Senate debates

Thursday, 5 December 2019


Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Air Pollution) Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:41 am

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

I move the Greens second reading amendment to the Protection of the Sea (Prevention of Pollution from Ships) Amendment (Air Pollution) Bill 2019:

At the end of the motion, add:

", but the Senate:

(1) notes that:

(a) shipping could produce as much as 17 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if not mitigated;

(b) open-loop exhaust gas cleaning systems or scrubbers have been described as 'cheat devices' that enable compliance with sulphur-emission requirements while discharging contaminated washwater overboard;

(c) a range of jurisdictions including Belgium, China, Germany, Ireland, the United Arab Emirates and the United States have implemented restrictions on open-loop scrubbers; and

(d) without sulphur limits, ship pollution causes approximately 400 000 premature deaths from lung cancer and cardiovascular disease, and 14 million cases of childhood asthma each year; and

(2) calls on the Government to:

(a) implement strict discharge standards, including appropriate independent monitoring, for any exhaust gas cleaning systems; and

(b) advocate through the International Maritime Organization for stronger standards to protect our marine environment."

I mentioned in my earlier contribution that the discharge of pollution, especially from cruise ships, is a significant issue in my home state of Tasmania, especially in the home port of Hobart. What we're dealing with here is rising emissions and pollution going directly into our ocean and our communities. While shipping absolutely makes a contribution to rising emissions and there are things we need to do to reduce that pollution, especially greenhouse gas pollution, we need to have a broader discussion about the impacts of other sources of pollution on our oceans, starting with, of course, carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

I raise this in the context of pollution and the impact that rising greenhouse gases are having on my home state of Tasmania. Tasmanian waters are warming at four times the global average—the fastest rate of any marine environment on the planet. The waters off the east coast of Tasmania are seen as a global hotspot for ocean warming, and we've seen devastating impacts on our marine environment. We've seen, virtually, the loss of our giant kelp forests that stretch from the north-east of Tasmania, Mount William National Park, all the way down to the tip, the South West Cape of Tasmania. There are only a few remaining. In 2012 they were listed as critically endangered habitat. What have we done about these ecosystems that were nurseries for commercial fisheries and that provided so much input into the health of our ocean off the east coast of Tasmania? We have continued to see rising global emissions and rising emissions in this country, Australia. We have only recently allocated some funding to try to regrow those kelp forests.

The warming oceans and the currents that are leading to this global hotspot off the east coast of my home state of Tasmania have also seen the scourge of the invasive urchin Centrostephanus, which had been a significant problem in the waters off New South Wales. It has now invaded the reefs off the east coast of Tasmania. The Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies expects that by 2020, next year, one-third of the productive reefs off the east coast of Tasmania will be gone. They will be made barren—and that's the word it used. They're called urchin barrens. They are barren of all underwater life.

It's hard to see marine ecosystems. It's easier to see the impacts of global warming on terrestrial ecosystems. We've seen that with fires up and down the east coast of Australia and Tasmania. It's a lot harder to see the impacts underwater, but fishermen know what's going on. The abalone industry in Tasmania has been devastated. The rock lobster industry has been devastated. All species of fish caught by recreational and commercial fishers have had significant quota reductions. We have seen the severe impact of warming waters off our coast on aquaculture, with the Pacific oyster mortality syndrome. Millions of fish have been killed in the salmon industry from uprisings from a lack of oxygen. This is all associated with pollution and rising emissions. We need to do everything we can do to reduce emissions. This bill today and the Greens amendment would play a critical role in doing that.

I want to be very clear that the other threat to Tasmania's oceans—indeed, all oceans in this country and around the world—is the continued insanity and madness of oil and gas exploration off our coasts. We continue to issue seismic permits to open up new areas to explore for fossil fuels. Very soon the Senate is going to examine the impact of seismic testing. It's bizarre that, in the trillion-dollar offshore oil and gas industry, over all this time only a few million dollars has been spent on assessing the scientific impact of seismic testing on not just marine creatures but commercial fisheries and broader ecosystems.

