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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9410

Mr OAKESHOTT (3:39 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, what is the federal government’s policy response to the growing community concerns in locations such as Old Bar, Lake Cathie, Byron Bay, the Central Coast of New South Wales and many other locations around coastal Australia who are increasingly confronted by the issue of loss of public and private property due to coastal erosion? When will the federal government engage on this issue and in what form can we expect that engagement?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Lyne for his question, as it goes to the direct impact of climate change on local communities—in particular, coastal communities in Australia. I welcome the question, because it is about the reality of climate change, the reality of its impact and what we do about it, and because it is coming from someone who is not a climate change denier, which is what we normally encounter when we receive questions from the opposition.

Mr Truss interjecting

Mr RUDD —‘Climate change denier’ is writ large across the ranks of those opposite, and the Leader of the National Party knows that full well, not least within his own party and the leader of his party in the Senate. But let us not dwell on that.

The honourable member asked a question about what government programs are being deployed to assist coastal communities to engage with the reality of the impact of climate change and coastal inundation—and what can be done about it. Through the Caring for our Country program we have at present a range of initiatives aimed at assisting local communities with dune erosion projects that focus on managing and improving habitats and biodiversity of coastal ecosystems. That is one thing that is embraced by the government. Another—for the benefit of the honourable member—is an initiative which we as a government initiated, called Caring for our Coasts, some $25 million.

An opposition member—Is that all?

Mr RUDD —The honourable member interjects: ‘Is that all?’ That is $25 million more, as I am advised, than existed previously.

Mr Truss interjecting

Mr RUDD —I look forward to the Leader of the National Party standing at the dispatch box today and telling us all that the National Party has done on climate change. I am sure it will be a short presentation indeed on the part of the Leader of the National Party, given that his party in the Senate routinely seeks to torpedo any initiative of the parliament that deals with the reality of the impact of climate change.

An opposition member—What about reality?

Mr RUDD —‘Reality?’ That is a challenge from over there as to whether climate change is real as well. I said before that they are full of climate change deniers; they continue to rise to the occasion and to rise to the challenge. Under this $25 million Caring for our Coast initiative, the Department of Climate Change is leading a national assessment of Australia’s coastal zone vulnerability to climate change impacts, to be completed late in 2009.

Dr Jensen interjecting

The SPEAKER —Member for Tangney! The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr RUDD —Mr Speaker, was that the member for Tangney who was interjecting?

Government members—Yes!

Mr RUDD —He of the shadecloths in space? When we look for concrete and positive contributions to the climate change debate, we have one of the more progressive forces of the coalition out there advocating that the way for Australia to deal with climate change is to erect a shadecloth in space. That is matched only by the member for McEwen’s recommendation that we put one across the Great Barrier Reef. In fact it is a shadecloth ribbon—

Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker—

Mr Truss interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Menzies will wait until the Leader of the National Party lets him have his go.

Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker, the honourable member for Lyne asked the Prime Minister what his government’s policies were; why doesn’t he answer the question?

The SPEAKER —The point of order goes to relevance. The Prime Minister is responding to the question. He would be responding more directly to the question if there were fewer interjections and if he ignored the interjections. The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr RUDD —Thank you, Mr Speaker. As the member for Menzies would know, I have been responding to the climate change scepticism within interjections from members of his party and from members of the National Party during my answer. If he is interested in climate change, perhaps he could contribute to bringing about a unified position on climate change within the Liberal Party and between the Liberal Party and the National Party.

Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Not only is this irrelevant; it is now juvenile.

The SPEAKER —The member for Menzies will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr RUDD —There is nothing like climate change to get the coalition going. The member for Lyne, led by the most progressive forces embodied in the member for Menzies, whom I have always seen as being strong on this issue as well as so many other reforms before the parliament, asks in particular about other programs which are available for deployment by local communities. Out of the Caring for our Coasts initiative of some $25 million, national assessments of the vulnerability of Australia’s coastal zone to climate change impacts is to be completed by late 2009. As part of this assessment the government in August launched a National Coastal Landform and Stability Mapping Tool. The purpose of that is to benefit local planners and decision makers as they make coastal planning decisions into the future. That is to deal with prospective challenges. A legitimate question being put by local governments across the country is what information base they are to depend on in the future in making local planning decisions. This would represent one such possible tool, and that is what is available.

Furthermore, I draw the honourable member’s attention to the fact—and I am sure that he is aware of this already but other members of the House may not be—that the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, the Environment and the Arts, chaired I believe by the member for Throsby, is currently engaged in an inquiry into climate change related environmental impacts on coastal communities. Submissions were received up until 30 May and the last of public hearings was held on 27 August. It will be important to see what conclusions that committee reaches in its deliberations on this important question as well. I am also advised that one of the honourable member’s constituents, Mr Keys, made a presentation to that inquiry in March. He is a resident of one of the communities that he referred to at Old Bar. This is a very practical and personal concern. My understanding is that Mr Keys has already lost residences to coastal inundation on that part of the New South Wales coast.

Mrs Hull interjecting

Mr RUDD —I am not quite certain what the member for Riverina was saying about the impact of coastal erosion forces in her own electorate. I understand she would like people to move to her electorate from where they have gone. Therefore, in summary, in answer to the honourable member’s question, there are two specific programs that the government has embraced on this. I suggest that the honourable member, in close consultation with the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts and other relevant government ministers, seeks to cooperate with those programs in terms of a proper analysis of the impacts in his area. We look forward, as I said before, to the findings of the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, which is specifically dealing with an inquiry into the impact of climate change on coastal communities.