Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Matters of Urgency
I rise to speak on the urgency motion put forward by Senator Milne on climate change. The fourth assessment report released by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has caused a lot of discussion globally and certainly here in Australia. It describes a future in which there is an increase in average temperature by up to three degrees, where there is no snow on many of the mountains, where the Great Barrier Reef is devastated and where many people’s lives could be jeopardised by a rising sea level. It also describes significant problems for the global economy. It is clear that this nation has to take decisive action. In fact, decisive action should have been taken much earlier. There is bad news in this report and it comes on top of the Stern report last year, which provided hard economic data about the effects of climate change on this nation and on the world economy. Every day more and more evidence is coming to light, yet the Howard government is only just starting to get it and until now really has not got it at all.
We know today that the Great Barrier Reef Research Foundation has warned that climate change is the No. 1 threat to the reef and could have devastating effects if it is not brought under immediate control. Increases in temperature, the foundation has warned, will cause widespread bleaching that will destroy marine life. This is not ‘uncomfortable for some’, as the Prime Minister has described on television; it is more than uncomfortable for all of us. Frankly, the Prime Minister’s comments show yet again a complete lack of comprehension of the scale and impact that climate change will have on all of our futures. Those comments are yet more evidence of a Prime Minister who simply does not understand the science of climate change.
After question time yesterday, the Prime Minister, when he was embarrassingly forced to retract his statement, said he mistook the question he was asked about climate change. I suggest it is more likely he simply mistook the science. He did not mistake the question; he mistook the science. He mistook the science because his conversion from climate change sceptic is barely skin-deep. His position is about political positioning, not about substance and not about conviction. If we have a Prime Minister who continues to doubt the link between carbon emissions and climate change then Australians really have to ask themselves if that is the sort of Prime Minister they want.
It is important to remember that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports tell us that many of the projections are scenario dependent, so the actual warming will be significantly affected by the actual emissions that occur—that is to say, we still have some choices. We still have the opportunity to act now and to act decisively in order to do all that we can to avert a disaster.
It is not just Labor saying this. In fact, the Business Roundtable has been saying for many months now that the government needs to give business what it describes as a long, loud and clear legal signal on the price of carbon. Electricity consumers have signed up to buy green electricity in unprecedented numbers. Increasingly, businesses are aware that sustainability and helping to address climate change are an opportunity to achieve innovations and competitive advantage. The fact is that Australian businesses are increasingly realising that understanding and managing the impacts of climate change are important to ‘business as usual’. It must be factored into their risk management strategies. The chairman of the Business Council of Australia, Michael Chaney, has made precisely this point. He has stated that, regardless of one’s views on climate change, the case is now such that business must ensure against the risk of it with an effective policy response.
We have also had community and church leaders speaking out. For example, Bishop George Browning of Canberra has stated that refusing to do everything within our power to stop the world from heating up is a moral responsibility. The community, business, states and consumers are all crying out for national leadership on this issue. But where is the Howard government? The Howard government continues to have its head stuck in the sand, hoping the issue will go away and, perhaps more importantly, trying to pretend that it is doing something about it. The government is not doing something about it, and if it does it will only be because it has been pushed to do so for political reasons.
Labor has been saying for some time now that we need a comprehensive plan to address climate change that includes immediately ratifying the Kyoto protocol, cutting Australia’s greenhouse gas pollution by 60 per cent by 2050, establishing a national emissions trading scheme and substantially increasing the mandatory renewable energy target. What is interesting to note, and how you can tell the government’s change is really only skin-deep, is how ministers have not got their lines straight on this issue. We all remember, don’t we, that Minister Macfarlane, Minister for Industry Tourism and Resources, last year described Al Gore’s film on climate change as ‘entertainment’. We all remember him talking in very negative turns about the impossibility—I think he used the word ‘folly’—of a carbon emissions trading scheme. We have seen Minister Macfarlane softening his position. He is now saying that he is keeping an open mind to the prospect.
We also see the Prime Minister softening his position. We have the prime ministerial task force—I think other senators have described this—indicating that it is unlikely that a global trading system will be available in the near future and that the establishment of a national system should be considered. This is a report prepared by the Prime Minister’s own department in circumstances where the Prime Minister and his ministers have previously said that we cannot go it alone, that we have to have a global scheme up and running before we can do anything. We have seen a softening of position by both the Prime Minister’s own department and Minister Macfarlane, but unfortunately people do not seem to have told Senator Minchin.
We all remember that Senator Minchin yesterday—and I think again today, but certainly yesterday—was extremely hard on the issue of whether or not Australia should investigate or establish a national carbon emissions trading scheme. He stated:
The government continues to be opposed to Australia acting unilaterally to tax Australian industry by way of a domestic emissions trading scheme or a carbon tax in the absence of any action by our trading partners or other major nations ...
Senator Minchin is demonstrating yet again that the government are all at sea on this issue, that any conversion is for political purposes only. There is an attempt to look as if they are dealing with the issue but they do not believe it, which is why they cannot get their lines right, why they are inconsistent on this issue and why their policy position is all over the place. (Time expired)