Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Fair Work Act threatens Great Barrier Reef

Climate change, ocean acidification, shipping, and now the proposed mining of coal seam gas are factors leading to the decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef, but it is the government’s industrial legislation, the so-called Fair Work Act, which threatens it with continued destruction.

A recent article, published in the scientific journal Coral Reefs last year, found coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef had declined by up to 50 per cent since the 1960s.

Not sure how a law governing industrial relations can harm coral growth?

This pernicious legislation only allows “protected” industrial action by unions – that is, action during a limited bargaining period in support of a new agreement or award. The action has to be approved and can only relate to “matters pertaining” to the employer-employee relationship.

The Australian government exercises custodianship over the Great Barrier Reef for all of humanity, a fact recognised in the GBR’s listing under all four natural World Heritage criteria for its outstanding universal value.

But the government also exercises state power on behalf of the infamous 1% - the core of which is foreign monopoly capital. In that capacity, the government has declared that coal seam gas developments would have minimal impact on the Great Barrier Reef, an assessment labelled as untrue by the visiting coordinator of the UNESCO World Heritage Centre’s marine program, Fanny Douvere.

It has also given approval to Gladstone Port Authority to dredge 46 million cubic metres inside the reef's world heritage area over the next 20 years, on the site to facilitate export of coal.

The Australian government invited a delegation from the Centre to inspect the reef after it failed to alert UNESCO's World Heritage Committee of its plans to approve a liquefied natural gas port development on Curtis Island last year.

How can a government, tied in a thousand and one ways to corporate interests and corporate agendas, be forced to take a contrary stand and act in the interests of the people and their environment?

In the past, this has occurred when working people have told them to do it by refusing to lend their labour power to the destruction of their environment.

Take these two examples from Humphrey McQueen’s recently published We Built This Country: Builders’ Labourers And Their Unions (Ginninderra Press, 2011).

Coral battleground 1970

After tenders to drill for oil on the Great Barrier Reef went out during 1969, the Queensland branch levied its members to bring a US expert to testify about the threat to the Reef. In speaking for the proposal, secretary Delaney pointed out that the Queensland Trades and Labour Council (T&LC) and the ALP were the ‘only working-class organisations to interest themselves in the [Royal] Commission’ into the Reef. In July, the T&LC placed a total ban on drilling. Until then, poet and activist Judith Wright had feared that the conservationists had lost. She declared the union action ‘spectacular and unprecedented’. That ban remains spectacular. It also set a precedent. Henceforth, environmentalists hoped that unions would win their battles for them (p. 290-1).

Fraser Island - 1975

In 1975, the Bjelke-Petersen regime allowed mining on the world’s largest sand island. The damage was inflicted by the US construction giant, Dillinghams, the foe of BLs around the world. When Federal Council debated how to save this natural wonder, Queensland secretary Dobinson feared the loss of its perched lakes. Victorian assistant secretary Norm Wallace recalled enjoying the ‘crystal clear lakes above sea level which had outlets but no inlets. There is pure water, clean white sand, good rain forests and beautiful timber. Fraser Island must be preserved’. From Tasmania, Morgan pictured Fraser as the southern anchor of the Reef. All delegates opposed Dillingham’s vandalism. Gallagher urged them to gather support from other unions. The Federation joined the BWIU in banning all Dillingham projects until an official assessment had reported. After visiting the island late in May, Gallagher observed: ‘Experience has taught us that when the pressure is off, companies usually go for maximum profit’ (p. 293).

Both Fraser Island and the Great Barrier Reef were saved by union action which is now illegal under Fair Work Australia.

There is no more urgent task than for people interested in saving their environment to also work for the restoration of the right to withdraw one’s labour as one sees fit!

No comments: