Tuesday, 3 December 2019
As we come to the end of another year, and after more than 6½ years of the coalition government in office, the two issues that have dominated political debate in South Australia for the last decade or so remain unresolved and still high on the list of priorities for all South Australians. I refer to the River Murray water uncertainty and the future submarine contract. Both of these matters are vital to South Australia's future. Yet, with both the submarines and the Murray-Darling Basin, the uncertainty has never been greater. Of equal concern, the South Australian Marshall Liberal government has shown itself to be totally incompetent in looking after the interests of South Australians in both of these matters.
After many promises, election posters and politics by the previous member for Sturt about the local submarine construction contract and the jobs that were going to be created, and after six years of coalition government, we are still no better informed about when construction will commence, how much work will be created in South Australia, how many submarines will actually be built, what the real cost of that build will be and, indeed, when we will get the first submarine and the last submarine. These are matters that have been consistently in the media and the subject of questions here in this parliament and, as each week and each month passes, it seems that there is more and more uncertainty about a matter that we were promised had been resolved several years ago.
The whole process has been a chaotic shambles that has left South Australian ship workers and shipbuilding reliant industries in South Australia in limbo for far too long. Companies and businesses cannot continue to operate on promises alone; they actually need commitments and work to start so that they can get on with their commitment to South Australia, having remained in South Australia in the hope that these works were just down the track.
For many South Australians, the submarine contract and other naval shipbuilding work were seen as a lifeline for South Australian engineering and manufacturing industries after the coalition government shut down South Australia's car-making. As expected, and as studies showed at the time, shutting down GMH would hit South Australia hard—and it has. The South Australian economy is now struggling, which makes certainty about the future construction and maintenance of submarines even more important for South Australians. Yet we hear nothing and we see nothing in respect of that from South Australian Liberals at either the state or the federal level in this place.
To compound matters, and after we all thought that in 2012 we finally had a sensible agreement on the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, we now have New South Wales threatening to withdraw from the plan, whilst the National Farmers Federation says that the plan needs to be fixed. Fixing the plan, in my view, is code for saying that the plan needs to be changed. Of course, being at the end of the system, South Australian inflows will always be reliant on what happens upstream—therefore, leaving South Australia at the mercy of upstream states. Changing the plan will of course have implications for South Australia. South Australia also has an extensive agricultural sector which is reliant on the Murray and which contributes significantly to South Australia's struggling economy. Any impact on that agricultural sector will simply add to South Australia's economic difficulties.
The South Australian Murray-Darling Basin Royal Commission comprehensively outlined the matters that need to be addressed by government if the Murray-Darling Basin is to be sustainable. Yet the recommendations of that commission have been completely ignored, including by the South Australian Marshall Liberal government.
In addition to the royal commission recommendations, the Australian Academy of Science also produced a report on the Darling fish deaths, and that report has also been sidelined. I went to a briefing when that report was presented here in parliament just over a year ago. The people who carried out the research for that report analysed the problems very carefully and provided a very detailed report about what needed to be done. It wasn't a political report; it was done by the Australian Academy of Science. But, again, I hear no reference to it and I see no action being taken as to the findings of that report. In my view, that report summarised very clearly what the issues were and what needs to be done.
Sadly, those who have the most to lose from the mismanagement of the basin are the farming families throughout the basin who have, in good faith over the year, and with approval from local authorities, invested everything into their farms. Their anger is understandable. They have the most to lose and, for many of them, they have little choice. It is not simply a case of saying to them, 'You can walk off the land if you can't make ends meet,' because they have invested their life savings and their blood, sweat and tears over many years into their properties.
Lastly I turn to climate change and the Morrison government's dismal failure to accept the gravity of the risks associated with global warming and to accept that man-made contributing factors to the world's changing climate can, in fact, be managed if we choose to act. No amount of Morrison government spin about how well Australia is doing in meeting the Paris climate accord targets will whitewash the Morrison government's denial of climate change and its betrayal of future generations.
All of the protests that we have seen around Australia and around the world are from people who genuinely care about the future of the world we live in. They also believe in the science and can see the changes happening throughout the world, in terms of both climate change and the destruction of the environment around us. They have every right, given that they will be in many cases the people that will be inheriting this world, to take a stand with respect to climate change.
Atmospheric greenhouse gas levels now consistently exceed 400 parts per million. That wasn't the case even a decade ago, when I came into this parliament. I remember talking about what the levels were then, and they were around 320 to 350 parts per million. Yet they are now regularly above 400 parts per million. With an increase in global population, which is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050—that is, another two billion people in this world—the climate change consequences of global warming are profound.
Our reliance on burning fossil fuels because they are a cheaper energy source is seriously misguided when we factor in the costs of extreme weather events, sea level rises, environmental degradation and human health impacts. They are false savings. Energy companies and fossil fuel companies make exorbitant profits whilst the rest of society pays the climate change costs. Again, there are many examples here, in Australia alone, of what climate change can do to destroy farming communities and the costs that flow from that.
The science is clear. The trends are clear. The last decade has provided considerable opportunity for detailed research, both here in Australia and around the world. The scientific predictions of a decade ago have been proven correct. Indeed, I can recall standing in this place and talking about the predictions of longer and more severe droughts, more severe floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and the like. All of those things have come to pass.
We cannot continue to procrastinate or delay action. Yes, a global solution is required, and Australia cannot do it alone. But Australia can show leadership, as it did in Copenhagen in 2009. We could be doing a lot more. We must do a lot more, and I believe the community expects it of us. Even since the election, the issue that has been raised with me, as much as any other, is concern about climate change. It may not have won us the election, but that doesn't mean that people are not concerned about it, and it is time that this government understood those concerns and acted accordingly.