Monday, 2 May 2016
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. Last week Senator Di Natale and I visited reefs off Cairns and Lizard Island and we saw firsthand the devastation of the worst-ever mass coral bleaching event in the reef's history. Earlier this week, scientists found that the Greenland icesheet is melting a month earlier than usual and, globally, 2014 was the hottest year on record until 2015 was and until January, February and March of this year were. Last sitting week you told the Senate that you were not at all convinced that the science on global warming was settled. What will it take to convince you? Does the Prime Minister share your views?
Senator Waters, my views on this matter—if I may address the last part of your question first—have not changed since I first participated in this discussion in 2009. I know, as you know, Senator Waters, that there is a very strong view of an overwhelming majority of scientists about the nature and causes of global warming. Therefore, as a matter of reason and prudence, I believe that public policy should be made on the assumption that the majority view is correct. Unlike some, my view is based on reason and prudence, not blind faith or ideology. And, like some, I do not seek to silence dissenting views that dissent from the overwhelming majority. I do not.
In relation to coral bleaching, Senator Waters, the coral-bleaching event underway on the Great Barrier Reef echoes, as you have said, similar bleaching events around the world in Hawaii, in the Seychelles and in Indonesia. Australia is playing its part globally. We were one of the first countries—as you, I think, have acknowledged, Senator Waters—to sign on to the Paris climate change agreement. We are on track to meet and to beat our 2020 target of five per cent below 2000 levels. In fact, projections, of which I am sure you are aware, show that we will exceed our 2020 target by a cumulative 78 million tonnes, which confirms what the government has been saying: Australia does not need a punishing $15.4 billion carbon tax which pushes up the price of electricity in order to reduce emissions. (Time expired)
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Sir David Attenborough says that the Great Barrier Reef is in grave danger from climate change. One of Australia's foremost coral reef scientists, Professor Terry Hughes, says that we have to choose between new coal and the reef—that we cannot have both. What do you and the Prime Minister say to the 69,000 people whose jobs rely on the reef remaining healthy, when you keep approving coalmine after coalmine after coalmine?
I can tell you that there is a very clear and simple difference. I do not accept, and the government does not accept, that we must choose between the reef and coal. We do not accept that proposition. We absolutely reject it.
Senator Waters, this is the first time I can recall when, in one of your questions about the Great Barrier Reef, you have referred to the issue of employment and jobs. I can tell you, as somebody who has visited the region very recently, that what people in central and northern Queensland are concerned about is jobs. And one of their greatest concerns is the attempt to stop the development of the Adani mine in the Galilee Basin, which people in that region—which you, Senator Waters, are meant to represent in this place—see as one of the great hopes for their future employment security.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Your government has already booked $1.3 billion in cuts to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and, sadly, it looks like the Labor Party would keep such cuts. You have taken away the grant-making function of that body, effectively crippling its ability to fund innovative clean energy. Where are you getting your advice on global energy trends from, and when are you going to sack them?
As recently as last week, the Minister for the Environment, Mr Hunt, announced $60 million worth of projects under the Reef Trust that will greatly improve water quality and resilience. As well, when the coral-bleaching event was first manifest, the government immediately committed an additional $80,000 for targeted—
Senator Waters, you have asserted that there are cuts. I am pointing out to you that, in fact, we have allocated additional funds to deal with the very problem that you have identified in your primary question, including, when the coral-bleaching event was first manifest, an additional $80,000 for targeted monitoring of coral bleaching through the University of Queensland. Through the Reef 2050 Plan, the Australian government is investing heavily to improve water quality— (Time expired)