Monday, 2 May 2016
Matters of Urgency
I inform the Senate that I have received the following letter, dated 2 May 2016, from Senator Siewert:
That the record-breaking coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reefs and the choice between the Adani coal mine and healthy reefs.
Is the proposal supported?
More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—
I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:
The record-breaking coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reefs and the choice between the Adani coal mine and healthy reefs.
Last week I had the great privilege to visit the Great Barrier Reef, which is one of the world's great natural wonders. It is the only living thing seen from space. There is nothing like this great jewel anywhere in the world. So it was with a great sense of exhilaration that I was able to experience healthy parts of that great underwater world, but there was also a great sense of sadness to experience parts of the reef that are dead and dying. Seeing those vast expanses of ghostly white coral reefs, some of them a sickly yellow colour, it was almost an apocalyptic scene—small fish that rely on the reef for food and camouflage exposed and vulnerable—knowing that a great part of the reef will never recover from this bleaching event that is very directly related to human induced global warming. And we are seeing the same drama being played out on our Kimberley coastline as the waters remain warm.
As the bleaching event on the east coast comes to its tragic conclusion for this season, we know that we risk losing up to 50 per cent of those great coral reefs in the northern part of the Great Barrier Reef. If we lose those reefs, we will lose many of the fish and other species that rely on it. We will lose some of the most incredible biodiversity anywhere on earth. The reef is something to be protected in and of itself but it is also to be protected for those jobs that rely on it for tourism, the 69,000 people whose livelihoods depend on it, and the $6 billion each year generated from the Great Barrier Reef. Yet, in the midst of the loss of one of Australia's—and indeed the world's—greatest assets, here we are continuing to export coal from Queensland knowing that the coal that we are selling to the rest of the world is accelerating the decline of those incredible coral reefs.
We have a choice. We can say no to new coalmines and protect the reef, or we can do as both the old parties want us to do, and that is open up new coalmines and sign the death warrant for those incredible precious places. We Greens say, 'Let us bring on the transition that is so critical, which will create jobs and international investment, protect tourism and, most of all, protect that incredible, unique gift. Let us not take that gift from our children.
I rise to speak to the urgency motion that was moved by Senator Di Natale. I make the point to those who might be interested in this process—and I am sure the wider Australian community is interested in our coastlines and particularly the Barrier Reef and, in my case, the Kimberley region of north Western Australia—that this coral bleaching event that has been reported and commented on today is certainly a severe challenge but it is a global challenge. We know that the same thing is happening across the Pacific. We know that it is happening in areas such as Hawaii, the Seychelles and, closer to home, in Indonesia. We also know, of course, that we are in the midst of experiencing a global El Nino phenomenon. Australia is taking action. It is taking serious action.
In this debate we mention the Great Barrier Reef and the north Kimberley, but it is interesting to note that even the corals in Sydney Harbour have recently been reported to be experiencing this phenomenon. On Christmas Island—where nobody would suggest that there is any coalmining or similar to it—there has been significant bleaching recently in Flying Fish Cove on Christmas Island. The Australian Institute of Marine Science estimates that 70 to 75 per cent of corals in shallow water, less than eight metres, in excess of 30 to 40 per cent of corals between eight and 20-metres depth and, unexpectedly, at least 10 per cent of corals at depths of 30 to 50 metres around Christmas Island have been affected. It is less so on Cocos Island. Further to the west north-west there has been limited bleaching of the coral reefs. It is a widespread issue and we see that it is largely due to the El Nino effect.
We will now explore to what extent the Adani coalmine is likely to have an impact on this. But, before doing so, I do want to draw to the attention of the Senate the action that Australia is taking and has taken. We were one of the first countries to sign up to the Paris climate change agreement recently, when my colleague, the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, was in Paris to sign that. Australia is now on target to beat the five per cent below 2000 levels, which we are committed to, by 2020. In fact, there is a prediction that we will exceed it by almost 80 million tonnes. The fact that we obliterated and got rid of the $15.4 billion carbon tax has largely been to the advantage of all Australians, especially when it comes to their electricity and other power prices.
As to the health of the reef, Minister Hunt has required the independent expert scientific panel on reef science, led by our former Chief Scientist, Professor Ian Chubb, to report to him. Last week we announced $60 million worth of projects under the Reef Trust, which will improve water quality and reef resilience. Under that same Reef Trust, the coalition has already committed to spending nearly a $100 million from the $140 million that has been put to one side. So there is very, very serious concern in this space. There will, for example, be no capital dredge spoil in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as a result of decisions by the coalition. There is funding for crown-of-thorns starfish culling programs, working with farmers in the catchment area to control run-off and improve water quality.
