IN November, MLA Caroline Le Couteur asked probing questions on the future of Canberra’s trees. She is to be congratulated for her timely actions. She promptly received and circulated some devastating data.
The message from the statistics was that the ACT government has failed to care for Canberra’s urban forests. We are constantly losing trees. Ms Le Couteur is spot on when she says that the facts point to a climate emergency given the thousands of trees lost each year – around 3000.
Reports on the government’s shelves have previously identified problems with the management of our trees and point to the obvious links with climate change, heat islands, biodiversity and factors relating to the health of the city and its population.
For instance, urgent action was called for in a comprehensive 2011 report titled “Investigation into the Government’s tree management practices and the renewal of Canberra’s urban forest”. The shocking reality is that, having accepted the report, the government has done almost nothing about the key priorities.
When it did not like a recommendation it stated that it “agreed in principle”. This was the response to the majority of recommendations. The reason given was that those recommendations would involve a Budget decision. So, you guessed it, the monies were not allocated and the trees continue to disappear.
However, the government did find funds for the expensive City Renewal Authority that specialises in urban distractions. So much for any priority to save trees.
The 2011 report highlighted the lack of co-ordination between agencies concerned with trees and green infrastructure. To deal with this bureaucratic maze it placed a high priority on the establishment of a senior executive position, the tree curator. That was in 2011 and in 2019 this position is urgently required (I’d prefer the title green infrastructure commissioner).
Just as with sustainability and heritage, issues around trees and green infrastructure are compromised by the planning minister on advice from his planning chief and directorate. Trees are the constant low priority and the consistent compromise in most planning and development decisions.
Despite all the rhetoric, brochures, strategies and colourful “place plans”, trees and related environment matters are yet to be treated seriously by this Greens/Labor government in an appropriately integrated manner.
The more established suburbs are losing their urban forests to bad planning and development decisions. As for residents in newer areas, they can dream of having the green infrastructure to assist with climate change.
Canberra was known internationally as the bush capital. The greenery has historically been its cherished profile. The ACT government inherited a fabulous urban forest. Our beloved trees are now being slowly and randomly squandered away. This is a national crime.
The city desperately requires the agency/authority as recommended in 2011 and for it to be totally independent of the other directorates, especially planning.
The tree curator needs to have legislative authority to immediately cease the destruction of our urban forests and to require the relevant agencies to work in an integrated manner to improve the future of the city and its trees.
This will take leadership that recognises that these matters are as important as the host of other top priorities – someone to overcome the tree-skeptic senior bureaucrats in this government who are skilled at protecting their silos.
While I congratulate the ACT Greens for bringing notice to this pending disaster, I am puzzled by their approach. The ACT Greens are part of this government; they have someone in cabinet.
The ACT Greens were elected to be socially progressive and to be GREEN – to care for such matters as the future of our trees. Yet when Ms Le Couteur talks about dealing with these matters it is as if the ACT Greens were in opposition. To save our trees, their agreements with Labor need to be reconsidered immediately.
Some helpful links on the background to this article:
2018 Caroline Le Couteur the answers to her question on trees.
2011 “CityNews” on the release of the report: Urban Forest renewal report released
2018 CSIRO submission to the ACT government: Nature in Our City
Caroline Le Couteur’s post on trees: Trees are an investment in Canberra’s future
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Ian Meikle, editor