Tuesday, 10 September 2019
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia who today is representing the minister for natural disaster and emergency management. In April this year, 23 chiefs of emergency services representing every state and territory pleaded with the federal government to act on the climate breakdown because they're no longer equipped to defend Australia against the escalated risk of these climate related disasters. Minister, your government has ignored them. Your government has called their concerns 'irrelevant'. Your government has made the risks that they are confronting worse by mining more coal, oil and gas. Minister, will you now apologise to the people of Queensland who have lost their homes in these devastating, unprecedented near-winter bushfires, and will you apologise to the emergency service workers who put their lives at risk to protect them?
Government senators interjecting—
I thank Senator Di Natale for his question. There are quite a few premises in that question that I fundamentally disagree with. The first and most important point to make is that the government is taking action to reduce Australia's carbon emissions and doing so in cooperation with the rest of the world. The best way we can respond, of course, to issues around climate change is to do so in unison and cooperation with the rest of the world, which we are doing.
A second point to make about Senator Di Natale's question and contributions today is how insensitive it is for him to be going out like this in such an inciteful and combustible fashion while people are still defending their homes. There is not an opportunity that Senator Di Natale misses to embarrass himself on these issues. He constantly uses people's tragedy and people's difficulty in tough circumstances to further his own political cause. He mentioned a number of groups in his question. Rather than paraphrasing others, I think it is better to directly quote from some. I will quote from a New South Wales government department of environment investigation on the link between climate change and bushfire risk. This is what the New South Wales government bureaucrats say, in a much more sensible way than Senator Di Natale does:
There is considerable uncertainty concerning the impacts of climate change on bushfire risk.
I won't be able to quote it all, but the report continues:
Summarising this research to determine the overall influence of climate change on bushfire risk in NSW is difficult. There is a clear need to integrate many diverse strands of evidence, including many interactions and feedbacks. However, broadly speaking the potential for significant increases in bushfire risk appears greater than the potential for equivalent decreases.
That is a sensible summary of the evidence in this field and that is how we should approach these complex and difficult issues that impact people's lives—not the narrow, base political exercise that the Greens seem to exercise in every one of these debates. It is not the right approach when dealing with these issues. The government is making a sensible decision to respond to climate change and, of course, to protect people's homes.
Minister, one of the things that this delegation of 23 emergency service chiefs was requesting was a meeting with the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister meet with this delegation or does he agree with Minister Littleproud that their concerns are 'irrelevant'?
What I know the Prime Minister and the government are focused on doing is making sure we make sensible decisions in this area, which I outlined in the first question. I'm not aware of the delegation specifically, but that's obviously a question that Senator Di Natale can put to others in this place. I know that the focus of the government—and the minister, in this case—has been on providing what is relevant at the moment: emergency relief to people in these circumstances. What we need to focus on in the future too is making sure—
A point of order on relevance—it's a very narrow question: will the Prime Minister meet with these emergency services chiefs? Will the Prime Minister meet them or will he dismiss their concerns as 'irrelevant'? It's a very straightforward question. He can take it on notice if he doesn't know the answer.
What's important now is that we also focus on ways to make sure that risk is reduced for people, including because of greater bushfire risks. I refer the chamber to a report by the inspector-general of Queensland on Queensland's fires recently. He has made a recommendation saying that, given the increasing risk of intense fires, the framework of legislation relating to vegetation management should be reassessed. That is something that the Greens oppose. They are not allowing farmers and local landholders to reduce their risk of bushfires. (Time expired)
I'll ask the minister a simple question that I asked of Minister McKenzie yesterday, and I'd like the minister's opinion on it. Do you agree with the simple proposition that the single biggest cause of climate change is the mining and burning of coal, and that climate change will increase the frequency and severity of bushfires? It's a very narrow question—no mealy-mouthed response. I'm asking whether you agree with that simple and straightforward proposition.
I don't agree with many parts of what Senator Di Natale is saying. What we support on this side of the chamber are sensible responses to climate change that include support for the high-quality coal and gas that we produce in this country. It is through the high-quality production of energy that we will respond to climate change and reduce global emissions. The Greens only want to shut down, only want to campaign against, coalmines in this country. That's their focus. They focus on shutting down jobs in this nation, not the rest of the world. I reject the way Senator Di Natale characterises these debates, because we should continue to support the clean, environmentally sustainable mining practices in this country and support those resources that we supply to the rest of the world. That is what we are doing to make sure that the whole world responds to climate change. The approach of the Greens would be counterproductive in that effort, because it would force production onto countries that do not have the same environmental standards. Our approach is much more sensible and, more importantly, has been vindicated by the Australian people. (Time expired)