When we speak of coal—and the Adani coalmine has been brought into question in this particular space—I want to draw the Senate's attention to work that was reported to us recently from the Grantham Institute, the IEA's CCC. It relates to the impact of annual savings of carbon dioxide emissions. In China, the annual saving of carbon dioxide as a result of the Chinese changing from low-energy, high-sulphur coal to high-energy, low-sulphur coal, including that provided from Australia, has been some 400 million tonnes. That compares or contrasts with the figure of less than 25 million tonnes by all of the emissions trading schemes of the EU in that equivalent 12-month period—400 million tonnes of carbon dioxide saved versus less than 25 million from the EU. As I mentioned, Australia has the highest energy content coal in the world at 6,190 kilocalories per kilogram. For example, by contrast, for the United States west coast it is 5,000 and, for lignite, 4,100. Indeed, we have the second-lowest sulphur levels, at 0.7 per cent. So it is the case that, in wanting to see the emission of carbon dioxide driven down internationally, we have seen that a change by the Chinese from low-energy, polluting coal to high-energy Newcastle coal has had this remarkable effect.
It is the case, when you have a look out to 2040, 2050 and beyond, that both China and India, and Asia generally, will be relying on coal well into the future. I come from a state where LNG sales, production and exports will get to the stage by 2018-19 where we will be the highest exporter of LNG in the world. This, of course, is tremendous news for the environment. It has been shale gas in the United States of America that has allowed that country to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by moving to the use of natural gas in electricity generation. But the figures in front of me for coal generation in East Asia out to 2040 are that China will expand by at least 1.3 times, South-East Asia by 4.3 times and India by 2.7 times. So the point that I want to make in this discussion is that we will have coal into the future. We need to make sure it is clean, high-energy, low-sulphur coal. We in this country are lucky to be able to supply that to those markets in those countries for which gas and coal, but particularly coal, will be supplying their electricity demands into the future.
Renewables are, of course, of interest. I have long been an advocate of solar energy. In fact, in my welcoming Senator Dodson to the Senate, he may or may not know that I was chief executive at Rottnest Island in the late 1980s to the mid-1990s and instituted, I think, some seven or eight uses of solar energy in that context, including the provision of solar hot water systems into every tourist house on the island. The contrast for me is industrial wind turbines—on which, if time permits, I will conclude my contribution.
But what has happened, of course, is that in Europe they now have an energy crisis in terms of costs as a result of decisions they have taken with renewables. Between 2005 and 2014, residential electricity rates in the EU went up by an average of 63 per cent—78 per cent in Germany, 111 per cent in Spain and 133 per cent in the UK. In that time, the US domestic electricity price went up by 32 per cent. Ours went up initially by some 40 per cent until we got rid of the carbon tax, and we reduced the domestic electricity price by some 10 per cent, so we are also back to somewhere about 32. The fact is that Europe cannot afford its renewable energy, and it is now having to make decisions relating to it. We have seen severe power shortages, job losses and the bankruptcy of major green-energy giants like Spain's Abengoa, which had received a couple of billion dollars of subsidies from the Obama administration. Spain now is confronting some $27 billion from failed wind and solar projects, and there has been an estimate of a loss of two jobs for every so-called green job that has been developed.
We must move forward logically. We must move forward in circumstance in which the countries and the participants—be they domestic, residential or indeed industrial—can afford what we are looking at in this context. Some of the content that has been presented about the proposed Adani mine is disappointing. It is 300 kilometres inland from the Queensland coast. I do not think anybody would be pretending that it is having a direct effect on the Great Barrier Reef or indeed on bleaching around the Kimberley coastline.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most outstanding coral reefs on earth. It is, however, one of the most fragile and complex ecosystems in the world. That is something that has been made very clear by anyone in this place who saw Sir David Attenborough's fascinating and extensive documentary that really peeled back the issues currently facing the Great Barrier Reef. It peeled back its structure, its past, its entire ecosystem and indeed its uncertain future. Unfortunately, that uncertain future is an international tragedy that is happening before our eyes. It is very clear that the changing global problem of the reef, with the rise of acidification and the rise of the ocean temperature, is killing the coral within it. It is killing this beautiful outstanding coral reef that we have on this earth, and in the face of it being in such grave danger it is up to us to do our utmost in this place to protect it.
Now, of course, it is those in government, particularly the minister, who should be doing their utmost. One may think that Minister Greg Hunt has the problem under control. What assurance on earth can we be given by Minister Greg Hunt to understand that he has that problem under control? I certainly do not have any assurance because, unfortunately, the record of the current minister in being the Minister for the Environment is absolutely lacking in every way, shape and form.