We know that the threat from oil spills is very real. Not that long ago we had the Montara oil spill off north-west Australia. It devastated the seaweed industry in the poor country to our north, Indonesia. We saw what happened with BP in the US. It was one of the biggest environmental disasters in our history. It's worth watching the Deepwater Horizonfilm if you haven't seen it. Yet we have just issued new permits for companies to explore in the Great Australian Bight, off the north-west coast of Tasmania, off Newcastle and off Sydney.

The fight against oil and gas drilling off our coasts is a proxy battle for a fight against climate change. Australians are waking up and saying: 'Why are we doing this? Why are we risking pollution on our coastlines from oil drilling? Why are we exploring to burn more fossil fuels when we already have reserves of oil and gas around the world to push us above three degrees of global warming? Why are we doing this?'

I would like to give a message to the CEO of Equinor, the Norwegian state-owned company that seems so insistent on drilling the Great Australian Bight, a pristine, virgin area of ocean that is a breeding ground for so many species, including the whales that migrate to the Southern Ocean. My message to you, Sir, is: 'Please reflect on the lack of social licence you have in this country.' Just weeks ago tens of thousands of Australians in coastal communities paddled out at their local beaches to say: 'No way, Equinor. You will not risk our coast. This is not a time in history when we need to be exploring for more fossil fuels.' The Great Australian Bight Alliance has stretched right around this country, and, as a surfer, I'm very proud of my tribe for standing up and saying: 'No. This has got to stop.'

Equinor have lodged their plan with NOPSEMA. NOPSEMA have until 30 December to make a decision. I plead with the CEO of Equinor: 'Walk away from this. Please. I urge you to consider the community response right around this nation, the tens of thousands of surfers in coastal communities that have come out and said, "No way Equinor". Please consider this. You don't have a social licence. Give these Australian communities, give these surfers a Christmas present by walking away from this. I know that the government's been in your ear—Senator Canavan, who's in this chamber, was probably amongst them—saying, "Do not walk away from this; we need you to go and explore this pristine area of our ocean." You don't need to do it.'

We don't need fossil fuels anymore. We desperately need to transition to clean forms of energy. I want to read you a post from a surfer who's a leader in the surf community around this country. His name's Sean Doherty. He's an editor and he writes for a number of the large surf magazines. He also advocates for environmental issues, and he's on the board of the Surfrider Foundation, a global marine conservation group that I used to be a part of. Indeed, I used to be on the board of the Surfrider Foundation in Australia. Mr Doherty has a post this morning saying, 'Equinor retreats from frontier exploration in the Arctic'. He quotes a quote from the vice-president of Equinor on their exploration and frontier development. The vice-president says the Arctic:

… was always a frontier area, almost a virgin area; we sometimes forget that there was high … risk on—

drilling in this area. He goes on to say, 'I know some people will be disappointed with our decision to pull out of drilling the Arctic, but it is not surprising.' How is the Great Australian Bight different to the Arctic? There are no oil and gas fields in the Great Australian Bight. It is one of the most beautiful, stunning oceans and coastlines on the planet that is a nursery for so much marine life. Do not risk our oceans when they are in a time of crisis. They are fast being broken by homo sapiens and our insatiable demands for money and for profits and for business as usual. It's that stupidity, that insanity that's got us in this situation in the first place and I plead with Equinor: do the right thing and walk away from Australia, walk away from this high-risk exploration.

I'd also like to put on record, while we are debating a bill around marine pollution, my thanks and my gratitude to the thousands of surfers and Australians in their communities around this nation who have stood up, time and time again, and said: 'No way Equinor. Big oil don't surf, we do.' This is our coastline. We don't want to risk it. It's our time in history to be making brave decisions, to protest and to transition our economies and our communities to a renewable energy future.

