House debates

Monday, 26 November 2018

Private Members' Business

Climate Change

6:26 pm

Photo of Kerryn PhelpsKerryn Phelps (Wentworth, Independent) Share this | Hansard source

I rise in support of the notice of motion moved by the member for Mayo calling on the government to:

(a) maintain its commitment to the Paris Agreement and its targets; and

(b) take:

  (i) genuine and meaningful action to meet those targets; and

  (ii) significantly greater action to reduce Australia's greenhouse emissions …

The scientific consensus on climate change is in: climate change is real and we must act as a nation to do our part to help reduce its impact. In the recent Wentworth by-election one of the major issues people in the electorate raised with me was climate change. Unfortunately in Australia there has been a major disconnect between the desire of a clear majority of Australians for meaningful and immediate action on climate change and the current government's ongoing inability to produce any coherent policy to address it. As a nation and as global citizens we must embrace pathways to effectively cut greenhouse gas emissions while safeguarding national economic prosperity and affordable, reliable energy for all Australians. Implementing solutions that are effective, efficient and do not discriminate or create inequality is our real challenge in this debate.

In 2002 when I was serving as AMA president we held a summit on climate change and human health policy. There are enormous public health implications of climate change, such as heat related deaths and illnesses, vectorborne illnesses, waterborne illnesses like gastroenteritis, reduced food production such as reduced fish populations, and air pollution related illnesses such as asthma. The World Health Organization estimates there will be 250,000 additional deaths globally per year between 2030 and 2050 due to climate change. Those of us most vulnerable to these effects are children, the poor, the elderly and those who are already sick. It is clear that something needs to be done.

By listening during the by-election campaign I learned from the voters that they wanted action and I made it a key part of my platform. During the campaign I announced my intentions on climate policy: transition to 100 per cent renewable energy, 50 per cent by 2030; restore a credible scientific research based Climate Change Authority to inform government policy; oppose any federal government underwriting of new coal fired power generation; stop government subsidies of new fossil fuel developments, including the proposed Adani mine; meet our commitments under the Paris climate agreement as a minimum; ban political donations by fossil fuel companies; and establish a register to force all senators and members to disclose meetings with fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists.

Contrast this to the current government, which is dominated by climate sceptics. The former member for Wentworth and former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, made this clear when he was speaking at the Australian Bar Association's annual conference in Sydney recently. Mr Turnbull reportedly said that a climate sceptic group within his own party held the line:

… if you don't do what we want, we will blow the show up …

He was quoted as saying:

The truth is … the Liberal Party and the Coalition is not capable of dealing with climate change.

This is simply not good enough when an overwhelming proportion of Australians are concerned about the effects of climate change. The latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report shows the urgent need for global action on climate change. The report is groundbreaking in that it looks at the impacts of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to two degrees Celsius. It finds that reaching the lower target would lessen the risk of drought, floods and extreme heat. The authors of the report said urgent and unprecedented changes are needed to reach the lower target. The half-degree difference could prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic.

Solving the climate change crisis requires vision and leadership. The Prime Minister's thought bubble on the day the IPCC report was released of overturning the ban on building nuclear reactors in Australia was not and is not the answer. We saw how that worked out for the people of Fukushima. The people of Wentworth and of Australia generally want decisive action on cutting greenhouse emissions and a well-researched and deliverable plan for a just transition from coal to renewables. Australia must eventually source all our energy requirements from renewable sources in order to limit the effects of climate change. This will require Australia coming together around an agreed plan. I will be guided by experts on the timing and pace at which Australia can responsibly transition to 100 per cent renewals, but I want the experts on climate and energy to develop this plan.

One of the ways to drive a reduction in emissions is to shift away from coal. Coal is old technology that will never be able to become clean. Thermal coal-fired power generation needs to be phased out in an orderly way as renewable sources become more affordable and available. Taxpayers' money should be invested in creating the long-term, sustainable transition to renewable technologies, not propping up environmentally harmful fossil fuels. We have abundant natural resources to harness. Renewable solar and wind are now cheaper forms of electricity generation than new coal-fired power plants. The current lack of policy certainty is hindering investment.

Time is running out for an effective national policy to address climate change. The longer we wait, the more expensive and difficult this transition becomes. We can and we must all assume responsibility for supporting and embracing change for our children, for our land and for our planet.

Debate adjourned.


Mark Duffett
Posted on 27 Nov 2018 1:00 pm

Using Fukushima to dismiss nuclear energy is fatuous. At Fukushima the worst happened, a massive earthquake and tsunami, (both of which will not happen in Australia), and still no one died from radiation (the ignorance which led to massive unwarranted sustained evacuations is a different story). So much so that Fukushima was the basis for deeper and better informed thinkers than Ms Phelps, such as George Monbiot, to switch their support *towards* nuclear energy. Moreover, in technological development terms, using the 1960s technology of Fukushima to write off nuclear is like saying we should stop doing aviation because of the Hindenburg. If this is the best a candidate supposedly elected partly on the basis of climate action can offer, we’re stuffed.