Pub: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: News and Features
Chrome dome in red frock shock
Remember Cheryl Kernot’s red dress? The clingy scarlet job in which she sprawled across the bonnet of the Women’s Weekly, clearly symbolising both her sale to Labor and her evisceration by it? Guess where that dress is now? In Peter Garrett’s closet.
I know, it’s not such a great look, the scoop-neck bodytube with the bonehead protruding one end and Doc Martens the other. But it’s an image we mustn’t shirk, much as one urges privacy in matters bedroom, since this particular cross-dressage is soaked in the blood of the body politic.
Garrett has been well and truly kernoted. He seems OK with this, telling reporters his job as Environment Minister is not to make government policy, heavens no, but simply to “set the bar” on it. As in, they say jump; I say “how high?” He’s OK but we, who had such hopes for Garrett, are less sanguine. Pre-power, he seemed so committed, unswerving, heroic. And now? Can you honestly consider Garrett’s record and swear, hand on heart, you don’t reckon he’s in training for his turn on the Weekly cover?
We want to like Garrett, as much for his spectral gauntness as his past activism. But his post-election trajectory has been noticeably gravity stricken. First there was his approval of the Four Mile uranium mine, the world’s tenth-largest, is now owned, you’ll be comforted to know, by the billionaire US arms-dealer Quasar.
Next, speaking of meltdown, came the roof insulation home-frying catastrophe. You have to feel for Labor. Here it was, doing its innocent darnedest to exploit Garrett’s celebrity while keeping him away from dangerous toys like water and climate change and what happened? Calamity.
It’s like a little moral tale. And this, children, is what happens when you use the environment as a football.
In the end they had to take energy away as well, so all that’s really left in Garrett’s portfolio is biodiversity, heritage and national parks. Wouldn’t think you could do much damage with that, would you? Not until a fortnight ago, when Garrett launched the tourism master plan for Kakadu.
The name says it all. Without wishing to harp, I feel obliged to point out the term “master plan”, like “master bedroom”, implies a dominance relationship, with a doer, and a do-ee. Here, naturally, Kakadu is the do-ee.
In 53 pages the word “development” appears 67 times, even across the Stone Country wilderness, and almost half the park is now designated developable area like amoebic dysentery across this remote complete, potentially, with helipads to deliver your pizza warm and your prosecco cold.
Then, just last weekend, Garrett launched another master plan, one of 15 in the pipeline, this time for Kosciuszko and the Australian Alps, or Kossie and the Aussies, as they’ll soon be known by the global audience of “high yield experience seekers” to whom Brand Australia is addressed.
The Australian Alps national landscape strategy would be amusing if it weren’t so tacky. Replete with random wordage – “authenticity, respect, integrity, honesty, freedom, sensitive … free spirit, larrikin, old, wise, craggy, strong, mystical, powerful, gentle, care for the environment” – it reads like the butcher’s paper gleanings from SWOT Analysis 101, or the stimulus from the Third Grader’s Guide to Haiku. Except even in third grade they’d get their nouns and adjectives sorted.
They’d also be warned off jargon as the camo of sloppy minds. For here in Kosciuszko-to-be, there are no villages or hamlets, just “destinational clusters” and “service hubs”. Local culture appears as “strong Aboriginal product” and national parks themselves as “brand-related market-ready product” offering “signature nature immersion experience”.
Not that experience is recommended. Notes the strategy, “international visitors are drawn to the horseriding iconology … they don’t … want to sit in a saddle. It’s not about getting on the horse but getting into the lifestyle and the idea of it all.” So, uh, maybe a virtual reality game would suffice, save on the greenhouse gases?
Tourism isn’t even Garrett’s bag. The only reason he’s launching these things is the recent and unholy alliance between national parks and the tourism lobby. National parks are no longer conservation wildernesses or biodiversity reservoirs or refuges but profit centres. National parks must pay their way.
It’s the same at state level. A 2008 report-to-government by John O’Neill cast national parks as “state-owned tourism assets” and criticised the authorities’ uncommercial attitude.
Now, inevitably, there’s a taskforce, with a 19-member board, a mission to commercialise and not a single environmental representative. There’s also a government that legalised hunting in national parks, a Premier with grossly enlarged planning powers, a NSW Environment Minister who personally approved a luxury heli-resort within the Blue Mountains World Heritage area, and the shiny new Greater Sydney Partnership, bent on selling “Brand Sydney” like some new deodorant.
More people in national parks has to be a good thing, but more hotels, restaurants, signage, picnic tables? Trust this lot with your wilderness if you dare.