House debates

Wednesday, 28 October 2009


Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts Committee; Report

Debate resumed from 26 October, on motion by Ms George:

That the House take note of the report.

4:04 pm

Photo of Mal WasherMal Washer (Moore, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts called Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. This is an important report with significant national impact. The key message which emerged from this inquiry is that the issue is very significant and worrying, resulting in a need for national leadership to manage Australia’s coastal zone in the context of climate change. The committee has considered the issues in great detail and the 47 recommendations focus on the provision of national leadership in collaboration with state and local governments and on engaging local communities in this initiative.

A large percentage—in fact, some 80 per cent—of Australians live in the coastal areas, and this concentration of population with its attendant infrastructure makes us particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. There is a new urgency in improving the management of our coastal zones, and it is time to act now. There is strong scientific consensus that climate change is leading to rising sea levels and extreme climatic events. There is no question that rising sea levels will result in increases in flooding associated with high tides, storms and heavy rainfall. We need to alert coastal communities to the coming challenges and ensure that they are fully engaged in addressing them.

Some of the key recommendations of the report address the need for nationally-consistent planning guidelines; increased research on sea level rise and extreme sea level advance; improved emergency management, including the establishment of a coastal natural disaster mitigation program; and the integration of the surf-lifesaving network into early warning systems. There are many issues that will need consideration: building codes, insurance matters and a comprehensive national assessment of the vulnerability of coastal infrastructure. We need to take account of the large numbers of Australians who holiday in coastal areas, putting pressure on local services and infrastructure. The Australian Bureau of Statistics could provide accurate data on the numbers and impacts of tourists in order to enable better matching of resources with demand for infrastructure and services. The committee has also recommended that the Australian government develop a coastal sustainability charter as part of a new intergovernmental agreement on the coastal zone to be managed through COAG.

I thank all the committee members for their hard work and their bipartisan support on this important national issue. I especially thank the chair, the member for Throsby—who is a good friend of mine and did a great job—and all the members that served on the committee who were there from the beginning to the end. The staff, and especially the secretary, are to be commended on their excellent work in producing this important report. I particularly thank Dr Kate Sullivan for her work in leading the inquiry and also Julia.

There is great interest in this issue in the community at large. The number of written submissions and presentations by witnesses to address the terms of reference, together with the committee hearings around Australia, have resulted in a report which makes a significant contribution to the national debate. We need to work collaboratively to address the problems associated with climate change and their impact on our coastal communities. Although some of the committee members—and especially myself, because I have had a grizzle in the past—say that governments traditionally ignore committee reports, this one was not ignored, and that is terrific.

4:08 pm

Photo of Craig ThomsonCraig Thomson (Dobell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is an honour to follow the member for Moore, who has worked so hard and so constructively across party lines on this report. A report can only be so important when it has that bipartisan support. If that does not happen, then the report is usually consigned to the dustbins of this parliament. The member for Moore worked very hard with the member for Throsby to make this report unanimous, and I think that is very important. It is also an honour to be speaking before the member for Lyons, who in parliament today asked a question on this report. I know that he has a deep concern about the effects of climate change on coastal New South Wales. He has his seat several seats above me, but we both share the same coast and many of the same problems.

I made two submissions to this inquiry. I was privileged to have the committee come and visit the seat of Dobell and the Central Coast. In fact, it was the first visit it made in relation to looking at how climate change affects the coast of Australia. That is an important thing, because the electorate of Dobell is greatly affected by climate change. It is a beautiful place, probably the most beautiful place in Australia, but unfortunately the environment is very fragile. We have a thin coastline with developments there. In the middle of the electorate there is a beautiful lake which is prone to flooding as it has access to the sea. An issue such as rising sea levels affects everyone on the Central Coast, particularly those in my electorate.

The report is also important because it creates national awareness of how climate change affects the places in which we live. We are engaged in a debate on this in the main chamber in which often the contributions are theoretical, with members talking about particular models, and very partisan in their approach. But this inquiry actually went out and visited places and in its report we find real people and real effects on real communities, so that is something else that this inquiry should be commended for. That is so important because it puts a human face on what is happening with climate change. It recognises the very real risks and threats to the areas of population on our coastlines which come from rising sea levels and storm events. Also, it pulls no punches about what needs to be done to tackle the issues.

While they were in my region the committee members heard that not too long before they visited there had been a major storm event which had caused extensive flooding across the region and serious erosion of the backyards of many oceanfront homes. They saw firsthand some of the erosion. In my second submission I was able to show the committee images of a subsequent storm event, which I will talk about shortly. The standing committee’s report has a large list of recommendations. There are in fact 47, covering the sorts of measures that we as a nation need to take to counter the major issues facing coastal communities. The overriding message is that we must act now, not later down the track but immediately. That is what this government is doing: acting now. We are acting on the wider issue of climate change, yet there are still those opposite who are living in denial.

When I walked along the beach at North Entrance earlier this year, inspecting the damage done by a major storm, the sorts of hazards that many of my constituents face by living so close to the ocean hit home for me. A whole street of homes had lost large chunks of their backyards. There were bits of fence overhanging the yards, concrete pathways sticking out, broken rails and trees uprooted along the fence lines. In the backyard of one of these houses a beautiful glass fence had been completely washed away. The residents had lost over four metres of their backyard because of this storm surge. Details of that particular storm surge were part of the supplementary submission that I made to the standing committee whose report I am referring to now.

This report is comprehensive and covers most of the country’s coastline. The recommendations are far-reaching and extensive as to what we must do to tackle the many issues facing coastal communities. Given that there are 47 recommendations, I will look at some of them as there is not enough time to go through all of them. Although I know the member for Fadden is riveted and wants me to go into greater detail, nevertheless I will restrict myself to just a few. Recommendation 2 states:

The Committee notes the importance of mitigation measures in addressing climate change impacts and accordingly recommends that the Australian Government continue to take urgent action to ensure that Australia can best contribute to a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

That is what we are doing. I am among many members who have been involved today in the debate on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation in the House. It is time that the opposition supported this legislation. Time has run out, excuses have run out and we need to act on our climate—and this particular report recognises that. Another recommendation is:

… the Australian Government increase its investment in coastal based climate change research on:

  • sea level rise projections and the dynamics of polar ice sheets, particularly in the Antarctic
  • extreme sea level events, including as a result of storm surge and tropical cyclones
  • regional variations in sea level rise—

and the effects that changes in the oceans will have on Australia’s coral reefs particularly in relation to—

higher ocean temperatures and changing ocean currents

It was great to see recommendation 5 of the committee, namely, that the Department of Climate Change continue to fund research on such topics as establishing the wave climate around the coast so as to identify locations most at risk from wave erosion. Proper research is essential, especially in places in my electorate such as the North Entrance which on two occasions in the last few years have been greatly eroded by storm surges.

Another positive recommendation is that the federal government continue funding under the Climate Change Adaptation Skills for Professionals Program. It was also recommended the Australian government liaise with tertiary institutions to ensure an adequate supply of appropriately skilled coastal planners and engineers. Recommendation 9 reads:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a coastal zone research network within the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility and that it complete a coastal zone research plan.

The committee also recommended the Australian government establish a national coastal zone database to improve access to and consistency of information relevant to coastal zone adaptation. I have been calling for better cooperation between councils and state government and federal government departments and agencies in tackling the issues associated with climate change for some time and in particular in this place on a number of occasions. I am glad to see the committee has recommended that this take place and that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government undertake a study into the human and resourcing needs of local governments to effectively plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change. I have also spoken frequently about disaster mitigation, especially since the June 2007 long weekend on the Central Coast which caused widespread flooding and damage and over a thousand people to be evacuated. The report states in recommendation14:

To further enhance Australia’s disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery arrangements in the event of possible major coastal disasters, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government establish a grants program, the Coastal National Disaster Mitigation Program, to fund natural disaster mitigation projects in the Australian coastal zone.

The Committee also recommends that the Australian Emergency Management Committee … consider the following issues:

  • improved data on coastal disaster risk assessment and vulnerable coastal sites
  • improved access and evacuation routes for coastal communities;
  • improved coastal community awareness of and resilience to natural disasters
  • improved coordination of coastal disaster mitigation arrangements with other initiatives currently underway, such as reviews of the Australian Building Code and land use planning policies to take into account climate change impacts.

These are all important recommendations.

The surf lifesaving community on the Central Coast is a very strong community and it was good to see that the committee has made recommendations in relation to the role of surf lifesaving in the use of their network into emergency services preparedness, planning, and response systems and activities. I know that the good members who run Surf Lifesaving Central Coast, particularly Chad Griffith, who is the CEO there, will welcome this particular recommendation.

On the issue of insurance, the committee has recommended that the Australian government request the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the projected impacts of climate change and related insurance matters. Some of the focuses of this recommendation are:

  • insurance coverage of coastal properties, given the concentration of Australia’s population and infrastructure along the coast
  • estimates of the value of properties potentially exposed to this risk
  • insurance affordability, availability and uptake
  • existing and emerging gaps in insurance coverage, with a particular focus on coverage of coastal risks such as storm surge/inundation, landslip/erosion and sea level rise …

This is a very important thing for people who have properties by the sea and it needs to be addressed by the government. In the seat of Dobell there are three areas in particular that have been hard hit by storm surges. The beach at Wamberal has been washed away on a number of occasions, as have the beaches at North Entrance. These beaches have extensive development on them. The beach at the little cove at Cabbage Tree Bay, Norah Head, has been closed for over 18 months now because there are houses on the cliff tops that are literally falling into the bay as erosion has occurred due to storm surges. My electorate bears the full brunt of these storm surges on the coast, but it also bears the brunt of storm surges that come up through The Entrance and enter the Tuggerah Lakes system which, in 2007, caused extensive flooding inland around the lake where most of the population in my electorate lives. That resulted in over a thousand people having to be evacuated and moved and a massive coordination effort.

This report makes many recommendations in relation to our being prepared. It makes many recommendations in relation to action that we need to take to mitigate these natural disasters. It makes many recommendations as to why we need to act on climate change. This is a very important report that brings home to everyone who lives on the coast the need to act. We cannot put our heads in the sand and hope that this issue goes away. It is affecting our community now. The report should be commended and the recommendations should be endorsed.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the document be noted. In calling the honourable member for Lyne, I would also like to welcome his daughter Olivia to the public gallery of the Main Committee.

4:20 pm

Photo of Robert OakeshottRobert Oakeshott (Lyne, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you to all in this place for demonstrating family-friendly conditions. I, like the previous speaker, live on the coast. In raising a question in question time this afternoon I had to put up with some ribbing from colleagues because I did not declare an interest—so I will now. I do live on the beach. It is the classic Storm Boy house. I will be directly affected if the three tiers of government do not address this issue and address it soon. I believe this report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate, is a seminal report for coastline management in Australia today. I congratulate the members for Throsby and Moore and all the members of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts. I think this is an outstanding start to the hard work that has to be done by the three tiers of government.

On the mid-North Coast of New South Wales there are two standout locations that are currently under threat: the Lake Cattai community in the Port Macquarie-Hastings Council area and the Old Bar community in the Greater Taree City Council area. I was very pleased that the committee agreed to meet with residents from the Old Bar community and to see in the final report the evidence of one particular resident, Mr Ross Keys, being used as an example of the issues at stake. I am very thankful to the member for Throsby, in particular, for doing that. That example is a demonstration of how real this issue is and how time sensitive it is. I have heard comments over the last 48 hours that imply that coastal erosion and sea level rises are issues for 100 years away. They are not. They are here, they are now and they need to be addressed through a coordinated approach from the three tiers of government, led by the Commonwealth, which is indicated in the recommendations of this report. That is what makes it so seminal. Now it needs to be taken up by the executive and given a full and adequate response.

The example of Mr Keys, for those who are not aware and have not read the report, is one that should ring alarm bells for all of us. He has been given demolition orders on two properties. He could rebuild at the furthest end of his property, away from the beach, but he has basically lost two houses to the ocean. He was blind-sided by another issue—the global financial crisis—which meant he had a great deal of trouble refinancing to do the rebuild. Here is a bloke living on the coast in Old Bar who has been hit by two significant global issues in the last 18 months. That is a real, timely example of the importance of government tackling this issue and starting to address it.

I am very pleased with this report. I now ask all members in this place to move into the next stage, which is to get government to respond to these recommendations and respond in full. That was the exact reason I raised the question in question time this afternoon about how many of these 47 recommendations government is going to take up. I urge all members in this debate not only to talk about the wonderful work that has been done on this document but to now start to put the blowtorch on the executive to turn those 47 recommendations into reality in a full response from government.

It would be a travesty if these recommendations sit on a shelf as we see, sadly too often, in the good committee work that is being done in this parliament. So I urge the Prime Minister, the relevant ministers and the executive generally to take up these 47 recommendations—the heavy lifting has in many ways been done—and use the report as an actionable document to start to coordinate the three tiers of government and answer some of the difficult questions around private title and public lands along the coast. The issue that the report identifies as being raised most frequently and most outstanding is legal liability along the coast. It is a difficult question to answer on the ‘buyer beware’ principle regarding private title and whether taxpayers’ money should be used to assist and compensate those who arguably should have been fully aware of what they were purchasing and the implications of the purchase. I am luke warm on that, and therefore the ALRC recommendation is important.

What gets me across the line, however—and this should hopefully get the taxpayers of Australia across the line—is the loss of public lands. There are some beautiful public lands along our coastline that have been protected through many hard fights in many locations and in many communities. It would be incredibly sad to see those public lands lost through no action from government or through the inability of local councils to adequately resource and protect those lands.

The fact that the Commonwealth has come in hard through this committee process is outstanding. The challenge now is for the executive to respond. I would strongly urge that, not only in the interests of the members for Throsby and Moore and all involved in this work but, more importantly, in the interests of the communities along the coastlines of Australia that are affected—in my electorate they are the communities of Old Bar and Lake Cattai, who are directly affected now—the executive responds as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. I would hope we are going to have a response with the full take-up of the 47 recommendations and with the government actioning that uptake as quickly as possible—preferably, in my view, before the end of the year. That is the challenge for all of us: push government across the line to do that. I hope everyone puts their shoulder to the wheel to do that, because I think we have a pretty good starting point with the work that has been done already by the committee.

