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Apology to my daughter - Larissa Waters on the Carbon Price Repeal bill

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Larissa Waters 16 Jul 2014

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (20:04): And what a really, really tragic day to be part of this parliament. Almost three years ago I sat here—I sat on the other side—and voted for climate action. It was the happiest day of my parliamentary life—and, certainly, one of the happiest days of my actual life. I was really proud of the parliament that day. Today, I hang my head in shame and embarrassment at the absolute lack of vision of the people in this place, the wilful ignorance and the placing of selfish greed ahead of the public interest and ahead of the interest of all of our children and those to come.

I find it particularly embarrassing that Australia is the only country that is, in fact, going backwards on climate when we have many of the world's other nations taking steps forward in all sorts of different ways—some huge steps forward, some small steps. We saw last week the UK Tory Prime Minister come out and say that even he was embarrassed that Australia was stepping backwards. When we have that sort of clear signal from the rest of the world, and when this government continues to ignore that global action, again, I hang my head in shame.

If I think about why it is that we are in this place, it is for a three-word slogan—it is for rank politics in a little rhyme 'axe the tax'. To me, the greatest tragedy is that there is an absolute lack of understanding or, perhaps, a wilful lack of understanding of the significance of what it is that we are doing here tonight, and that has been driven by that base rank politics simply to get elected off the back of, mostly, lies.

Apparently, we are in a budget emergency. Yet we know from costings from the Parliamentary Budget Office that the carbon price would bring in $18 billion over the forward estimates. Some budget crisis if you are willing to forgo $18 billion! Given that money seems to be the only thing that makes any sense to these people, I would have thought that $18 billion would have made some kind of impact in their ideology—but apparently not.

I want to move now to the fact that the carbon price is not—as Greg Hunt tries to claim—failing. It is, in fact, delivering. Perhaps, that is why this government is so eager to get rid of it. It is, in fact, doing its job; it is, in fact, inconveniencing the big polluters who are lobbying so hard to get rid of it. Every time I hear this government parrot this absolute tripe that the carbon tax is not working, it makes me embarrassed to be a member of this place. The carbon price is working. In the first six months of the scheme, emissions from electricity generation came down by seven per cent. We know that, since the carbon price was introduced, total emissions from the national electricity market have fallen by more than 10 per cent. We know that emissions from all sectors combined, excluding land use and forestry, fell 0.8 per cent. Despite the fact that the scheme covers only 60 per cent of this nation's emissions, total emissions have remained flat while the economy has continued to grow. One notable exception is that emissions from coal seam gas and coalmining have risen a massive 13 per cent. Is it any wonder that this government—and, frankly, the last government—have never met a coalmine or coal seam gas application that they have not approved? I echo the comments made by Senator Milne in her excellent speech earlier that we have a complete bankruptcy of commitment to climate change when we have the espousal of an emissions trading scheme with absolutely no detail on the actual target for reducing pollution.

Money seems to be the only thing that counts for this government. They claim that they want to axe the tax because they are concerned about households. What an absolute joke! If you are concerned about households, why on earth are you bringing down the harshest, cruellest and most unnecessary budget that we have seen in living memory? Any which way you turn it, there is no logic to this government's rationale. We know that households were overcompensated for the impacts of the carbon price through the income tax changes, that the carbon tax was working, that the economy was still growing and that emissions were coming down. There were absolutely no losers in this situation except of course the big polluters, who do not like paying to pollute. They are all ready to sign up to this ridiculous Direct Action scheme. Nobody seems to know what that is; it is gradually taking shape and it still has not found anyone to back it or describe it with any sort of credibility. They are ready to line up for their handout from the taxpayer so that they can keep polluting—instead of what we now have, a scheme where they have to pay to pollute.

I want to talk briefly about what is at stake—and again I echo the concerning and very well expressed remarks made by Senator Milne. We know that extreme weather events are going to become more intense and more frequent—and I am from Queensland, where we have an awful lot of them. I remember the community sentiment in 2011 when we had the worst floods in my living memory. I remember how people banded together. There was a great sense that, no matter how far the chips were down, people would stick together and fight, that we really did not want to see this sort of thing happen again and would stick together so that it did not. Well, with the action that this parliament is proposing to take tonight, we can expect more of those sorts of floods. We can expect more of the terrible bushfires that the rest of the nation experienced—and Queensland did too in some places. We can expect more of those vicious cyclones that attack our coastlines and ruin so many people's homes with the loss of so much life. It is absolutely mind-boggling that we are even contemplating taking an action that would invite that sort of consequence.

