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Climate Change

Speeches in Parliament
Larissa Waters 17 Mar 2016

Senator WATERS

I rise to speak to this matter of public importance:

Prime Minister Turnbull's failure to take action consistent with his words on climate change.

How true that is, because in the current Prime Minister we have a reincarnation of Mr Tony Abbott when it comes to climate policy—and really every other policy, for that matter. We have a truly woeful carbon pollution reduction target from this government—one that is less than half of what the science says Australia should do to have even a two-thirds chance of avoiding dangerous global warning. It is less than half of what the science says is the bare minimum.

Interestingly, even if that woeful target were met by this government's inadequate policies, Australia would still be the highest per capita polluter on the entire planet. We have that mantle at the moment. Should these targets be implemented, we will still be the world's biggest polluter on a per capita basis. It is just unbelievable that the government can somehow crow about the target being in any way adequate.

Of course, we have seen this government axe the carbon price, which was effective and bringing down pollution. We have seen this government preside over budget cuts to the CSIRO which have now wreaked upon its staff massive cuts to its climate scientists. We have seen the Emissions Reduction Fund—a misnomer if I ever heard one—paying tonnes of taxpayer moneys to polluters without an appropriate safeguard mechanism, so they are getting paid to keep polluting. Finally, this government has slashed the renewable energy target. Sadly, on that last point both of the big parties joined to slash the renewable energy target.

This is, sadly, where the commonalities start to reveal themselves. Both of the big parties—Labor and the coalition—take enormous donations from fossil fuel companies, whether they are coalminers or coal seam gas companies. Both of these big parties have never refused a coalmine application—certainly not at this federal level. Both of the big parties have never refused a coal seam gas application under our federal environmental laws. They are both wedded to big coal—the money it trucks into their re-election campaigns and the dirty-energy economy that it is hitched to.

Coal is killing our reef. Already this week and last we have seen the beginnings of serious coral bleaching. I am from Queensland and I know how important the Great Barrier Reef is to our economy. It employs almost 70,000 people. It brings in $6 billion every year. That is money that it could keep bringing into our economy if we look after this place. It does not have a time limit on it, unlike the coal industry, which is now in structural decline, sacking thousands of its workers and polluting the world's climate. We are killing our reefs with this addiction to coal that the big parties have hitched our economy to.

We know that with even a two-degree warming of this planet we will lose all of our coral reefs. If we manage to stabilise at 1½ degrees, we will still lose 90 per cent of our coral reefs. That is the dire situation that our climate scientists are telling us we are in. We have seen the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority raise the coral bleaching threat to level two just this week. We know that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also done the same for global coral reefs. We know that the clear choice is between coal and the reef. It is what one of our learned coral reef climate scientists, Professor Terry Hughes has said: 'The choice is stark. It's coal or the Great Barrier Reef.'

We choose the Great Barrier Reef and we choose clean energy because we know that clean energy is more job-intensive. I have already mentioned the thousands of workers who have already been sacked from the coal industry in the last few years. They are also now seeing a resurgence of black lung disease. This is a dirty industry for workers and for our environment.

It is really clear that we can get on board that global transition to clean energy, which was so evident in the climate talks that I was privileged to attend at the end of last year. There is a transition towards clean energy. Australia could stand to make an awful lot of prosperity out of that, generate an awful lot of jobs and safeguard those amazing places like the Great Barrier Reef. We could safeguard our food producing ability by protecting our agricultural land not only from the direct impact of coal and coal seam gas pockmarking holes through it and digging it up but from the terrible worsening of drought and extreme weather events that climate change will bring if we do not tackle it.

The Greens are committed to clean energy. We are committed to tackling global warming. There will be a stark choice at the coming election.

Senator PERIS

I too rise to offer my support for this matter of public importance, which quite rightly criticises Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's giving in to the ultraconservative climate change deniers in his party. As my colleague Senator Lines pointed out this evening, for years Mr Turnbull has championed the cause of climate change policies. For years he has stood up to the Mr Abbotts in his party who have denied that climate change is real.