4:28 pm

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am delighted to speak to the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. I want to begin by congratulating the chair of the committee, Ms Jennie George, the member for Throsby, who did an outstanding job. She showed real leadership in leading a bipartisan parliamentary committee. She was very ably supported by the member for Moore, Dr Mal Washer. In fact, all members, including my colleague the member for Fowler, worked very hard in the true spirit of bipartisanship. The subject of the committee’s inquiry concerns all of us.

I pay tribute to the committee secretariat for doing such an excellent job. No-one could have asked for a better inquiry secretary than Dr Kate Sullivan, who is a true professional. So, too, is our committee secretary, Ms Julia Morris, as well as research officers Ms Sophie Nicolle and Ms Adrienne Batts, and administrative officers Ms Kane Moir and Ms Jazmine Rakic. I thank all of them for doing such an excellent job.

As you know, we were charged with inquiring into issues related to climate change and environmental pressures experienced by the Australian coastal areas, particularly in the context of coastal population growth, having regard to:

  • existing policies and programs related to coastal zone management, taking in the catchment-coast-ocean continuum
  • the environmental impacts of coastal population growth and mechanisms to promote sustainable use of coastal resources
  • the impact of climate change on coastal areas and strategies to deal with climate change adaptation, particularly in response to projected sea level rise
  • mechanisms to promote sustainable coastal communities
  • governance and institutional arrangements for the coastal zone.

You can see the breadth of the terms of reference. The committee did such a good job over 18 months. It is noteworthy that there were more than 100 written submissions and something like 180 exhibits in this inquiry. In the public hearings that I have participated in since I became a member of this committee I have been truly impressed with the sincerity of all the witnesses, who clearly understood the issues and challenges that face us as a nation in addressing climate change. It is true that national leadership, as the chair of the committee, Ms George, has pointed out, is required to address climate change, and that is why the Rudd government, as we speak, is anxious to get the CPRS legislation through the parliament before the Copenhagen conference in December.

This is indeed a great report. I like to refer to it as the George report because the chair of the committee put her stamp on it—

Photo of Julia IrwinJulia Irwin (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Hear, hear!

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

as the member for Fowler knows so well. If you do not believe me, you can look at the tremendous media interest that has been generated following the tabling of this report on Monday evening. It is quite extraordinary. I begin by highlighting the Sydney Morning Herald from yesterday. Full marks to Marian Wilkinson, the environmental editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, who did such an excellent job in reporting extensively on page 1. If you go over to page 7 and look under the headlines, you see ‘Councils “damned” on coastal plans’, ‘Beachfront properties may not get cover’, ‘Coalmine canaries face extinction in fatal trap’, ‘Another sting in the tail of mosquito-borne viruses’ and ‘Flood risk multiplies as the seas rise’. Full marks to Fairfax and the Sydney Morning Herald for doing such a great job in reporting it to those of us who come from Sydney and New South Wales.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am sure the honourable member does not intend that to be a prop!

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is not intended to be a prop, but I will give credit where credit is due. On page 1 again, this time of the AgeFairfax again. I have never seen anything like this. This really points to the substance of the report: ‘$2bn threat from rising oceans’ by Adam Morton and Peter Ker. The report warns of Western Port damage. If you turn to page 6 you get substance: ‘Running the rule over risk’, ‘Rising to the challenge: sea level rise impacts in Victoria’, ‘Councils at risk over coastal projects’, ‘Emission cuts “well short of a safe result”‘, ‘Exotic disease risk rises’ and ‘Call to set new deadline for treaty’. This is fantastic media coverage and will go a long way to educating the public.

It does not stop there. I have to give credit to News Ltd. On page 1 of the Australian

Photo of Julia IrwinJulia Irwin (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There are more?

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, there are more! In ‘Beachfront blitz to curb development’ Andrew Fraser starts off by sending a very powerful message across Australia:

A Federal parliamentary report has flagged new powers that would allow Canberra to block what it sees as inappropriate beachfront developments.

You have only to look at the photo in this newspaper to get some idea, as in the Fairfax press, how serious this is. It goes on to say:

The report, tabled yesterday in parliament, says national guidelines should be drawn up for development in sensitive coastal regions, and calls for local councils to operate within these guidelines.

It goes on and on. There is some very good reading there too.

It does not stop there. I have to give the Canberra Times a commercial, too, because they pick up on the title of our report—”‘Time to act is now’ on coastal climate risks”. David McLennan gives a very comprehensive report into the report of the committee.

This report is quite something. If I go to the substance of the report, which is contained in the recommendations—and there are some 47 of them—you will get some idea of the extent and breadth of this report and why it is important to act now. The recommendations are calling on the Australian government to:

… commission a study on international coastal zone governance arrangements, policies and programs for addressing coastal climate change impacts, and adaptation strategies. The completed study should be made public.

I could not agree more with that. At recommendation 2:

The Committee notes the importance of mitigation measures in addressing climate change impacts and accordingly recommends that the Australian Government continue to take urgent action to ensure that Australia can best contribute to a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions.

I must applaud Dr Mal Washer, the member for Moore, who has really put his back into this report in getting a message through to our political opponents. I am sure he is playing a very important educational role, because it would be wonderful if we could get a bipartisan result to our CPRS legislation—which, as I referred to earlier, is being debated in the chamber as I speak—before we go to Copenhagen.

Photo of Stuart RobertStuart Robert (Fadden, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are working on it.

Photo of John MurphyJohn Murphy (Lowe, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am very grateful to the member who says that they are working on it, because the science is in no doubt. For those odd members in the other place who are just very selective in looking at the temperatures of the globe over the last decade instead of looking at what has happened over the last 100 years against a background of the rising CO2 emissions, this is so disingenuous and clearly has no support from the rational scientists. The committee’s recommendations go on to make it clear that the government has to increase its investment in coastal based climate change research. Recommendation 4 states:

The Committee recommends that the coastal zone component of the National Climate Change Science Framework and proposed National Climate Change Science strategy be clearly identified by the proposed high level coordination group and involve key coastal stakeholders.

In recommendation 5 the committee goes on to recommend that the Department of Climate Change continue to fund research, which is so important, to establish the wave climate around the coasts so as to identify those locations most at risk from wave erosion and to examine how the wave climate nationally interacts with the varying landform types. The committee recommends at recommendation 6:

… that the Australian Government continue funding under the Climate Change Adaptation Skills for Professionals Program. In addition, the Australian Government should liaise with tertiary institutions to ensure an adequate supply of appropriately skilled coastal planners and engineers.

The committee recommends that the government establish a coastal zone research network with the National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility, and that it complete a coastal zone research plan. Further, the committee recommended that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government:

… undertake a study into the human and resourcing needs of local governments to effectively plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

And that:

this study be carried out in conjunction with the Australian Local Government Association and the National Sea Change Taskforce.

This is terribly important. I do not really think that the local governments around our country understand the magnitude and the implications for them. At recommendation 11, the committee recommends:

… that the Australian Government establish a National Coastal Zone Database to improve access to and consistency of information relevant to coastal zone adaptation.

The report goes on with further very important recommendations. At recommendation 17:

The Committee recommends that the Department of Climate Change, in collaboration with the Queensland Government, CSIRO and Indigenous communities in the Torres Strait, undertake a major study into the vulnerability of the Torres Strait to the impacts of climate change and provide assistance in the development of an adaptation plan.

The committee, at recommendation 19, further recommends:

that the Australian Government request the Productivity Commission to undertake an inquiry into the projected impacts of climate change and related insurance matters, with a particular focus on:

and this is terribly important—

  • insurance coverage of coastal properties, given the concentration of Australia’s population and infrastructure along the coast
  • estimates of the value of properties potentially exposed to this risk
  • insurance affordability, availability and uptake
  • existing and emerging gaps in insurance coverage …
  • the need for a clear definition of the circumstances under which an insurance claim is payable due to storm surge/inundation, landslip/erosion and sea level rise, as well as due to permanent submersion of some or all of the land …

This is a very substantial recommendation, and the Productivity Commission will certainly have its work cut out dealing with all that.

There is a further recommendation that requires the Building Code of Australia to employ cyclone building codes and revise them with the objective of increasing resilience to climate change. The report further states:

Noting the gap in research on legal issues and climate change impacts on the coastal zone, the Committee recommends that the Australian Government request that the Australian Law Reform Commission undertake an urgent inquiry into this area, with particular focus on—

the clarification of liability issues. And it goes on. Recommendation 26 states:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government:

  • expand the list of national priority areas identified under the Caring for our Country program to include climate change impacts on biodiversity

Recommendation 29 recommends that the Australian government:

  • continue working with the Queensland Government and local councils under the existing Great Barrier Reef Intergovernmental Agreement to improve land use planning in the catchment

And further, very importantly:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government urgently commission a detailed climate change vulnerability assessment for Kakadu National Park, in consultation with the park’s traditional owners and other stakeholders and drawing on the results of the ‘first pass’ National Coastal Vulnerability Assessment of the park.

Importantly, the committee recommends that the government:

… work through the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and in consultation with Birds Australia and other stakeholders to implement a National Shorebirds Protection Strategy.

And further, that the government also:

… work with the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council and other stakeholders to develop an action plan to:

  • ensure that coastal buffers, coastal habitat corridors and high ecological value areas are identified and included in Commonwealth, state and local government management processes

Time, the enemy, is going to beat me here. But I encourage anyone who is taking an interest in this to go through the whole 47 recommendations, because they are ample testament to how serious and important this issue is. As it says on page 1 of this report, ‘The time to act is now.’ This is a most important challenge facing our government and, indeed, the world.

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the honourable member for Lowe. Before calling the member for Dunkley, I would just remind all honourable members of the provisions of standing order 64, which provide that no member is to be referred to by his or her name.

4:43 pm

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Cities) Share this | | Hansard source

I follow the member for Lowe in this debate on the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts called Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. I do not need to read out all the recommendations of the report; he has done that for me. So for people who are listening or who are interested in reading about the recommendations, the member for Lowe has done us all a service, and I thank him for that.

I hope to shed some light on some of the recommendations. But, first of all, I commend the committee for its work. I had the good fortune of chairing this committee in an earlier incarnation and I recognise the bipartisan approach that was embraced by the members on the committee, particularly those who have now been elevated. The member for Throsby and I shared many a committee hearing and inquiry where we looked at things including sustainable cities; how we embed sustainability in our way of life, in business, in commerce; and how we provide reliable information for consumers and the business community to make wise purchases. Many good hours of work went into some very meaningful recommendations.

What does not always happen, though, is the action that should flow from these committee reports. This report highlights earlier inquiries along the same lines essentially coming to a very similar conclusion—that is, the need for coordination, cooperation and collaboration between levels of government and government agencies, and taking a more strategic approach to the management and care of this very important part of our continent and landscape, the zones where we live where there is a lot commerce and lot of agriculture. That is a consistent theme running through the House of Representatives standing committee reports Management of the Australian coastal zone in 1980 and The injured coastline: protection of the coastal environment in 1991, and the 1993 report from the Resource Assessment Commission, Coastal zone inquiry: final report.

It was not until the Howard government was elected in 1996 that we had a coordinated approach to coastal management. I know it well; I helped prepare the provision of the Coasts and Clean Seas initiative that sought to highlight the pressures on our coastline. That was born in large part out of my own experience on the Mornington Peninsula, where we are often concerned that the coastline is loved to within an inch of its life and could be loved to death. A lot of work has gone on through very many committed community organisations and the local council to revegetate, restore and rehabilitate the coastal area. The biggest threat to the coast is often its own popularity. In the community that I represent we are host to the largest remnant coastal vegetation in greater Melbourne—that strip line from Eel Race Road, running all the way down to Long Island, an area which is largely the Seaford foreshore. It is very precious and very important, and it is well recognised as a priority within our community.

Embracing the best that all of us have to offer is the essence of this report. This report adds another pressure to act, and that is the impact of climate change. It comes as no surprise that some of the remarks are perhaps a little less gracious than they could be in the climate change debate currently going on in the parliament and what action we can take—and that has relevance to this report. The report recognises that inundation, the risk of rising sea levels, the viciousness of storm events and sea surges—not to mention where they may combine into a horrific cacophony of devastation—have an awful impact on coastal areas. Some of the locations that have been identified as being at risk include yours, Mr Deputy Speaker Slipper, and my own, the Mornington Peninsula.

We need to make sure, though, that this is not just a bolt-on body of work—which, sadly, we see too often with the Rudd government. We are having a debate at the moment about cities policy. Those who have been here for any length of time would know that I have been all over that like a fat kid on a Smartie, if I can put it that way, for some time. I instigated and led the sustainable cities work, where again the emphasis was on inculcating this thinking into all the systems and decision making of government, not just bolting it on as an afterthought or as a feature piece. This is the concern that I have with many of the population pressure policy approaches, let us call them, of the current government, and the worry I have here. You could set up an agency and have a very visible post-it note response to this challenge but see very little change in the way decisions are made. That is the risk. This report, like the ones before it, says that kind of approach would be tokenistic and largely ineffective, and what is needed is a more coordinated, collaborative and integrated approach, a strategic approach that involves agencies and institutions, all levels of government and individual citizens in a way that sees a process of change and action rather than the odd event here and there that might be good press but does not actually address the challenges that this report outlines.

That is the risk—that this good body of work will just be picked up and dealt with like safety was 20 or 30 years ago, where you would go into some companies and they would say, ‘Safety’s important to us; we’ve got a safety officer.’ That was dragged out there as a very visible demonstration of their interest. We have all learnt that that is not how it works, that safety is everybody’s business, and we have seen the changes that resulted from that awakening.

This is the same thing here. We can have a very visible agency or effort that orbits everything else that goes on within government and not actually see any change to the day-to-day management and operation of the government, of the allocation of resources, of how investments funded by the taxpayer are chosen and implemented and of the support that is needed for private citizens when they making their contribution.

The other risk we have is that we may convince the Australian public that doing one thing will fix this problem. I fear that with some of the debate on the ETS—or the CPRS, as it is termed by this government—it is thought that somehow the government getting what it wants will resolve this problem. That extraordinarily simplistic and misguided message is not one we should be putting out into the community, because it basically relieves everybody of the contribution they need to make because of the belief that somehow this economic instrument that provides for the trading of emissions permits in a cap-and-trade system will solve this problem.

I was concerned that my friend and neighbour the member for Isaacs, Mr Dreyfus, with whom I often share a podium at citizenship ceremonies, offered a doorstop contribution yesterday where he was asked the question:

How much would a five per cent reduction in emissions by 2020 reduce sea levels?