If carbon pollution is the root of the problem—and it is the root of the problem, because evidence has been provided by scientists, including by the Bureau of Meteorology and by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority itself that climate change is the problem, therefore carbon pollution is the problem—then how can this minister approve a coalmine that will add carbon pollution and exacerbate the current problems facing the Great Barrier Reef? Leading scientists have made it very clear that this is the worst mass coral bleaching event for the most pristine parts of the Great Barrier Reef.
Last year I went to Cairns and went out to the Great Barrier Reef. I spoke to those stakeholders who work tirelessly in the protection of the reef—and they include tourism operators. Indeed, they told me about the effects of coral bleaching, climate change, acidification and run-off, and about all of this having a dire consequence on our reef.
The biggest and most crucial part of all this is that it is irreversible. These are irreversible consequences that are occurring on our reef, and yet here we are in 2016—on the back of all of this and on the back of the fact that the World Heritage Committee gave us the closest shot of actually listing the Great Barrier Reef as endangered—approving a brand-new coalmine that is going to exacerbate the problems. Not only will it exacerbate the problems for the reef but also it will not lead us to achieve the Paris climate commitments that we have signed up to.
There is one shining light, and of course that is the global market. At the moment it does seem that the company, Adani, that is the proponent of this new Carmichael mine does not seem to be able to find the finances that it needs to get it off the ground. So it does not seem like it is going to be a practical reality. We may be saved in that sense. Of course we all know that around the world the market is moving away from fossil fuels and moving into renewable energy, which is exactly why Labor wants to encourage and support this transition through our commitment to 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. I understand, therefore, that Adani has put this project on hold, stating that the global coal market, which no-one expects to recover in the foreseeable future, makes the project commercially unviable. Anyone could have told Minister Hunt that. Anyone could have told Minister Hunt the scientific evidence in relation to the approval of this mine. But, all of that aside, he in fact went ahead and gave the approval for the process twice—twice!
In the meantime, the big three coal markets in the world—the US, China and India—account for about three-quarters of coal consumption, and all of it is in steady decline in those three nations. Indeed, even in India itself, which is the country to which the Carmichael mine hoped to export, the energy minister, Piyush Goyal, has said himself that he wants to move India out of imports within three years. Within three years—so where then would the Carmichael mine find its export market?
But this all goes back to a bigger issue, and that is what is at stake. And what is at stake is, as I said at the outset, an outstanding coral reef on this earth that happens to be located in northern Australia—in Queensland—and we all have a job to protect it. Indeed, in the words of the former Liberal leader John Hewson—and I would not usually agree with him—the Adani coalmine is a 'massive mistake' for this country. I have to agree with him in that sense.
Of course there is a series of legal challenges underway in relation to the project as well as attempts to secure finance, so I do hope that it probably will not see the light of day. But putting that aside, there is a bigger issue at stake here, and that is how the government is going to care for, look after and make sure that there are the necessary resources for our Great Barrier Reef. That is something that I simply cannot see the current government giving any assurance on.
The minister says that he has the problem under control, but we know Minister Hunt's record. He is someone who actually thinks that the way to tackle carbon pollution is through a direct action policy—a policy that his own Prime Minister referred to as a 'fig leaf' solution in itself. We know that time and time again, whether it is from the Prime Minister or from the environment minister himself, who wrote a PhD thesis on an emissions trading scheme, that they have completely sold out on their principles when it comes to climate change and when it comes to tackling carbon pollution. This is ensured by the conservatives in government controlling those in the cabinet, to keep them in their positions. Of course in the meantime the biggest losers are those parts of our environment that actually lose out, such as the Great Barrier Reef.
I think that Sir David Attenborough did a fascinating and very thought-provoking documentary in his Great Barrier Reef. Indeed, when he told the US President, Barack Obama, about the Great Barrier Reef you could see the anguish on the President's face about what is going on in this country. Why are we approving a coalmine at the time when this reef is in danger and when we know that the cause of its danger is climate change—that it is carbon pollution?
Why aren't we doing our utmost to tackle carbon pollution, to move to renewables? That is exactly what a Labor government will do. We will invest heavily in ensuring that this country moves to being a country of renewable energy rather than a fossil fuel based economy—because that is exactly what is happening around the world. That is why we signed an agreement in Paris. We know that for the future—not for us, but for our children and our grandchildren—we have to live in a more carbon-free world, and that is a world that has less pollution, that has our natural resources protected and that, of course, has our people protected. They will be in the new jobs of tomorrow—jobs that we probably have not even thought of but that look at the energy development of wind, solar, geothermal and wave, which will provide us with the energy we need. No-one doubts that we will continue to need energy; we are energy-rich consumers. But that energy does not need to come from fossil fuels in the future, because that is to the detriment of our entire planet.
