Senate debates

Tuesday, 15 July 2014


Clean Energy Legislation (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (General) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, True-up Shortfall Levy (Excise) (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Manufacture Levy) Amendment (Carbon Tax Repeal) Bill 2014, Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas (Import Levy) (Transitional Provisions) Bill 2014; Second Reading

8:36 pm

Photo of Rachel SiewertRachel Siewert (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to this round of the debate on the government's attempts to get rid of the clean energy package—the wrecking of a package that is carefully designed to address, as Christine Milne and my colleagues have said repeatedly, the real emergency facing this country: the climate emergency. I join with my colleagues and say to any future grandchildren that I may have that I did my level best during the debates in this chamber to stop the Abbott government putting the wrecking ball through the clean energy package. I will be able to look them in the eye and say, 'I recognised this.'

I have spent most of my life trying to address climate change. As many people in this chamber know, I used to be the coordinator of the Conservation Council of WA. I remember that I had some farsighted teachers. I remember my teachers talking to me about what they then called the greenhouse effect. I know that what is being done today is wrong, that it will impact on our climate and that we do need to put in place measures that address climate change. The clean energy package does just that. It has a number of measures—not just a price on carbon but a number of measures that complement that.

Two new pieces of information have come out in the last couple of days about the impact climate change is having already on Australia and my home state of Western Australia, and I will go into that in a minute, but also on Aboriginal and traditional landowners, and I will go into that in a minute. An article in The Guardian talked about a paper on the nature of climate change and regional rainfall decline in Australia, attributing it to anthropogenic greenhouse gases and ozone levels. It points out that in Perth and the south-west part of Australia, we are going to have a massive 40 per cent reduction in rainfall. That is on top of the rainfall decline that we have already had over the last couple of decades—a well-documented decline in rainfall that various Western Australian governments over the last 20 years have recognised with their efforts, but not strongly enough—for example, in providing a water resource for Western Australia. This research points out that Perth has been identified as the most vulnerable city—the prediction is a 40 per cent decrease in rainfall. The research points out that the rainfall could mean that the capital of Western Australia, Perth, my home city, will have to rely on alternative sources of water. But the point here is that it is just not about having to supply further water sources for Perth; it is going to impact further on our agriculture. I say 'further' because, as I have highlighted in this place before, climate change and climate variability is already adversely impacting on our agriculture in Western Australia.

Our farmers in Western Australia are some of the best at adaptation and that has also been recognised. We have had to adapt because we have been farming sand for over 150 years. We have to be able to adapt, but adapting to a 40 per cent decrease in rainfall, on top of what we have already adapted to, is virtually impossible. Then we look at what impact it is going to have on natural ecosystems. Already, we are seeing drying of those ecosystems. It is going to have a devastating impact on what is left of our forests. It is going to have a devastating impact on our biodiversity, bearing in mind that Western Australia is a biodiversity hotspot. It has got plants and animals that are found nowhere else in the world. A biodiversity hotspot means that it has got one of the highest levels of biodiversity on the planet. That is at risk. Let us look at the impact it is going to have on wetlands. Western Australia, the Perth metropolitan area have already lost between 80 percent and 85 per cent of its wetlands. Those wetlands are connected to the groundwater systems. If the rainfall is reduced by 40 per cent, it will have a devastating impact on that environment.

This study talks about why climate change is impacting on our rainfall in Western Australia. It also says that Perth is particularly vulnerable because most of our rainfall—when we get it—falls between May and September. In other words it is a winter rainfall pattern and that is the pattern which is going to be affected. I am not going to go into all the technical details that the paper goes into about why climate change is going to hit so extensively on southern Australia, particularly south-west Australia and Perth.

Rainfall flow in Perth reservoirs has already reduced by 75 per cent over the last 50 years. I make this point because with the dropping in rainfall of 40 per cent, it actually decreases the run-off by a much more significantly higher percentage. For example, a one-third drop in rainfall multiplies out to a two-thirds decline in the run-off. If you think a 40 per cent decline in rainfall is bad enough, it is going to have a devastating impact on our dams.