He was on good ground to start with. He said:

We have to start now. We have to get on with the job of reducing emissions.

I do not disagree with anything so far. But then he was pressed further:

How much would a five per cent reduction reduce sea levels?

It was not ‘relieve the increase in sea levels’; it was, ‘How much would a five per cent reduction reduce sea levels?’ My friend and colleague the member for Isaacs said:

It will reduce sea levels.

So a five per cent reduction in Australia under the CPRS will reduce sea levels around the globe! Why wouldn’t you want a piece of that? But what utter nonsense! A five per cent reduction in Australians’ emissions will have a microscopic impact on the increase of sea level. How on earth it will reduce sea levels is beyond me. I respect the member for Isaacs. He has been a part of this inquiry, but he must have had a brain-fade at that point to claim that a five per cent reduction under the CPRS will actually reduce sea levels. The questioner thought that was amusing, because the questioner went on and said:

Do you know by how much?

Rather than quit while he was behind, the member for Isaacs went further and said:

There’s a range within which it will reduce sea levels and doing it down to the millimetre in fact is not possible.

The questioner said:

Will it be a couple of millimetres?

On it went about what the reduction will be. It is unfortunate that some are taking that message out to the community.

Photo of Bruce BillsonBruce Billson (Dunkley, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Sustainable Development and Cities) Share this | | Hansard source

He is a very intelligent man who I have some time and respect for, but to say that a five per cent reduction from a CPRS in Australia is going to reduce global sea levels, in an act of biblical proportions, is something that he may well regret. I hope he clarifies that remark when he gets to speak on this report later. My point is, though, that there is no single action that will bring about the improved resilience and sustainability of our coastal environments, that there are challenges we face and that there is no silver bullet that will address that—certainly not a five per cent CPRS reduction.

The other thing that needs to be recognised is that there are some challenges that need to be worked on further, and there are a number of recommendations that call for further reviews and further work. Some comments have pointed to local government not knowing quite what is going on, and I am pleased that, at least in the communities that I represent, there is a high level of alertness around this topic among the municipal councils that I am involved with. In fact, in other areas throughout Victoria, particularly in Gippsland and the like, they are quite activated by it. Individuals are seeing development opportunities denied them because of concerns about rising sea levels.

My friend Greg Sugars, the Chief Executive of Opteon Property Group, which is Australia’s largest independent property valuer, has released a statement in response to this report being released, and he quite rightly points to the fact that in the commercial area, particularly if the recommendation about insurance schemes led by the Commonwealth and other areas of what I would call foggy law are addressed, there is a real need to engage the professions. Even if you had a nationally inspired insurance scheme, how you would value and price the risk to have policies available and then price the harm or damage that might activate a claim against those policies is very uncharted territory.

Mr Sugars points out that his company and his alliance of property valuers around Australia do nearly a quarter of a million valuations per year for mortgage lenders. That valuation and the certainty that it provides gives comfort to lenders in offering finance, as mortgages, to homebuyers. Those clients will be watching very closely to see what happens to the value of properties and what impact that will have on the ability to attract finance in coastal areas. He emphasises:

One of the key issues will be to provide accurate advice on values of the potentially affected properties, especially if the government looks at a compulsory land insurance scheme.

Valuers will also need to familiarise themselves with any changing planning implications and carefully assess any future insurance considerations when undertaking replacement cost exercises.

In some cases a recommendation is that replacement not proceed where there is a high degree of vulnerability as assessed by some of the tools that are recommended in this report.

In closing, I welcome this report and found it a really interesting read, capturing a number of issues that emphasise the need for sustained, coordinated, collaborative action. There is no single solution to remedy these concerns. I have great admiration for the committee and the members that generated the report. I had the good fortune of working with them over a number of years and I recognise the diligence with which they go about their work. My last point is, though, that this is something that needs hard work and rigour, not headlines and statements of political rhetoric. It actually needs someone to put their shoulder to the wheel. I am confident that the coalition is very interested in this. As part of our broader strategy to improve the sustainability of our economy and of the built environment, this is very valuable input. I congratulate the committee for its work and look forward to the government’s response, whenever that might be forthcoming.

4:57 pm

Photo of Julia IrwinJulia Irwin (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The preference of Australians for coastal living is borne out by any analysis of the spread of our population. As the report notes, 80 per cent of Australians live in the coastal zones around the country, with over 700,000 living close to the sea and less than six metres above sea level. Protecting Australia’s coastal zone in a changing environment is indeed one of the greatest challenges facing our nation. As the report states on its titlepage, the time to act is now. This report makes the case for urgent action and details the first steps to be taken for us to begin to appreciate the full extent of the risks faced by those Australians living in coastal communities and a great many of the 16 million Australians living around our coastline.

A feature of the recommendations in this report is the number which call for further research and data gathering. In looking at the impact of climate change on our coast, there is one thing we know for certain—that is, we need to know a lot more about the factors which can impact on our coastal areas. So it is not surprising to see that from recommendation 1, which calls for a study of coastal zone governance arrangements for addressing coastal climate change impact and adaptation strategies, the major emphasis of this report is on the need for further research. Recommendation 3 calls on the government to increase its investment in coastal based climate change research. Recommendation 5 calls for continued funding for wave climate research. Recommendation 9 calls on the government to establish a coastal zone research network. Recommendation 10 calls for a study of human and resource needs for local government to plan for and adapt to the impacts of climate change. Recommendation 11 calls on the government to set up a national coastal zone database. Recommendation 12 calls for further national coastal vulnerability assessments. Recommendation 13 calls for research into the relationship between climate change and disease. Please be assured I will not go through all 47 recommendations.

Recommendation 16 calls for a comprehensive national assessment of coastal infrastructure vulnerability to inundation from sea level rise and extreme sea level events. Recommendation 18 calls for a major study into the vulnerability of the Torres Strait Islands. Recommendation 19 calls for a Productivity Commission inquiry into insurance of coastal properties. Recommendation 25 calls for the Australian Bureau of Statistics to measure the numbers of tourist demographic changes in coastal communities. Recommendation 30 calls for an urgent detailed climate change vulnerability assessment for Kakadu National Park. Recommendation 35 calls for a national repository identifying Indigenous and non-Indigenous heritage sites in vulnerable coastal areas, and recommendation 42 calls for the expansion of the national coastal zone interface.

So it can be seen that this report sensibly raises more questions than it answers. The calls for research and ongoing monitoring are the key to a focused approach to planning to adapt and deal with the impact of climate change on the coast. Those further recommendations seeking to prepare management plans can only be successful if the research groundwork has been done. We cannot afford to get it wrong when it comes to planning and implementing our response to the coastal impacts of climate change. So the research called for in this report is urgent and vital as it will form the basis for our strategies to deal with the inevitable change to our coast and its impact on the great proportion of our population.

When we look at the key coastal issues, we can see the danger of merely looking at the overall picture. We can agree with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate of a global sea rise of 80 centimetres by 2100, but this must be interpreted in the light of local research. We know that we can expect major impacts and, as much as we can, set them out, as has been done in the 2007 national climate change and adaptation framework, which is quoted in the report as follows:

The coastal zone is vulnerable to sea level rise, increased sea surface temperature, increased storm intensity and frequency, ocean acidification and changes to rainfall, run-off, wave size and direction and ocean currents. The combined influence of sea level rise, storm surge and storm events, including cyclones, may pose severe localised threats and result in damage from shoreline erosion, saltwater inundation, flooding and hyper-velocity winds. Increasing sea surface temperatures can lead to the spread of marine pests and changes in fish stock and bleaching of coral reefs.

That is a prediction that makes the biblical plagues of Egypt sound mild in comparison. In the face of such predictions, you would expect the warning to go out for everyone to head for the hills. But we cannot expect our love for coastal living to be easily dampened. Indeed, we may even expect that the trend to coastal living will increase. And that makes it essential for governments at all levels to plan for the impact of climate change on our coastal areas. The first step in that planning process is, of course, to have access to the most detailed research data. We cannot rely on vague predictions; we need hard data and expert analysis if we are to address the challenges posed by climate change. That is why the emphasis in this report is on that research.

As the committee found in its visits across Australia, in some areas we are already facing the consequences of rising sea levels and storm events. The most serious of these can be seen in the Torres Strait Islands and it is not hard to see the potential impact on such areas as Kakadu National Park. Closer to home storm erosion on the New South Wales Central Coast has exposed more than unstable shores.

The legal consequences and liabilities of individuals and governments require urgent clarification as we can expect more widespread events to cause havoc in coastal communities. Faced with population pressure on our coastal areas, the planning process at all levels of government will be greatly strained. Given the greater research data that this report calls for, we should expect a greater appreciation of the stress placed on coastal areas by development. There can be no argument for allowing inappropriate development in areas at risk from the impacts of climate change. It will be hard enough dealing with the costly and disputed consequences of climate change events on existing private properties and public assets.

This is a landmark report. It places the issue of the impact of climate change on Australia’s coastal zones squarely on the agenda and it makes it plain that the time to act is now. I must add that it has been a privilege to serve as a member of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts during the course of such an important inquiry.

This afternoon, I do wish to pay tribute to a woman who I admire greatly, the committee chair, the member for Throsby, Jennie George. I know that this is an issue close to her heart and one that she has a passion for. As opposition parliamentary secretary with responsibility for coastal development in the previous parliament, the member for Throsby definitely did the lion’s share of the groundwork for Labor’s policy. From this background she has grasped the opportunity to place the issue of the coastal impact of climate change on the national agenda and I know she will continue to press for the implementation of the recommendations contained in this report. She is a very strong woman as you know, Deputy Speaker Moylan. I will be pleased to give her my full support in that endeavour.

I thank Dr Mal Washer, the member for Moore and the deputy chair, and all committee members for this outstanding bipartisan report. I would also add my thanks to the committee secretariat, especially Dr Kate Sullivan who has been with the committee from the start—you have done an excellent job, Kate, and deserve the congratulations of all committee members.

A report on a subject of this complexity demands an understanding of the issues as well as the ability to put the issues into a perspective which backs its recommendations with sound arguments. In the course of this inquiry the committee has taken submissions from a whole range of people involved with or affected by the impact of climate change. Some were distinguished experts in their field who presented a clear case for action by government. Others were ordinary Australians with the foresight and concern for the environment to passionately put their case. Some are already working on solutions while others have done much to improve community awareness and I offer congratulations to all of them. Throughout the community as well as the committee there exists the awareness and commitment to take action on the impact of climate change on Australia’s coastal zone. The ball is now in the government’s court and again, as the subtitle of this wonderful report states, the time to act is now.

5:09 pm

Photo of Don RandallDon Randall (Canning, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Energy and Resources) Share this | | Hansard source

Even though I was not a member of the committee, I have elected to speak on this report today because of the direct relevance it has to my electorate of Canning. Evidence was taken from the City of Mandurah, which has a fragile coastline and extensive low-lying waterways, and also the Shire of Waroona, which has coastline as well as very fragile lakes and world heritage listed Ramsar wetlands. As has already been said by many, this report—Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is nowlooks at better ways to manage our coastal zone and makes a series of recommendations designed to help future-proof our coastal communities. This is very relevant to the area that I have already described.

Importantly, many of the committee’s recommendations look at how the three tiers of government—federal, state and local—can work together to come up with viable solutions to these long-term planning issues. Australia is a country that is primarily built around its coast, with 80 per cent of our population living in what is classified as the coastal zone. In Western Australia, much of our coastal housing and infrastructure is at risk of storm surge and other severe weather events as our coast changes over time. According to Department of Climate Change figures, up to 94,000 buildings may be affected, coastal flooding may increase and beach erosion will continue, not to mention the impact that climate change may have on other infrastructure, such as road and rail.

During the inquiry, the committee visited Mandurah in the electorate of Canning and toured the coastal suburbs of Silver Sands, Halls Head and Falcon, amongst others. Mandurah has the highest growth rate of any regional city in Australia, with an anticipated annual growth of 3.39 per cent. The population is expected to grow to almost 100,000 by 2021. The city of Mandurah has a strong record of environmental protection and addressing climate change. In 1999, Mandurah joined the Cities for Climate Protection. In 2000, it set a target to reduce corporate and community greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent by 2010. In 2001, the city hosted the 1st Western Australian Coastal Conference. In 2008, it announced that it would undertake an assessment, which was completed in 2009, of the potential risk to Mandurah’s coastal zone. As you can see, Mandurah has certainly been involved in this issue, which is quite relevant to that city. The Mayor, Paddi Creevey, who I congratulate on her re-election in the council elections a couple of weeks ago, and her CEO, Mark Newman, should be commended on their commitment to productivity. They have enhanced disaster mitigation preparedness and response plans for the possible event of future coastal natural disasters.

I understand from reading the report and the council’s submission that the committee met with representatives of the City of Mandurah to discuss the impact that changes to our coastline will have on urban development and planning in the future. Over time many suburbs in Mandurah will be affected particularly those along the coast, around the canal developments and the near estuary. Limited flooding of the foreshore already occurs in Mandurah when higher tides coincide with storm surges. A long-term rise in sea levels may also cause further beach erosion, particularly in suburbs like Silver Sands, from which I have had a number of representations over the years and where the beach has noticeably reduced over the past few decades. As I mentioned earlier, the City of Mandurah has already looked into many of these issues through its study, which identified and prioritised the risks for Mandurah’s coastal zones and waterways, in turn allowing the city to create contingency management plans through its climate change adaptation plan.

The committee noted in particular the impact that rising sea levels will have on the extensive canal developments in several suburbs in Mandurah, including Wannanup and Halls Head, as the homes there are, by their nature, very low-lying. More generally, concerns were raised about the close proximity of some of the canal development to Ramsar wetlands. I recall the row that occurred over the Creery Wetlands and their ability to be developed. In my electorate of Canning, the Peel-Yalgorup wetlands are listed as wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar treaty. As a member of Friends of Ramsar Action Group for the Yalgorup Lakes Environment, which has the acronym FRAGYLE, I am keenly aware of the sensitive issues facing our wetlands and am determined that should we find the right balance between housing development in such areas as Preston Beach on the one hand and protecting the flora and fauna of our unique wetlands on the other. The Yalgorup lakes are the home of a very ancient and primitive form of life, the stromatolites that are found in the lakes. They need all the protection that they can get, because they are a very ancient form of life.