I rise to make a contribution to this debate on coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reef. In particular, I want to focus on my home state of Western Australia. While I care very deeply about the Great Barrier Reef and am devastated that those reefs up there have been devastated by coral bleaching, I am particularly concerned about the reefs off the coast of the Kimberley because these reefs have been hit before by coral bleaching and it is happening again. We had AIMS off the coast of Western Australia recently, and they came back and confirmed what we feared: there are a number of reefs up there—for example, Scott Reef—that have suffered the worst bleaching they have ever seen. I remember that when I first entered the Senate I talked about the coral bleaching event that was happening at the time, in the mid-1980s, while the reef was still recovering from a previous hit. But this is the worst that they have ever seen, and there are other reefs off the coast of Western Australia that are also affected.
Crucially, unlike the east coast—where, as I understand it, the waters are starting to cool—the waters in that northern area of Western Australia remain warm at the moment. As I understand it—as has been explained to me by scientists—that water does remain hotter and is not expected to cool down until some time in May. In other words, we have not seen the end of this coral bleaching event off the coast of Western Australia. Of course, as coalmines continue to be approved and as those mines get going and pump more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, we will have more and more events like this. The point with coral bleaching is that sometimes you have a bleaching event and the coral recovers. Quite often a fairly large percentage will recover. But you can get between five and 10 per cent that dies and is dead forever. These repeated coral bleaching events, driven by global warming, will kill these reefs—make no mistake.
The dinosaurs on the other side of this chamber need to get their heads around the fact that continuing the fossil fuel cycle will kill off our reefs. That is what is going to happen. The reefs cannot take this sort of pressure and, as the events speed up, they will not have time to recover. It is also why we need to make sure that we get our marine parks back in place. Some of those reefs that have been bleached off the coast of Western Australia are the very reefs that right now should be covered by management plans and marine parks. But this government has cancelled those management plans that could be in place to remove the pressure from the reefs, to enable them to recover much more quickly. We are setting up a disastrous situation for our coral reefs around this country, and this government has to learn that. (Time expired)
We have just heard speakers from the Greens political party and the Australian Labor Party—federally, that is—again denigrating one of the biggest job providers in Queensland, which is our Great Barrier Reef. The reef is a natural attraction that people in their droves come from North America and from Europe to see, yet the Greens and the Labor Party, falsely, would have these people believe that the reef has been destroyed. That is why, in one of their finest moments in life, the tourism operators in Cairns refused to take Senator Waters and Senator Di Natale out to the reef. I applaud them for doing that. I am not quite sure how the senators got there, but it appears from question time that they did get there. I suspect it was probably by the Greenpeace vessel shortly after the time that it dropped oil into the Cairns harbour, which has had an impact on the Great Barrier Reef. The only vessel that has done real damage to the Great Barrier Reef in recent years has been that Greenpeace vessel. I think the former Leader of the Greens, Mr Bob Brown, was chairman of Greenpeace when it dropped oil into Cairns harbour, polluting the Great Barrier Reef. Perhaps that is how they got out there. But all credit to those courageous tourism operators in Cairns who drew attention to the lies being promulgated by the Greens and the Labor Party by refusing to convey them out to the reef.
I enter this debate as the only one of the listed speakers who actually lives adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef, which I have done for most of my life. I am also one of those who has actually seen the Barrier Reef for the last 50 years or so and who has an understanding of how it is resilient and how it will protect itself. I want to put this debate in perspective as one of the few who are not just reading what the Greens and the radical environment groups propagandise but have actually experienced what this is about. I also want to put this in perspective by again highlighting this little booklet put out by the Marine Conservation Society entitled The Big Blue Legacy: the Liberal National Tradition of Marine Conservation. Indeed, it is a wonderful book. I have had my issues with the Marine Conservation Society and with the other groups that have supported this, but they have fairly indicated that every single initiative for our marine health has been at the core of the Liberal and National parties. I pay tribute to my friend former senator Robert Hill for introducing the world's first oceans policy, which led to the establishment of these marine protected areas.
I also have an interest in this because I was the Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation at the time Senator Hill and Mr David Kemp were the environment ministers who introduced the green zones. I can tell you as fisheries minister that that was a challenge, but these are initiatives which the coalition has taken. Labor has never done anything at all, and the Greens of course shout from the sidelines but are never likely to seriously have any tangible benefit to the Great Barrier Reef.
