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Australia elected a government. And Scott Morrison isn't the only politician we must hold to account. 

Yesterday, many Australians heard from our Minister for the Environment for the first time.

As an environmental emergency engulfs our nation, I would have thought we would be hearing – from the treetops – the person whose taxpayer-funded job charges them to protect and promote our biosphere, flora and fauna.

Since September, this bushfire season has claimed at least 27 lives, including four firefighters, destroyed more than 2,000 homes, and seen a billion animals perish in New South Wales alone. We are suffering as never before.

Last week, South Australian Senator Sarah Hanson-Young asked the simple question to her Twitter followers: “Where is the Environment Minister???”

The next day, Hanson-Young reflected: “I sent this tweet last night. Most of the replies were people asking ‘who is the Environment Minister?’…

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For those wondering, our Federal Minister for Environment is a woman called Sussan Ley.

On Monday, more than four months into Australia’s disastrous bushfire season, Ley’s name emerged in the news cycle. Ley announced $50 million for an Emergency Wildlife and Habitat Recovery Package to support immediate work to protect wildlife in the wake of the wildfires. In the announcement, Ley admitted that Australia’s koala population has taken an “extraordinary hit” and may be “endangered”.

This is no doubt an investment we need. But why did it take more than 16 weeks for Australia to hear from our environment minister?

What is the point of having an environment minister, if they are not at the forefront of an environmental crisis?

We have a clear spokesperson when it comes to the economy in Treasurer Josh Frydenberg. But how many Australians feel the environment – and thus climate change – has a powerful voice representing it?

As communities have turned black and skies have turned red, Australian’s have been left infuriated by the leadership of Scott Morrison, with tens of thousands of people protesting his inaction on climate change last Friday.

Indeed, Scott Morrison has copped the brunt of the blast. Justifiably. But let’s not forget that we elected a government. Morrison is not the only politician we must hold to account.

environment minister australia
Australia's Environment Minister, Sussan Ley. Image: Getty.
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When contacted by Mamamia, a spokesperson for Ley said: “The Minister has been leading the national response by working with experts and planning this response.

“Minister Ley has worked with threatened species experts since the first fires late last year.

"She ensured $3 million in funding for Queensland koala hospitals, which was announced before Christmas, ensured mapping of impacts was underway in northern NSW with the fires still burning.

“Minister Ley over Christmas was working to ensure federal officials were being coordinated in preparing responses as the fires have escalated.

“Minister Ley has also worked closely with fire crews and communities in her electorate throughout the period.”

Mamamia also asked Minister Ley for a comment on the scientific correlation between climate change and this current bushfire season. This question was met with silence.

It is, of course, not every politician's job to front the media. But there are some questions that the Australian people are demanding answers to.

As the Federal Minister for Environment, what is Ley's long-term approach to climate change?

Why were multiple reports, forecasting this kind of catastrophe, ignored?

How are we investing in communities to ensure they can survive natural disasters of this magnitude when they inevitably happen again?

Ultimately - what is the plan?

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If we look at countries abroad, there are environment ministers who are working on incredible initiatives for the sustainable future of the planet.

In Sweden, in December 2019, Climate Minister Isabella Lövin announced a ground-breaking climate action plan that outlined exactly how their climate goals will be integrated into all relevant policy areas.

Ethiopia planted 350 million trees in a single day in 2019, after losing nearly 2 million animals due to drought in 2017. This was done under the leadership of  Dr. Gemedo Dalle, their Minister for Environment, Forest and Climate Change. They plan to plant four billion trees overall - 40 trees per person.

In Italy, in 2019, the Environment Minister and Education Minister worked together to become the first country to make studying climate change and sustainability compulsory in all schools.

What does this tell us? That Environment Ministers have the power to make long-term policies and develop a long-term approach.

Instead, what we do know is that Minister Ley welcomed the Queensland government's decision to green light the Adani coalmine, which a Greenpeace report found would exceed the yearly carbon dioxide emissions of entire countries.

If our environment minister won't even advocate on behalf of our environment, then who will?

In Australia, we are a signatory to the Paris Agreement - a global deal that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. Australia agreed to reduce our emissions by 26 to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030. We are not on track. We are not even close.

Last month during the COP 25 summit, a major climate summit in Madrid, Australia was named and shamed for resisting stronger action on climate change. Our Environment Minister Sussan Ley didn't attend these talks.

Put simply, Australia right now is a country in crisis, crumbling under the threat of climate change.

And I still don't know what our Environment Minister is doing about it.

Read Mamamia's comprehensive guide to how you can help in the wake of Australia's bushfires.


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