House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Questions without Notice

Climate Change

2:02 pm

Photo of Jennie GeorgeJennie George (Throsby, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on recent reports on the impact of climate change on Australia and Australia’s response to the global challenge of climate change?

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank very much the member for Throsby for her question. Australia must not forget the fact that we are one of the hottest and driest continents on earth and therefore will feel the impact of climate change hardest and fastest of most continents on earth. As Treasury has reminded us also, the fact remains that early action on climate change is better for the economy than late action. It is also less costly. By reverse logic, and also consistent with our advice, if you defer action on climate change, the cost of adjustment to the economy becomes much greater later on.

The release of the report of the House committee inquiry into climate change and environmental impacts on coastal communities represents an important contribution to the national debate on climate change. Uncontrolled climate change could see a global sea level rise of one metre or more by 2100 and more intense storms threatening coastal housing and infrastructure. The report notes that in New South Wales coastal flooding, erosion and hazards currently cost around $200 million a year. Furthermore, more than 200,000 buildings along the state’s coast are vulnerable. If sea levels rose by 0.9 metres, 4,700 residential building lots along Lake Macquarie waterway foreshore alone would be inundated. In Queensland, coastal communities such as the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast are particularly vulnerable. With almost 250,000 vulnerable coastal buildings, Queensland is at the highest risk of all Australian states from projected sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion. In Victoria, more than 80,000 coastal buildings and infrastructure are at risk from the projected sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion, including some 18,000 dwellings in the Western Port region alone, valued, I am advised, in the vicinity of some $2 billion. In the Northern Territory, some 900 coastal buildings, including harbourside and port facilities, are vulnerable. In South Australia, more than 60,000 buildings along the state’s coast are likely to be at risk from sea level rise. In Tasmania, within the next 50 to 100 years, 21 per cent of Tasmania’s coast is at risk of erosion and recession from the sea level rising, affecting 17,000 coastal buildings.

Opposition Members:

Opposition members interjecting

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

In Western Australia, more than 94,000 coastal buildings are at risk from projected sea level rise, coastal flooding and erosion. Between Fremantle and Mandurah, an estimated 28,000 buildings and 641 kilometres of road are at risk from erosion due to sea level rising.

Opposition Member:

An opposition member—Rubbish!

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I find the interjections from those opposite quite remarkable. These warnings about coastal inundation of every state in Australia and the Territory are described by those opposite as ‘rubbish’. We simply note carefully what the report has said. The fact is that Australia has more to lose through continued inaction on climate change than do our competitor economies. That is why the government is exerting every effort through this place to see the passage of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which we would use to set Australia up for a lower carbon future. That is why the Australian government is equally active globally to secure a strong global agreement on climate change as well.

I indicated last week that the bill will be reintroduced into the House. It will be debated in the House this week and voted on in the House in the week beginning Monday, 16 November. It will be introduced in the Senate immediately after the vote in the House and it will be voted on in the Senate in the week beginning 23 November.

The government welcomes the negotiations which are underway between it and the opposition. I am pleased to hear from Minister Wong that negotiations have commenced and are proceeding in good faith. I would like to personally thank the member for Groom for his genuine efforts to engage with the government and to reach an outcome that will finally deliver action on climate change. The Leader of the Opposition has been right in his observations when he has said that the ‘biggest element in the fight against climate change has to be an emissions trading scheme’. Furthermore, he was right when he said:

… our first-hand experience in implementing … an emissions trading system would be of considerable assistance in our international discussions and negotiations aimed at achieving an effective global climate change agreement.

As he said elsewhere:

… climate change is a fact, not a theory.

Australia needs these good-faith negotiations to work to give business the certainty they need for the future. We need it for the national interest and we need it for business certainty and we also need it to ensure that the climate change outcome for Australia delivers a financially and economically responsible outcome but one which is equally environmentally credible. We therefore welcome the negotiations underway between government and opposition on this. We have brought these bills back to the parliament because it is the right thing to do, it is the responsible thing to do and it is in Australia’s national interest that we do so as well.

On the global front, those opposite and others will have noted recent statements by the Prime Minister of Denmark, Prime Minister Rasmussen, who delivered a speech in which he called on all leaders to increase their engagement in negotiations in the lead-up to Copenhagen over the next six weeks. To give immediate effect to this, Prime Minister Rasmussen, as chair of the Conference of Parties, has asked a number of leaders to work closely with him in the lead-up to Copenhagen. Prime Minister Rasmussen noted in his speech:

Negotiations have been ongoing for almost two years and progress has been painfully slow. Clearly, at current speed, we will not make it in the remaining weeks.

The leaders engaged by Prime Minister Rasmussen will conduct regular discussions in the lead-up to Copenhagen, focusing on delivering effective action on climate change. Leaders’ engagement is critical to increase the political momentum around the world to delivering a decent outcome at Copenhagen, to capture commitments already made in an ambitious and comprehensive global agreement and to guide ongoing negotiations for the future as well.

This is critical for Australia. Our national actions are important through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. That is why our negotiations with the member for Groom and the opposition are so important. Equally, and more importantly, global action through the negotiations in the lead-up to Copenhagen are fundamental to delivering a lower carbon future for the planet, because, as we have been warned today by this House committee report on coastal inundation, the real costs for Australia of continued inaction on climate change are deep and enduring and damaging to our economy and damaging to the nation’s environment. It is time for national action and global action on climate change.