You have heard from Labor speakers here, and no wonder they are confused. They have confused everyone else. The last Labor speaker spent all of her speech attacking the coalition federal government and Mr Hunt in particular for approving the Adani mine, but clearly she does not realise that the last two necessary approvals for the Adani mine have been given by the Queensland Labor government. So, for all the attacks of the Labor Party on Mr Hunt, the government that has given power to the Adani mine to go ahead—rightly so; I must say it is one of the few decisions made by Premier Palaszczuk's government and by far the most sensible decision her government has ever made—is the Queensland Labor government. The Adani mine, in the Queensland Labor government's defence, has a number of very strenuous conditions. Mr Hunt's approval of the Adani mine has a great series of conditions attached to it. And, of course, the Adani mine is some 300 kilometres from the coast. The Greens would, as they did with the Port Hinchinbrook debate, misrepresent the issue to gullible Australians who will believe their rhetoric. Of course, 300 kilometres inland is nowhere near the Great Barrier Reef and all the protections in place to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
While the Greens and the Labor Party denigrate the Great Barrier Reef and the marvellous resource it is for any number of Australians and their employment, they never mention the research that came out of the Australian Institute of Marine Science just three or four weeks ago at a function that I was privileged to attend with the whole of the board and the senior officers—all of the senior scientists who have an interest in the Great Barrier Reef. What did they determine which you never hear the Greens or the Labor Party mention? It was that the coral coverage on the Great Barrier Reef is actually increasing. In the four zones of the Great Barrier Reef, three of them are substantially increasing their coral coverage. Have you ever heard Senator Waters mention that? Have you ever heard Senator Singh mention that? Have you ever heard any of the Greens or the conservation societies mention that? No, because it does not fit their rhetoric. It does not fit the misinformation they continue to peddle to gullible Australians, no doubt with the hope of getting a vote at the next election. So the coral coverage is actually increasing in three of the four zones. In the most northern zone it is coming down but from a very high base.
The reef has always had challenges. The crown-of-thorns starfish has been around for at least 50 years that I know of, and we have been addressing it. We keep funding different things—different initiatives, different programs—to address that. The Commonwealth government takes very seriously any threat to the Barrier Reef, and that is why we have immediately provided some substantial funding to target monitoring of the coral bleaching through the University of Queensland. We have announced $60 million worth of projects under the Reef Trust that will greatly improve water quality and reef resilience. Minister Hunt has also sought and received detailed briefings by the independent expert scientific panel on reef science, led by former Chief Scientist Professor Ian Chubb.
These are real initiatives—real, tangible actions—things that are seriously addressing the issues on the Great Barrier Reef, but they are not the headline-grabbing stuff that the Greens political party and the Labor Party choose to embark upon. But, in doing what the Greens and the Labor Party are doing federally, they are destroying the jobs and livelihoods of many small businesses along the Queensland coast, some in the community in which I live, by falsely pretending to international would-be tourists that the Barrier Reef is dead. The Barrier Reef has been changing since time immemorial. It is a resilient organism. It has its problems but it recovers and, with government help, it will. But I tell you what does not help: when the Greens attempt to destroy the livelihoods and jobs of many small businesses and workers along the coast of Queensland.
The rhetoric about the Adani mine is simply not true. You heard Senator Singh make some allegations that Adani have decided to shelve it. That is simply not true. It is a misstatement. It is not at all factual, and yet this is the standard of debate we get from the Greens and the Labor Party when it comes to the Barrier Reef. It is a great asset and it is something I am proud to say will be there forever.
What we have heard from the Turnbull government today is absolute rhetoric and, quite frankly, nonsense. It is such a shame that in debates such as this all the climate deniers in the Turnbull government, whose numbers are growing day by day, seemingly get up and say, 'Well, let's just leave the Great Barrier Reef, and, indeed, our coral reefs right around Australia, to chance.' That is what I heard in that contribution: let's just leave it to chance and things will be okay. Well, they are not okay and they have not been okay for quite some time.
Perhaps the Turnbull government does not appreciate that the Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on earth and one of the best known marine areas in the world. Whilst some senators might like to argue that somehow it belongs to Queensland and that just living in Queensland gives you a greater say or greater knowledge about the reef and its parlous state, that is a nonsense. This is an important part of our whole ecosystem and deserves to be treated in the best possible way. What is happening with the coral bleaching right now needs to be reversed, but we have just heard rhetoric. I heard one senator talk about carbon tax. For goodness sake, it is time that the Turnbull government got a credible policy on climate change. Quite frankly, it is time the climate sceptics—and there are plenty of them in the Turnbull government—started to inform themselves about just what is going on. Last week's report on the coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef—and, in fact, of reefs right around this country—was alarming to say the least.
