Senate debates

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:28 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and the Public Service (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to climate change.

The differences between warming by 1½ degrees and warming by two degrees—or indeed four degrees, as we are on track to have without drastic change—are worlds apart. It is the difference between having one of the world's most incredible natural assets, the Great Barrier Reef, and losing it. It's the difference between the occasional bushfire and permanent bushfires, as we are seeing right now in California. It's the difference between a country in occasional drought and a country that is in permanent drought and has to drastically change the way its agricultural sector works. Of course, if we head towards four degrees, the planet as we know it will be virtually uninhabitable. A four-degree temperature rise would wipe out so much biodiversity, the consequences of which are unforeseeable. The scientists are telling us we have 12 years left to rein it in. I say that again: we have 12 years. Australia doesn't have another decade to waste on the climate wars. We don't have it. If we're going to get this country back from the brink of disaster, if we are going to be able to hand over a planet that's inhabitable to future generations, we have to act now and we have to act with urgency.

This decade started with such great promise. We had Kevin Rudd, who said it was the great moral challenge of our time. He was right, but he turned it into a weapon to try to use against the coalition. He insisted on going it alone. He refused to negotiate with the Greens or the crossbench and we ended up with a climate policy that was designed to appease the coalition party room, not to do the job. It took Kevin Rudd being rolled by Julia Gillard and the emergence of multiparty government to get the job done. We saw an emissions trading scheme that was designed as a result of cooperative government, where progressive Independents, the Labor Party and the Greens worked together to implement a price on carbon, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency. Do you know what happened during that time of the carbon price? Economic growth went up by 4.7 per cent while the carbon price was in place. Pollution went down by 8.1 per cent. It was a scheme that was working and that was doing the job. Then Tony Abbott came along. He came along and wrecked it. It helped that the Labor Party tore themselves apart over their leadership turmoil. We saw the carbon price eventually repealed.

But do you know what? The business community, the scientific community and, indeed, the Australian community are saying now to both sides of politics: 'The time for procrastinating is over. We need action. We want you to ensure that you do what you can to make sure we have a chance of handing over a planet that our children can enjoy.' The work needs to start now. We've of course put our road map to the Labor Party. We know the government's a lost cause. We know that they are dominated by climate deniers. We know that it is a party that brought down its own Prime Minister because he was going to implement a modest change to the energy system here in Australia and it still wouldn't accept it.

So we said to the Labor Party: 'Let's not repeat the mistakes of the past. Let's ensure that we work together to put in place a price on carbon so that we can make sure that this country plays its part in doing what it can to reverse climate damage.' Unfortunately, the signs aren't good. They're not good. We know that Bill Shorten has already walked away from his own policy of an emissions intensity scheme, and it looks like he's going to adopt a policy that wasn't even able to get through the coalition party room—the National Energy Guarantee—a policy that's been designed to appease the climate deniers, not to do the job.

The need for action has never been greater. We are on the precipice. The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Huge swathes of Australia are in drought. Our Pacific island neighbours are losing their homes. The window in which we are able to act is shrinking, and it's shrinking fast. It's a few years, at best. The good news is that if we get it right we'll transform Australia—clean air, clean water, a 21st century transport system, clean energy, more jobs, more investment and energy independence. We could be exporting renewable energy through hydrogen to the world. It's a huge challenge, but we're up for it. We're up for it because we've got no choice.

Question agreed to.