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Tuesday, 19 November 2013
Page: 619

Mr SNOWDON (Lingiari) (12:26): Madam Speaker, this is the first opportunity I have had to address the parliament whilst you have been in the chair. Congratulations. It demonstrates that people of merit actually do get recognised occasionally, so well done.

The SPEAKER: I thank the honourable member.

Mr SNOWDON: I might not always agree with you—I probably will not; I dare say we will have our differences, but nevertheless. The member for Canning just gave an interesting oration. I am not quite sure what he was trying to tell us, apart from the fact that it is clear that he does not believe in climate change. Like many of the sceptics in the government, he has no appetite for understanding the reality of climate change or what has been put before the world community by the scientists who work in this space.

From this legislation and a variety of other legislation to be put through this place we are learning a lot about the philosophy and values that motivate this government. That is something I think many Australians are going to be very concerned about. It is very clear now that they do not care about evidence based policy and that they are the ultimate political opportunists. We all recall the way in which the former Prime Minister and a former Leader of the Opposition were advocates of a price on carbon. John Howard and Malcolm Turnbull supported an emissions trading scheme. Of course the Prime Minister was the then Leader of the Opposition because he won by one vote a ballot in his party room about an emissions trading scheme. So half of them but one then in opposition supported the view that we needed an emissions trading scheme. For whatever reason, 49 per cent or thereabouts of that caucus now in government has flipped. They no longer believe in the reality of climate change.

We had the former Prime Minister demonstrating very clearly how much revisionism has been going on within the Liberal Party room and the coalition. He is saying whatever he can to support his protege, his little mate, the current Prime Minister, because it appears he is no longer a believer in accepting the science. This month we heard the former Prime Minister John Howard tell a London audience that those of us who accept that climate change is real are a bunch of religious zealots, and that he will trust his instincts rather than the overwhelming evidence of 97 per cent of the world's climate scientists. What does that sound like? What does that remind you of? It reminds me very much of this quote by the Prime Minister in February 2010:

The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger.

I have news for the Prime Minister: nothing has changed and, unfortunately for him, climate change is not crap. We all know it is a reality. We on this side of the House accept the reality and we are proposing a set of policies that are aimed at bringing down our emissions. But what we are seeing from the government is nothing like an appropriate policy to address the issue of climate change and carbon emissions. There is a reason 60,000 people demonstrated in rallies around the country last weekend for stronger action on climate change. Those people believe in climate change, just as 97 per cent of published climate scientists do. Climate change is real and it is driven by man-made greenhouse gas emissions.

We do need effective action on climate change, and the best effective action is through a market-based mechanism such as an emissions trading scheme, which is the centrepiece of Labor's policy. I had one of my colleagues saying in the caucus this morning—I will not say who it was, but he got up and said, 'I'm from the left, but I really believe in markets.' In this case we all do and that is what is important. We have taken the responsible position to see that a market-based mechanism is the best way to address the issue of climate change and emissions.

Let me refer specifically to my own electorate. For those who do not know, Lingiari, the electorate that I am so honoured to represent, comprises all but 330 square kilometres of the Northern Territory. It is 1.34 million kilometres in area, and it includes the Indian Ocean territories of Christmas and Cocos Islands. It covers 5,000 kilometres of mainland coastline and a further 2,000 kilometres of coastline encompassing offshore islands. In 2011 I said in a speech in this place that the Cocos Islands in my electorate—I note that the minister responsible for the territories, the member for Mayo, is at the table—have coral atolls with an altitude of only three metres at their highest point. Sea level rise is a real threat due to global warming.

I was on the Cocos Islands a fortnight or so ago and things have changed on the Cocos Islands. They have changed dramatically; really terrific weather events have had an impact. At one point on the island, very close to the southern end of the runway, water was coming in off the ocean that was not hitting any barriers, so effectively the land is below sea level. On other parts of the island there are now real issues with erosion caused by inundation from the sea. This is real. It is not something which has been cooked up; this is real and it is happening today. I would encourage the minister to visit the Cocos Islands, and I hope he is of a mind to soon as it is a very lovely place with very wonderful people, because if there is one place in Australia that is exposed to climate change and its impacts on our community more than any other, it is the Cocos Islands.