The committee recommends the development of an intergovernmental agreement formally endorsed by COAG to determine the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers of government. This is vital to ensure that we create an effective and cohesive coastal zone management system building on from the foundation work that has already been conducted by a number of different councils and governments across the country.

I would like to endorse the committee’s recommendation for an urgent clarification of liability issues associated with private property holders, public authorities, risk disclosure and whether there should be a broader indemnification of local government authorities in relation to coastal hazards. This clarification will go a long way to allaying the concerns raised by many stakeholders throughout the committee’s investigation and will create a solid base for the determination of future responsibilities.

In conclusion, I welcome the recommendations of the committee report and look now to the federal government to act and provide a coordinated approach to addressing the impact of climate change on our coastal zones by providing information sharing and access to funding for further research and planning to be undertaken. However, I do not subscribe to some of the hysteria surrounding the rising sea levels that ensues in some of the debates, because, as has been pointed out, what we are talking about in the first stage is very minimal, incremental increases of levels. However, over a long period of time we expect that there will be effects of climate change, as there is global warming, that will affect low-lying areas. I am not suggesting to people, particularly in my electorate, that they devalue their homes, nor am I trying to cause panic in terms of their titles because there is going to be a Noah’s ark type event in the near future, but I am pleased to see that the city of Mandurah, representing the majority of the coastal community in my electorate, have been so proactive in seeking to future-proof developments. I congratulate them on their work so far. Finally, as others have said today, I await Minister Wong’s response to the committee’s recommendations in due course.

5:17 pm

Photo of Kerry ReaKerry Rea (Bonner, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I welcome the introduction to the parliament of this report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. I do not serve as a member on the committee, but I am very keen to speak to this report because, representing the southern bay-side suburbs of Brisbane, on one of the most beautiful stretches of water we have in this country, Moreton Bay, I am very concerned about some of the analysis and information that has been provided in this report about the impact on my electorate and the businesses and residents within its boundaries.

When we see information regarding rising sea levels, we are concerned, but there is also clearly a concern regarding the increase in extreme weather events and the impact of high tides and storm surges on any businesses, property and residences along any part of our coastline, particularly in Queensland. That is certainly of concern, so I welcome the committee’s deliberations in this regard and certainly support the recommendations and thank the committee members for their efforts.

As has been said on many occasions in this place, the impact of climate change is one of the greatest challenges that we will see within our lifetime. If we as a government, as a community, indeed as a global community, do not start to address some of the impacts of climate change, the reality will be not just a document this thick; the reality will be the impact on people’s lives and their livelihoods. I therefore welcome, as I said, this very comprehensive report.

I welcome first and foremost that there is a great deal of analysis, information and scientific evidence contained within the report that I hope will, once and for all, convince those who are sceptical or reluctant to take action on this matter that we cannot continue that debate any longer, that we must move on and start to take serious action as a parliament and as a country. In that vein, I urge all members of this parliament to support the proposal of the Minister for Climate Change and Water for a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

What is critical about this report, as I have already mentioned, is that it talks about two key impacts which I think will be significant for my electorate of Bonner. One is rising sea levels. We see that climate change is impacting on sea levels and will continue to do so. The bayside suburbs are very old and very well established. So, whilst we may not have the issues around future development that exist in other parts of the Queensland coastline, those well-established communities depend on their land being stable and not being impacted on by rising sea levels. It is also a very beautiful part of Brisbane because it contains the river and several major creek catchments—the most notable being Bulimba Creek and Tingalpa Creek. All of these creeks and the river in our part of the electorate are tidal, so high tides increasing flooding and the combination of heavy rainfall and storm surges have a very direct and real impact on many residents in my electorate. First and foremost this report has given us some very clear information that not only spells out the consequences of what we are doing now but also talks about ways in which we can attempt to mitigate climate change and protect people in the future.

Indeed, even in the last week we saw the impacts of extreme weather events. Brisbane, being a subtropical city, is obviously well known for its rainfall and its greenery. Up until last Monday, we had gone for 138 days without rain—a fairly significant event in Brisbane’s climatic calendar. That dry period was broken by an incredibly severe storm on Monday night. I know it was severe, because my husband—with other partners—had flown back after attending the Prime Minister’s wife’s lunch for Pink Ribbon Day. They landed in Brisbane at 6.30 and sat in a plane on the tarmac for 2½ hours because of the severity of the storm and lightning strikes, which prevented staff from going out, getting baggage and taxiing the plane in. Not only did I suffer personally an extreme weather event by having a fairly frustrated husband on the other end of the phone; it disrupted the running of the airport quite dramatically. Planes were delayed. People travelling to Sydney had to find overnight accommodation because of the curfew. The social and psychological effects as well as the economic effect of these events were clearly witnessed as recently as this Monday.

I am very pleased that this report provides not just good analysis and information but very clear recommendations for the way forward. It does so in three key areas. There are 47 recommendations, and I also will not read them out. That number of recommendations indicates not just the seriousness of the problem but also the commitment of the committee to trying to tackle this problem in a very real and detailed manner. The first part of the report and its recommendations deals with the need—indeed, desire and necessity—for national leadership on this issue. The impact of climate change is of national interest and therefore as a nation we need leadership to deal with it. I am very pleased that there are a vast range of recommendations that deal with this issue: a COAG intergovernmental agreement on the coastal zone; a national coastal zone policy; the establishment of a national coastal advisory council; the establishment of a national coastal zone database; the promotion of 2012 as the Year of the Coast; the establishment of a national catchment coast marine management program; and, I think very importantly, funding support for the Australian coastal alliance in providing national information and communication information and interface between research organisations, local government authorities and other coastal stakeholders.

I guess they come across purely as words, policies and advisory bodies at this point in time, but we all know that leadership comes from good coordination, good facilitation and the ability to bring everybody together—all of the stakeholders and interest groups—and to get everybody working together to deal with this issue. These are not just words on paper, they are very real and important developments that I think will help to resolve this issue.

Another thing that is very important about these recommendations is that not only do they talk about national leadership but also working with the stakeholders at all levels of government. Coming from a local government background I understand full well the massive impact of planning decisions, made by councils up and down the coast of Australia, on local communities. In my own area very significant wetland areas in Hemmant and Tingalpa are subject to development. There are flooding issues, there are issues of tidal impact—the floods are impacted by tides—we are right on the border of a Ramsar site, Moreton Bay and Moreton Island, so every single decision by the council to clear or to develop land within those areas has a massive impact not just on the property itself but also on neighbouring properties. Once again leadership is needed to start to get councils to think strategically, not one development application at a time and certainly not simply giving regard to the existing zoning. It is important for them to have the information they need to get an understanding of what they need to plan for in terms of future changes.

I also see that there are a lot of recommendations regarding coastal climate change and its impact on people and their livelihoods. In this report many speakers talk about issues around liability and insurance, genuine issues that we are going to have to tackle and that will have great impact on people living in these coastal communities, on the insurance industry and on our economic prosperity. At last we have the documentation to give us the information that will provide some policy development on this matter.

In terms of the impact on residences and issues of liability insurance it is probably not as significant for my electorate, but I think the member for Bowman will be very interested in those issues and the impact of rising sea levels. He has many island communities and many canal estates in his electorate. I would say that he will grab this report with gusto and encouraging whatever action can be taken to protect his local residents as well. From my perspective I am concerned about the environmental impacts that have been outlined in this report.

I have talked about creek catchments, the magnificent jewel in the crown of Moreton Island which is within my electorate, and many of the catchment areas like Hemmant and Tingalpa, the areas around Lota Creek and Wynnum Creek. The mangroves that run along the bay are very important and I am pleased to see that there are recommendations that I believe will go a long way to protecting those very precious areas. A proposal to amend the EPBC Act to address the cumulative impacts of coastal development, as I said not just isolated development applications, but the cumulative impact of allowing all the land that is currently zoned for development to be redeveloped. What will its impact be in terms of runoff, flooding and on our flood plains? An increase in the number of coastal wetlands classified as Ramsar sites and ensuring that all Ramsar listed wetlands have effective management plans. I believe that we have good management plans for Moreton Island and Moreton Bay, but we need to be vigilant about making sure that they are adhered to and that the recommendations and actions within those plans are implemented.

I also commend the work of one of my local environment groups, particularly Daryl Evans, who runs the Hemmant and Tingalpa Wetlands Conservation Group. He is very diligent in his commitment to protecting these wetlands and he is very diligent in providing me and others with significant information regarding these issues. Indeed, Daryl has been providing articles and information about rising sea levels for a number of years now. I am pleased to see—and I am sure he will be pleased to see—a report coming out of the Australian parliament that reinforces the arguments that he has been presenting. I join with him and will be approaching the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts to have those wetlands considered as a Ramsar site.

What is also important is the recommendation that Commonwealth and state natural resources ministers develop an action plan to improve the management of coastal biodiversity, including coastal buffer zones, habitat corridors, nationally consistent coastal and marine biodiversity monitoring and reporting frameworks, and coastal and marine biodiversity regional planning processes that incorporate regional climate change adaptation plans. That was a very long sentence; it is a very long recommendation. But, for the environment of Bonner, it is very significant.

Brisbane is the most biodiverse capital city in this country. Its biodiversity comes from its proximity to the mountains of Mount Coot-tha and the Great Dividing Range, from its magnificent river and extensive creek catchments, and of course from it feeding into the beautiful Moreton Bay. If we do not get biodiversity right around our coastal suburbs and regions within the city of Brisbane then the biodiversity of the whole city will indeed be impacted badly. I want to reinforce that recommendation because, whilst it is wordy and may sound confusing, it has very important impacts for the community of Bonner and the city of Brisbane.

I once again welcome the committee’s deliberations and appeal most strongly to the parliament and all of its members to understand that we must take action in order for the impacts in this particular report to be mitigated. It is not too late. We need to reduce our emissions if we are going to deal with rising sea levels. We need certainty for businesses and communities, not just those existing ones but those in the future. We certainly need to protect the lives, the livelihoods and the economy of existing and future residents, particularly in Bonner. I commend the report to the House.

5:32 pm

Photo of Nola MarinoNola Marino (Forrest, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts report Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. Members may be aware that I became part of this committee in November 2008, partway through this inquiry. Even though this has been done previously, I would like to recognise the work of the chair, deputy chair and other members of the committee. I see that we also have present members of the secretariat, and I thank them as well. They were very important to the committee, and I know the chair has acknowledged the work of the secretariat. The continuity of the support and advice that was offered was very valuable to the committee and I thank them for that.

The terms of reference for this inquiry were basically the existing policies and programs related to coastal zone management, taking in the catchment-coast-ocean continuum; the environmental impacts of coastal population growth and mechanisms to promote sustainable use of coastal resources; the impact of climate change on coastal areas and strategies to deal with climate change adaptation, particularly in response to project sea level rise; mechanisms to promote sustainable coastal communities; and governance and institutional arrangements for the coastal zone.

Given that the Busselton foreshore area is featured on the front page of the report, showing the very serious-sized sandbags, I strongly support the committee’s recommendation that funding continues for research to establish the wave climate around the coast so that we identify those locations most at risk from wave erosion and to examine how the wave climate nationally interacts with varying land form types. This further supports the methodology for vulnerability assessments and the importance of encouraging regional applications from local councils like Busselton in my electorate.

For a shire like Busselton, with considerable pressures on the council from its very rapidly growing population and land use intensification, as well as the associated continuous demands for additional services and local infrastructure, the committee’s recommendation that the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government should undertake a study into the human and resourcing needs of local governments is particularly relevant. We constantly heard in public hearings and during site visits all around Australia about the limited resources available to many local coastal councils and the challenges of shared natural boundaries such as the Peel-Harvey Inlet, which is shared by the Mandurah City Council and the Murray Shire Council.

There is a need to coordinate resources to enhance Australia’s disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery arrangements in the event of possible major coastal disasters through a grants program, taking into account the need for improved data on coastal disaster risk assessment and vulnerable coastal sites. There is a need for improved access and evacuation routes for coastal communities, improved coastal community awareness of and resilience to natural disasters, and improved coordination of coastal disaster mitigation arrangements with reviews of the Australian building code and land use planning policies. Very importantly, there is a need for improved early warning systems for coastal areas in the event of storm surge, erosion, flooding, extreme sea level events, and the recognition of one of the greatest resources we have, the surf lifesaving group network, is an integral part of emergency planning and responses.

This is extremely relevant for coastal communities in my electorate. As I said, Busselton is one of those, one with beach erosion issues for local property owners and for the council itself, with low-lying populated areas, a Ramsar wetland backing onto a canal development, as well as serious challenges in relation to existing and future planning and further coastal developments. This was referred to in the report following the committee’s visit to my electorate and taking into account the issues raised on site by Busselton shire representatives. I quote from point 5.117 in the report:

In terms of housing developments encroaching on coastal Ramsar sites, the committee was particularly concerned about a canal development in the Port Geographe area in south-west Western Australia located within close proximity to the Vasse-Wonnerup Ramsar site. As Professor Short commented, some of the big issues at Mandurah are those canal estates, and at Port Geographe, which are not only very low-lying but also cutting into acid sulphate soils and with all sorts of other issues.

This merely begins to explain the key emerging issues of insurance, planning and legal issues relating to the coastal zone, matters frequently raised by those participating in the inquiry. The key issues are who is liable, who knew what and who knew it when. Coastal councils controlling public property and local private property owners are very concerned about planning and building codes and the issues of liability and responsibility as well as the insurance and risk issues, the availability and the affordability, the need for very clear definitions of how and when an insurance claim is payable due to storm surge and inundation, due to landslip, to erosion and combined effects of sea inundation and riverine flooding. The possible withdrawal of insurance for certain risks or regions, as noted in the report, will place increased burdens on governments and taxpayers, which in part supports the need for a nationally consistent COAG action plan on the coastal zone.

Given the consistently expressed concerns of local governments and individual landholders with regard to liability, I strongly encourage the minister and the government to address recommendation 23 in the report that the Australian government request that the Australian Law Reform Commission undertake an urgent inquiry particularly focusing on clarification of liability issues with regard to public authorities acting or not acting on a legal basis to deal with protection, redesign, rebuild, elevate, relocate and retreat regarding possible coastal hazards; clarification of liability issues for private property holders who act to protect their properties from the impacts of climate change—something the committee witnessed in my electorate; legal issues for existing development; mechanisms to ensure harmonised local and state government mandatory risk disclosure to the public; and one very serious issue for all local governments, whether there should be broader indemnification of local government authorities.