The Northern Territory is one of the most pristine natural environments in the world. It is relatively untouched and has always had protections from environmental damage. I would hate to see the Northern Territory's environment irreversibly damaged because this Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Turnbull, caved in to a few special interests in his own party, despite previously being committed to and championing the combating of climate change.

Make no mistake, the Northern Territory is feeling the effects of climate change. The Northern Territory environment is faced with the great challenge of climate change, like everyone else on the planet. The facts speak for themselves. Just last month, in the month of February, Darwin received negative rainfall. February is the middle of the monsoon season in the Top End, and it usually averages around 14 inches of rain for the month. Yet this February, in a month that usually has over 20 days of rain, monsoonal storms and sometimes cyclones, there was more atmospheric evaporation of rain than downpour of rain. It was also the hottest February on record in Darwin. The average temperature was 33.5, compared to the previous record of 33.1. The February record has been smashed.

It is impossible to deny that this is an accident. It is impossible to deny that this is an isolated occurrence. This is far from a unique story. In fact, examples of this are occurring all over the world, and it is expected to get worse into the future for not only the Northern Territory but also the rest of the planet.

We also know that tidal levels around the Northern Territory coast are rising. Sea levels are rising, and since the early 1990s Northern Australia has experienced increases of up to 7.1 millimetres per year. That is almost two metres since the early 1990s. This is higher than the international trend and extremely worrying for the Northern Territory's environment.

It is not just the environment that is threatened by this. The Northern Territory's infrastructure and economy are at risk of dangerous climate change effects. In fact, the federal government's own environment department has warned of this. In their report on climate change impacts on the Northern Territory it states:

Climate change will lead to sea level rise and potentially greater storm surges which will impact on coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems. Between 260 and 370 residential buildings, with a current value of between $100 million and $134 million may be at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres. A 1.1 metre sea level rise will also put 2045 kilometres of the NT's roads, up to 24 commercial buildings and 32km of railways at risk. These assets have an estimated value of up to $1.8 billion, $500 million and $100 million respectively.

That is over $2 billion worth of damage just in infrastructure. This does not take into account economic impacts like job losses, added health and welfare costs and the complete destruction of the top end economy if an event like this took place.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also an economic one. As we all know, especially those across the chamber, the Northern Territory relies on the agricultural industry. But it is an industry that relies on consistent and predictable rainfall. Territory farmers know that all too well, which is why they have repeatedly stressed to me the importance of action on climate change. The Northern Territory cattle industry relies on healthy rainfall in the top end. They cannot afford to lose that. Our fruit industry and agriculture relies on constant weather patterns.

The Northern Territory economy also relies on tourism. How can that industry expect to survive if our rivers, waterfalls and wetlands cannot survive the effects of climate change? People do not visit the Northern Territory to go to the opera. They visit the Territory to see and experience the amazing natural environment the Northern Territory has to offer. Several Territorian industries are under threat. If the Northern Territory sea levels rise too much, our mangroves will suffer, and Territorians know all too well that our mangroves are the breeding hub that makes our coastlines some of the richest fisheries in the world. Our barramundi, crabbing and prawn industry would suffer as a direct result of sea level rises caused by climate change.

It is a shame that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has not taken responsibility for climate action. In fact, our Aboriginal ranger groups across the Northern Territory have taken responsibility. They are caring for country. They have taken it upon themselves to protect our land and seas not only for themselves but for all Australians. Just like President Barack Obama and new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, have done in their countries, we also need to incorporate Aboriginal science and traditional knowledge into decision making. These people have lived on and understood their country for thousands of years, and in the US and in Canada they acknowledge climate change and respect the role their indigenous people can play in combating climate change.

Through initiatives like carbon farming, Aboriginal ranger groups have harnessed their knowledge of the land to minimise the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, the Northern and Central land councils have reported cuts to the programs which support these ranger groups in the Northern Territory and, I might add, in the top end of the Kimberley. It is also a shame that Australia is not behind our international friends when it comes to climate change.

