Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:25 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I note that in discussing this very important issue of climate change there are five senators from South Australia in this chamber. That is entirely fitting, because of course South Australia is the driest state in the driest continent in the world and what happens in the matter of climate change is particularly important to the people of South Australia.

I am addressing my comments to the responses by Senator Abetz, the Minister representing the Minister for Environment and Water Resources, to questions today. I note Minister Abetz’s failed attempt to try to defend his government’s activity in the area of climate change and in particular his failure to defend the Prime Minister, who yesterday blustered and blundered when trying to articulate his government’s position on climate change. The Prime Minister, as we saw, had to scuttle back into the House and recast his incredible statement that ‘the jury is still out on the degree of connection’ between carbon emissions and climate change.

It may be that the Prime Minister did not hear the question that gave rise to that ridiculous response, but he has certainly heard the Australian public, who are asking loud and clear, ‘What has this government done and what is it doing about climate change?’ He has heard the criticism levelled at his tired, out-of-touch government, because he has read the polls. We know now that the polls are bad for the Prime Minister, because suddenly he is all about talking about climate change. He has dumped one dud environment minister and he has put the latest prime ministerial wannabe into the firing line.

So, instead of Senator Ian Campbell’s failed global quest to save the whale, we have ‘Malcolm in the muddle’ trying to cobble together a coherent government response to climate change—except that it is not coherent, as Minister Abetz so eloquently showed us, because the government is still full of climate change nonbelievers. They refused to sign up to Kyoto and they are still umming and ahing about whether or not Australia should have a national carbon emissions trading scheme. ‘Maybe we should wait for a global scheme to come into place,’ they say. How much longer are we going to wait for a national carbon emissions trading scheme? This government has still got the blinkers on as far as carbon pollution and climate change go, despite the stream of reports coming from eminent scientists that Senator Crossin and Senator Wortley mentioned earlier in this debate, such as the reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the highly esteemed Wentworth Group of scientists and the Australian of the Year, Dr Tim Flannery, a fine South Australian, who has dedicated a lot of his life to the issue of saving our planet.

This government has had more than a decade in office to do something to reduce the emissions that contribute to climate change and to mitigate the effects of climate change, and what do we hear today? ‘We set up an office called the Greenhouse Office. We did it 10 years ago.’ What has it done? Where is the evidence of anything that it has done? I am sure that it is a very nice office, but I have not seen any evidence of what it has done. What is the Greenhouse Office doing to mitigate what could be a potentially disastrous situation? We are looking at our magnificent natural heritage in Australia coming under threat because of climate change—the Great Barrier Reef; Kakadu; the Murray-Darling Basin, as we know; and the magnificent Coorong in my state, which is already in a diabolical situation and is apparently headed for an even worse environmental situation unless something is done quickly. What are we going to do when the alpine zones just a few hours from this place are affected by climate change? It will be too late then.

I noted that Senator Bernardi in his comments raised the issue of the environment versus the economy—that we cannot have a national emissions trading scheme because it might have an economic impact. Of course it will have an economic impact. We know that. We know that it is going to have an economic impact, but we have got to deal with that fact. The two things are not mutually exclusive. What is Senator Bernardi going to do when the agricultural and horticultural industries in South Australia, upon which the state heavily relies, are affected by increases in temperature and even less rainfall, as is predicted? I know Senator Bernardi is intimately involved in the wine industry. What is he going to do when the grapes stop growing in the Barossa and the Coorong and what is he going to tell the South Australian growers in the Riverland when there is not enough water to keep their crops growing? What does this government do? ‘It’s somebody else’s fault. We set up a Greenhouse Office, but it hasn’t actually done anything. We are not actually convinced.’ (Time expired)

Question agreed to.


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