Points have also been made about the impact of climate change and reduced rainfall on our beautiful wine-making area of Margaret River. Amongst the Greens, we have a bit of competition about who has got the best wine-growing areas in Australia and we in Western Australia think it happens to be Western Australia. Whoever happens to win that title, the fact is that the declining rainfall here is going to have a significant impact on the beautiful wine-growing area of Margaret River. As I said when I started my contribution, this study has only just come out and is further evidence of the impact of climate change.

Unfortunately, when I sat here listening to the contributions from the government to the last debate on this package of bills, it was absolutely clear from the contribution made by government senators that although they say they acknowledge climate change, what they do not acknowledge is that the climate is being changed by human activity. Effectively, they deny climate change. I urge people to go back and look at those contributions because nobody listening to those contributions can be in any doubt that they do deny the impact of human activity on the climate.

Another important point that came out at the end of last week was that traditional owners have made public now their concerns about the impact of getting rid of a price on carbon on their abatement activities. Kimberley Land Council expressed concern last week that carbon projects worth millions of dollars to their communities will be lost as a result of the abolition of clean energy package. They said that carbon projects registered by Aboriginal organisations and native title lands in the state's Kimberley, in my home state of Western Australia, had generated carbon credits through fire management practices. They are concerned that 230,000 credits generated so far at a value of $5 million will be dramatically reduced causing a massive loss to remote communities. The KLC said:

When you look at the size or the scale of the activity in the area, you're talking millions of dollars and lots of opportunities for income to be generated to provide a number of outcomes, particularly around employment, and jobs and training and business opportunities.

All the investment of time, peoples' energy, developing capacity, people that are getting geared up to try to do something with their lives.

Rug being [pulled out from] under them is an understatement.

To be very upfront, I have not always seen eye-to-eye with the Kimberley Land Council on some other proposals. We talk to them a lot about their excellent work on land management practices, on Indigenous protected areas and on Indigenous rangers programs. We have worked very closely with them and I absolutely take a point here. This will significantly impact on their building development opportunities in the Kimberley in their understanding of the country. I have spent time up there. I have spent time with the rangers. I know of the work they are doing. It is excellent land management work and here is an opportunity they are going to lose when the government is joined by some of the crossbenchers in the Palmer party to vote down this package. Not only are they denying the impact of climate change, are they getting rid of this excellent package and pricing mechanism but also they are impacting an opportunity for traditional owners to earn millions of dollars from their land management packages.

I do not think I can let this opportunity go without mentioning—and Senator Milne mentioned this yesterday—the editorial in The West Australianyesterday. Not often do I quote the West in this place but on this occasion I need to. Yesterday's editorial said:

Barring more Clive Palmer antics, the Federal Government will sometime this week axe the carbon tax. There will be cheers and celebrations among Government MPs—

and we have heard about that tonight—

and in some of the nation’s boardrooms.

But for anyone who cares about good economic policy, who thinks closely about Australia’s economic future and who acknowledges climate change is real … well, it’s time for tears.

There’s no other way to say it. The decision to get rid of a price on carbon is one of the poorest and most short-sighted economic policies inflicted on this country.

Shane Wright goes on to talk about the impact of some of the finer points. My point here is that this is economic vandalism. It is taking billions of dollars out of our economy. The Prime Minister said to the crossbench, 'Identify alternative sources of revenue.' Well, there are billions of dollars plus, helping generate a cleaner future for our children, for our grandchildren and for the biodiversity of this planet, and for traditional owners. We were providing leadership around the world but now we go to the bottom, we are at the back of the class. The world is now starting to see that we need to take urgent action on climate change but we are going out the back door, pedalling backwards to rewind what are recognised globally as leading measures on climate change.

Our children and grandchildren will look back to this time and say, 'What were you doing?' I will be glad to tell them that we did everything we could. We will continue to campaign. Believe me, in the not too distant future Australians will be saying to you, 'What did you do? You lied to us. Why did you not understand? Why don't you get it? Why didn't you get it then? You've set us so far behind.' We will ensure that we have effective action on climate change. This is a road bump to change because people around the world know that this is urgent.

How many more articles and how much research do you need to realise that, if you do not take action now, you are condemning the planet, that you are condemning the future of the peoples of this planet and the biodiversity of this planet? We on this side will not stop until we have effective action. We will be voting no to this repeal and we will be campaigning as hard as we can to make sure we have effective action on climate change, including a price on carbon. I swear to you that is what we will be doing.


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