I want to mention in particular a place that is really close to my heart—which I hope many Queenslanders and many Australians feel similarly about—and that is the Great Barrier Reef. For a long time now, we have known that climate change is the biggest threat to the reef. Sadly, we know that it does not require a two degree rise in temperature to see the reef acidify and massive coral bleaching. In fact, the latest science is that, with a one degree temperature rise, we will see mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef. We are on track for that; we are already at a rise of 0.8 degrees. There is real peril facing the reef. I love the reef for its beauty and its biodiversity. It is one of the most wonderful places I have ever had the joy of experiencing. It is also the employer of 63,000 people. It is a huge backbone of the Queensland economy. It is our most popular tourist attraction. It supports many sustainable fishing industries. It is our most popular tourism icon. In fact, a recent study found that the reef contributes almost $6 billion to Queensland's economy every year. That is an awful lot of money that could continue to roll into our coffers if we actually look after the reef. But the reef is not just beautiful and it is not just a job creater; it is actually really important biophysically. It is a barrier for the coastline from those damaging tropical storms and cyclones that we can expect more of. It is a physical barrier without which the Queensland coast would be a far more dangerous place to live.

I have talked already about the fact that climate change will cause mass coral bleaching, and we know that corals are highly sensitive to what are effectively underwater heatwaves. Before 1979 there were no scientific reports of mass coral bleaching and coral death, but in the last 25 years there have been numerous events. In both 1998 and 2002 we had over 50 per cent of the reef affected by bleaching and we lost about 10 per cent of the corals. By 2050, if carbon emissions across the world are not drastically reduced, it is expected that such events will result in the loss of 100 per cent of corals on the reef—that is, the entire Great Barrier Reef will be lost by 2050 if we remain on the emissions trajectory that we are on and if we continue tonight with the foolish, self-interested and disgusting proposal to repeal our climate laws. I cannot believe that the parliament is actually facing that choice and making a choice to get rid of climate action and sacrifice the reef. And for what? It is for the profits of the fossil fuel companies, most of which are overseas owned and do not deliver dividends to the Australian economy, do not generate many jobs and do not keep the economy ticking—although they frequently make over-inflated claims about their influence on the economy.

 

The Galilee Basin, along with the Great Barrier Reef, is in my home state of Queensland and it is the latest coal resource that the big miners want to get their teeth into. Mr Palmer is one of those miners, as is Gina Reinhart and a number of other, huge Indian conglomerates. The Galilee Basin is the biggest coal deposit that we have in this nation and if it were mined, as the big miners propose, the Galilee Basin would be the seventh largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world. It would rank as the seventh largest country—if it were to be considered a country—should all of that coal be burnt.

Thanks very much, Mr Palmer, for directing your senators tonight to ensure that your profits will be able to continue and that you will be able to plunder the Galilee Basin with impunity. I think you will find that Queenslanders will have quite a lot to say about that at the very next opportunity they have to express their views.

I am also disappointed in the Palmer United Party's amendments that we saw tonight and surprised at how quickly they rolled over on what was a fairly expansive amendment last week but now much diminished. Again, it was much lampooned for the fact that it will not deliver a $550 dividend to households. It might be more like $80 or $100—maybe not even that. What a surprise that all the claims about the carbon tax being a wrecking ball through the economy did not eventuate. I think households will soon realise that. I am sure they are expecting to get a lot in the way of a refund but there is not that much due back, because the carbon tax was not that much of an impost. In fact, it was doing good work in bringing down emissions.

I want to take the chance to apologise to my daughter and to future generations to come for this parliament failing them tonight and for selling out their future and sacrificing their health and their way of life for the sake of propping up the big polluters. Tonight we have seen a triumph of profit over people and politics over science. It makes absolutely no economic sense. Again, I hark back to money as being the currency, it seems, in so many ways in this place. It makes absolutely no economic sense to stymie the burgeoning renewable sector and to see those job-rich industries flourish. We know that that is where our economic profitability will lie into the future. We know that that is where infinitely more jobs will be created than in the increasingly mechanised fossil fuel industries. And we know that that is actually where the world is going and where we should go if we want to have our place on this planet as both an economic leader and a climate leader.

