Senate debates

Wednesday, 13 September 2006

Questions without Notice

Climate Change

2:26 pm

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Does the Prime Minister agree with former vice-president of the US, Al Gore, that ‘global warming is the greatest crisis that the world has ever faced’? Al Gore has said:

The scientific community has endorsed the validity of the science in the movie.

What is the Prime Minister’s and the government’s response to this comment? Will the Prime Minister be seeing Al Gore’s new film, An Inconvenient Truth?

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not privy to the Prime Minister’s viewing habits. I think I saw some comments in which he said he did not think he would find the time to see Mr Gore’s movie. I think, indeed, the relevant minister, Ian Macfarlane, was even less enthusiastic about seeing Mr Gore’s movie. I would not personally want to subscribe to this view, but there is a view that Mr Gore may well be campaigning for the next US Democrat presidential nomination and this film may well have something significant to do with that. Indeed, somebody very disparagingly referred to Al Gore as the Northern Hemisphere’s Bob Brown, except he has an executive jet.

In all seriousness, the government from the Prime Minister down and certainly in the form of Senator Ian Campbell, the environment minister, does take the issue of climate change seriously. We accept, of course, that the climate is changing. We accept that there is evidence of warming. We accept that CO emissions play a part in that warming. We are, as the senator well knows, not convinced that signing up to the Kyoto protocol will do anything to deal with that. Indeed, if the Kyoto protocol were implemented absolutely in full, I think it puts off a certain temperature being reached by six years. That is all that it would in fact achieve.

While we have committed through our own programs, and we are investing considerable sums of taxpayers’ money, to contain the growth of CO emissions in Australia, we are on target to meet the targets we set for Australia—whereas countries that have actually signed up to the Kyoto protocol are well short of ever meeting their targets. They have overshot them. Denmark, for example, is currently 25 per cent over and above its target; Austria, 22 per cent; Ireland, 20 per cent; Spain, 36 per cent—all these countries of Europe. We keep getting lectured by the Europeans about this issue. Many of them benefit from the fact they have nuclear power. As Senator Ian Campbell was just saying, nuclear power is one of the answers to this—but of course Senator Nettle and her colleagues are totally opposed to nuclear power. These countries have the advantage of nuclear power, which does help them contain their emissions, but, on all the evidence, they are going to go way over their Kyoto targets. Through the sorts of programs and policies we have put in place and that Senator Ian Campbell is currently managing we are on target to reach our Kyoto targets. We also think that it is critical to ensure that the world understands the importance of adapting to climate change.

While it is proper, reasonable and sensible for us to do what is appropriate to help contain greenhouse gas emissions, as the former Director of the National Climate Centre, William Kininmonth, made clear in the Australian this week—and I commend his article to all senators—‘CO is only one of a number of greenhouse gases. Water vapour is in fact the principal greenhouse gas.’ The climate is changing. The climate has been changing since the globe was formed. Mr Kininmonth made the point that it is not that long ago we had an ice age. This is a period in between ice ages. The critical issue is to ensure that we sensibly contain our emissions. The Prime Minister has made a fundamental commitment to that objective. We are investing some $2 billion in programs to—(Time expired)

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. How can the government claim to be serious about the threat of climate change when government subsidies to the fossil fuel industry massively outstrip subsidies to the renewable energy sector? Following the Go Green campaign, launched by Rupert Murdoch in his Sun newspaper yesterday, about the need to address climate change, will the Australian government increase our mandatory renewable energy target to create an environment that is conducive to the renewable energy sector to avoid more solar and wind companies leaving Australia and going overseas? Or is this government still suffering from what former Vice-President Al Gore described as ‘category 5 denial’?

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

We will responsibly deal with this issue, but not in such a way as to drive jobs and industry offshore. There is absolutely no point in Australia bringing in policies which simply mean that industries and jobs move to India, China or somewhere else. That is not dealing with this issue in the way that we are. That would be utterly futile. In fact, it would increase the level of greenhouse gas emissions. We are the government which introduced the mandatory renewable energy target. We are proud of that. But we made clear our reasons for holding the target at the level that it is currently at. I repeat that the government will continue to put in place affordable, sensible and appropriate policies to help contain emissions and, at the same time, we will ensure that we do our utmost to adapt to the reality of climate change.