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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2183

Senator PERIS (Northern Territory) (18:23): I too rise to offer my support for this matter of public importance, which quite rightly criticises Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's giving in to the ultraconservative climate change deniers in his party. As my colleague Senator Lines pointed out this evening, for years Mr Turnbull has championed the cause of climate change policies. For years he has stood up to the Mr Abbotts in his party who have denied that climate change is real.

The Northern Territory is one of the most pristine natural environments in the world. It is relatively untouched and has always had protections from environmental damage. I would hate to see the Northern Territory's environment irreversibly damaged because this Prime Minister of Australia, Mr Turnbull, caved in to a few special interests in his own party, despite previously being committed to and championing the combating of climate change.

Make no mistake, the Northern Territory is feeling the effects of climate change. The Northern Territory environment is faced with the great challenge of climate change, like everyone else on the planet. The facts speak for themselves. Just last month, in the month of February, Darwin received negative rainfall. February is the middle of the monsoon season in the Top End, and it usually averages around 14 inches of rain for the month. Yet this February, in a month that usually has over 20 days of rain, monsoonal storms and sometimes cyclones, there was more atmospheric evaporation of rain than downpour of rain. It was also the hottest February on record in Darwin. The average temperature was 33.5, compared to the previous record of 33.1. The February record has been smashed.

It is impossible to deny that this is an accident. It is impossible to deny that this is an isolated occurrence. This is far from a unique story. In fact, examples of this are occurring all over the world, and it is expected to get worse into the future for not only the Northern Territory but also the rest of the planet.

We also know that tidal levels around the Northern Territory coast are rising. Sea levels are rising, and since the early 1990s northern Australia has experienced increases of up to 7.1 millimetres per year. That is almost two metres since the early 1990s. This is higher than the international trend and extremely worrying for the Northern Territory's environment.

It is not just the environment that is threatened by this. The Northern Territory's infrastructure and economy are at risk of dangerous climate change effects. In fact, the federal government's own environment department has warned of this. In their report on climate change impacts on the Northern Territory it states:

Climate change will lead to sea level rise and potentially greater storm surges which will impact on coastal settlements, infrastructure and ecosystems. Between 260 and 370 residential buildings, with a current value of between $100 million and $134 million may be at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres. A 1.1 metre sea level rise will also put 2045 kilometres of the NT's roads, up to 24 commercial buildings and 32km of railways at risk. These assets have an estimated value of up to $1.8 billion, $500 million and $100 million respectively.

That is over $2 billion worth of damage just in infrastructure. This does not take into account economic impacts like job losses, added health and welfare costs and the complete destruction of the top end economy if an event like this took place.

Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also an economic one. As we all know, especially those across the chamber, the Northern Territory relies on the agricultural industry. But it is an industry that relies on consistent and predictable rainfall. Territory farmers know that all too well, which is why they have repeatedly stressed to me the importance of action on climate change. The Northern Territory cattle industry relies on healthy rainfall in the top end. They cannot afford to lose that. Our fruit industry and agriculture relies on constant weather patterns.

The Northern Territory economy also relies on tourism. How can that industry expect to survive if our rivers, waterfalls and wetlands cannot survive the effects of climate change? People do not visit the Northern Territory to go to the opera. They visit the Territory to see and experience the amazing natural environment the Northern Territory has to offer. Several Territorian industries are under threat. If the Northern Territory sea levels rise too much, our mangroves will suffer, and Territorians know all too well that our mangroves are the breeding hub that makes our coastlines some of the richest fisheries in the world. Our barramundi, crabbing and prawn industry would suffer as a direct result of sea level rises caused by climate change.

It is a shame that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has not taken responsibility for climate action. In fact, our Aboriginal ranger groups across the Northern Territory have taken responsibility. They are caring for country. They have taken it upon themselves to protect our land and seas not only for themselves but for all Australians. Just like President Barack Obama and new Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, have done in their countries, we also need to incorporate Aboriginal science and traditional knowledge into decision making. These people have lived on and understood their country for thousands of years, and in the US and in Canada they acknowledge climate change and respect the role their indigenous people can play in combating climate change.

Through initiatives like carbon farming, Aboriginal ranger groups have harnessed their knowledge of the land to minimise the effects of climate change. Unfortunately, the Northern and Central land councils have reported cuts to the programs which support these ranger groups in the Northern Territory and, I might add, in the top end of the Kimberley. It is also a shame that Australia is not behind our international friends when it comes to climate change.

As I said previously, climate change is an environmental issue and an economic issue. It is real. What has this Prime Minister done? Not much—in fact, nothing. He has rolled back climate change measures, and has been a member of a government that has tried to defund and shut down government clean energy solutions. He has caved into the conservatives on the direct action climate policies, which reward big businesses for doing what they should be doing anyway in trying to reduce emissions. I wholeheartedly support this matter of public importance. Mr Turnbull has failed to stand up against members of his own party and stand up for action on climate change. He is playing a dangerous game with the Northern Territory's and Australia's environment and economy.

I will finish my speech by telling the story of an elderly Aboriginal man who, when we were talking about climate change, said to me, 'We do not have a planet B, so we have to look after the one that we have. We borrow this Earth from our future generations and it is everyone's responsibility to take care of it.'