Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Matters of Public Interest

Climate Change

12:59 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a few remarks on a matter of public importance, but before I do I cannot let Senator Fifield escape, given some of the untruths that spilled out of his mouth in the speech he just gave. Firstly—and this must be corrected for the record—Senator Fifield failed to remind or to tell everyone that it was his Liberal government that opposed the construction of the Wolffdene Dam back in the 1989 election, yet he has conveniently tried to blame Mr Rudd and Mr Goss. Also, and I am commenting on part of Senator Fifield’s contribution, while it is very easy for the Howard government after its 10 long years in power to blame state Labor governments for job losses, why the heck have we got the greatest skills crisis in history? Their solution is to flood the country with subclass 457 visa workers. So, Senator Fifield, that was a wonderful contribution, but it was a shame that you failed to tell the truth.

Yesterday, in the other place, the Prime Minister was asked by the Leader of the Opposition:

Does the Prime Minister recall his industry minister saying just six months ago: ‘I am a sceptic of the connection between emissions and climate change’? Does the Prime Minister support this statement?

In answering this important question, the Prime Minister said ‘the jury is still out’, indicating that he did not believe that there was a link between human produced carbon emissions and climate change. But, lo and behold, just four hours later the nonbeliever slunk into the near-empty chamber, like a flea-ridden dog banished from the neighbourhood pack, to declare that he had seen the light; he was a believer after all. But one has to ask: how did this happen? While you may call me a sceptic, it is very hard to accept the Prime Minister’s explanation that he mistook the question from the Leader of the Opposition to be about the link between climate change and drought.

Madam Acting Deputy President, you may find this very hard to believe but I am not a Rhodes scholar! In fact, I am not even a university graduate. But even I know the difference between the word ‘emission’ and the word ‘drought’. I suspect the truth of what happened was nothing to do with confusing two words and more to do with the ambush and bombardment of nervous senior political advisers after question time in the Prime Minister’s office. I have a vision: I see these advisers armed with baseball bats and thesauruses, waiting to whack their confused leader who had just made a titanic blunder. We know the Prime Minister spent the whole summer finding a more obliging gumby to keep his lack of action on climate change off the front pages. And then, after all his hard work and forward planning, he—none other than the Prime Minister—blew it on day one of an election year.

This is a Prime Minister under pressure. Is he past it? Is he running out of puff? It reminds me of reading books to my children when they were little, and the one that jumps out at me is about Puffing Billy. The little old red-faced engine—under extreme pressure and bursting at the brow, struggling to climb his hill—just kept saying to himself, ‘I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.’ But Puffing Billy did not have nervous backbenchers in marginal seats and an ill-disciplined pack of social agrarians as part of his load, weighing him down. I would not be surprised if all the little wagons behind the Prime Minister started to hear a loud voice in their heads yesterday that said, ‘I think he can’t, I think he can’t.’

It has been concluded by no fewer than 600 scientists representing 113 governments that the impact of climate change is obvious. Maybe I am being a bit unfair on the Prime Minister. He had a busy time last year and after consecutive days with other world leaders overseas, wearing matching outfits, he took some time out—which no-one would deny him or any other Australian worker. But I can imagine the Prime Minister’s angst as he strolled along the pristine sands of Cable Beach, in that fine home state of mine and Senator Webber’s, because the then minister for the environment, Senator Ian Campbell, had started to ’fess up about climate change and carbon emissions. In a speech in this place on 1 December 2006, Senator Campbell, when speaking to the Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006, said:

The International Energy Agency says that we will need to roughly double the amount of energy produced in the world in the next 30-odd years. However, we also know from science and particularly the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that, while we go down the path of producing substantially more energy, we will have to do so with substantially reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We know that to just stabilise greenhouse gases where they are at the moment—and we know that that is already causing climate change at an unprecedented rate in human history—

‘an unprecedented rate in human history’! Later that day, Senator Campbell stated:

I have the difficult job, and the government has the difficult job, of telling the truth to the Australian people …

They are the important words straight out of Senator Campbell’s mouth—‘telling the truth to the Australian people’. Senator Campbell spilt the beans on the link between emissions and climate change. But obviously, just like other Western Australian Liberal members of the Howard government, Senator Campbell’s voice carried no weight in the party room. So, as the sun set on the Pearl Coast, the Prime Minister must have been tearing himself apart, knowing that one of his own cabinet ministers had started to chip away at the deception on the link between emissions and climate change.

Being ever the opportunist and one who governs for contemporary electoral fortunes above the future of this country for generations to come, the Prime Minister had to resolve the burning issue of who to cull from his front bench and which egos he would have to appease. I don’t know, but one can only imagine that he had to weigh up whether it was going to be the incompetent, the lazy or the one who had started to stray from the script of deceit and denial on climate change. But—happy days!—the Prime Minister ended up with the trifecta: the back of the axe came down on some of the incompetent, some of the lazy and the one who was off message.

What the Prime Minister had not gambled on, though, was getting the quartet with his choice of replacements for the underperformers. In the elevation of the millionaire from Bondi, the member for Wentworth, the Prime Minister guaranteed that his front bench would be out of touch with ordinary Australians. With the former environment minister silenced, the truth will again be blurred on the very real and devastating effects of climate change. Within a couple of days of being sworn in, the Minister for the Environment and Water Resources wasted no time shoving his foot in his mouth when he said on AM on Saturday, 3 February 2007 that ‘the geology of the east coast is adequately elevated to deal with a one-metre sea rise’. He also said that claims about rising sea levels are ‘very exaggerated’.

What an inglorious commencement of a ministerial career. While millions of ordinary Australian are doing their bit to reduce energy use, cut down greenhouse gas emissions and recycle—to protect our great country for the kids they are raising—we have a senior member of the government off with the fairies. The Australian public will not be fooled. They can see through this government’s deceit and glossing over of the truth on the environment. As much as the government hate to admit it, even they know the game is up. The Australian public want real solutions on climate change. They do not want, and will not have, the wool pulled over their eyes by a Prime Minister under pressure at the end of his career. Nor will the Australian public fall for a distraction that the sky will fall in on the economy if we start to look at real solutions to climate change.

While distractions might work for the fictitious President Bartlet treading the carpet in The West Wing in his final term in office, they will not work on the Australian public, who have worked this government out. The Prime Minister talked about the red devil of interest rates in the hands of Labor at the last election—and what happened? In the so-called steady hands of the Prime Minister, interest rates have risen four times since the last election. Thanks to the Howard government, Australians now spend a record share of their income on mortgage interest repayments. That is not what Australians voted for. Nor did they vote for a government that is doing all it can to hide the truth about climate change and its triggers whenever asked. The lies have got to stop, and the Prime Minister has to start telling the truth on climate change.