As I have already mentioned, Direct Action is basically a slush fund for the big polluters. It is a complete sham. There is not an economist or a scientist that has backed it. The government have not even committed to ensuring that a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions would occur through Direct Action, because they have capped the amount that they are going to pay out to the big polluters under that ridiculously titled excuse for a policy.

It is funny, isn't it, that the government does not believe in supporting industry? I hark back to cars, SPC and Qantas and how, all of a sudden, they are very willing to make big handouts to the fossil fuel industries. I want to remind senators in this chamber who have espoused the need for an emissions trading scheme that we have an emissions trading scheme. We will have it for possibly another two or three hours, depending on how long it takes this government to chop through their pathetic repeal legislation, treating this Senate like a rubber-stamp after having sold out to the latest senators who have arrived.

We have an emissions trading scheme; it is working. The Greens have moved, as have other people in this place, to bring forward the floating price on the existing emissions trading scheme that we have. So many of the stated demands of some of the other senators in this place would be met with that course of action. In the remaining time that we have for this excellent policy, I ask them to seriously consider that.

If this parliament votes down the carbon price tonight it stands condemned—the parliament dominated by old, white men, out of touch with science and ruled by greed. I, as a woman, Senator Nash, do note the presence of you as one of the few women on that side of the chamber. Thank you for being here and please have a word with your colleagues. I echo Senator Milne's comment that we may lose this fight but we will not lose this war. The momentum is there; the community is with climate action. People out there know that global warming is real and they want to do something about it, because they actually think about the future. They do not just think about their hip-pockets and they certainly do not think about the private profits of overseas mining companies.

I am excited by the folk who we have coming to parliament on a regular basis, particularly the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, which came here last week, when we last thought we would lose these good laws. They had such hope and such optimism. They are our future leaders. They are the people who we are meant to be representing—all of us. Certainly, the Greens are doing that job. They will be the people who inherit the future that we create with the decisions we will make tonight. Whilst I am incredibly disheartened about the decision that I expect this parliament will take, I have an unshakable optimism that not even this torrid government can stop the momentum that is climate action. Clearly, the rest of the world is moving. Australia is evidently going to have a little bit of a setback, but it will not last. We will get back on board. We have too much at stake and too much to lose and there are too many people who know that that is the case for this pathetic and underbaked policy of the government to stand.

The future is looking bright, despite all attempts of the Abbott government to keep us in the past and to keep us wedded to the fossil fuel sector. So many people across Australia are concerned—and we are not talking about inner city latte-sipping elites, as this government tries to perhaps marginalise anyone who cares about their future or their children's future—people in rural Australia. I want to particularly pay tribute to those in the coal seam gas movement, Lock the Gate and the like, who have stood to protect their land, their water and also the climate from this latest fossil fuel destruction waiting to happen that is coal seam gas, shale gas, tight gas and other unconventional gas, along with hydraulic fracturing that breaks open these seams, lets the gas flow and does not really mind when it leaks out of those pipes and wells. It does not mind how much energy it takes to liquefy it for export, because much of it is for export. This is the latest war in the climate war. We will oppose coal seam gas, as we oppose extended coalmining.

Being from Queensland, I want to reiterate the importance of that policy principle which Senator Milne has foreshadowed an amendment on to these bills tonight. We are exporting an enormous amount of coal to the world. It is doing us no favours and it is doing the rest of the planet and all of the other species that we share this place with absolutely no favours. There is no way that we should be increasing that coal export. Ten years ago, that might have been taboo to say that, being from Queensland, but that is an increasingly and widely held view.

So we will stand to protect the Great Barrier Reef from the effects of climate change. We will stand against the rapacious dredging and dumping to make ports bigger, to export coal and coal seam gas, as if the reef were just a highway for fossil fuels and not actually one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the most beautiful place you can ever hope to experience. We will stand against the short-sighted and self-invested greed of people in this place who would rather sacrifice the future of all of our children for the private profits of some multinationals. You will not dull our spirit and you will not dull our motivation. Ultimately we will prevail.

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