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Wednesday, 28 October 2009
Page: 11450

Mr GEORGANAS (6:44 PM) —I would like to take this opportunity to thank the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts for tabling, and giving me the opportunity to speak on, this very important report, the report being Managing our coastal zone in a changing climate: the time to act is now. As I said, I welcome this opportunity to speak on this report as it is about an issue which is one of the most serious that Australia has ever faced.

When you represent a seat like Hindmarsh, the western border of which is the coast, this is a big issue. It is a big issue for the residents in Adelaide’s metropolitan area. My electorate has many suburbs, such as West Beach, Glenelg, Somerton Park, Henley Beach, Grange, Tennyson, Semaphore and West Lakes, where there are residential areas in which houses have been built just metres away from the sand.

We are contending on behalf of the liveability of our cities and the sustenance of our economy. We are concerned with the impact of climate change. This issue concerns the rain that falls on our land, the searing heat of our summers, the productivity of our farms, the very existence of our rivers, our susceptibility to drought and our exposure to raging fires. As I said, all of this is concerned with the impact that climate change is having on the world.

The House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts has reported on the danger faced by our coastal zone, now and in the future, as a result of climate change. The report is based on the best available scientific consensus—a consensus about the threats our regions and population centres face from rising sea levels, the changing character of the sea through acidification and the increasing potential for damage to our coastlines, inhabited areas and infrastructure as a direct result of increasingly large waves, storm surges and king tides.

The report notes that the science is continuing to be developed. A lot of scientific work is happening in this area. People are continuing to study current observations and drawing comparisons with what has happened in the past. The size of the future threats we face, and the likelihood of their impact on our coastal regions, continues to feature prominently in our scientists’ research.

What we are told is that the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projection of an 80 centimetre rise in sea level continues to be the most likely change that will occur around our coastline over the course of this century. To put this into context: through much of our human history, average sea level change has been 0.2 millimetres per year. From the 19th to the 20th century, this increased in excess of eight times to 1.7 millimetres per year. From 1993 to 2003, this average annual increase almost doubled to 3.1 millimetres per year—from one millimetre per decade to 31 millimetres per decade in around 200 years. The anticipated increase through this century suggests an average increase of around three times again—an average annual increase of 80 or more millimetres per decade. These are indeed dramatic increases. The rule of thumb is that, for every one metre rise in sea level, the sea will intrude inland by between 50 and 100 metres.

As I said, I am extremely concerned about this and most members of parliament who represent coastal seats would be concerned. My electorate starts just outside the city and finishes at the sea. In fact, when I want to give a description of my seat, I say, ‘It is from the city to the sea with the airport right in the middle of it.’ Its border is the Gulf St Vincent. While much of my electorate is by the Gulf St Vincent, it also has sand dunes—very interesting sand dunes in that they are some of the last sand dunes left in the metropolitan area of Adelaide.

The threat is also great to neighbouring seats, such as that of Port Adelaide, which is in the Lefevre Peninsula. The threat to our coastlines is not limited only to the increase in sea level. Greater threats, through this century at least, lie in the violent, destructive forces that come to the coast in the form of extreme sea levels.

These extreme sea levels are what we see during acute weather events in the form of large tides, storm surges, severe waves and more frequent king tides, all of which sees the erosion of our sandy beaches in the Gulf St Vincent in my electorate and in fact in all of the areas of metropolitan Adelaide. We have seen these over recent years especially, as I have said, in the electorate of Hindmarsh. One particular beach, West Beach, has beautiful sand and sand dunes but we have seen the erosion of that beach gradually taking place over the last few years.

People have witnessed jetties being battered and broken up. People have seen the power of the ocean crashing onto the coastal walls. I am sure the residents around Glenelg remember the ends of streets being submerged with water that had come crashing through into suburbia. A lot of damage was caused by that one particular storm. Sea water was thrust up onto what we previously expected to be safe land. This water was coming up and going into residential areas. Reports from people around the Glenelg area with flooded properties were of sodden garages and the reports were full of possessions being damaged. These reports were quite numerous at the time. All this is what we continue to face along the coastline of my electorate. Now, with the rising sea levels that we are experiencing, we can expect to see such damaging and dangerous events occurring more and more frequently.

