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Senator Waters' speech to the Abbott Government: Are they listening?

Speeches in Parliament
Larissa Waters 23 Jun 2015

When Senator Brandis's eventually responded to my question, I was somewhat amazed to hear what I can only describe as his faux outrage that I would note the well-known fact that the Prime Minister is Catholic. Apparently, that was in some way disgusting to Senator Brandis. As I said in the course of the question, I was in no way referring to that in a disparaging manner. I was merely wondering, given the Prime Minister has not listened to the scientists about climate change, that thinking people can only hope that he will now listen to the leader of his own faith, who has said that the world needs to take action on climate change, that we have a shared global responsibility to do so. I celebrate the fact that the Pope has come out and acknowledged that science. If the government will not listen to the scientists, perhaps they will at least listen to the Pope. Apparently, Senator Brandis found that confronting and offensive, which is quite peculiar. He used that as a premise not to answer the question. One wonders whether or not the government has such a visceral reaction to saying the Lord's Prayer, which we say every morning in this place—well, some of us say it, predominantly those on the government benches.

I also mentioned that the Pope had said that we need to deal with climate change because it will hit the world's poorest the hardest. Again, Senator Brandis resorted to that old chestnut about coal. He thinks it is in fact very good for humanity—not just good for humanity, like the Prime Minister and Senator Cormann have previously said, but very good for humanity. The incorrect premise on which he asserts that is that he says coal is cheap and that coal will somehow alleviate global poverty. Coal is cheap in Australia because this government continues the billions of dollars of subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. As we know, renewable energy is now reaching parity—wind has reached parity—with coal, even with its subsidies. Were those subsidies to be removed, as the Greens have long called for, renewable energy would be infinitely cheaper and, of course, infinitely better for the planet.

Senator Brandis also somehow reckons that coal is going to be a solution to global poverty. I have got news for you, Senator Brandis—and it is something that experts have been contending for quite a while now: there is no electricity network in those poor parts of rural India. Even if there were an electricity grid, coal would be at such a price that people could not afford to purchase it. The solution to energy poverty in developing nations is clean distributed renewable energy. Most people accept that that is flagrantly obvious, and I would urge the government to go and do some homework in that respect.

In relation to the final part of my question where I asked whether the government would base their climate policies on science or faith or anything at all, really, other than the lobbying of the fossil fuel donors that walk these halls very frequently, he contended that, yes, they would base their climate policy on science. That is very interesting, given that they abolished the Climate Change Authority shortly after taking government. In fact, they have sacked most of the scientists who used to work for the CSIRO on climate and other matters. It is wonderful that the government intellectually accept that they will base the policy on science. Where are those scientists? And are they now going to reinstate them? I certainly hope so.

What we see from this government is continued climate science denial and continued head-in-the-sand position to the positive opportunities that this presents us globally and domestically. We have some of the world's best sunshine. We have some wonderful tidal, geothermal and wind deposits. We see the government in a pathetic deal with the crossbench, which it is at great pains to deny, although everybody knows the legislation is about to pass through the parliament this afternoon. We will have a Wind Farm Commissioner. If this government were really concerned about the health impacts of energy, it would, as I said last week, establish a coalmine commissioner to look at the awful health impacts of coalmine fires that so frequently get out of the control, the particulates, and also the health impacts of climate change itself. This government just does not get the climate science. It clearly now does not even want to accept the Pope's encyclical. I do not know what their guiding principle is anymore, except the money that they get in donations from the fossil fuel sector.

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