I cannot stress enough the importance of this issue to the minister and government. We came across several areas, of which Cottesloe was an example, where there was just a road between existing housing and the beach itself that may be subject to storm surge and weather events. In that particular area we had a range of government services underneath the road such as water and sewerage. In the event of those particular services being removed by way of erosion to do with a storm surge or weather event, the houses would be unable to be inhabited as a result of not having access to those services.

Who is liable, who is responsible and who pays? They are the issues that came up on a regular basis and will continue to come up. The report noted the need for ongoing ABS data, particularly for regional areas like my electorate, and the need for very accurate and consistent information. This is partly what those coastal areas need, particularly local councils. They need consistent information on long-term demographic trends to assist in coastal zone planning and management. The Busselton Shire Council is front and centre in this issue, as it is experiencing continued growth. Planning and design of new infrastructure will also require additional capacity building in coastal local governments. Coastal communities of all sizes, whether they are a small community or a large one, will benefit from awareness campaigns enlisting the continuing membership and support of the extensive network of volunteers. Nominating 2012 as the year of the coast is an ideal mechanism to increase coastal zone management issues and awareness.

Individuals and their genuinely interested and engaged communities are often the key to practical and simple on-the-ground work that is so critical in natural resource management strategies. This would include coastal stakeholders, volunteer groups and the broader general community. Ongoing information provided by the national coastal zone database should include environmental data management and coastal zone planning information.

A key recommendation of the report is to develop an intergovernmental agreement to be endorsed by COAG which would define the roles and responsibilities of local, state and federal governments involved in coastal zone management and establish a national coastal advisory council that would have a key role in providing independent advice to government and, most importantly, ensure that there is very direct community input into national coastal zone policy, planning and management.

Much in this report reflects the statement made by Professor Woodroffe but shared by so many Australians whom I met and continue to meet. The Australian coastline represents one of our most iconic treasures, but there is no collective long-term vision for our coast. This report and the government’s response to it will determine whether this is perhaps part of a first step in changing this perception. I will be very interested to see which of the recommendations the minister and the government respond to and when.

5:44 pm

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I must start my contribution to this debate on the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts called Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now firstly by acknowledging the fine work of the committee, particularly the chair, Jennie George. She has visited my electorate and knows how important the issues that are raised and the recommendations that are made in this report are to the people of Shortland, the people of Lake Macquarie and the people of Wyong shire. It is a very intense report, covering a wide range of issues, and it puts forward recommendations that I believe can work as a blueprint for governments at all levels into the future. Leadership and direction in this area have been needed for a very long time, and this report gives us that.

In my very first speech in this parliament I raised the issue of coastal development and the impact that it has on the electorate that I represent. Shortland electorate is a long, skinny electorate situated between a series of lakes and the ocean. It is one of those electorates that are exceptionally vulnerable when it comes to climate change and rises in the sea level. If we do not act then areas like Shortland will really bear the brunt of that inaction, of our failure to recognise what an important issue this is.

The committee met with some representatives from my area. I would first like to concentrate on issues that were raised by Lake Macquarie City Council. I ask Wyong Shire Council to forgive me for not going into the details of their submission but I have a history with Lake Macquarie council; I was actually the Deputy Mayor of Lake Macquarie council and I know intimately the details and the problems that development has created within that council area—issues that pertain to pressures that are being put upon Lake Macquarie council—as well as the fine work that has been done by staff at that council in planning and addressing this important issue.

I would like to refer to a document that has been issued by Lake Macquarie council: the Sea level rise policy fact sheet. This fact sheet outlines the impact that sea level rises will have in Lake Macquarie; it looks at the rise in the level of the lake if sea levels rise. Remember I stated that the lake is one side of Shortland electorate and the ocean is on the other side. It will have an enormous impact. In fact, it has been predicted that, if sea levels do rise to the level that is predicted, my office will be under water, as will the whole of Belmont and Swansea. This is based on modelling.

I do not think that that is acceptable and the people in my electorate do not think it is acceptable either. We all live in that area because it is such a beautiful area. We live there because it is a coastal area, we live there because of the lake and we live there because of its access to the ocean, but we also know that we have to respect and nurture our environment. The impact of sea level rises on Lake Macquarie will be coastal and foreshore erosion, a retreat of the foreshore, more storms and severer storms that cause enormous damage, and an increased rate of erosion of the beach alignment. We have seen this happen. It will lead to increased flooding, salination of water in creeks and groundwater, increased storm surges and long-term inundation.

The ecological impact will include threats to ecological communities unable to adapt to changes in salinity levels and to changes in wetlands and mangrove distributions, and there will be other flora and fauna impacts. There will be damage to public and private infrastructure, it will have an impact on morbidity and mortality rates, it will lead to increased insurance premiums and investment will be needed for a number of climate-change mitigation actions. It is pleasing to see that insurance was one issue that was referred to in recommendation No. 19, which picked up the fact that the projected impacts of climate change will affect insurance coverage on coastal properties. I know that during the severe storms we had in the Hunter in 2008 there was enormous property damage, particularly in the coastal areas. At that time a number of insurance issues arose and that is still the situation—we are still dealing with some of those issues. I am pleased to see recommendation 19 in this report because it deals with an issue that is going to become more and more prevalent as time goes by.

Another recommendation I would like to refer to is recommendation 15, which refers to the extensive surf lifesaving network that is in Australia. In Shortland electorate we have five surf lifesaving clubs and they are very mindful of the impact that rising sea levels will have in our area. There have been occasions when some of the surf clubs have been threatened by the impact of rising sea levels and severe events, so I am pleased to see that this report recommends including the Surf Life Saving association in the solution, because they know how important protecting our environment and looking after our coastal areas is in ensuring the ongoing viability of our communities.

I would like to turn to a couple of other groups from Shortland electorate which gave evidence to the committee. One was the Catherine Hill Bay Progress Association, which gave evidence about a development that was proposed and approved for that area. Catherine Hill Bay is a unique little coastal village that has been featured in national newspapers as one of the places that people should visit. It is pristine and it really encompasses and retains part of the mining history of the area—a little coal mining town. There was a proposal for extensive development of that area, which would have had impacts on the environment. The development would have led to more erosion, it would have led to problems with extinctions of species and it would have led to enormous pressure being placed on the infrastructure of that area and on other environmental factors. Recently, the Land and Environment Court in New South Wales rejected that application. While we are looking at this report I have to place on record my support for the action taken by the Land and Environment Court. There was a very similar situation with a proposal by the same company, I believe, for the Gwandalan-Summerland Point area. Gwandalan and Summerland Point are two towns of about 1,000 to 2,000 population each, on quite a fragile little peninsular. Development was planned for both those areas but, once again, because of the impact on threatened species and other issues, the Land and Environment Court revoked the planning approval that was given for that area.

It is really important to note that one of the recommendations in this report refers to that very issue of ensuring that the proper environmental assessments are conducted. I commend the committee for including that in their report. The Shortland electorate, because of its very nature and its beauty, is constantly under pressure from developers who want to develop the area. I am pleased to see the member for Macquarie sitting next to me. He was a minister for the environment in the New South Wales government. At that time, he was aware of a proposal for extensive development in what is a wetland area. That was not approved. Now there is a proposal for that to be a wetland park and that wetland park will have the Fernleigh track going through it. That has recently received funds from the federal government. It will have walking trails, wetland viewing areas and a plethora of environmentally-friendly activities taking place in that area, and these things will also help preserve the environment.

Those are the kinds of activities we need to be promoting. In my first speech, I raised the issue of the Belmont Wetlands and how they were under threat. To see a proposal to restore that area is really pleasing. That proposal will benefit the whole of the area. It will be very, very important for the environment. It is very important that we see that all of these proposals actually take place—the threatened species and the sand dunes—all those things that need to be preserved and enhanced.

That links in to this report, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now, because it is by promoting areas like the Belmont Wetlands that people can see that there are areas like this in amongst the coastal development and the beautiful houses—and people love to live in the area, because of its beauty, as I have already said. We need to have these green areas that can be the lungs of the cities in which we live. It is the type of project that fits in with the recommendations in this report. One of the recommendations is that there be more Ramsar listed wetlands. That is something that I welcome with open arms, because it is all an integral part of ensuring that our coastal zone is protected.

I could talk at length about a number of inappropriate developments that have been proposed for the Shortland electorate, but I would like to conclude by saying that this report is a blueprint that will see the development that takes place in coastal areas like mine take into account all the important issues that need to be considered when you are looking at planning the future and ensure that the Shortland electorate—(Time expired)

5:59 pm

Photo of Jon SullivanJon Sullivan (Longman, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am pleased to rise to take note of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts. In doing so, I commend the chair, Jennie George MP; the deputy chair, Dr Mal Washer MP; and the members of that committee that has brought to us such a substantial and worthwhile report. I have to admit from the start that I have had the opportunity only to make a first reading of this report, but I felt it was important that I come into the chamber and make some comments on behalf of my local community. I also acknowledge the great work of the committee secretariat, which has supported them in building this report.

The electorate of Longman, which I have the honour and pleasure to represent in this parliament, contains a number of coastal villages. In particular I would like to mention the Pumicestone Passage villages of Toorbul, Donnybrook and Meldale. It also contains the bayside villages of Godwin Beach, Deception Bay and Beachmere. It also contains Bribie Island. The report points out that there are 711,000 dwellings within a three-kilometre range of the coastline less than six metres above sea level and that these are potentially threatened. On Bribie Island, where I live, there is nowhere more than three kilometres from the shoreline or greater than six metres above sea level, so my entire community of 20,000-plus people, not to mention some very nice national parks, is under threat from the effects of global warming and rising ocean levels.

The report does not go overboard. It indicates quite modest sea level rises, in my view. However, what it also does is suggest that the sea level rises of themselves are not the main problem. It suggests that it is the more frequent and more severe weather events that are going to create a great deal of the problem for people in those properties. The truth of the matter is that on Bribie Island an occasional king tide will break the seawall on Pumicestone Passage and put salt water on our roadways. We have been able to recognise, from the beginning of my association with the island some quarter of a century ago, beach erosion as a consequence of wild storms. There is regular pumping of replenishment sand from Moreton Bay onto the foreshore to shore it up, and at the moment there is concern—though it has probably died down a little—that Bribie Island itself will break through to Pumicestone Passage to the north, near Caloundra. That is something that the community in Caloundra—particularly in that part of Caloundra—are very concerned about. These things become a little more certain if the scenario that is suggested in this plan, as I read it, comes to fruition.

The other thing that I think would be very interesting for people in my state to understand is that this report indicates that Queensland is going to take a disproportionate amount of the hit from a rising sea level. Of those 711,000 properties that I mentioned earlier, it is supposed that one-quarter of a million of those are in Queensland. This, of course, interested me; the report having been released and questions having been answered on it in parliament yesterday, I was able to pick up a Melbourne paper today and see an article in that paper suggesting what areas are potentially going to be worst affected and to open my local newspaper and find not a word. We are the state that is going to be worst affected, and the paper is ignoring the issue.

If I can coin a phrase from a former administration, this is something about which we need to be alert and alarmed. This is a report that suggests that our whole way of life is under some threat. I was pleased to see that the committee in its deliberations had discussed plans that might be useful and there was some suggestion by the Queensland government and by the Planning Institute of Australia that the South-East Queensland Regional Plan would be a good model for the governments to follow in planning for the future. Praising the Queensland government’s SEQ Regional Plan, the Planning Institute of Australia highlighted its socioeconomic and environmental inclusions, and I think that as we approach what may be the outcomes of these events we need to be sure that we take the socioeconomic and environmental considerations into account in order to make long-term plans for the region.

A great many of the people who are moving to Queensland and are putting pressure on Queensland’s infrastructure are settling in the south-east corner. As a resident of that part of the state I have to say it is probably the best place in Australia to live and we welcome them there and look forward to them continuing to come in sufficient numbers for us to have a sustainable, viable and ongoing community.

As part of its work the committee identified key challenges. These key challenges are not new to anybody, but to my knowledge they have never been codified in this fashion before. Importantly, the first of those key challenges is involvement by the national government. One of the things that I find to some degree frustrating in talking with my constituents is the level to which the federal government is disempowered by the national Constitution. The Constitution sets out—I think in section 51—what the powers of the federal government are and it makes it very plain that all other powers will remain with the colonies, or the states as they became. On a daily basis a constituent will indicate to me that they believe the federal government has the power to stop a state government doing anything the state government might propose to do that the constituent does not like, and that is not the case.

Similarly, with coastal management there are huge limitations on what the federal government is able to do. The important thing is that we need to create an intergovernmental role here, and the first point that the committee has identified is the involvement by the national government. On page 287 of the report in paragraph 6.129 our Queensland state government has provided what the committee has referred to as a useful outline on what the national government’s leadership in coastal zone management could be. It is the sort of role that my constituents believe the federal government should play:

  • Lead the development of regional scale climate change projections …;
  • Lead the development of a set of nationally consistent default climate change scenarios …;
  • Coordinate and provide financial assistance …;
  • Lead the development of nationally consistent methodologies for assessing climate change risk …;
  • Collaborate and provide financial support for States …

These are issues that are truly the province of a leadership role and federal government leadership in this matter is important.

I noted today that in question time, in response to a question as to what the government’s response would be to this report, the Prime Minister gave an indication that the government was trying to take, essentially, an audit of coastal risk before responding to this report. The reality is that there are risks and we need to be concerned about those risks, particularly if we have substantial coastal involvement. As a local member I have that in my electorate as would a number of other MPs. I have a substantial area of the coastline of South-East Queensland in my electorate and this sort of report tells me that the people I represent need to be mindful of what is occurring. For example, one particular suburb, Banksia Beach, has an upmarket development—I will express it in those terms—where people are investing serious money in buying canal-side houses, large houses, and they are under some threat.

When we first moved to Bribie Island, my wife and I met a fellow in one of the local bowling clubs who, with the encouragement of half a dozen beers, jocularly suggested that Bribie Island had been put in place by a cyclone and that one day a cyclone would take it away. We built there anyway and the reality is that he may have been right. If we think about the fact that Bribie Island is less than six metres above sea level and if we think about the fact that there are already an increasing number of severe weather events, and it is severe weather events this report suggests are the problem as I read it on my first reading, then Bribie Island is at some risk. Cyclones may come south again. It is a long time since there has been a cyclone that far south in Queensland but severe weather events are the risk and that is what we can look forward to.

