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Wednesday, 13 November 2013
Page: 285

Senator LUDLAM (Western Australia) (19:30): I rise to make my first real contribution in the Senate since the 2013 election. It has been such an extraordinarily long period of time since this parliament last sat, I was starting to think that perhaps the government was enjoying the respite from transparency. But here we are and it is great to be back, but nonetheless we are holding quite a degree of apprehension about what is to come and the work that is ahead of us. This is the first opportunity that I have had to thank my team who carried me through an extraordinary election campaign. Felicity and Chantal were here with me during the sitting week, and, back in Fremantle Ray, Trish, Giovanni and Eloise are the people behind the scenes. If ever we sound across our brief and eloquent in here you know it is because we have good staff. The extended Greens WA team—in particular Irma, Katrina, Nina, Jane and Harrison—really threw everything that they had into mobilising a wonderful Greens WA campaign for season 2013. There is my dear colleague Rachel Siewert and her team—I worked for Senator Siewert in this place before taking up my own position here in 2007—and of course Christine Milne and the larger team. This is also my first opportunity to congratulate the once, future and current member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt. It was a hard-fought and difficult campaign.

After 7 September, those in the House of Representatives got on with life, or with packing up their offices, and for those of us in Western Australia—noting my West Australian colleague, Senator Louise Pratt, is here in the chamber as well—the journey appeared to be only just beginning. We spent a week in appeals; we had a very, very close count and, on appeal, we won a recount in Western Australia. Many votes were found, obviously not just by Greens scrutineers but by those who turned up for the Labor Party and a handful for the Palmer United Party. It was a 2½-week recount. I want to thank my former state parliamentary colleague, Giz Watson, in particular, for marshalling up a remarkable scrutineering team. There was a razor thin change in the order of the fallout of the West Australian count. Of course everybody was baffled and immensely frustrated to discover that a batch had been lost on the way through the recount, which was the first Senate recount since, I think, 1980, and probably the most serious breach of this sort of thing in the Electoral Commission's history. Now I suspect we are in hands of the courts and more than likely there will be another ballot in West Australia next year.

It occurred to me during the late stages of the recount that we had a number of friends and allies from the eastern states who made their way to WA to help the huge scrutineering team. One of them, a friend and former intern here, Alix, and others who came to scrutineer for WA, gave us an opportunity to show off our gorgeous state to people from across the country who lent a hand to the very hardworking locals. In one of the brief moments of respite that we gave her, Alix took time to have a swim off the coast of WA and was hit by a species of stinger very rarely seen in WA and certainly not this early in the season. Apart from needing to apologise that West Australia's beaches are obviously a little bit more dangerous than they look from the shoreline, it brought home to me and others the reason why we do this work in the first place: the vast amount of heat that is being absorbed by the atmosphere and sunk by the ocean is warming the currents of the west coast of Australia. It is warming the Leeuwin Current. We are seeing extraordinary and quite atypical oceanic warming, which is bringing subtropical marine species—fish and others—much further down the coast and certainly much sooner in the season that we are used to.

Gary Jackson, who is a principal research scientist with the Department of Fisheries, has been monitoring changes in fish distribution off the south coast of WA. He spoke to the ABC earlier this month and he said:

We've got a whole portfolio of reports coming through in the last two to three years of some pretty unusual fish occurring south of Geraldton, off Perth and as far around as the Capes on the south coast.

So strange things are happening and we're only really starting to scratch the surface now on what is going on.

It brought home to me the human impacts of climate change. One visitor, one guest to Western Australia's found through direct personal experience that things are changing in our part of the world. Things are changing no matter where you are from. One of my favourite things about working in this chamber is that we get to meet people from all over the country who bring these diverse perspectives to bear. Things are changing in your states and territories as well. If you thought to, you could bring direct stories of direct personal experience of what it means to live in the age of global warming. Your constituents will be telling you and the fingerprints are everywhere.

If we get further 0.5 degree rise in temperature, which was modelled for WA, we get the disappearance of 26 of the 92 dryandra species in the south-west of WA. We lose two-thirds of dryandras upon a two-degree temperature rise and we lose all the acacia species. By 2030 the climate in Margaret River will become much closer to that of Perth, as Perth is starting to get Carnarvon or Geraldton's climate regime. There will no white wines coming out the Swan Valley anymore. These are things that we can see approaching, and we can map these onto the things that we can see occurring right now.

West Australia's crayfish industry is one of the best-managed fisheries in the country. Senator Macdonald will know a little of this, as a former fisheries minister. A well-managed fishery—a good local and community support—has been hit very, very hard by changes to the marine environment and changes to the way that our oceans are responding to that massive sinking of heat that they are having to absorb. That is something that actually has the potential to wipe that fishery out completely. We are already seeing severe impacts.

We know, and I know as a West Australian through direct experience, that map is what the scientific community is telling us about how the climate is changing around us. It does not make much sense to try and wind the clock back and prevent these things from happening, because they are with us now. What we are able to do, of course, is look forward and say, 'What can we do?' If we listen to those we trust who have the scientific expertise—the people who spend their lives hoping to goodness that they are wrong about what is coming down the line—they tell us, 'Change course now. Not in 2030, not in 2050, not in 2060: change course now.'

Again, one of my favourite things about this job is the people we get to meet and deal with, including representatives from the US based firm Solar Reserve. They started business in 2007. They now have 25 projects coming on stream, with a potential output of 3,000 megawatts. That is a substantial fraction of the whole south-west grid.

Solar Reserve builds solar thermal power stations—utility-scale power stations that can run 24/7, after dark. They are as responsive as a gas fired power station but running on sunlight. They are building one of the largest solar power plants—a 110 megawatts plant in the Nevada desert—and they are shopping around Western Australia, looking at potentially opening an office. I suspect that will go to the wall now because of policy changes that are afoot in this building this week to turn their backs and slam the door on the sunrise industries of the 21st century. This is something that might actually give us a chance, not of dealing with the existing changes to our climate that are washing through, but the catastrophic impacts of the near term, those things that are still avoidable. These clean technology companies have the ability to offset the kind of holocaust that we are driving our economy, our society and our environment towards.

We know as well, of course, that solar is not just for the big guys, because some of the biggest advances have been made at the household level. On a good day—on a sunny day at peak—more than 130,000 solar PV installations on Western Australian homes can generate 10 per cent of the electricity running through the south-west grid. Premier Barnett, of course, realising that the game is up for the black power generators, is pumping nearly $400 million into trying to resurrect the obsolete Muja coal fired power station—again, trying to hold back the tide.

The future is actually here, and it is becoming more widely distributed. What those householders in WA who installed PV could do with, what those large-scale solar utility developers could do with and what people wanting to put in public transport, preserve their urban bushland and protect our fisheries could do with is some leadership from this building—for those in the coalition who have the blindfolds on, or perhaps those whom I can speak to who know that climate change is real, have a quick word with the boss and see if we can avoid some of the worst of the catastrophic damage that is bearing down upon us. I thank the chamber.