The reef attracts more than two million visitors each year—and why would not it? It has been a magnificent piece of Australia, and we want to keep it that way. But it is not going to be kept that way simply by chance. 'By chance' is all we have heard from those opposite. The reef supports a lot of jobs, but fundamentally it is a very important ecosystem. We know the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, even according to the government's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, is climate change, but you would not hear that from the government. Once again, they are in denial. This should be something that we, as an Australian parliament, seek to protect. All of us should read the science, accept the science and get on with it. Certainly, Labor accepts the science of climate change.
Right now there is more than 1,000 kilometres of the Great Barrier Reef that has signs of significant bleaching. In the worst affected areas, in the Great Barrier Reef's previously pristine far north, many corals are now expected to die. That is a fact, not fiction. The bleaching alert is at level 3, the highest possible level, and research shows this year's bleaching event is 175 times more likely today than in a world where humans were not emitting gases. It cannot be left to chance. It is pointless for the Turnbull government to bury its head in the sand, and it does not help our climate—or, indeed, the Great Barrier Reef and the other reefs across Australia, particularly in the Kimberley, which are also under threat.
It is time those climate deniers who make up a significant part of the Turnbull government were told clearly that they are the threat to climate in this country. We know that if greenhouse gases keep rising then by the mid-2030s the reef will start experiencing deadly coral bleaching events like the current one every two years and that, as the corals will not get breathing time—they need around 15 years to fully recover—the entire reef could die. That is what we are looking at right now. Those are the scientific facts. Do not bury your head, make it up or leave it to chance, as we have heard from the Turnbull government. Ocean temperatures rose by one degree Celsius due to human made climate change during March's bleaching, and that is the worst on record. Another fact is that scientists agree that the bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef and the other reefs at risk around Australia would be almost impossible without climate change, but that is not what you hear from the Turnbull government. We just hear their carping and having a go at Labor and referring back to some of the positive plans that we had in place.
Labor has already put out very ambitious climate change policies. We did that last week, and I am very proud of them. We remain committed to taking real action on climate change. Despite the bullying and the loud outcries from the Turnbull government, we will continue to be the party that advocates for proper action, real action, on climate change. Unlike the Liberal Party, who still have an ineffective policy under which our emissions are rising—that is another fact—we do accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity since the industrial revolution has increased average global temperatures, leading to climate change. We believe that fact. It is a fact. It is supported by most of the world's scientists, and we accept that, unlike the climate deniers who form part of the Turnbull government.
Labor has promised to deliver 50 per cent renewable energy by 2030. We are looking at how we can make Australian a better place, how we can make it a cleaner place, how we can create jobs and how we can protect our environment. We want to take advantage of the $2.5 trillion investment in renewable energy in the Asia-Pacific region, and we want to do that by 2030. The target proposed by the Abbott-Turnbull government of 26 to 28 per cent by 2030 will see us fall well short of the commitments made by the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada and other European nations, and it will not help us keep global warming to under two degrees Celsius—something our coral reefs desperately need. That simply is not good enough. The response we have had from the Turnbull government is inaction. They are sticking with their failed Direct Action Plan. It is a scattergun approach. Its rewarding of polluters is simply not good enough. We have gone from being a leading nation on climate change under Labor to well and truly trailing down near the bottom. And it does not really matter what spin the Turnbull government put on their policies, those are the simple facts, the simple truths, out there for all to see.
Labor has a clear plan to combat climate change by getting Australia's pollution levels back under control—not anything you hear from those opposite—and by ensuring that Australian businesses and workers are in the best position to benefit from the huge investment and job opportunities that come from a renewable energy and clean technology future. Isn't it interesting? We hear those opposite telling us that our economy is in transition yet we never hear them addressing climate change or putting forward positive policies that cut our emissions to help with that transition or to increase job opportunities and that is because the climate deniers in the Turnbull government are well and truly in control. They want to keep doing the same old same old whilst our position, formerly as a leader on climate change, drops further and further behind because those that want to put their head in the sand, that want to pretend that somehow the Great Barrier Reef will take care of itself are well and truly in control.
Labor's climate change action plan provides a pathway for an orderly transition to a low-pollution economy and there are six key elements to our program. We have seen nothing from those opposite, just them sticking to a direct action policy that Mr Turnbull, when he was not the Prime Minister relying on the support of the climate deniers, too criticised. The climate deniers in the Turnbull government have managed to silence the Prime Minister and the unfortunate sad fact is that the Great Barrier Reef is under threat because of the inaction of the Turnbull government.
