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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 7975

Mr BEVIS (3:03 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts. Will the minister inform the House of the importance of taking responsible action to tackle dangerous climate change?

Mr GARRETT (Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts) —I thank the member for Brisbane for his question, and I know that this is a serious issue for him and for his constituencies. The challenge of climate change is all about taking responsibility—about taking responsibility for our contribution to global emissions, about taking responsibility for the impact that climate change will have on our environment for the future. That is exactly the approach that the Rudd government have taken as we rise to the challenge of climate change.

This morning I spoke in Brisbane at the opening of the International Conference on Ecology and there the government released the report Australia’s biodiversity and climate change: a strategic assessment of the vulnerability of Australia’s biodiversity to climate change. This report confirms the climate change risks to our iconic natural areas like Kakadu and the Great Barrier Reef. The House may have seen recently a report commissioned by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation which showed that the likely costs to the Australian economy, if we have increasing climate change impacts on the Great Barrier Reef, is some $30 billion over the next century. The report released today also shows that Australia has an extremely high proportion of species, our unique biodiversity, that will be at risk from climate change impacts.

The Rudd government understands these risks, and that is why we brought forward significant reform in the shape of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to begin the task of bringing down Australia’s carbon pollution for the first time. That reform was blocked by the coalition. We brought forward reform with the largest energy efficiency rollout in Australia’s history, the Energy Efficient Homes package, helping Aussies reduce their energy bills at home for decades to come. That reform was opposed in its entirety by the opposition. This is the same opposition that, as a coalition, had a last minute conversion to a cap-and-trade scheme before the recent election and then last week voted against the same cap-and-trade system in the Senate. So in some ways we can say that the song of the coalition remains the same, that not much has changed since the last election. In fact, we did hear from Senator Minchin earlier this year some of the lyrics of the song when he launched an extraordinary attack on the ABC—

Opposition members interjecting—

Government members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order!

Mr GARRETT —They are encouraging me, Mr Speaker. Don’t worry; I haven’t finished yet.

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister will ignore the interjections.

Mr GARRETT —He launched an extraordinary attack on the ABC for referring to carbon pollution as pollution. He said:

It is a nonsense to describe it as the pollutant. I mean, it is grossly misleading of the public to describe it as a pollutant.

Then last week in the speeches in the Senate, there was Senator Minchin again, and he said:

CO2 is not by any stretch of the imagination a pollutant.

And he went on to say:

… this whole extraordinary scheme … is based on the as yet unproven assertion that anthropogenic emissions of CO2 are the main driver of global warming.

Tell that to the climate scientists who are working day and night to alert the world and policy makers to the likely impacts of climate change. Tell that to the research institutions that are producing the work day in and day out to let us, as policy makers, know what the impacts of climate change are likely to be. Tell that to the US government, the Chinese government, the non-government organisations and the scientific communities—all those who recognise that dealing with this risk is one of the most important and urgent tasks we have.

There was Senator Bushby, who said:

I have no choice but to refuse to believe what I am told is truth and to declare myself a ‘sceptic’ when it comes to the issue of mankind’s impact on the climate.

Of course, it is not just in the Senate. It is also in the House of Representatives, where they are going backwards; they are not moving forward. I was so disappointed at the remarks of the member for North Sydney when he was speaking to Karl Stefanovic and said: ‘Look, climate change is real, Karl.’ I think this was mentioned in the House the other day. ‘You know, whether it is made by human beings or not, that is open to dispute.’ I thought to myself: ‘Who is responsible for these carbon dioxide emissions? Perhaps it is the dinosaurs or perhaps the member for North Sydney.’ Then I realised it was. I noticed that the Leader of the Opposition held his You Tube policy announcement speech/reflections/views in a certain park and I thought to myself, on the theme of dinosaurs, ‘I know which park that is—Jurassic Park!’

It is tempting to say that nothing has changed since the last election, but the ugly truth is that the coalition are going backwards on climate change. They are now positioning themselves to the right of the former Prime Minister, John Howard, on climate change. It is hard to believe, but the coalition are now trying to make the former Prime Minister, John Howard, look like Al Gore. The fact is there have been 12 years of climate change scepticism. Scepticism leads to denial. Denial leads to inaction. And inaction imposes costs on the Australian community and on the Australian environment. In this instance our country, a continent that is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, deserves much, much better.