As I said previously, climate change is an environmental issue and an economic issue. It is real. What has this Prime Minister done? Not much—in fact, nothing. He has rolled back climate change measures, and has been a member of a government that has tried to defund and shut down government clean energy solutions. He has caved into the conservatives on the direct action climate policies, which reward big businesses for doing what they should be doing anyway in trying to reduce emissions. I wholeheartedly support this matter of public importance. Mr Turnbull has failed to stand up against members of his own party and stand up for action on climate change. He is playing a dangerous game with the Northern Territory's and Australia's environment and economy.

I will finish my speech by telling the story of an elderly Aboriginal man who, when we were talking about climate change, said to me, 'We do not have a planet B, so we have to look after the one that we have. We borrow this Earth from our future generations and it is everyone's responsibility to take care of it.'

Senator BACK

I am delighted to rise to affirm the excellent work undertaken by the Turnbull government on the question of climate change. As I flew from Barrow Island over the Pilbara the other night on my way back to Canberra, I remember commenting to my colleagues on the beautiful Pilbara that we could see out of the window. What was it 10,000 years ago or hundreds of thousands of years ago? It was a sea. It was the ocean. The ocean receded and that is why we have the Pilbara today. Of course climate changes. It has always changed. The term climate change is jolly nearly an oxymoron, because climate changes by its nature.

I want to reflect briefly on the work undertaken by this government, led by environment minister Greg Hunt, and that is the Emissions Reduction Fund, which is delivering outstanding results, as we all know. In just the first two auctions—the third is to be held in April—93 million tonnes of emission reductions have been secured. 275 projects of practical emissions reduction have been contracted. And what is the average price? I will repeat it for those who did not hear it: it is $13.12 per tonne.

I am going to tell you about the proposed Labor Party program in a few minutes time. The ANU economist Warwick McKibbin—this is not the coalition or the Liberal Party; this is a respected economist from the ANU—estimates that the cost of Labor's target of 45 per cent below 2005 levels is no less than a cool $200 per tonne. But let us talk a bit about some of these 500 projects that are now registered under the Emissions Reduction Fund. It is a shame that Senator Peris has left, because probably the most successful of all is the West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project, which is in the Arnhem Land of the Northern Territory. It has been funded by ConocoPhillips and independently assessed by CSIRO, by my very great colleague Dr Jeremy Russell-Smith. They guaranteed to abate in excess of 100,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent each year, and in consideration of that ConocoPhillips pay them $1 million. That is just one, but it is the first of many bushfire management schemes in the savannas of Northern Australia that are acting practically. It is no wonder that the World Bank has recently launched a $100 million reverse auction. The World Bank has developed this $100 million reverse auction that replicates many features of the Emissions Reduction Fund.

Previous speakers spoke about coal. Coal is not produced at any great levels in my state of Western Australia, but let me give you some statistics in relation to coal and global efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Australian low-sulphur, high-energy coal is having this effect just in China—these are figures from recent years: new coal generation has effected annual emission savings of some 400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by changing from dirty, low-energy, high-sulphur coal in China to Australian coal. How does that figure of 400 million tonnes equivalent compare with the EU's emissions trading scheme? I will tell you. The figure of 400 million tonnes equivalent compares with a lousy 35 million tonnes equivalent that has been saved by the EU's program—less than 10 per cent of the saving from China changing over to Australian coal.

How long will it be before we are going to see a contribution by others? Again, I can quote to you: in China, obviously one of the biggest energy users in the world, it is expected that coal-fired power stations now, under construction and planned into the future will be generating 1,360 kilowatts of power from coal. It will be generating 10 gigawatts from renewable energy sources.

So what we have, under the Turnbull government, is direct action, which is working at a price of some $13 per tonne, and of course we see a whole range of projects being undertaken. What do others think of the scheme? It was the subject of so much vehement criticism when we were in opposition. That reminds me that our policies have now been consistent for the last five or six years. Our opponents in the Labor Party have had a new one about every year during that five or six years. Let me quote from the Chief Scientist, Dr Alan Finkel, in of 2 February this year:

… a lot of what's been achieved through the direct action plan is as economically effective as any other scheme it's ever come up with, including regulation or carbon pricing.