I rise to speak on the matter of urgency that the Greens put forward today, which is the record-breaking coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reef and the choice between the Adani coalmine and healthy reefs. We are in the midst of the worst coral bleaching that the Great Barrier Reef has ever seen, the worst mass bleaching event. And it is completely heartbreaking because in my regular conversations with coral reef scientists, mostly in Queensland, they tell me that, prior to about 30 years ago, we did not have any mass coral bleaching. They are utterly convinced with no doubt in their minds that it is climate change driven by the burning of fossil fuels that is what is behind these last 30 years of coral bleaching and is what is driving this current worst episode.
It is utterly heartbreaking because the decisions that we make in this place, in this parliament and the decisions that the state parliament in Queensland makes our directly affecting the future of the reef. I love the reef. I had the great pleasure of going there as a youngster many times and it made a real impression on me. I have fought in this place for the last five years for policies to better protect the reef. It is beyond doubt that climate change is the biggest threat that the reef faces; the government's own statutory body says that and every scientist you will talk to says that. So why has the approval of the largest coalmine in the southern hemisphere come in the middle of a coral reef bleaching episode? I could not believe the timing of the Queensland Labor government to issue the mining lease for the Adani mine just as the bleaching had begun on the reef.
There seems to be some sort of cognitive dissidence here because the clear choice between fossil fuels and no reef, or clean energy, jobs and prosperity and protecting what we can of the reef—given that some climate change is already locked in—seems very clear to me. Of course we would back the reef, of course we would back the prosperity of those clean energy jobs and of course we would stand with those coalmining workers and help them transition into long-term sustainable employment. There have been 16,000 coal workers sacked already by their own coal companies because it is cheaper to mechanise and because the coal price has tanked. That industry is on the decline and those workers are being shed. The companies do not care about them—they have made their profits and now they are sacking those workers—yet there is still no plan from either level of government to help those workers retrain for a clean energy future. There is no plan to genuinely protect the Great Barrier Reef from the climate change that is already locked into the system and from it increasing due to the effects of even more fossil fuel burning.
I have spoken with a number of key scientists in the last few weeks and it has been genuinely heartbreaking to hear their assessment. I have to say, even after having seen it with my own eyes, it is really hard to internalise the extent of the devastation on the reef. I do not want to believe it either. I would love to live in Senator Ian Macdonald's world where climate change is a complete myth, the reef has never been in better health and go back to sleep; everything is fine. I would love to live in that world but it is not reality.
The scientists that I meet with are literally heartbroken and are weeping for the fate of the reef. I wish we could do better by them and by this beautiful icon that is so big you can see from space. It is the largest living organism you can see from that distance. It has got some of the most amazing corals and some of the most wondrous creatures—some of which we still discovering in the deep sea. It is a truly iconic and beautiful place and that is why 1.6 million tourists come every year to visit it. It is beautiful, it is amazing and it is an underwater paradise. What are those 63,000 mostly tourism workers that need that reef to stay healthy for their jobs going to do when the reef continues to bleach? (Time expired)
I rise to speak on the matter of urgency put to the Senate by the Greens, which is:
The record-breaking coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reefs and the choice between the Adani coal mine and healthy reefs.
This matter of urgency is fundamentally dishonest and part of the usual Greens environmental scare campaign to gain attention. Clearly, this matter of urgency is trying to establish a link between the establishment of a coalmine in North Queensland and coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef and Kimberley reefs. There is no link between coalmines in Queensland and coral bleaching, just like we will never stop climate change by making our pensioners, families and small businesses pay more for their electricity.
This is another Greens untruth which is designed to cause guilt and play on the gullible while thousands of Queensland jobs and businesses in the tourism industry are placed at risk. If you are an international student and you want to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and you listen to the Greens you will expect to find a wasteland. This is crap. The Great Barrier Reef is still a great wonder of this world. If you are an international tourist and you want to dive on the Great Barrier Reef and you listen to the Greens you will be expected to believe that coral bleaching only began to happen after the industrial revolution. I wonder what happened about 8,000 years ago to the Great Barrier Reef when the sea levels rose and Tasmania became separated from the mainland of Australia? I am sure that geological records show that in the natural cycles of climate change the Great Barrier Reef's coral suffers damage and then naturally repairs.
If you listened to the Greens, with their extremist views on the environment, you could be forgiven for thinking that once coral is damaged or bleached that is it: it will never recover or regenerate—another Green untruth. My research shows that in fact a coral reef in northern Australia, the Scott Reef, was severely damaged by the warming of the seas during the 1998 El Nino. It lost 90 per cent of its coral to climate induced bleaching, and in 12 years the reef regenerated itself. Marine scientist James Gilmour and his team found that the reef increased its coral cover from nine per cent to 44 per cent in just 12 years. More recently, marine scientists Dr Carly Kenkel and Kate Quigley have discovered that coral is changing with its environment, growing more resistant to warmer conditions. They also accept that there is nothing humans can do to stop the reefs turning white in the short term. Surveillance and conservation are the best we can do until Mother Nature plays her regenerative role.
