Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change

5:03 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of urgency motion moved by Senator Milne. In the last week we have seen the release of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that not only affirms without doubt that climate change is a reality but also squarely points the finger at global warming through human-driven carbon emissions. Senator Milne’s motion states:

The need for the Australian Government to set clear medium and long term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets ...

How is this government going to do that when it cannot agree about climate change, even when faced with a report from a panel of international experts that spells it out to them? Yesterday we saw the Prime Minister in question time in the other place state that ‘the jury is still out’ on the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. But, when he saw the commotion that he had caused amongst the media, he quickly rushed to retract this, saying that of course the two are linked and that he was really talking about the drought and climate change.

This government obviously have no idea when it comes to climate change. Until very recently they have been caught in complete denial. Even now, with the whiff of an election in the air as they rush to appear concerned, they are at complete odds with each other. The Prime Minister has been out spruiking a domestic emissions trading scheme while the Treasurer has said the exact opposite—that we cannot have a domestic scheme; it has to be international. No wonder the community is confused. It is almost like watching a tennis match. If it were not such a serious issue, it would be tiring.

This obvious lack of communication between the Prime Minister and the Treasurer followed the announcement that the government is going to spend $10 billion on their grand water plan. This action has been eagerly awaited by all Australians. We have been waiting for the government to take action on water, and since the announcement we have been looking forward to seeing the costing process, where this money is going to be spent and how the problem is going to be tackled. But then came the news: the department of finance and Treasury have been cut out of the process.

Up until recently, the government have tried to tell us that climate change is a myth—a scare tactic that scientists and environmentalists have created. Despite their efforts to appear as if they have changed their tune in recent days, the Prime Minister and his responsible ministers still do not seem to believe the experts. In so doing, they are putting Australians at risk. The Prime Minister has failed Australians. It is his failure of leadership, indeed his failure to even acknowledge that climate change is real, which has put Australia’s economy at risk.

The Prime Minister coincidentally believes he has the answer to climate change. It is nuclear power, ladies and gentlemen! At the same time as Mr Howard was announcing his $10 billion water package, he was also spruiking nuclear power, which coincidentally was the subject of a recent US report that found that nuclear power stations require more water than any other power station using other forms of energy. That is exactly the solution we need in a country that already struggles when it comes to water. But, according to the Prime Minister and his government, the issues of climate change and water are not even related.

The Howard government has repeatedly shown on this issue that they just do not get it. They do not understand and, once again, they are not listening to experts or to the Australian community. They have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol. They have put profit before anything else and now the reality of climate change is starting to bite. It is not a myth, it is not a scare tactic; it is a reality and it is happening now.

Australians are concerned about climate change, and rightly so. Unfortunately for Australians, the government has failed to listen to the experts. It has failed to listen to Labor and the other parties in this place. Australia is feeling the effects of climate change right now. The Prime Minister showed just how out of touch he is on this issue when on Lateline, in response to a question about six-degree temperature increases over the next century, he said that some people might find that ‘uncomfortable’. The Howard government just does not understand the dire consequences that climate change could spell for our planet. The Prime Minister and the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources do not seem to comprehend that for every one centimetre increase in sea levels, the result will be one metre of coastal erosion. An Australia without its beaches—take a moment to think about that. And the environment minister has suggested that Australians will have to learn to live with climate change!

To put it in terms that the government does understand, climate change will have a far greater effect on our economy than it could ever have predicted. The Howard government has accused Labor of trying to create a debate on climate change. Labor does not want to waste time debating what is fast becoming the most significant challenge facing humanity as a whole. The time for action is now. The time for action is well overdue and there is no more time for the Howard government to waste.

If you listened to the debate in the Senate this afternoon, you would have heard the hypocrisy on the part of the government in stating what they have done over the last 10 or so long years in relation to the environment and you would have heard the concerns that have been raised by environmentalists, panels of experts and the Australian community. At the moment, we can see that the only things driving the Prime Minister and his government are the polls and the threat of an election later this year.


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