Reef despoiled while pollies foil

Hypocrisy abounds in Canberra and Brisbane this week as senior politicians foil attempts to protect one of the world’s natural wonders: the Great Barrier Reef.

In dreadful scenes of pitiful obfuscation, Queensland Premier Anna Bligh and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, swap deliberately deceitful platitudes which do nothing but stall practical protection for the reef. The issue is highlighted by the grounding of a Chinese crewed coal carrier which was taking a short cut through the reef and became grounded losing tonnes of its engine oil overboard.

Bligh typically donned a hardhat (her way of demonstrating she could be doing something) and bleated that Canberra must do something. Rudd flew overhead in a helicopter (which must have been a beautiful sightseeing exercise otherwise) and promised action would be taken. Yet both leaders refuse to act immediately, waiting until no less than three federal inquiries get underway.

Despite all the breast-beating by Bligh and Rudd – creating the strongest impression that the Chinese skipper was acting in such a heinously illegal manner that he should be hung, drawn and quartered without even a trial – it now emerges he has done nothing illegal by using the course he set.

So, we can predict two certain outcomes: some poor overworked wretch who fell asleep at the wheel will be crucified to let the masses have their ritual blood-letting (so much better that he’s Chinese: it plays to our xenophobic tendencies so well); and the various inquiries will stuff around at substantial cost for many months until the public memory has faded and various recommendations are debated. And this is what passes for political leadership.

There is one simple answer to this problem: put a pilot on each carrier until they have left the reef behind. Yes, it will be costly but you can bet a user-pays system will be put in place to recoup costs. Yes, it will require a training program to assemble sufficient pilots but if we can train people to put batts into ceilings surely we can do this? Oh, that’s right, we couldn’t do that properly. But let’s not digress.

If scores of billions of dollars can be expended as a fiscal stimulus on programs of far less intrinsic value to the nation and the globe, how about some decisive leadership and a commitment, almost immediately, to do what any rational person can see needs to be done. Bligh and Rudd, the reef is in your hands.