In closing, I congratulate the members of the committee, who I believe have done a particularly good job. They have delivered a report which, on my first reading and with the knowledge that I have which is not extensive enough to be called scientific knowledge, but the report is sound. It is a report that I will now be taking back to my community and suggesting to them that we need to be very mindful of what is going on. As much as anything else, in communities like mine, this report actually underlines in bold the fact that in this country we do need to get our carbon pollution reduction scheme legislation through this parliament and off to the conference in Copenhagen so that the world, not just Australia, can get on with the process of trying to correct the damage that we have done over hundreds of years to our environment. One young lady wore on her T-shirt, although talking about nuclear power at the time, a slogan saying that when she grew up she wanted the world to be here. We want the world to be here for our kids and climate change and the effects of climate change are the biggest threats to that. I commend the report.

6:14 pm

Photo of Mark DreyfusMark Dreyfus (Isaacs, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate, is an important contribution to the national debate on climate change. It was a privilege to be a member of the standing committee in its inquiry and to participate in the report, which the House should note is a bipartisan report. I commend the member for Throsby for her role as chair of the standing committee and the member for Moore for his role as deputy chair of the committee. Before I note some of the key features of the report, I would like to thank the very hardworking secretariat, who assisted in the production of this report. I thank the secretary to the inquiry, Julia Morris; the research officers for part of the time of the inquiry, Sophia Nicolle and Adrienne Batts; and administrative officers Kane Moir and Jazmine Rakic, who also served for part of the time of the inquiry. Most particularly I would like to thank the inquiry secretary, Dr Kate Sullivan, who was with the inquiry for the entire time that it was conducted and who worked tirelessly, putting in some extraordinary hours, I would have to say, in the production of the report. I pay direct tribute to her because the high quality of the report is in no small part due to her efforts as well as, of course, the efforts of all members of the committee.

The report deals at considerable length with the science that underlies observations of climate change that have occurred around the world and the science that underlies the now accepted means that are going to have to be employed to reduce carbon emissions. One of the reasons that the committee saw it as necessary to deal at some length with the science of climate change is that, regrettably, throughout the Australian community and among the members of this parliament there are still people referred to popularly as climate change sceptics and perhaps referred to in more pejorative terms by some. These are people who do not wish to accept a very clear consensus that has formed among scientists around the world as to the reality of climate change and, most importantly, the contribution that human activity has made to the occurrence of dangerous climate change. If members of the parliament or the public were looking for a very fine summary of the current state of the climate science, this report would be a very good place to start.

The report goes on to explain that what is needed in relation to dangerous climate change is mitigation, in the sense of reducing carbon emissions. That is, of course, the matter that is being debated in the chamber as we speak, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme legislation that will be introducing an emissions trading scheme to Australia following on from the example of emissions trading schemes having been introduced throughout the developed world already. The report talks about the need for mitigation, but that is not the focus of this report. Its primary focus is adaptation measures. In other words, the focus is on what can be done by, in particular, the national government and also by state governments, local governments, industry and householders throughout Australia to adapt to the climate change which is already occurring and the climate change which is inevitable even if Australia and the rest of the world—because it is a global effort that is required—are able to bring emissions down to lower levels than they are at presently. That is for the simple reason that has been explained by other speakers in this debate and by countless others: that carbon emissions remain in the atmosphere for some hundreds of years and we are going to experience temperature rises and the other effects on climate which have been identified even if emissions can be brought down.

The report notes in particular the direct physical effects that are likely to occur on the Australian coast as a result of climate change, pointing notably to the risks of sea level rise and noting for every state the number of coastal buildings—houses, commercial properties and public infrastructure—that are going to be placed at risk by the projected sea level rise. There is not agreement on the projected sea level rise that is likely to be experienced by the end of the present century, but there is agreement that it is likely to be substantial. There is a possibility that it will be measured in metres rather than centimetres but, at present working on the basis of a sea level rise of around one metre—and different states have adopted different predictions—potentially hundreds of thousands of properties will be affected. I want to bring that home more locally for my state and my electorate, which is to say, as noted in the report, that some 80,000 coastal buildings and infrastructure in Victoria are at risk from the projected sea level rise. Bringing it home a bit more locally still, in my electorate there are some 11,000 homes which would be affected by inundation if there were to be the Victorian projected sea level rise of 0.8 metre by the end of this century.

What we are talking about is not merely a higher high tide. We are talking about increases in storm tides, storm surges and flooding from heavy rains, the effects of that on communities, and more of what could be called ‘specialised effects’ like increased salinity in wetlands. The report speaks at some length of the effects that will be felt on the Kakadu National Park as a result of rises in sea levels caused by climate change, which will lead to increased salinity, which will lead to a complete alteration of the ecosystem in that vast and beautiful park. There are other climate change effects which will also have an impact on the coast: warmer seas, more acid seas, and the report deals at some length with the projected disastrous effects of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef.

In essence, the report calls for national leadership. It calls for action now, and it identifies the areas in which there can usefully be national leadership—noting areas like mapping, increased research, leadership in strategic and, to some extent, statutory planning, law reform and a national effort in relation to the insurance problems which are identified in the report. The response yesterday, at least publicly, by some members of the opposition was regrettable. I would point particularly to Senator Abetz, whose response to this report was about whether there was a need for speed to act on coastal erosion. He said:

That is something that is going to have to be taken into account for future planning but, having said that, I assume it’s not going to be happening overnight, so we’ve still got some time.

I need to say to Senator Abetz and to other members of the opposition—or to any members of the public who might be thinking that—that, as the subtitle of this report suggests, the time to act is now, and the sooner we act the lower the costs will be to the Australian community.

The report deals with the problems that were identified for us not merely by members of the public who made submissions to this inquiry but by the Insurance Council of Australia, which provided helpful and detailed material to the committee about the unavailability of insurance in parts of Australia from the risks of events caused by climate change. They are described differently but usually as things like ‘storm surge’, ‘land slip’ and ‘sea level rise’—and of course it is a major problem when general property insurance is no longer available to property holders around Australia because of the identified risk, and the insurance industry has identified very, very high risks. We then have a problem as a community because our system of property holding depends in part on the availability of insurance. That is why one of the recommendations that the committee has made is for an inquiry by the Productivity Commission into the insurance difficulties that are being encountered in relation to dangerous climate change events.

The other matter that I want to draw attention to is the detailed consideration of statutory planning that has taken place to quite different degrees in different states. Members would appreciate that planning controls are likely to be very useful in terms of recognising the future effects of climate change and, as far as it is possible to achieve it, ensuring that the possibility of sea level rise in land that is close to the coast, particularly low-lying land that is close to the coast, is taken into account in making decisions about development and building in such areas. The committee looked at the planning regimes that exist presently in all Australian states and territories, and I can exhibit a little bit of state pride in saying that the committee singled out the work that has been done by the Bracks and Brumby Labor governments in Victoria over the last 10 years to develop a Victorian coastal strategy, which is entitled the Victorian Coastal Strategy 2008. The committee commended the Victorian Coastal Strategy—I do not have time to go to the detail of it—as an excellent model in the way in which it had identified the characteristics of a sustainable coastal community. The committee identified the Victoria Coastal Strategy as setting out a very useful policy framework and detailed actions that might be taken by state and local authorities. The committee in particular singled out the Victorian Coastal Strategy for the integrated approach it takes to coastal governance.

I mention this not merely to say it is terrific that the Victorian coast will now have the benefit of some integrated planning but to make the point that national leadership and national coordination of approaches to a common problem that is shared right around the coastline of our vast country is required in order to avoid reinventing the wheel, where one state, in this case Victoria, has progressed greatly and has developed a model of governance and a model for planning control that are able to be followed by other states. I hope that it is going to be possible through national coordination, through COAG processes and through leadership shown by the national government for strategies, planning controls and governance arrangements that have already been developed to be rapidly applied in other states and territories so as to avoid them needing to reinvent the wheel. In particular I draw attention, and the report notes this, to the adoption by the Victorian government—it is now written into all planning schemes that apply to the Victorian coast—of a requirement that all development and planning decisions have to take into account a projected sea level rise of 0.8 of a metre by 2100. That has major consequences for decisions on where to build and how to build, and it is going to ensure that, whatever the position that was placed in Victorian planning schemes before, there will be consideration of that in future.

The Prime Minister noted today, following on from a major speech that the Prime Minister gave to the Business Council of Australia in Sydney last night, that the national government will be progressing through COAG a national approach to climate change effects on our coasts as part of a national emphasis that is now to be given to the development of some strategic priorities for urban planning in relation to cities. As I said earlier in the speech, these are the adaptation measures that the committee has recommended be adopted. I hope that they will be implemented by the government just as much as I hope that the mitigation measures—(Time expired)

6:29 pm

Photo of Tony ZappiaTony Zappia (Makin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was pleased to be in the chamber to listen to the comments made by the member for Isaacs on the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts report entitled Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. We served on this committee together and I certainly appreciated his input into the work of that committee. I note too that he congratulated the chair, the deputy chair and the secretariat of the committee and so I will not repeat in detail the comments that he made. However, I certainly concur with him in every respect on the considerable work that they all did and the leadership shown by both the chair and the deputy chair. I particularly acknowledge the member for Isaacs because, in the course of our inquiry, his interest and expertise in this area was very useful in sourcing information from some of the people who made representations to the committee and also in providing the committee with information. I am very grateful that he was one of the members.

The ‘time to act now’ report is one of many reports on our coastline and the environment generally that this parliament has presented. The other reports that I refer to in particular are the Management of the Australian coastal zone report of 1980; The injured coastline: protection of the coastal environment report of 1991; and the final report in 1993 of the coastal zone inquiry. All of these reports, which I have skimmed through in the time that I have been a member of the committee, drew very similar conclusions to those drawn in this report. But I suspect the difference between previous reports and our report is, as the title of our report quite rightly says, ‘the time to act is now’. Hopefully, the title will ensure that notice is taken of this report in much more depth than was perhaps the case with previous reports. I would be very disappointed if it is not, not only because of the amount of work that went into the report but because, after having listened to the people who made submissions either verbally or in writing to the committee, the words in the title of the report, ‘the time to act is now’, are absolutely appropriate.

The report was the culmination of some 18 months of investigations and inquiry by the committee. In my view what was very useful in terms of the investigations and submissions made to the inquiry were the up-to-date observations, scientific research and predictions provided on the changing nature of our coastline and its association with climate change. I believe this report highlights that climate change is real and that it presents the Australian people with very, very serious consequences which we cannot ignore and which we have an obligation to take urgent action on—an obligation both to Australians today and to future generations of Australians.

The report contains some 47 recommendations. In the time allotted to me, I cannot possibly do justice to each of those recommendations. I say that because each of the recommendations are very serious matters that the committee would like the government to at least take note of. I will summarise what I consider the key aspects of the report. The report talks about increasing research and monitoring of climatic changes to Australian coastal areas; increasing the sharing of information between agencies and governments; investing in professional development, particularly for the local government sector; and putting into place disaster response strategies and coastal natural disaster mitigation programs.

The report also recommends paying special attention to the Torres Strait region. The committee considers this region to be more vulnerable than other parts of Australia and that it deserves special attention because of the risks it faces with the changing climate. The report particularly notes that iconic environmental sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kakadu National Park and all the Ramsar listed wetlands need to be monitored for the impacts of climate change. The committee was able to see the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu and hear firsthand from the people on the ground. They are very familiar with what is happening to these iconic sites and they said that in recent years they have been noting changes to them.

The report also recommends that the Productivity Commission inquire into the insurance related issues and the value of properties exposed to risk. This is an important aspect of the report and certainly one that drew a lot of media attention—and quite rightly, because it is an important issue. The committee is also recommending that the Australian Law Reform Commission provide further advice on the liability issues associated with climate change. The committee also recommends that the Australian Bureau of Statistics monitor demographic and tourism trends. I will speak a little bit more about this later on, because, again, it is a critical aspect of what we should do and how we should plan for the future.

The last comment I will make about the committee’s recommendations is that the committee recommends that an intergovernmental agreement be reached, where each tier of government has clear and defined roles and responsibilities. Again, that is one of the critical issues that arose from the committee’s inquiry. Time and time again, people who made submissions—whether they were individuals, organisations, the local government sector or the state government sector—said that they wanted to see leadership from the federal government, because the lines of responsibility between the three levels of government are not absolutely clear. Certainly, whilst it might be clear in terms of the planning aspects as to who is responsible—and most of those responsibilities fall between state and local government—in terms of getting the information that those authorities need in order to make the right planning judgments and planning policies, they rely heavily on the federal government. So, again, a COAG agreement that clearly defines who is responsible for what and how each of the parties can support each other, I believe, is a very important first step.

This report also highlights that the most effective action that we can take in Australia, along with people from around the world, is in fact to begin to reduce greenhouse gas emissions around the world. We need a universal scheme of doing that. Hopefully, we might be able to get one in Copenhagen in December. That is so critical, because, whilst we can take all the adaptive measures that we might be able to predict, the truth of the matter is that the best action we can take is to try and reverse some of the damage that is occurring and is trending in a direction that will cause even far greater damage than what we have seen so far. If we can get a universal scheme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, then we might be able to at least control some of the impacts that we are likely to face if we do not.

It was interesting that, of all the submissions that came to the committee, whether they were written submissions or verbal evidence, I do not recall one person saying they did not believe that climate change was real or that greenhouse gas emissions were contributing to it. Certainly, some of them were not sure about what was causing it, but there was consistency in that they did believe that climate change was real and that it was posing real threats to our environment, and particularly to our coastal areas.

The cover of the report shows part of our coastline. What was interesting in terms of the sites that we inspected—and we certainly inspected a lot of areas along our coastline—was to see firsthand some of the damage that has already been caused by coastal erosion. The issues relating to the Byron Bay coastline are now well known. Those issues highlight the damage, the extent of the cost, the complexity and the seriousness of what we are faced with—not just a seriousness that is based on dollars that might be lost but a seriousness that brings in all of the three levels of government in terms of who is responsible for what and a seriousness that goes to the heart of the other matter that I touched on earlier, as to whether such properties in the future will be able to get any form of insurance at all.

On the question of insurance, which is a critical issue, it was interesting to hear a response in question time yesterday that, since 1967, 19 out of the 20 major insurance claims across the country were related to climate factors. In another response, it was suggested to us that, by 2040, the climate insurance associated costs to this nation could reach a trillion dollars. If those predictions are right, my conclusion is that one of two things will happen: either insurers will stop insuring a whole range of different properties and sites or, alternatively, insurance premiums will skyrocket. Either way, it is not a good outcome, so we need to do whatever we can to ensure that we do not get to that point.

