Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Bushfires

3:28 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia (Senator Canavan) to a question without notice asked by the Leader of the Australian Greens (Senator Di Natale) today relating to climate change.

The head of the Tasmanian Fire Union said there are no climate deniers on the end of a fire hose. Senator Di Natale asked a very clear question today. He asked why the Prime Minister and the Minister for Resources and Northern Australia wouldn't meet with the 23 chiefs of emergency services, representing every state and territory in this country, who wanted to talk to the Prime Minister about acting on climate change.

Have no doubt: the catastrophe, the tragedy, that we are seeing unfolding in Queensland, as we have seen in other states around this beautiful country in recent years, is a climate crisis. It is climate catastrophe. This is what the future of a warming planet looks like—increasingly frequent and severe extreme weather events, hotter temperatures, more drought, more dry lightning strikes, more cyclones, more hurricanes, more variability in our weather and more extremes.

We saw the biggest hurricane ever recorded in the Bahamas just a week ago, after an exceptionally devastating cyclone, or hurricane, season in the US last year. We have seen unprecedented global marine heatwaves right around the world. No-one is denying anymore, except maybe a few cynical climate deniers in the Liberal Party and National Party, that half the Great Barrier Reef has bleached and perished. I recently surfed coral reefs in the Maldives, where the locals were telling us that 90 per cent of their reefs died from the same heatwaves. Indeed, UNESCO's 28 World Heritage listed coral reefs around the world are, in many cases, worse than the Great Barrier Reef. This is climate crisis. This is climate catastrophe.

I ask those in the chamber today: if we can't talk about climate change and these climate catastrophes right now while they're happening and how we are going to act to prevent them from happening in the future, then when? When can we discuss this? When can we have a mature debate about the facts before us? If we can't listen to the frontline personnel, the brave Australian men and women who go and fight these fires, the professionals, the unions, the volunteer firefighters—in fact, our Prime Minister won't even meet with them to discuss action on climate—then what hope do we have? Why is it that we are sticking our heads in the sand in the place where the levers are pulled and the decisions are made?

I am going to start using the words 'climate criminals' from here on in, because I have no doubt that future generations will look at decision-makers who stuck their heads in the sand or deliberately overlooked taking effective action on climate change because it wasn't in their political interest to do so as criminals. I'm going to start calling you climate criminals, because that's what you are. When we see tragic loss of life, loss of property and the tragic loss of entire ecosystems because of inaction, there's no other way to describe that except as criminality. I have no doubt that future generations are going to look back on those who stood in the way of action as criminals—not those brave souls out there who have joined groups like the Extinction Rebellion, who are protesting and taking action for their future because they have no other alternative because this place and this government have not listened. Those schoolkids, their parents, all the bank employees and others are about to strike on 20 September because they care about an increasing frequency of catastrophic events like those we've seen in Queensland. They are the ones who are sending us a message, and we should be listening. At a time of crisis, we must confront it. We must talk about climate change and how we're going to take effective action.

Question agreed to.