Senate debates

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Great Barrier Reef

3:28 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Superannuation, Financial Services and the Digital Economy (Senator Hume) to a question without notice he asked today relating to the Great Barrier Reef.

In my tenth year here in this chamber, I can put my hand on my heart, just like the minister did today, and honestly say that of all the cynical, unfathomable, unconscionable things that I've seen in this place by this government, the environment minister, in the middle of a worsening pandemic, at taxpayers' expense, flew around the world to lobby the 21-member UNESCO World Heritage Committee to vote against the science provided by the IUCN scientific committee to that UNESCO committee saying that they should list the Great Barrier Reef in danger because climate change, primarily, along with deteriorating water quality, threatens the World Heritage values of that property.

None of us in here can dodge the fact that the reef, especially in the last 10 years, has suffered catastrophic decline. There have been four mass coral bleachings in the last decade. Coral bleaching caused by warming oceans, caused by burning fossil fuels, hadn't occurred in history until 1998. In any of the records that we have there have been no incidences of these mass coral bleachings. Our best climate science models in this decade predicted it wasn't possible to get back-to-back bleachings of the Great Barrier Reef until 2050 based on emissions targets, yet that's exactly what we got in 2016 and 2017. While you deny that the reef is in danger, while you fail to act and while you prosecute a political pathway to deny, then you will fail to act. That's what this is about.

The only thing I could get out of the minister today was that, somehow, this salvaged Australia's reputation. This is not about Australia's reputation. This is about the future of the Barrier Reef and the UNESCO World Heritage Committee sending the strongest possible signal that the global community—not just Australia; the global community—needs to act on reducing emissions at least in line with the Paris Agreement. I couldn't think of a stronger possible siren call to action than for the Barrier Reef, the world's greatest natural wonder, to be listed in danger because of climate change.

Minister Ley has also in recent weeks said in a series of interviews that, somehow, her reason for lobbying against the world heritage in danger listing was 'to stop scientists from becoming depressed'. What a load of rot! I can tell you that many good scientists are thoroughly depressed at what they have seen unfold before their eyes in the last decade on the Great Barrier Reef. They've devoted their life to studying and promoting the health of the reef, and they are witnessing its decline. They are witnessing this government promoting fossil fuels and giving public money to new fossil fuel projects—to Adani, to Beetaloo and to new fossil fuel power stations. They've witnessed 80,000 square kilometres of our oceans being handed to fossil fuel companies to go out and explore for the next fossil fuel bonanza in a time of climate emergency. They have witnessed this. What could depress those scientists more than seeing a government in denial; a government deliberately peddling the interests of fossil fuel companies that, by the way, donate to this government and keep them in business? How cynical is that?

She also said that it was offensive to the reputation of First Australians. How the hell is this offensive to the reputation of First Australians? They're watching what we are doing and have done in our lifetime, in our colonial world, to the reef in just a very short period of time, after spending 40,000 to 60,000 years living in harmony with the Barrier Reef and its thousands of kilometres of ecosystems. I can't believe the Australian people are that stupid that they would buy the arguments of this environment minister, who has lobbied against climate action, lobbied directly for climate denial and lobbied to cover up the truth of the Great Barrier Reef. The only thing that will save the reef is the truth and action, because we have no choice. This is not the last you will hear of this. The committee will be revisiting this next year.

Question agreed to.


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