Senate debates

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Australian Bushfires

3:29 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Rice today relating to Australian bushfires and forests.

My question was about the unprecedented extent and intensity of the fires that we have experienced this summer, under only one degree of global heating, and about how this is only going to get worse, when we are headed towards 3.4 degrees of global heating, and about the need to stop logging our forests, if our forests and our wildlife are to recover, particularly because we know that logging our forests actually makes the forests more fire-prone. What was the answer that I got? It was basically total denial of how extreme the conditions this summer were and total denial of the science that has just been released that shows that the fires that we've been through are off the scale, unprecedented on a global basis, and that is because of the climate crisis we're in.

The answer that I got showed total ignorance of the risks that global heating is going to have on our forests as the world gets hotter. One degree is just the beginning. Under the government's policy, we are headed towards 3.4 degrees of warming across the globe. That's what the government's policy is consistent with. What I got was a complete head-in-the-sand denial of what the impacts are going to be and then complete denial of what the impacts of logging are. What did I get from Minister Cormann? He said: 'Oh, well, our forests will recover. We're doing everything we can.' Basically, the government has no plan. It is not listening to the science. There is a total refusal to listen to the science and a total refusal to acknowledge that what we have just been through this summer is unprecedented and is only going to get worse.

Look at the impacts of this summer's fires on our communities, on our forests and on our wildlife—and this is only at one degree of global heating. Think about what it's going to mean for Australia's forests at three or four degrees of global heating. Our forests are doomed. We are doomed to a future of more fires of greater extent and of greater intensity—more extreme, longer fires of greater extent and of greater intensity—of smoke choking our cities for months and months on end and of having our current precious wildlife that is already threatened and endangered heading towards being extinct. Those animals will no longer exist for our children and our grandchildren to enjoy.

If we are talking about the usefulness of timber as a product, we're in a situation where almost 90 per cent of the timber that comes from Australia already comes from plantations. What is the future of those plantations under three or four degrees of warming? We saw plantations going up in these fires over summer with one degree of global heating. Under three or four degrees, will we be able to maintain a plantation estate at all? Will we be able to maintain an area of plantation, which we Greens want to have as much as anybody else in this place? Will that be viable? You're going to have to not have fire go through that plantation for the 30 or 40 years that it takes for those trees to grow to become valuable as timber. At the moment, if we get to even two degrees—we have seen the impact of one degree—or three degrees or four degrees of global heating, there's no possibility that we're going to be able to do that. The devastation to regional economies, as well as the devastation to our forests, our wildlife and our communities is just going to be overwhelming.

The key thing is that there was no sense that this is understood and that we know that we do have a choice. But where that choice starts is in acknowledging that we're in a climate emergency. This is a crisis. There is action that needs to be taken, and it needs to be taken now. There is no point putting it out to 2050. There is no point having the absolutely pathetic commitments that this government currently has. We need to be rapidly reducing our carbon pollution now. We need to be transitioning away from burning all coal, all gas and all oil and shifting to renewable energy as quickly as possible. And we need to be protecting our forests, because these forests are our carbon sinks. Our forests are soaking up the carbon in the atmosphere. If we allow them to burn and if we keep logging them, they are not going to be able to continue to play that incredibly important role. We've got a choice. The Greens are up to protecting our forests. Sadly, it seems that the government is not even on the same page when it comes to that level of protection. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.