You cannot have a decent, reasonable debate with the Greens when they continue to refuse to acknowledge and accept the science of natural, cyclical climate change, which is also acknowledged by Tim Flannery in his book The Weather Makers and, of course, Al Gore in his book An Inconvenient Truth. The Greens refuse to acknowledge the fact that, as found in the 600,000 years of ice core samples taken from the Antarctic, the average global temperature has been much hotter than today's average of about 14 degrees and, of course, much colder. The oceans have risen and fallen. The coral has been destroyed and bleached and then regenerated. The Greens' extremist views on coral bleaching, cyclones, droughts, floods and other naturally occurring weather events immediately place the blame on Australian families, workers and businesses because they are not paying more for their electricity and power. They also place a guilt trip on coalmine workers and the Queensland communities that depend on the wealth and prosperity they create. This is a dangerous policy, because if we put another tax on our power and electricity and make them more expensive without our overseas competitors doing the same thing then the only outcome that will be achieved will be a continuing loss of Australian manufacturing jobs and a severe decrease in the wages and standard of living of all Australian workers.
This is the truth: we cannot stop climate change; we can only make plans to survive climate change. If we followed the alarmist views and extremist policies of the Greens, we could stop emissions of CO2, live in a cave and burn candles. Let's get real! The natural cycles of climate change, which even Al Gore and Tim Flannery acknowledge in their works, and which have happened for at least the last 600,000 years, will continue to happen. That is the truth.
Thank you. I rise to speak on the matter of urgency, which is the coral bleaching that is currently blighting the Great Barrier Reef and the choice between the Adani coalmine and healthy reefs. As I was contributing earlier, the science is perfectly clear: the reef is facing the worst coral bleaching event en masse that it has seen in its entire ancient history of existence.
The scientists I speak with have made painfully clear to me the link between climate change, global warming and that coral bleaching. It is now beyond doubt that the action of burning fossil fuels is contributing to both the increased water temperatures and ocean acidification that is driving those coral bleaching events and wreaking havoc on this amazing natural wonder.
Senator Richard Di Natale and I were able to see that bleaching with our own eyes last week. It is hard to believe it until you see it. I do not want to believe it. We saw a mixture of semi-healthy reefs, and then we went further north and saw a seriously damaged reef. The contrast was incredibly heartbreaking.
We can still change direction and save as much as possible of this amazing icon that employs 69,000 people who need that reef to stay as healthy as possible for their livelihoods. We can stand with those workers. We can stand with those workers in coal communities who are being sacked by the coal companies, given that the coal price has completely bottomed out, and we can retrain and transition them into clean energy employment. We can save those jobs and we can do our best to save what is left of the Great Barrier Reef, but we need a rapid change in direction.
Instead, we see coalmine after coalmine being approved by both this government and the Labor government in the state of Queensland. The Adani coalmine, which would be the largest coalmine in the southern hemisphere, was approved by Minister Hunt late last year, and the mining lease for that mine was granted as the coral bleaching that the reef is currently facing was rolling out. The timing by Minister Lynham in the Queensland parliament could not have been more insulting to the scientists, to tourism workers or to anyone who loves this precious icon. We see fossil fuel donations, by Adani as well as by other coalmining companies, made to both sides of politics federally. In my view, it is really blinding these people to the science and to the impacts of their own actions on the natural world.
We can power our cities and homes with clean energy. We Greens have released a plan for 90 per cent renewable energy by 2030. We have a pathway for that. The technology is there and the science says it is doable. If we do not follow that path, I fear for the future of our coral reefs. The scientists I speak to tell me that sadly, even with a two-degree rise—if we can somehow manage globally to constrain warming to two degrees—we will actually lose all coral reefs. They are incredibly susceptible. They say that if we constrain warming somehow to 1½ degrees—and I hope that we can—we will lose 90 per cent of coral reefs globally. So we have got to get our skates on.
We know what the solutions are. We know that clean energy can both create jobs and keep the lights on—which the Liberals want to claim renewables cannot do—and safeguard what is left of our precious reef. But instead we see the donations from the coalmining companies and the coal seam gas companies simply blinding the big parties in this place to the reality of global warming. They are condemning the Great Barrier Reef to devastation and those 69,000 people to joblessness if they continue on this coal fuelled obsession. It is about time to get some science advice, actually listen to it and think about the future for a change.
Question agreed to.