That was the Chief Scientist. On 12 November, Geoff Lipsett-Moore of Nature Conservancy said, 'Many projects across Northern Australia have been successful in this round of the ERF funding, so it is a win for people, for the climate and for nature.'

The big question is, of course, what is the alternative? What would our opponents be doing? We know that the leader in the other place, Mr Shorten, has already committed Labor to a return of a carbon tax. We know how devastating that was in Australia—certainly in our state of Western Australia. As I have said, the respected ANU economist McKibbin has estimated that, should Labor be successful in government and bring in their target of 45 per cent reduction below 2005 figures by 2030, the cost equivalent would be in the order of $200 per tonne. Remember again what we have achieved in the coalition government in just the 2½ years. The World Bank has picked up this as a most effective scheme.

The world is rejecting carbon taxes. They are embracing direct action style approaches, because they know they work and because they know they are within a time frame and a capacity in which we can work. Have a look at what happened when the Chicago futures market embraced and embarked on a carbon trading program. It halted very quickly. Have a look at the EU scheme. We know that it is a failure, and it has failed.

It is a little bit rich for Senator Peris to talk about what the coalition is doing when we know very well that Labor, in government, itself paid $5.5 billion to brown coal generators in this country with absolutely no obligations to reduce emissions. This government has a plan. This government is enacting that plan. This government is achieving its results at costs that are wearable for the Australian consuming public. I commend the point to the Senate.

Senator LAMBIE

I note that in the past Prime Minister Turnbull has supported an ETS, an Emissions Trading Scheme. I rise to contribute to this matter of public importance, which focuses on Prime Minister Turnbull's failure to take action consistent with his words on climate change. In doing so I take this opportunity to speak about the JLN's policy on a carbon tax and an ETS.

I acknowledge that climate change is real. I also acknowledge that ice core sampling by scientists in the Antarctic shows that over the last 600,000 years the average world temperature has changed and has been much higher than today's average temperature, and it has also been much colder. I note that most scientific climate projections indicate that Australian citizens, by ourselves, have no hope of stopping world climate change—no matter what measures we take. Whether it is a carbon tax, which is a fixed charge on energy, or an ETS, which is a floating price on energy use, it is clear that a government making Australian pensioners, businesses and families pay more for their energy will never stop world climate change. It will only increase the cost of living for our families and kill off Australian jobs and businesses, and for no return. Therefore, the JLN opposes the introduction of a carbon tax or ETS until our major trading partners introduce similar taxes for their energy use.

In the meantime Australia must prepare for world climate change by boosting the numbers and resources available to our emergency services, our military, our medical professionals and our farmers. We must always make political decisions which protect our energy, water, food, national security and Australian workers' job security. In the meantime, while Australia waits for the world agreement on carbon tax or an ETS, the JLN strongly supports the following two measures, which are assured to quickly lower carbon emissions while keeping power prices low and while guaranteeing reliability of supply. The first is the doubling of baseload renewable energy in the form of hydroelectricity. The second is a community debate, followed by a national referendum, on the introduction of nuclear power generation. There is a danger in using renewable electricity, which does not have the ability to deliver baseload power 24/7, which is not affected by the availability of wind or sunlight. And that danger is a very high energy cost for all Australians.

Germany, which relies for 12.33 per cent of its energy on renewable sources, according to Parliamentary Library research, has average household electricity prices at US37.26c, or A50.67c per kilowatt hour, which is almost double that of Australia's electricity prices already.

Senator KETTER

The records for February 2016 indicate that it was the warmest month ever measured globally, at 1.35 degrees Celsius above the long-term average. Even more concerning, February 2016 was more than 0.2 degrees Celsius warmer than January 2016, which held the previous monthly temperature record. Climate change is indeed the greatest challenge we face as a society. The costs of doing nothing are incalculable. In my own state of Queensland, some regions have been suffering the worst drought in their history. Drought conditions have affected farm production and incomes, leading to reductions in agricultural employment and a reduction in their standard of living. Currently, around 80 per cent of Queensland is drought declared, and the agricultural sector is in serious trouble. Worse still, these conditions impacting Queensland's agricultural industry are expected to be sustained by the current El Nino weather pattern. But it is not Mr Turnbull who worries about life in the bush; he does not have to live the struggle. It is the farmers who suffer—the very people who produce the grain for our bread and the sugar for our tea. They are the ones who live through climate change.