Let me finish by saying business as usual is insanity when you see the changes, the tipping points, we are seeing around the planet. In the past five years I have chaired two Senate inquiries into what's happening in the Barrier Reef. I have been to the reef. I have heard, like a number of my colleagues have, from hundreds of scientists, including IPCC scientists who have a case study in their latest report on oceans and the impacts off Tasmania. Scientists have openly said to me, 'None of us in our lifetime predicted we would see things tip so quickly.' Our best models predicted it wasn't possible to have back-to-back bleachings on the Great Barrier Reef until 2050. Our best models predicted 2050, but we got it in 2016 and 2017. And things have got worse. We've lost thousands of kilometres of mangroves up in the gulf. We've seen impacts on our oceans across Western Australia—the loss of seagrass beds. It is a crisis and it is frightening and it is distressing to communities.

We need to do everything we can to act on this, and we are not doing enough. Australia is a custodian of the Great Barrier Reef. It is an island girt by sea. Not only do we have a leadership role to play on marine plastics, which is an area I'm glad this government is finally focusing on; we have a custodian role of the Great Barrier Reef. We have a world heritage UNESCO committee looking at the status of the reef as we speak. No-one can deny the impact that climate change has had on the world's reefs. I surfed recently in the Maldives, and Senator Canavan, through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Gallacher, would be shocked to know that 90 per cent of their reefs are dead. I've witnessed it; I've seen it. We know half the Great Barrier Reef is now dead. The single biggest living organism on this planet: dead, Senator Canavan. Look at the science. And it's people like you that come into this place and pull the levers for the fossil fuel industry that will be responsible for this. You will be held to account by future generations. Let me assure you: what you are doing is tantamount to criminal activity. You are climate criminals if you continue down this road of burning fossil fuels when all the warning signs are there and you choose to ignore them. It is not acceptable.

I will bring this back to what we have in front of us today, which is a small ask and contribution.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

How do you sleep at night?

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

You laugh, Senator Canavan. I wish the cameras could capture your face laughing while the reef dies—and you, Senator Sterle. You're acting like a clown over there. Do you think it's funny that our oceans are dying? Do you think it's funny?

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

No, I don't.

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

Yes you bloody well do, and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Whish-Wilson, please resume your seat. Interjections are highly disorderly. Senators are expected to be heard in silence. I ask senators contributing to the debate to ignore interjections. Senator Whish-Wilson.

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

Thank you, Acting Deputy President. It's been a long, difficult year for all of us, so it's no wonder that I'm emotional and tired and angry and calling it the way it should be called in this place. And I'm disgusted that some senators think this is funny.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Road Safety) Share this | | Hansard source

You're a hypocrite. That's what you are.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source


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

I'll take that interjection. Really? Who else in this place has consistently called for action on our oceans? The only party that has been consistent is the Greens. We are the only ones who have been willing to highlight the damage to the Great Barrier Reef, to call out the damage to our oceans, to stand with communities. It's just a sad shame that, while we've had families come from places like the Northern Rivers this week, who've put what remains of their home out the front of this building and have called for politicians to work together and to cooperate and to stop acting like children, we get outbursts from the likes of Senator Sterle in here. It's a shame that what we got this week was you trying to drag up a 10-year-old policy debate as though somehow that is fixing the problem. It's not; it's making things worse. It is high time that MPs across all political spectrums came together to solve this problem.

Last night at the Greens Christmas party we had 20 or 30 of the country's fireys.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party, Minister for Resources and Northern Australia) Share this | | Hansard source

You had a Christmas party?

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

You consider that, Senator Canavan: at a Greens Christmas party we had 20 or 30 of the nation's most senior fireys, and today they stood outside parliament and said they moved a motion calling for a transition away from fossil fuels. You go away and consider that, Senator Canavan. That's the nation's fireys out there calling for you to transition, and what are you doing? You're trying to burn more fossil fuels. You're trying to actively not only support these projects and remove obstacles in front of them but also fund them. You're trying to put government money into propping up ailing coal-fired power stations. You're trying to put government money into these projects. You will do anything to condemn future generations on this planet, and we will call you to account every single time. I recommend the Greens second reading amendment to this bill.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Whish-Wilson be agreed to.

Bill read a second time.