Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change

4:39 pm

Photo of Malarndirri McCarthyMalarndirri McCarthy (NT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

When Patsy Evans was out there in the Limmen Bight area, she talked about that area of land and of her concern. She says, 'Go out and see what's happening.' She's talking to everybody, saying: 'Go out and see what's happening. Be aware, and look at it. Don't make decisions where you are.' That urgency that she feels, and other traditional owners feel—not just in the gulf region but right around the Arnhem Land coastline across to the west, they are seeing the changes and are raising these very same things, especially the rangers who are working on country. So I'm certainly passing on the call of Patsy Evans: find out what's happening in remote Australia and see how climate change is having an impact, not just down here in the south. We have seen tremendous examples, which are just frightening, for people in the south. But please, make sure you're checking out what's going on in northern Australia.

Mangroves are a vital ecosystem. They are nurseries for the mud crab, barramundi and prawn fisheries—or they once were, where it was really abundant. But, sadly, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the once vibrant mangrove forests consist mainly of dead trees and dusty earth. It is truly unbelievable. The few live seedlings coming through are exposed and vulnerable to damage from the fallen dead trees. And that means no bush tucker for people who may live many kilometres from the local stores—but just because they want to go out there and look after country. Ms Evans also said that through the mangroves you get a lot of bush tucker, mud mussels and shells. But they're all dead, and it makes her feel really sad. Well, she's not alone with that. It's something that all the communities are talking about.

In Darwin Harbour there's a small island called Bare Sand Island, or Ngulbitjik; it's shaped like a teardrop. Here Australian flatback turtles have chosen their natural breeding ground. And the waters around Bare Sand Island support significant numbers of foraging green and hawksbill turtles. While the island provides an ideal habitat for breeding, with only a few jabirus and some weedy plants posing a threat to the species, still only one in 2,500 hatchling turtles is expected to survive to adulthood. Both species are vulnerable to extinction under Australian classification. Global warming poses serious threats to sea turtle populations, since sex determination and hatching success are dependent on the nest temperature.

Young and old people are feeling the stress of climate change inaction from this government. According to a national survey of young Australians by Mission Australia into young people, the number of people who said the environment was a key national issue has more than tripled, from 9.2 per cent to 34.2 per cent in just one year. In the Northern Territory, it's gone from 10.3 per cent to 27.3 point per cent, and this is causing great stress to our youth. According to a 2010 report, 'Impact of climate change on the Northern Territory', if current emission rates continue, climate change is predicted to cost Australian households roughly $20,000 per year, and that's not including the impact of extreme weather events.

Industry such as cattle exports will be affected, and also tourism. The NT's cattle exports are projected to decline by 19.5 per cent by 2030, and that's all due to climate change—19.5 per cent. In Kakadu National Park, on the land of the Mirarr people there, 80 per cent of Kakadu's beautiful freshwater wetlands are predicted to be destroyed in the next 50 years. The low flood plain makes it vulnerable to even a minimal sea level rise. In Central Australia, outdoor tourism during summer is already becoming hazardous. It's just too hot—simply too hot.

We are facing a climate emergency in this country, and there is a breakdown in consensus on climate change policy in Australia. People are waiting for action on climate change. The people across Australia—especially when we see students and so many people come together calling on legislators, wherever we may be—are calling on all of us and saying: 'Please act—please. Look after country.' It's a call that's echoed by First Nations people when they look at country and see the dramatic changes, see the different flood levels just in the Katherine region, the Arnhem region and across to the west. When you hear the old people talk about changes in weather patterns you know this mob have seen things that are unexplainable in terms of some of the areas, but we know that it is a climate emergency out there.

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