This issue does not stop with the agricultural sector. It trickles down and flows through the veins of the Australian landscape. Our Great Barrier Reef is also under threat. The reef alone contributes more than $5.6 billion to the Australian economy and provides employment for more than 70,000 people. Yet it is being destroyed as a result of climate change. Coral bleaching, rising sea levels, rising sea temperatures and ocean acidification are all a result of inaction. Does that mean nothing to the Prime Minister? Why does he want to continue down this path?

This is not just a problem for the future. We are already experiencing the extremes of climate change that threaten the future of every Australian. Given the scale and imminent threat that we face, I am alarmed that the Turnbull government continues to uphold its do-nothing stance on climate change. In the past two years the Abbott-Turnbull government has abolished a price on pollution; abandoned an emissions trading scheme; slashed the Renewable Energy Target; cut funding to carbon capture and storage; tried to abolish the Climate Change Authority and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation; and imposed massive cuts on CSIRO.

We all remember when Mr Turnbull was a champion of climate change and was prepared to join with Labor in a bipartisan approach to introducing an emissions trading scheme. But now we can see Mr Turnbull's true colours as a leader: rather than taking on one of the greatest challenges this country faces, Mr Turnbull has traded up for the cheap thrill of policy-free leadership.

This government has slashed CSIRO's budget by $115 million, with 350 CSIRO staff targeted for redundancy—it seems to be its entire climate-monitoring capacity. I am embarrassed to hear Mr Hockey trying to defend Australia's appalling and inadequate response to climate change in response to editorial attacking these massive cuts to the CSIRO. And what did editorial board have to say on 4 March this year? They said:

Certainly there are good reasons for research institutes like Csiro to cooperate with industry in the search for ways to adapt to a warming planet. But to do this at the expense of research and monitoring — undermining the search for commercially viable solutions that Csiro proposes to join — makes no sense.

Further on they said:

The cutbacks could also obstruct Australia's role in supporting the landmark climate agreement reached in Paris in December, which, among other things, calls on scientifically advanced countries like Australia to assist developing countries with advice and support.

Even Mary Robinson, special envoy to the United Nations, has made an appeal for Australia to rescind these cuts.

Labor is prepared to fix things. Only Labor has a policy to strengthen the renewable energy sector and to commit to more ambitious CO2 reduction targets. Cutting Australia's climate research capacity and reputation for quality science not only brings into question Mr Turnbull's commitment to innovation it is a blatant attempt to silence the work that holds the government to account on its climate change policies.

Senator IAN MACDONALD

We have a government now which is actually seriously doing something about carbon emissions. Unlike many other nations around the world—including, I might say with some regret, the United States—the Australian government and the Australian people are actually meeting their targets. And we did this under the old Kyoto accords. Australia was one of the few nations in the world that actually met their emissions reduction target.

We are playing our part in reducing global emissions. Our reductions in emissions per person and per dollar of GDP will be amongst the highest in the world, and I would have thought that the Greens political party and the Labor Party would actually be congratulating us for that. Under the new regime of Malcolm Turnbull and, previously, Tony Abbott, Australia is achieving a 52 per cent reduction in emissions per person. That is the second-highest of the G20 countries. We are also achieving a 65 per cent reduction in emissions per unit of GDP.

Madam Acting Deputy President, you may be aware that Professor Warwick McKibbin, a respected economist from the ANU, has estimated that the cost of Labor's proposal would be something like $200 per tonne. Even when Labor was going to buy credits from the rest of the world the cost was originally only $20. Then it was $22, then $27 and then $45. Now, a few years later, Labor's proposal will, according to respected economists, be $200 per tonne.