It was also interesting to hear only today the Prime Minister talk about the future population growth of Australia, which is expected to hit about 35 million in about 40 years time. Bearing in mind that some 80 per cent of the Australian population already lives in coastal areas and bearing in mind that, all bar Canberra, our capital cities are located pretty much on coastal areas I think one could quite properly draw the conclusion that most of that population increase of some 12 million or 13 million people is going to occur in coastal areas. That means that the amount of infrastructure investment that we would see take place along our coastal areas over the next decade or so is going to run into billions of dollars.

The critical thing is that, before we spend billions of dollars, we need to know exactly what we are going to be spending it on and whether it is a wise spend of taxpayer dollars. The only way we can do that is if we do the necessary investigations, do the necessary research as to what the impacts are likely to be in those areas where we are going to make those expenditures and then ensure that whatever infrastructure we build, whatever homes we build, are built to a design standard that is likely to withstand whatever climatic changes occur.

On the question of climatic changes, most of us keep talking about what is going to happen by the year 2100. Well, the world does not stop at the year 2100—everything does not suddenly come to a standstill and, at 2100, everything is going to be okay. The world will continue and so will the climatic changes and the possible sea level rises that are predicted. So when we talk about sea level rises of somewhere between 0.8 of a metre and maybe 1.5 by 2100, it does not necessarily mean that that is where things stop. And I would hope that the infrastructure that we might want to build today might even go beyond those times.

One of the critical areas that came to the forefront in the course of this inquiry was that local government, which has a prime responsibility in these areas, is simply not well enough equipped to deal with the problems they confront. They do not have the professional expertise on hand. They do not have the information they need in order to make the best possible decisions for their local communities. And, almost without exception, they were all calling for leadership by the federal government. I think it was the member for Solomon who, earlier on, quite rightly made the point that constitutionally there are restrictions in respect of what kind of leadership the federal government can show. But what I would say is that this is a matter that all three levels of government do need to work very closely on together and it is a matter that we need to act on now.

6:44 pm

Photo of Steve GeorganasSteve Georganas (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to take this opportunity to thank the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts for tabling, and giving me the opportunity to speak on, this very important report, the report being Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. As I said, I welcome this opportunity to speak on this report as it is about an issue which is one of the most serious that Australia has ever faced.

When you represent a seat like Hindmarsh, the western border of which is the coast, this is a big issue. It is a big issue for the residents in Adelaide’s metropolitan area. My electorate has many suburbs, such as West Beach, Glenelg, Somerton Park, Henley Beach, Grange, Tennyson, Semaphore and West Lakes, where there are residential areas in which houses have been built just metres away from the sand.

We are contending on behalf of the liveability of our cities and the sustenance of our economy. We are concerned with the impact of climate change. This issue concerns the rain that falls on our land, the searing heat of our summers, the productivity of our farms, the very existence of our rivers, our susceptibility to drought and our exposure to raging fires. As I said, all of this is concerned with the impact that climate change is having on the world.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts has reported on the danger faced by our coastal zone, now and in the future, as a result of climate change. The report is based on the best available scientific consensus—a consensus about the threats our regions and population centres face from rising sea levels, the changing character of the sea through acidification and the increasing potential for damage to our coastlines, inhabited areas and infrastructure as a direct result of increasingly large waves, storm surges and king tides.

The report notes that the science is continuing to be developed. A lot of scientific work is happening in this area. People are continuing to study current observations and drawing comparisons with what has happened in the past. The size of the future threats we face, and the likelihood of their impact on our coastal regions, continues to feature prominently in our scientists’ research.

What we are told is that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projection of an 80 centimetre rise in sea level continues to be the most likely change that will occur around our coastline over the course of this century. To put this into context: through much of our human history, average sea level change has been 0.2 millimetres per year. From the 19th to the 20th century, this increased in excess of eight times to 1.7 millimetres per year. From 1993 to 2003, this average annual increase almost doubled to 3.1 millimetres per year—from one millimetre per decade to 31 millimetres per decade in around 200 years. The anticipated increase through this century suggests an average increase of around three times again—an average annual increase of 80 or more millimetres per decade. These are indeed dramatic increases. The rule of thumb is that, for every one metre rise in sea level, the sea will intrude inland by between 50 and 100 metres.

As I said, I am extremely concerned about this and most members of parliament who represent coastal seats would be concerned. My electorate starts just outside the city and finishes at the sea. In fact, when I want to give a description of my seat, I say, ‘It is from the city to the sea with the airport right in the middle of it.’ Its border is the Gulf St Vincent. While much of my electorate is by the Gulf St Vincent, it also has sand dunes—very interesting sand dunes in that they are some of the last sand dunes left in the metropolitan area of Adelaide.

The threat is also great to neighbouring seats, such as that of Port Adelaide, which is in the Lefevre Peninsula. The threat to our coastlines is not limited only to the increase in sea level. Greater threats, through this century at least, lie in the violent, destructive forces that come to the coast in the form of extreme sea levels.

These extreme sea levels are what we see during acute weather events in the form of large tides, storm surges, severe waves and more frequent king tides, all of which sees the erosion of our sandy beaches in the Gulf St Vincent in my electorate and in fact in all of the areas of metropolitan Adelaide. We have seen these over recent years especially, as I have said, in the electorate of Hindmarsh. One particular beach, West Beach, has beautiful sand and sand dunes but we have seen the erosion of that beach gradually taking place over the last few years.

People have witnessed jetties being battered and broken up. People have seen the power of the ocean crashing onto the coastal walls. I am sure the residents around Glenelg remember the ends of streets being submerged with water that had come crashing through into suburbia. A lot of damage was caused by that one particular storm. Sea water was thrust up onto what we previously expected to be safe land. This water was coming up and going into residential areas. Reports from people around the Glenelg area with flooded properties were of sodden garages and the reports were full of possessions being damaged. These reports were quite numerous at the time. All this is what we continue to face along the coastline of my electorate. Now, with the rising sea levels that we are experiencing, we can expect to see such damaging and dangerous events occurring more and more frequently.

Dr Hunter from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre gave evidence to the committee as follows:

… if you get a sea level rise of only 20 centimetres, which was pretty well what we got last century, that will increase the frequency of extreme events by a factor of about 10 … The events will happen 10 times more often, and this compounds … If you get a 50-centimetre increase, or half a metre, which is about the middle of the projections for this coming century, then you get a factor of about 300 on average for Australia.

What this represents statistically is this: if we have had one storm surge swamping a suburb in my electorate, such as Glenelg, on average each year, we can expect in the not too distant future this event to be happening every single day of the year. That is the statistical likelihood of what eventuates with seasonal variations, but, again, seasonal variations may of course well be different. But it points to big weather impacting on our coastline over and over again for each and every year, causing enormous damage. This is what we will be facing by the time many of us here are in the latter times of our life. It is within view. It is not that far away. It is within our lifetime. The degree to which our beachside suburbs can cope with the onslaught is highly questionable.

Also in my electorate in the suburbs of Somerton Park, Glenelg, West Beach, Henley Beach, Grange, Tennyson and Semaphore Beach we are already seeing the erosion of beaches. We are already feeling the impact of climate change. As I said earlier, we have already seen the erosion of our protective dunes. We have beautiful dunes at West Beach which are disappearing very quickly, and we have the last of the remaining natural dunes along Tennyson Beach and Semaphore Beach. Also, there is the infiltration of sea water into our rivers and onto our plains and through our suburbs and onto our properties. We are experiencing that now around the seaside suburbs. How long before the effects are felt elsewhere and further inland? In fact, a few years ago the CSIRO did a study which showed that the coastline could come in as far as Adelaide airport in my electorate. That was in a front-page story in the Advertiser showing where the new coastline would be. A half-metre to a full-metre increase in lake levels will do untold extreme damage throughout the suburbs, including my electorate’s suburbs of West Lakes and West Lakes Shore.

I am disappointed that what the opposition says to all of this is that we should not do anything to prevent worsening climate change and that we should get ready to repeatedly and constantly rebuild our shattered coastline communities. The opposition in the Senate, which has already stopped this government’s attempts to reduce carbon pollution once, says that we should sit on our hands until our homes and our communities are swamped, and only then should we do something. Logically, this is the same attitude that earlier this week voted down the government’s Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill. These examples show that they are not interested in doing anything until it is too late. They are not interested in preventing any level of change or the destruction that it can bring, preferring to conserve their persona—that only they in the whole world have the facts, have access to the truth and have a grip on what is actually going on around the world. Climate change is a reality. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that face not only our government and our nation but the entire world, and action is required now—not tomorrow, not next month, not next year, not in five years and not in 10 years but now. We should be taking action and the opposition are preventing us from taking that action.

The committee report contains numerous recommendations, some of which the government is already working towards and some of which no doubt the government will take up in the months ahead. As we pass through the summer from 2009 to 2010, the government will be able to say to the Australian people, ‘You elected us to work to combat climate change, and we have.’ The Rudd government was elected to combat climate change, and the work of this committee provides additional direction for the work already underway.

I am sure that the nation as a whole is looking forward to the debate in the Senate over the CPRS. They will all be looking to see whether their representatives in this place, some of the people who you would think would be most concerned about the effects of climate change, do the right thing by their constituencies and enable Australia as a nation to build on our own systems for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody else can do it—not those in the US, not those in China and India and not those heading to Copenhagen. We have to build our own systems here in Australia ourselves. Targets will come and go over time, but we need the infrastructure, the market systems and the ability to see what we are doing and where we are going into the future. We need that worked out here in this parliament, and the sooner the better—better for the emitters, better for the mitigators, better for the investors and better for all of us.

6:57 pm

Photo of Dick AdamsDick Adams (Lyons, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would also like to speak on the report that has been handed down, Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now, put together by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts. In this inquiry, the committee was charged with having particular regard to:

  • existing policies and programs related to coastal zone management, taking in the catchment-coast-ocean continuum
  • the environmental impacts of coastal population growth and mechanisms to promote sustainable use of coastal resources

That is all very good. I am sure you, Madam Deputy Speaker Saffin, would be pleased to have that as a reference. The terms of reference continued:

  • the impact of climate change on coastal areas and strategies to deal with climate change adaptation, particularly in response to projected sea level rise
  • mechanisms to promote sustainable coastal communities
  • governance and institutional arrangements for the coastal zone.

I do not think many people realise quite how vulnerable we are to the effects of climate change in our coastal areas. It was quite an eye-opener when I travelled to North Queensland with the caucus environment committee during the previous parliament and took part in hearings about what was already happening on our coastline and what was being built there. There were very large houses, mansions, being built right on the seafront, with little in front of them except trees. This was only a few years ago, but people were still building very close to the shore in coastal regions.

It is not so much the rise in sea levels that is of concern to me but the changes in climate and the fiercer climatic events that we will have to face. Those have already led to some extreme erosion, and not just on the coast. I watched the river in my home town rise to quite high levels this year. Although that has been quite usual at times in the past, it has caused enormous damage to the land on either side and on the hinterland, to some degree, because of the untimely removal of vegetation from the wrong areas. Yes, they were basically weeds and really needed replacing with natives along the banks, but the lack of understanding of climatic events led to some silly decisions being made. I do not find it odd that many of the findings in this report relate more to the lack of information at a local government level than to deliberate acts by people to desecrate the landscape. Today one of the papers in Tasmania had the headline ‘Rising tides of alarm’. The story states:

MORE than 20 per cent of Tasmania’s coast could be affected by rising seas in the next 50 years.

       …         …         …

A federal parliamentary report says 17,000 buildings in Tasmania and 21 per cent of the state’s coast are at risk of erosion and recession from sea-level rise within the next 50 to 100 years.

The media can be a bit of a panic merchant. Although we do need to take the warnings in this report seriously, there is no need for people to shut down and move away. There has to be some sensible assessment of what the risks are and how we manage them. Councils will have to review how they charge for works to fix and protect coastal areas, and residents might have to be differently rated depending on where they live and how their buildings are structured. In Tasmania the local government association’s chief executive, Allan Garcia, said to the Mercury:

“Along the coastlines and around … rivers in Tasmania there is certainly going to be far more scrutiny as to the standard of building,” he said.

He said people wanting to build on the coast would have to prove their houses could withstand climate-change impacts, and developments on reclaimed land would be less likely to get approval.

“Any canal estate development is going to have some significant hurdles to jump,” he said.

In North Queensland they build to meet high-wind and cyclone standards, and that is what we are starting to look at in other parts of Australia to address changes in our climate. That is not to say development of any sort should be banned, but it should be able to withstand extreme weather, and this is a new level that we will need to come to in regulations.

One of my constituents in Primrose Sands who bought a block of land there 11 years ago joked in the paper that he would shift the sand dunes to improve his view. Now they are fighting to preserve the dunes that protect their dream retirement home from changes in sea level. Storm surges have already pushed through and widened a gap in the dunes from 100 metres right up to his front yard. So people must become more informed and aware when they are seeking a sea change of the consequences of building in very low-lying areas. We have some particularly vulnerable spots in Tasmania, and of course our island has a very big coastline. Some of those vulnerable spots are well known, but there are others that might need some attention.

This report gives us a heads-up to take into account in our planning schemes and in our overall strategy planning at a state level. There needs to be overarching federal leadership. Coastal problems are national, not just state or local, but they do have those local manifestations, as I have mentioned. We really need some national direction and technical and financial support on it. So many of the local and regional bodies do not have the resources to provide the continuation of policy thinking, technical and information backup, and funding to meet the challenges of population growth in some of these areas. Infrastructure is how communities can best adapt to climate changes, especially if the sea rises a bit and there are storm surges and high winds to contend with.

This report gives a measured and close look at some of the problems we are facing and comes up with a number of carefully considered recommendations. I welcome the report and congratulate the bipartisan committee that has put the time and effort into reminding us of what can happen if we do not take the appropriate action now.

7:06 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The response to the report Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now, prepared by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, has been so positive in most quarters that it indicates to me two things. First, there is a recognised need for action to be taken to protect, mitigate and plan properly for our coastal communities, where approximately 80 per cent of our population lives; and, second, there needs to be clear, consistent leadership. The report has a recommendation noting that national leadership is one of the big issues, and that is clearly one of the things that is needed. I thank the chair of the committee—and the deputy chair of the committee, who has just joined us—for the work that they did in bringing together not only the report, which I have had time to work through if not to read in depth, but also the science, the knowledge of planning and all of the things that were needed for the report to come out.

