Senate debates

Monday, 10 February 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Fossil Fuels

6:46 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | Hansard source

The past few months in our nation have been very much a harsh look at what could be our new reality as a nation. It was devastating to see in my home state of WA the destruction of much of the Stirling Range, one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots, which burned from Boxing Day to the new year. It's a region that may never recover. This was a drop in the ocean compared with the chaos Australia has been thrown into over the past few months. In the 2019-20 bushfires so far—they are not 'this summer's fires'; they began burning in Queensland in late winter last year, and the Stirling Range also started burning before winter—these fires have burned more than 18 million hectares of our nation. Thirty lives have been lost and thousands of homes have been destroyed. A billion animals are estimated to have died, with the possibility that some endangered species are now extinct. We still don't really know the full scale of the devastation that we are facing. In responding—as a parliament, as a national government, as an opposition—we cannot think just of short-term relief. We also need to think of Australia's long-term future, given what has so far been a dismal response to this climate change emergency. Our climate is changing adversely. Longer hot and dry spells have created a tinderbox of much of our nation. Last year, 2019, was Australia's hottest and driest year since records began.

The government hasn't been listening. The government was told that back-burning was becoming more difficult because moist and cool windows of opportunity have become fewer and fewer. There was a politicised debate in which governments blamed greenies for refusing to allow back-burning, and on it goes without recognition that this very debate is a manifestation of climate change itself. Scientists have been telling us that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to changes in our weather patterns and that the global community should play safe and adjust its behaviour in relation to emissions. Greg Mullins, a former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, said in a letter to Minister David Littleproud in November last year:

To protect Australians from worsening bushfire conditions and natural disaster risks, Australia must accelerate and increase measures to tackle the root cause, climate change.

Despite the clear and unequivocal advice and evidence we have before us we have a divided and shambolic federal government that is divided over the science of climate change. We heard it in question time today and in Senator Canavan's remarks just now.

For years now our nation has been subjected to a government that is incapable of acknowledging the deep concern in the Australian community about the threat of climate change—particularly over this awful and, for some, absolutely terrifying summer that they've experienced in recent months. And yet we have a government that has no energy policy, just an ideological climate change denial not at all based on the evidence. The cost of renewable power generation is coming down, and this represents the future of Australia's electricity grids.

Recently, as Senator Canavan highlighted, we've seen plans to spend large amounts of taxpayers' money on building a new coal-fired power station that even private investors will not touch. Let's be clear: Labor does not support government funding for new coal generation. Given the investment that's been going into renewable energy, I do not believe that, without a government subsidy, you can attract investment for a new coal-fired power station. In this delicate climate, we as Australians should be demanding an update of processes and careful distribution of our resources to a more sustainable method of energy generation. And yet we have proponents of nuclear power promoted to our ministry.

I know. I work very closely with coal communities in my state, and their jobs are jobs we're fighting to keep around for years to come. But that's not the debate that you're having now in promoting new sources of coal-fired power in northern Queensland. We also have a Prime Minister who says his government is meeting and beating its climate targets. Well, your own data—your own official emissions data—confirms that Australia will not meet our Kyoto commitment to cut emissions by five per cent. Our emissions reduction by 2020 will amount to little more than a rounding error of 0.3 per cent. As a high per capita emissions nation, this is simply not good enough. We are experiencing the effects of climate change as a nation, and it's all very well for this government to say that Australia is but a tiny fraction of those emissions. The rest of the world does look to what Australia does and they can see. If we as a higher per capita emissions nation cannot lower our emissions then why should their citizens have that burden? We have to show national leadership in order to deliver emissions reductions within Australia and to have credibility in global discussions and agreements about these issues. Without that, we will be simply preparing for disaster after disaster after disaster, which we know we need to do in any case. But we must bring down that risk and reduce it as much as we can. Three degrees of global warming will represent catastrophic impacts on our nation, but time and time again we see a government that cares more about their image than about the Australian people.

I find it somewhat ironic that the Greens should put up such a motion given their voting down of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme some 10 years ago now. I believe they bear a very heavy responsibility for the fact that Australia still does not have an effective policy to tackle climate change and reduce emissions. If those five Greens senators at that time had voted with Labor, the CPRS would have passed this parliament. A carbon price would have been embedded in our economy, reducing emissions in the most environmentally and economically efficient way, and driven the rollout of clean energy technologies, creating a great boost for Australian jobs. Very importantly, greenhouse gas emissions would have been some 81 million tonnes lower in 2020 than currently predicted. It would have been something incredible we could have taken to the world stage. Over the past 10 years an additional 218 million tonnes of emissions would have been prevented from entering into our atmosphere. The Greens' rationale for voting against the CPRS was that its emissions reduction targets were inadequate and its transitional assistance for emissions-intensive industries was too generous. But you will find that these elements are very similar to what was finally past in the Clean Energy Future Package with the Greens support.

There's much more I would like to be able to say in this debate. Labor is very proud to have been responsible for the most comprehensive energy and climate plan during the Gillard government, and emissions dropped under that plan. Professor David Bowman, an experienced fire ecologist from the University of Tasmania, said that this fire season would 'reframe our understanding of bushfire in Australia', and it would be 'teaching us what can be true under a climate changed world'. It's not always comfortable but, if this impasse of climate change denial cannot be resolved, I dread what future generations will think of us. (Time expired)


Bill Thomson
Posted on 11 Feb 2020 11:56 am (Report this comment)

That same Professor David Bowman supports nuclear power for climate action.

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