europe (it was company owned by a European government), but Australia was clearly regarded as a third world society where international standards for radioactive waste disposal could be ignored. But I didn’t like the way I found campaigning addictive. I could have easily moved on to another issue and my focus would have been winning the argument, not seeking the best compromise between economic activity and environmental impact.

    So sometimes I observe in the prominent environmental activists what is nothing more than a primal lust for power and influence, supposedly hidden behind some shabby facade of tirelessly working (the sacrifice; the heroism; oh, it makes one weep) to save the rest of humanity from itself. Sometimes they even achieve a worse environmental outcome than would have resulted had they said nothing. But what really irritates me is their superiority, their claim to the high moral ground, when they are really just unelected politicians. It’s a part of me that I really don’t like.

  32. Ann Novek July 22, 2006 at 10:01 pm #

    Hi Boxer,
    A good post. Many people have , both “ordinary” environmentalists and anti Greenpeace people, have sometimes accused Greenpeace street activists to be ” besserwissers” and having that superior attitude that they are the saviours of the world. Very unfortunate, and something I personally think Greenpeace should should work on to improve. Basically, think this has to do that many activists are very young and maybe don’t have life experience and so on.

  33. Boxer July 23, 2006 at 1:26 am #


    I’m not in my first flush of youth and I still have trouble with my motivations, so I wouldn’t lay too much blame on young people. It’s hard to separate the need to be right from the need to identify if a problem exists, and if so, find the best solution.

    In relation to activist environmental organisations, I think they exist in order to exist more in the future. The use of a wide range of strategies is justified by the fact that the continuation of life as we know it is dependant upon the good works of Greenpeace/WWF/Campaign to Save Something or Ban Something Else. Please phone us with your credit card in hand.

    Can you imagine sitting in a WWF board meeting and saying “Actually, I think we should disband and give all the money back to the shareholders”. Good career move.

  34. Ann Novek July 23, 2006 at 2:19 am #

    It’s for sure that WWF don’t have any problems with fundings, many royalties in Europe are WWF members or board members, for example the Swedish King. WWF’s Swedish branch has its office in a Royal Castle. Still I know that most money comes from ordinary people like myself, this is the case with Greenpeace.

  35. Neil Hewett July 23, 2006 at 8:41 am #

    The dislocation of vulnerable communities from their environment, in the name of environmentalism, is as abhorrent as the eviction of Australians from Australia or humankind from the world.

    Territorialism binds individuals and families together in their common possession. Once the building block of both communities and nationhood, popularist environmentalism is a contemporary expression of territorialism that says ‘might is right’.

    Rather than occupying conquered lands, the conqueror, which often describes itself as the greater public interest, takes conceptual pleasure in relieving nature of those impacts of inhumanity that are visualised within metropolitan imaginings.

    It is dis-integrating, divisive and anti-community. It peddles the perverse notion that the relationship between people and their natural environment should be based on divorce rather than marriage. If it were considered in terms of promoting feelings of ill-will or hostility between different groups so as to threaten the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth, then it would conform with the meaning of seditious intention under anti-terrorism legislation.

    Subject to my previous post, the worst thing to happen to the Australian environment is the corruption and divisiveness of popularist environmentalism.

  36. Boxer July 23, 2006 at 7:04 pm #

    You make an interesting point Ian; it would make an interesting PhD topic, if you could find a uni that would supervise such an investigation. But you must stop pulling your punches.

    I appreciate that these organisations enjoy a popular and high profile Ann. Most people who support them do so with the best of intentions. However I think Christianity has also enjoyed similar levels of well-intended support from a wide spectrum of society in the past. Even when Christianity was blazing a trail with violence from Europe to Jerusalem in the 11th century. The best of intentions may be turned to perverse purposes by clever kings, popes and politicians. It will be interesting to see how future generations judge environmentalism in the wealthy western nations of today.

  37. mary July 25, 2006 at 4:51 pm #

    Yes, Boxer it will be very interesting to see how future generations judge environmentalism – it will depend a lot on who gets to write the history. It has been my observation that a lot of environmental campaigners have already been busy with one eye on future researchers and primary sources but perhaps I’m just biased.

    I would suggest the nuclear debate is one that 30 years later we are already looking at and wondering if we didn’t miss opportunities because we were all being so incredibly emotional. I was absolutely convinced that anything nuclear was a blight on the earth at the time.

    A few years ago I was writing an essay for a history unit and read several books written by pro nuclear advocates in the late 60s and 70s all of whom warned that to ditch nuclear was to embrace damaging fossil fuel burning technology – it was the first time I had any doubt that my position on nuclear as nothing but evil might have been flawed.

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