I make a few points on it. I have a coastal community in my seat of Page. That stretches from Ballina down to Wooloweyah. Ballina is part of the coastline that goes into Byron Bay. I note that there has been lots of commentary about Byron Bay, particularly Belongil Beach. I have a rural seat but I have a coastal community. A lot of the population live there. It has been an issue of concern. The mayors of the local government areas that have that coastal strip have talked to me frequently about it. They have said that we need some national leadership on it as well.

The report also notes a number of other factors and says that we have to look at legal and insurance issues. Over the past period, in my area, as elsewhere, we have experienced some extreme weather events. They are increasing and their intensity is accelerating; therein lies the problem with climate change. I have had lots of flooding, storm surges and all sorts of events. Since I was elected and came into this place, I have been in a conversation with certain insurance companies and with members of the Insurance Council of Australia about this very issue, because it appears that some people could end up being priced out of insurance and not being covered. Some people are not being covered, but I have to say I have had good cooperation in working with the insurers when we have had those extreme events.

There are a few other things that have been happening. The report talks about the legal issue, but I would have to say that encroachment, erosion and liability are not new issues. There might be a different characterisation with the phrase ‘climate change’, but they are not new issues, particularly when you look at land law and climate change. There might have to be a different response, and there may be more of those cases that come before the court. Therein lies the challenge in what to do.

I welcome the report. It provides guidance, particularly for coastal communities, in my seat as well as elsewhere. I know that local government was looking forward to this report coming out. On the issue of national leadership, which is a big issue in the report, I hope that we can find some way forward. The last point I will make is that I have had a look at the maps that show what rising sea levels mean around Tasmania—because the work has been done on that since the fifties; the expertise is in Tasmania—and the extrapolated work looking at Australia, and it does give you some cause for concern. The report captures that. With those comments, I commend to the report to the House.

7:11 pm

Photo of Damian HaleDamian Hale (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to add my voice in support of the report Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. On Monday the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts presented this long-anticipated report. Climate change is certainly affecting everyone. It is one of the most important issues facing not only Australia but our region and the globe.

A great diversity of people were involved in the consultation in Darwin. We had Stuart Blanch, from the World Wildlife Fund; Luccio Cercarelli, Director of Technical Services in the City of Palmerston; me; the guy from the Northern Territory division of the Planning Institute of Australia; Lord Mayor Graeme Sawyer, from Darwin City Council; George Roussos, from the Chamber of Commerce; Charles Roche, from the Environment Centre Northern Territory; and Dr Steve Skov, from the Northern Territory Regional Committee of the Australasian Faculty of Public Health Medicine. That just shows the diversity of people that are involved when it comes to the challenge we are facing with climate change.

Just to localise it for a moment, obviously we have got World Heritage listed areas within the Northern Territory, such as Kakadu, that are under threat through the tidal surges that are occurring in our major rivers, the South and East Alligator, through climate change. For too long I think that this subject was not broached. It is happening all around Australia. I was on the Great Ocean Road with the Prime Minister’s Country Task Force this year, and in the coastal regions of Lorne and Apollo Bay they spoke about the erosion and how they had never seen it as bad. They had never seen the sea encroaching as far as it is and causing erosion, which obviously affects their tourist industry and affects the livelihoods of those coastal communities.

I congratulate the member for Throsby, Jennie George, who is the committee chair, and her deputy chair, Dr Mal Washer. They had a very responsible job and did fantastic work in preparing the report. I must admit that I have only just begun to read it, but I think that all members should make the time to read this report. It is vitally important to all our regions, regardless of whether you are in central New South Wales, in South Australia, in the Kimberley, in Darwin, in Cairns or down in Tasmania, as the member for Page alluded to.

As a parliament, I really do hope that, over the coming weeks, we can sit down with the opposition and work through the issues with regard to the ETS and the CPRS. I think it is absolutely vital that we as a parliament have a firm policy in place when we go to Copenhagen. It is far better for us to be in the room negotiating and protecting our industries that are emissions intense. Certainly being in the room, we can go into bat for industries such as the coal industry and agriculture. By not having a policy and not being firmly in agreement across the parliament as to how to approach this, you are not in the debate. It is so important that we take a responsible view as a parliament and that we can work together. I commend the member for Groom for his efforts in bringing in a position from the coalition’s point of view that they can work with with Senator Wong and Minister Combet in relation to coming up with a position that Australia can take forward, so that we can really be part of the solution regarding climate change and not part of the problem. That is vitally important.

I once again commend the chair of this committee on the diligent work that she has done with this report. I think it is one of the most anticipated reports in the time that I have been in this place, and I look forward to reading it in its entirety. I congratulate everyone who was involved in what is, I believe, one of the most important reports that this parliament has produced over the last 12 months.

7:16 pm

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too am pleased to make some comments on this report of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts into climate change and its environmental impact on coastal communities. This committee was very ably chaired by my good friend the honourable member for Throsby. She is to be commended for this excellent report, which I think will make a real difference to the way Australians think about the possible impact of climate change on their everyday lives.

I too represent a coastal electorate, including the bayside communities of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Albert Park, St Kilda and Elwood. Must of the western part of my electorate is built on sand dunes. If you look at the old maps of Melbourne, you will see that much of my electorate was saltwater swamp before the seawalls were built. Over the generations, thousands of homes, ranging from workers’ cottages in Port Melbourne to the mansions of the wealthy in Beaconsfield Parade, have been built along the foreshore. These many coastal homes as well as beaches, foreshore parks, marinas, yacht clubs and many other amenities in my electorate will be put at risk if the sea level continues to rise as a result of the uncontrolled climate change brought about by human activity. Even a slight rise in average global temperatures causes the volumes of the oceans to rise as water expands when it gets warmer. This is felt in increased sea levels.

The report of the standing committee on climate change documents that the damage caused to Australia by rising sea levels will be far more serious than the loss of suburban amenities, although this is certainly important to the people of my electorate. It will cause grave and irreversible harm to some of our great national assets. These include the Great Barrier Reef, which will be put at risk if the surrounding waters get both warmer and deeper; Kakadu National Park, which is at risk of flooding with salt water; the Coorong and Lower Lakes of South Australia, already in serious trouble because of the drought, also risk salt water flooding; the beaches of the Gold Coast, and we saw that in all of the television coverage of this excellent report; the Sunshine Coast; the 90-mile beach in Gippsland; and the great suburban surf beaches of Sydney and Perth—

Photo of Jill HallJill Hall (Shortland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

And New South Wales.

Photo of Michael DanbyMichael Danby (Melbourne Ports, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Sorry, and Newcastle. They are all in danger of being washed away if sea levels rise. I am frankly astonished that members of the opposition continue to deny that this is a real problem and that they are continuing to obstruct our CPRS bill in the Senate. The Australian today too denies that this is a real problem. Its editorial commenting on the standing committee’s findings states that there is no need for the alarm inherent in this report. Both the Liberal Party and the Australian are at sea on this issue. There is almost no major country in the world in which a greater peril as a result of uncontrolled climate change exists than in Australia. We are already the driest inhabited continent. A rise in temperatures could devastate many of our inland agricultural areas, depriving our grazing lands of water as rivers dry up and kill off our irrigated farming industries. I hope members of the National Party, in particular, are ready to explain to their constituents why they are blocking the government’s efforts to do something to stop climate change before we reach that tipping point at which it becomes irreversible—which scientists warn us may not be too far off. Today’s Canberra Times acknowledged this excellent report and said, ‘Now is the time to act’. In an editorial entitled ‘Government must act on sea rise warning’, the Canberra Times argued that this report should not be dismissed and that the action against further climate change must begin now.

To be frank, a lot of the reports this parliament produces are a waste of paper, but this one is genuinely important. It demonstrates in plain, everyday terms what the effects of uncontrolled climate change will be for millions of Australians and how it will cause economic and social loss as well as environmental loss. Its significance was reported in the important British newspaper the Guardian in an article entitled ‘Climate change threatens Australia’s coastal lifestyle, report warns’. The article said:

With 80% of Australians living along the coastline, the report warns that “the time to act is now’’.

This report is a testament to the political wisdom of the member for Throsby and her colleagues on the committee. The member for Throsby’s independence of judgment generated the big ideas behind this report. It is her great legacy to the future of Australia. I hope all Australians get a chance to read this report. I am going to put it on my website for my constituents to read, and I hope all my colleagues do the same.

7:20 pm

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

I seek leave to say a few words in conclusion to the discussion.

Leave granted.

Photo of John ForrestJohn Forrest (Mallee, National Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Regional Development) Share this | | Hansard source

I hope that the member for Throsby remembers the gesture.

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

I will, certainly. In concluding the discussion that has proceeded this afternoon, I have tried to follow most of the contributions that have been made. I genuinely want to thank all members who took the time, in the short space of time since the report was tabled, to be involved in this discussion. I must say that one conclusion I came to was that all the contributions that were made confirm the timeliness of our report and the 47 recommendations that come with it.

On behalf of the committee I want to make it clear that we have never sought to sensationalise the issue, but the ‘business as usual’ approach must come to an end. The individual contributions this afternoon and into the evening confirm the appropriateness of the theme of our report, which is on the front page: ‘The time to act is now.’ I am pleased that the contributions made by a range of members reinforced the practical relevance of our considerations for real people and real communities who are feeling the impacts now. For them it is not a theoretical debate; it is real. You only have to look at the front cover to see what is happening in the electorate of the member for Forrest or at the back page to see the homes precariously perched on top of a primary dune in the electorate of Dobell.

The member for Bonner spoke, and I must say that we visited Moreton Bay and that I can see and understand why she loves that area so much. Recommendation 24 picks up a very good water quality project that operates in that catchment, and we are recommending that that be a forerunner of other environmental accounts that we might put in place. I think the member for Canning epitomises the responsibilities of a member in an area of growing population. Mandurah and the surrounding areas have huge population pressures, which are being faced by a lot of councils. They also have the pressures of development near a Ramsar listed wetland, and of course they are not unique in having canal estates with some of the attendant problems that we saw.

Like me, the member for Shortland has a lake in her electorate, Lake Macquarie. It and its surrounding areas are particularly vulnerable, and I thank the community and the council for their submissions to the inquiry. We did not get to visit the member for Lyne’s electorate, but the contribution of Mr Keys as a witness is there in full. I think the problems of Mr Keys at Old Bar really highlight the level of uncertainty about issues to do with insurance and legal matters.

I would encourage the member for Solomon to continue reading the report, because if he continues to read it he will find a very nice photo of himself and witnesses who appeared in Darwin. Similarly, I say to the member for Lyons that we have visited Tasmania. There is some very interesting work going on among the scientists in Tasmania in regard to the science of climate change.

The member for Hindmarsh and the member for Port Melbourne have similar issues. To the member for Hindmarsh I say that I have been there and visited the Gulf of St Vincent. Recently we visited Port Adelaide, which is another hot spot. To the member for Port Melbourne I say that I had the great pleasure of living in his electorate for some time when I lived in Melbourne in a former life before I came to federal parliament, and I know the beauty of the bay there as well.

The members for Fowler, Lowe, Makin and Isaacs were all members of the committee. They spoke in the debate and they played a very important role as members of the committee, and I thank them particularly for their contribution. I note that the member for Lowe could not help but refer to the media coverage that our report has generated. I do want to thank all the media for helping the committee raise public awareness about these very important issues. Having a QC on a committee like ours sure helps, particularly when we got into very tricky matters relating to insurance and legal liability. Recommendations 19 and 23 of our report recommend that governments give some urgent attention to issues regarding liability and insurance matters, and I thank the member for Isaacs for his assistance with that.

It is a great committee. We work together very well. Each member has their own particular contributions to make to it. But I cannot let this occasion pass without extending my special thanks to the deputy chair, the member for Moore, Dr Washer. The bipartisan nature of this report continues a historic tradition since I have been a member of the committee, and the member for Dunkley referred to this in his contribution. I am delighted that the report came out as a bipartisan report, and I think much of the credit goes to the member for Moore and the way he handled the challenges of the issues we were confronted with.

On a personal level, I want to thank Professor Bruce Thom and Alan Stokes from the National Sea Change Taskforce for their input and advice. I thank them for their support and encouragement. The Department of Climate Change provided very valuable input into our report. The many initiatives that have already been undertaken in the short time that the department has been in place speak volumes about the quality of that department. We have their Smartline project, and we are all anxiously awaiting the first pass National Coastal Vulnerability Assessment. That will certainly move the agenda along substantially.

This report, like any report, is the result of collective endeavours. Our committee was supported throughout so well by our secretariat, currently headed by Julia Morris. I want to acknowledge the work of the secretariat in providing research and administrative support. I want to thank Sarah Hafez, a member of my electorate staff, for the assistance she has provided in the ongoing history of the development of coastal policy. I thank the secretariat for their wonderful research and administrative support. We had 28 public hearings, 170 witnesses, over 100 submissions and nine site inspections. Getting all of that organised is no mean feat.

Of course, the report would not have appeared without those who made the submissions and appeared before us. I trust that all your concerns have been properly described and dealt with. We do not have any magic solutions to some of the problems that came up before the committee, but we do believe that our report and its recommendations chart the way forward and bring forward your issues of concern, be you an individual property owner, a local government authority or a regional community. Whatever concerns we heard, at different levels of engagement on these terms of reference, this is, I think, the first time the federal parliament is dealing with these issues in a comprehensive way.

Before I conclude, one person deserves the special thanks of us members of the committee—that is, the inquiry secretary to the committee, Dr Kate Sullivan. Dr Sullivan has been with us since day one, and I think we all appreciate, as members of committees, the importance of continuity and having Dr Sullivan with us from day one till the end. It is really hard to express in words her commitment and enthusiasm, her professionalism and her knowledge. I just want to say, and I hope the Clerk of the House of Representatives is listening, that people like Dr Kate Sullivan and their professionalism—and her work is exemplary, I think—reflect very well on the quality of assistance that parliamentary staff provide for our work. So thank you, Kate; you did a great job.

Thank you, finally, to Ministers Wong and Garrett for the reference to our committee back in March 2008. I know it has taken time to respond but it is time that we believe was well spent. Now I just want to say that we all eagerly await the government’s response to the contents of our report and the 47 recommendations that go with it.