We know, clearly, that even a small rise in sea levels will see those islands disappear. It is not an exaggeration, it is an absolute reality. The projections from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology show that if we do not reduce our carbon pollution the Northern Territory's coastline regions will experience a nearly 30-fold increase in the number of 35-plus degree days annually by 2070. I live in Alice Springs: it is getting hotter and drier; the Top End is getting warmer and wetter. We know it to be the case. The scientists are telling us it is the case. The meteorologists are telling us it is the case. The scientists are telling us why it is the case—because of climate change. And yet, for whatever reason, the sceptics on the other side of the chamber, including those who were strong advocates of a price on carbon when the Howard government was in, are now adopting the view that the best thing we can do is put our head in the sand. Well, it is not the best thing they can do and it is a disservice to Australia should they do that.

In the context of my own electorate, we know that with climate change comes increased risk of health issues, particularly for poorer Australians. We will see higher minimum night-time temperatures and heatwaves, and they can impact on a range of conditions, including heart disease. Maes, De Meyer and others report on a correlation between temperature rises and violent suicide. Conditions such as hay fever and asthma are similarly exacerbated. Other factors such as humidity, the rate of change of temperature and high temperatures all night all contribute to heat stress.

Studies have suggested a correlation between climatic change and the increased risk of infectious diseases such as cholera, salmonella, giardia, diarrhoea and hepatitis A. It also threatens to increase the geographic range of dengue fever in some places. Melioidosis is known to be associated with wet weather. More storms and flooding, even if rainfall overall is reduced, could increase rates of melioidosis. This has previously been seen as a tropical disease, but it is now being reported in Central Australia in exceptionally wet seasons. Madam Speaker, even a small rise in the sea level—Mr Deputy Speaker, I beg your pardon; Madam Speaker is not here.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Mitchell ): I appreciate that.

Mr SNOWDON: I did notice you arrive, and congratulations on your elevation to that lofty position. I am hoping I am not going to have many disagreements with you, but nevertheless there may be some.

We know what the impacts of climate change are. The world community knows what the impacts of climate change are. Yet the opposition, as I said, have chosen to ignore it and they are now asking the Australian community to accept a plan for climate change which they themselves cannot even explain, a policy initiative which is unexplainable. They cannot tell us how it is going to work.

Labor provided unprecedented support for renewable energy, through the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, among other things. Whilst we were in government, with the policies we had in place, Australia's wind capacity trebled and more than one million households had solar panels installed, up from fewer than 7,500 under the previous Howard government. Employment in the renewable energy industry more than doubled, to over 24,000 people. During the first year of the carbon price, around 150,000 jobs were created, the economy continued to grow at 2.5 per cent and inflation remained low. Pollution in the National Electricity Market decreased by seven per cent. Renewable power generation as a share of the National Electricity Market increased by 25 per cent.

Australians know what a huge challenge climate change is for our country. Summers are hotter; droughts are longer; extreme weather events are now more commonplace. Labor has said that we will support the repeal of the carbon tax, but we cannot do nothing. We have proposed a middle ground that can be reached to ensure that we act on carbon pollution. Labor is willing to work to ensure Australia is not left doing nothing. Labor's amendments will put a legal cap on carbon pollution; retain the Climate Change Authority, to ensure robust, independent analysis and advice; and stop the cuts to Australia's renewable energy research and development. As it stands, the Prime Minister's legislation scraps the cap and pays big polluters to pollute. That will amount to nothing. Faced with a choice between doing something to address pollution and doing nothing, Labor will act. Labor's amendments are a smart and sensible middle ground to ensure we act on carbon pollution and do not gamble the future.

On the other hand, the coalition's approach will—it is argued, from studies done by the Monash University Centre of Policy Studies—see pollution increase by eight to 10 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020; reduce pollution by nearly one-third less than Labor's policy would deliver; require significant additional investment of between $4 billion and $15 billion to achieve the 2020 target of at least a five per cent reduction on 2000 levels; see costs and pollution both increase over time—and even with spending increasing to around $88 billion from 2014 to 2050, pollution will still increase by about 45 per cent over this period; and subsidise the pollution of businesses who do not make changes, with these public subsidies calculated at around $50 billion to 2020.

We have a choice in this place to act responsibly in the best interests of the Australian community. The Australian community demands nothing less of us. I say to the government: think very, very carefully about where you are heading and where you are taking us, because it will not be me who suffers; it will be my children, my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren. They are the ones who will suffer as a direct consequence of the policies being advocated through these proposals from the government. (Time expired)