Office of Environment and Heritage Corporate Plan Adjournment Speech: Legislative Council 27/06/2013


Delivered in the Legislative Council, June 27, 2013

The Office of Environment and Heritage Interim Corporate Plan 2012-13 is a masterful example of the strings of weasel words and bureaucratic clichés favoured by despots, management consultants and modern politics. Don Watson has done our society a great service, drawing attention to "this dead, depleted verbless jargon" that effectively strips language of meaning while simultaneously robbing important and real things of content, ideas and heart. The task of protecting our vast and gorgeous State is one of these real and important things. The document I refer to promises a shiny, new Office of Environment and Heritage that has "shifted the way we organise our business" to demonstrate "a clear return on investment". We are told that this is a "customer-focused organisation" facilitating business transactions, with nature its product. The document has a vision: to support the delivery of a "healthy, productive environment and economy"—four words attempting to describe the task of the New South Wales Government's champions of planetary health, of which two are from the arid domain of economic rationalism.

The Office of Environment and Heritage has five key strategies, only one of which relates to the environment—namely, healthy and protected landscapes. The other four key strategies deal with shared heritage, tourism, thriving local communities, and excellence in customer service and business reform. The people of New South Wales expect the Office of Environment and Heritage to ensure that national parks are clean, picnic areas are well maintained, and that the website tells them how to book a camping ground—the things of service to customers. More importantly, the people of New South Wales expect the Office of Environment and Heritage to focus on looking after the environment, not the economy, customers or the tourism industry. People want a civilised society where nature is defended, not commodified; where our unique animals do not face the crunch of extinction; and where the beauty of the place in which we live is valued intrinsically for its own sake, and looked after accordingly.

Pity our children as the planet warms. Climate change gets no mention in the corporate plan of those charged with mitigating the threat. This is a world where the ice caps are not melting and freak weather events cause no alarm. Biodiversity gets one mention—on the last page of the Office of Environment and Heritage corporate plan. The koalas, bilbies and sugar gliders do not figure in the oft-repeated lists of "service customers". This document is a sad artefact of two truths. First, managerialism has gone mad in the governance of modern Australia. This is not confined to the current New South Wales Government. It can account for much of the loss of faith by Australians in governments of all persuasions. Politics should be about ideas, based in the idealism of belief in a better country and articulated with heart. The second truth is that the O'Farrell Government and its environment Minister have no intention of creating an environment department that puts protection of nature as its primary aim—an organisation that acts with lion-like ferocity to defend the earth against the more technocratic and destructive impulses of other arms of government. This lame document is no accident of bureaucrats gone insane; it is a true, albeit unreadable, reflection of how this Government sees nature and the environment: simply as a backdrop for economic activity and a consumable for customers.