Dr Hunter from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre gave evidence to the committee as follows:

… if you get a sea level rise of only 20 centimetres, which was pretty well what we got last century, that will increase the frequency of extreme events by a factor of about 10 … The events will happen 10 times more often, and this compounds … If you get a 50-centimetre increase, or half a metre, which is about the middle of the projections for this coming century, then you get a factor of about 300 on average for Australia.

What this represents statistically is this: if we have had one storm surge swamping a suburb in my electorate, such as Glenelg, on average each year, we can expect in the not too distant future this event to be happening every single day of the year. That is the statistical likelihood of what eventuates with seasonal variations, but, again, seasonal variations may of course well be different. But it points to big weather impacting on our coastline over and over again for each and every year, causing enormous damage. This is what we will be facing by the time many of us here are in the latter times of our life. It is within view. It is not that far away. It is within our lifetime. The degree to which our beachside suburbs can cope with the onslaught is highly questionable.

Also in my electorate in the suburbs of Somerton Park, Glenelg, West Beach, Henley Beach, Grange, Tennyson and Semaphore Beach we are already seeing the erosion of beaches. We are already feeling the impact of climate change. As I said earlier, we have already seen the erosion of our protective dunes. We have beautiful dunes at West Beach which are disappearing very quickly, and we have the last of the remaining natural dunes along Tennyson Beach and Semaphore Beach. Also, there is the infiltration of sea water into our rivers and onto our plains and through our suburbs and onto our properties. We are experiencing that now around the seaside suburbs. How long before the effects are felt elsewhere and further inland? In fact, a few years ago the CSIRO did a study which showed that the coastline could come in as far as Adelaide airport in my electorate. That was in a front-page story in the Advertiser showing where the new coastline would be. A half-metre to a full-metre increase in lake levels will do untold extreme damage throughout the suburbs, including my electorate’s suburbs of West Lakes and West Lakes Shore.

I am disappointed that what the opposition says to all of this is that we should not do anything to prevent worsening climate change and that we should get ready to repeatedly and constantly rebuild our shattered coastline communities. The opposition in the Senate, which has already stopped this government’s attempts to reduce carbon pollution once, says that we should sit on our hands until our homes and our communities are swamped, and only then should we do something. Logically, this is the same attitude that earlier this week voted down the government’s Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill. These examples show that they are not interested in doing anything until it is too late. They are not interested in preventing any level of change or the destruction that it can bring, preferring to conserve their persona—that only they in the whole world have the facts, have access to the truth and have a grip on what is actually going on around the world. Climate change is a reality. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues that face not only our government and our nation but the entire world, and action is required now—not tomorrow, not next month, not next year, not in five years and not in 10 years but now. We should be taking action and the opposition are preventing us from taking that action.

The committee report contains numerous recommendations, some of which the government is already working towards and some of which no doubt the government will take up in the months ahead. As we pass through the summer from 2009 to 2010, the government will be able to say to the Australian people, ‘You elected us to work to combat climate change, and we have.’ The Rudd government was elected to combat climate change, and the work of this committee provides additional direction for the work already underway.

I am sure that the nation as a whole is looking forward to the debate in the Senate over the CPRS. They will all be looking to see whether their representatives in this place, some of the people who you would think would be most concerned about the effects of climate change, do the right thing by their constituencies and enable Australia as a nation to build on our own systems for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Nobody else can do it—not those in the US, not those in China and India and not those heading to Copenhagen. We have to build our own systems here in Australia ourselves. Targets will come and go over time, but we need the infrastructure, the market systems and the ability to see what we are doing and where we are going into the future. We need that worked out here in this parliament, and the sooner the better—better for the emitters, better for the mitigators, better for the investors and better for all of us.