We are conducting auctions to buy back emissions reductions, and we have secured 275 projects—importantly, can I emphasise—at an average price of $13.12 per tonne compared with Labor's $200 per tonne. So successful has the coalition's buyback scheme been that in fact the World Bank has adopted it and has recently launched a $100 million reverse auction that replicates most of the features of the coalition's Emissions Reduction Fund.

I often make the point in this chamber that any serious environmental work ever done by a federal government in Australia has been done by the governments of the Liberal and National parties. Contrast that with the Labor Party. You will recall, Madam Acting Deputy President—if you like having nightmares, you will think back!—how they presided over, and how the then environment minister, who turned out to be the worst environment minister in Australia, surpassed only by her title as the worst finance minister in Australia, presided over, putting all the eggs in the Copenhagen basket. And Copenhagen was an absolute, complete and unabated flop. There was complete rejection of any serious addressing of the concern that is confronting the world.

I asked my Greens friends earlier on today, 'Tell me how Australia, which emits less than 1.4 per cent of all emissions of carbon, can be the cause for all the ills that you tell us are happening to the world by carbon emissions?' Of course, it is a patently ridiculous argument that no-one will ever answer because the facts are so simple: Australia emits less than 1.4 per cent. Even if you shut Australia down completely—no lights in this building, no cars running on our streets—what would 1.4 per cent of the reduction in the world's carbon emissions do for the climate that is changing?

But I come back to the coalition's record. With the coalition you know that they will do sensible things about the environment. I am delighted to see that Senator Waters is here in the chamber, because I have often said to her that any serious attempt or action on the marine environment has been the work of Liberal governments. I was delighted yesterday to attend a function put on by—and you might be surprised that I was there—the Marine Conservation Society and WWF. Do you know what they launched there? A booklet entitled . It is a great book, Senator Waters. I have actually got you a copy. You can read the centre page, which I often talk about in this chamber. Sometimes people do not believe me when I talk about these, but I am sure those sorts of people would believe the Marine Conservation Society and WWF. They have it there starting in 1975, as I always do, with the Fraser government prohibition on oil and gas drilling in the Great Barrier Reef. It goes right through the Fraser government, the Howard government, the Greiner government in New South Wales and the Barnett government in Western Australia. There it is, a record. Do not believe me—I say this all the time. Have a look what the people involved in marine conservation actually say about the record of Liberal and National Party governments.

As with our marine approach to the environment, so with our climate change approach: we are implementing programs that work and do not cost Australians their livelihood and their economy. This matter before the chair is a patently ridiculous one which has no substance and will no doubt be ignored by the Senate as it is by the rest of Australia.

Senator LAZARUS

I speak on behalf of Queensland when I say that I am concerned about climate change not only on the environment, as we have previously heard about, but also on jobs in the tourism industry. Tourism employs approximately 120,000 people in Queensland and represents approximately 4.5 per cent of the GDP, which is considerably more than the national average of around 3.6 per cent. This means the tourism industry represents almost six per cent of Queensland's workforce. I can attest to this. I have personally visited different parts of North Queensland to get a feel for how my state is engaging with the world, and we offer many great sites, activities and experiences—some of them extreme—all based around our wonderful environment.

Queensland's natural beauty is fundamental to the success of this industry, and we boast five World Heritage sites. These are the Great Barrier Reef, Fraser Island, the Gondwana Rainforests, the Riversleigh fossil site and the wet tropics area from Cooktown to Townsville. Tourists come from all over the world to experience the natural wonders of Queensland. Not surprisingly, they do not come to check out the CSG mining infrastructure out the back of Chinchilla. In fact, no-one does—not even the Prime Minister, even though he promised me he would.

Given the importance of tourism to my home state, I call on the government to act seriously when it comes to climate change, because increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns are damaging our rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef is under threat from increasing acidity and sea surface temperatures. The people of Queensland are sick of hearing the government say one thing and do another. For all his talk of innovation and the role of science, the Prime Minister has failed the nation on the issue of climate change. In fact, he has failed full stop.

The PRESIDENT

The time for the debate has now concluded.

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