It’s not enough that the Queensland government is targeting bikies and public servants – now they’re going after ice-cream vendors.

It seems that no one’s allowed to have a differing opinion to our state government – not even dessert companies that are jumping on the environmental bandwagon.

Ice-cream heavyweights Ben & Jerry’s embarked on a national tour during the month of April, joining forces with WWF Australia to distribute free treats and raise awareness for the plight of the Great Barrier Reef for their ‘Scoop Ice-Cream, Not the Reef’ campaign.

Queensland Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection Andrew Powell has taken issue with the free-for-all of information and ice cream.

“I am disappointed to see companies like Ben & Jerry’s signing up to a campaign of lies and deceit that has been propagated by WWF and are circulating it to our kids, to young people, to Queenslanders more broadly, without first checking the facts,” he says in a statement released yesterday evening.

“These alarmist claims are doing nothing but muddying the waters around the real threats to the Great Barrier Reef.”

‘Muddying the waters’? Really, Mr Powell? Is that an intentional pun or just a faux pas, since muddying the waters around the reef is exactly what your government is persisting in doing.

bmag spoke to Australian Marine Conservation Society spokesperson Felicity Wishart in March about the ‘Reef Facts’ campaign developed by the state government. She says Powell was misinforming people through ‘convenient avoidance’ of topics such as the damage that dredging, dumping and increased shipping will have on the reef.

“It’s our view that they’re selectively citing pre-existing problems,” Wishart says on the issues addressed by the Reef Facts website. “But [the reef is] facing this new imminent threat which is, in our opinion, of an equivalent scale; where the government has planned for the construction of new or expansion of existing ports, millions and millions more tonnes of dredging and dumping, and increased shipping – all of which will absolutely increase the pressure on the reef.”

In January this year, WWF Australia submitted a report to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee outlining the progress on the recommendations delivered by UNESCO for the conservation of the reef. The scorecard WWF prepared showed the Queensland government had made little-to-no progress on most areas of concern, so in their eyes there are real reasons to be worried about what’s happening up north. But this isn’t really the issue at hand.

You can make up your own mind about the state of the reef and what should be done. There’s plenty of information out there – talk to the experts, do a Google search, investigate the research for yourself if you’re interested.

What I’m taking issue with is the nerve of the government trying to shut down the opinions of a well-established charitable group. If an environmental group can’t have an opinion on the environment, what can they do? It’s their entire purpose to provide alternative research, opinions and solutions to that of mainstream bodies. That’s why we have independent environmental groups.

And not only is Powell’s statement a little Orwellian, it’s also counter-productive to his overarching reef message of “move along folks, nothing to see here”. The ‘Scoop Ice-Cream, Not the Reef’ campaign is receiving more attention now that it would ever have on its own; before, it was just a lone ice cream truck making the rounds to universities and parks.

To make things worse, not only is the state government lambasting Ben & Jerry’s for choosing the wrong side of the fence, Minister for Tourism Jann Stuckey is also insinuating the company should have instead become a private purse for Queensland tourism.

“If companies like Unilever and Ben & Jerry’s invested the same amount of interest and finance in a positive campaign then imagine what it could do for tourism in Queensland,” says Ms Stuckey. “The truth is the reef is looking fantastic. The only threat to tourism and the reef is this misguided and ill-informed campaign.”

The only threat to the reef is this campaign about its welfare? Not crown of thorns starfish or tropical storms as your colleague Powell claims? I don’t know about you, but something about this whole ordeal seems fishy to me.

Maybe instead of spending all this time and money trying to convince everyone the reef is doing well, the government should address the issues raised by environmental groups and assuage their concerns that way.

As Wishart says, “If the government was protecting the reef, they wouldn’t need a campaign to allay the public’s fears over dredging, dumping and port expansion.”

And if there’s one thing you can say about the greenies, it’s that their (bleeding) hearts are usually in the right place.

What are your thoughts on the government’s plans for the reef and the way it’s handled Ben & Jerry’s involvement? Fair enough or totalitarian? Let us know!