Senator Larissa Waters addresses the Senate chamber about the benefits of the carbon package for her home state of Queensland.
Senator Larissa Waters
Australian Greens Senator for Queensland 31 October 2011, 20.32:
It is with great pride that I rise today to speak on the nation’s first climate laws. This is truly a historic day for our nation. Today we reject the short-term, greedy and selfish thinking that has seen us deplete the world’s non-renewable resources and pollute our atmosphere to the extent that it threatens our very survival. Today we think of the future of this unique planet, and we act for the good of our grandchildren’s grandchildren and all the other creatures that we share this place with. Today we can hold our heads high.
I am a proud Queenslander and 10 months ago we suffered the state’s worst flooding in my lifetime. While we came through that devastation stronger and more unified as a community, our spirit and our environment do have their limits. Scientists predict that there will be more wild weather, more intense cyclones, more crippling droughts and more terrible floods as the climate changes. It is on our watch now. My state is home to the internationally significant Great Barrier Reef and Wet Tropics rainforest. Both of these beautiful biodiversity icons and great tourist attractions are under threat from climate change. We have come a long way since John Howard said that a six-degree rise in global temperature would make it uncomfortable for some. Now we have reef scientists like Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg saying that even a one-degree rise would lead to massive coral bleaching—and we are already at a 0.7-degree rise. We must do all that we can to protect this underwater paradise, the $6 billion annual boon that it delivers us and the 67,000 people who rely on it for their livelihood.
It gives me great joy that today we take these first crucial steps toward mitigating runaway climate change. I am most excited about the $10 billion renewable energy funding package and the almost $1 billion biodiversity funding package. It is thanks to the Greens that we have the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, which led to the carbon price. It is because of the Greens that those complementary measures are included in the package. I want to thank Senator Christine Milne, Senator Bob Brown and the member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt, for their tireless work, their vision and their selfless dedication to the future of this world.
In Queensland, the sunshine state, we have such potential to become a renewable energy powerhouse. Our economy, with the carbon price, is projected to continue its strong growth in all sectors in the decades to come. With the $10 billion Energy Finance Corporation for renewable energy, negotiated by the Greens, we have exciting new prospects. Queensland has promising geothermal deposits. We have wave and tidal potential and, to a lesser extent, wind potential. But we have unparalleled solar resources. Rather than doubling our coal exports in the next 15 years to help the world’s fossil fuel addiction and then shipping it out through our Great Barrier Reef, I would like to see Queensland build solar thermal power plants generating, baseload renewable energy for domestic use and exporting technologies to the world. I would like to see Queensland leading Australia’s charge in the new low-carbon economy.
Recently, experts from the University of Melbourne in conjunction with Beyond Zero Emissions have found that we have the technological capacity to power our nation with 100 per cent renewables within a decade. Through the carbon price package, we have tasked the Australian energy market operator with preparing plans for the grid to do just that—to operate with 100 per cent renewables. That is good news not just for the planet but for job creation. Numerous reports have found that renewable energy generation is far more job intensive than fossil fuel energy generation. It is no longer, nor was it ever, a question of jobs versus the environment. We can do both.
Green jobs will be created in manufacturing, ecotourism, renewable energy, energy efficiency, public transport and the list goes on. They will be the boom industries of the future, and Australia can now be part of that. Thanks to the carbon price package and the $10 billion Renewable Energy Fund that the Greens negotiated, Australia now has the opportunity to be a world leader in green industries. With Australian innovation and technological investment we can create a, green boom which respects and protects our fragile environment. The economic benefits of a low-carbon future are clear, but the beauty of this package is that it helps people along the way to that new future.
There is almost $1 billion in grants for energy efficiency programs for the manufacturing sector, small business, foundries and community groups. Similarly, and at the behest of the Greens, there is a $200 million Low Carbon Communities fund to help low-income households and community groups manage rising energy costs through energy efficiency upgrades, which is the best way of helping people out of energy poverty and at the same time allowing them to do their bit to reduce their emissions. And of course more than half the revenue raised from the carbon price will be given back to households through tax cuts, higher family payments and increases in pensions and allowances. This does not negate the benefits of the carbon price—quite the contrary.
The carbon price will be paid by polluters, sending the market signal that it will cost to keep polluting. If they pass that cost on, rather than innovating and investing in renewable energy or energy efficiency, households will be compensated for that price rise. But shoppers will see on the shelves the comparatively lower prices for products made with less pollution, and they will be able to reinforce that market signal to polluters with their purchasing power. And they will, because Australians care about our future.
The lifting of our target of cutting our emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 will bring a smile to the faces and probably a tear to the eye of many parents. My support for these bills is for my daughter’s future. And while the package is not as ambitious at the outset as the Greens would have it, it is designed to be strengthened and to keep pace with our understanding of climate science. That is a crucial point. The Greens will always support science based policy. We must act because there is simply too much at stake. Renowned climate scientist Professor Will Steffen said in his 2009 report on the impacts of climate change on biodiversity that, globally, mass extinctions are likely without urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Cloud forests and other highland rainforest types are predicted to contract and fragment across the wet tropics of Queensland, and with a two-degree rise projected native tropical rainforest vertebrates such as the beautiful ringtail possums, tree kangaroos and many fantastic insects will be sent to extinction.
CSIRO says our underwater biodiversity is already affected by sea level rise, increased ocean storm intensity, ocean acidification and increasing sea surface temperatures, and that these effects will cascade throughout our marine food chains with flow-on effects that cannot be fully anticipated. Great Barrier Reef waters are predicted to become more acidic with greater carbon dioxide concentration, decreasing the capacity of corals to form the skeletons which are the backbone of the reef and the habitat for so much of its rich biodiversity. CSIRO also notes that climate change will exacerbate existing threats to biodiversity, such as fire, invasive species and the availability of water.
Acting on climate change, of which this carbon price package is the first step, will help maintain the 67,000 jobs dependent on a healthy Great Barrier Reef and the thousands more dependent on Queensland’s rainforests and wonderful biodiversity. The $948 million ongoing biodiversity fund the Greens negotiated into the carbon price package will help protect biodiversity and create jobs in rural and Indigenous communities by funding biodiversity projects that establish, restore, protect or manage biodiverse carbon stores. For example, landholders will be supported to maintain existing vegetation, restore habitat or plant new vegetation where it would create wildlife corridors, and they can also receive funding to control weeds, pests and feral animals. That is a great outcome for our climate, our biodiversity and our land managers.
Our land managers will also benefit from action on climate change, because climate change threatens to undermine Australia’s food security. Agricultural productivity is projected to decline by 2030 over much of eastern Australia due to increased drought, reduced water resources and higher temperatures. That is a huge threat to our rural communities and to Queensland’s economy which we must address. Already we are going to need to draw on the best knowledge and experience of the agricultural sector to help us adapt and to ensure food security in the years ahead. Frankly, that is all the more reason not to deplete the precious underground water resources of the Great Artesian Basin on which much of our farming relies with coal seam gas mining, but that is a story for another day.
I said in my first speech in this place that I could not think of a greater honour than to be part of the parliament that passes climate laws. One day our great-grandchildren will talk about this day, and they will thank all of us in this chamber for having the foresight and the good sense to finally start to take action on this most pressing of global issues. So it is with unshakeable hope for our future that I commend this bill to the house.