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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17356


Senator LUNDY (4:02 PM) —by leave—I rise to continue my contribution to the second reading debate on the Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003 [No. 2]. Mr Kelvin Thomson, the shadow minister for the environment for the Labor Party, introduced to the House of Representatives on 26 May this year a private member's bill urging the government to ratify the Kyoto protocol. The bill I am proud to be debating today is identical to the private member's bill that Labor introduced to the House of Representatives, and I am pleased that the Greens have come on board in support.

This bill is a condemnation of the Howard government for failing to ratify the Kyoto protocol. Labor's Kyoto ratification bill 2003 clearly tells the people of Australia that there is one major party that is serious about tackling climate change, and that is the Labor Party. If passed, this bill requires the government to ratify the Kyoto protocol within 60 days of commencement. The bill also requires that the minister prepare a national climate change action plan setting out a detailed implementation strategy to meet Australia's obligations under article 2 of the protocol and that the minister ensures that Australia's aggregate induced carbon dioxide equivalent emissions of greenhouse gases in the first commitment period from 2008 to 2012 remain within Kyoto targets. It also requires that the minister establish a national system for greenhouse gas inventory in accordance with article 5 of the protocol and that the minister publishes an annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions in accordance with article 7 of the protocol. Labor's commitment to Kyoto once again reinforces our strong environmental credentials, although I have to concur with comments by Senator Brown that it is unlikely that this will come to a vote today because of the approach that the Howard government is taking.

This bill shows Australian farmers that we care about the impact that droughts and floods have on them. It tells Australians that we care about our diverse natural habitat and that we care for natural treasures such as the Great Barrier Reef and our alpine regions. It tells the residents of our tropical regions that we are concerned about the increased risks of mosquito transmitted tropical diseases such as dengue fever and malaria. It shows the insurance industry that we are aware of the impact that increasing numbers of natural disasters due to extreme weather conditions—floods, fires, droughts—are having on their capacity to meet insurance claims.

This is a bill which tells Australian business that we believe it should have the opportunity to be part of the new business order which seeks to engage in trade emissions and buying and selling carbon credits and that we are aware of the very real risk of Australian companies being locked out of global trade if the Howard government does not ratify the Kyoto protocol.

Last, but by no means least, this is a bill that shows the rest of the world that Australian citizens know it is important to be good international environmental citizens. International conduct is measured by the level of support for environmental treaties and protocols, financial contribution to environmental funds and government support for the development of clean energy technologies. Failure by the Howard government to ratify the Kyoto protocol has worsened Australia's current poor international standing as an environmental citizen.

In a groundbreaking new world ranking, Foreign Policy magazine teamed up with the Center for Global Development to create the first annual CGDFP commitment to development index, which grades 21 rich nations on whether their aid, trade, migration, investment, peacekeeping and environmental policies help or hurt poor nations. Australia was placed 18th out of the 21 rich countries. Australia was awarded only 1.8 points on a ratings scale of zero to nine, with only Canada, Japan and the United States scoring worse on their environmental impact practices. Australia's poor ranking is principally due to our high per capita greenhouse gas emissions. On a per capita basis, Australia is the world's third highest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and Luxembourg.

It is time that Australia joined the collective international effort to tackle climate change; in fact, that time is way overdue. In the interests of our economic, social and environmental development, Australia must ratify the Kyoto protocol. But the Howard government does not share these interests. In June 2002, Prime Minister Howard announced to the Australian parliament that it was not in Australia's best interests to ratify the Kyoto protocol. The Howard government's lazy, subservient and short-sighted refusal to ratify Kyoto is inflicting damage on Australia's natural resources and economy. It is directly against the best interests of this country to lock Australian business out of export opportunities that are essential to competitively place Australian industry for the future. It is directly against the best interests of this country to have an economy crippled by fire, flood and droughts, to lose the Great Barrier Reef corals to bleaching caused by rising water temperature and to destroy our snowfields, and it is directly against the best interests of this country to experience more tropical diseases.

It is no secret that global warming due to greenhouse gas emission is hurting, and it will continue to hurt Australia unless committed steps are taken towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To give some recent specific examples about how climate change is hurting Australia, the National Climate Centre at the Bureau of Meteorology has found that global warming and ozone depletion over Antarctica are dragging rainfall away from southern Australia towards the South Pole. As a result, Australia's southern cities and farms have lost 20 per cent of their rainfall in the past 30 years. If this trend is not reversed, southern Australia could be drawn into a state of permanent drought. With ongoing global warming resulting in more variable and less predictable weather, the conditions for drought are going to worsen over the next 50 years.

An ABARE report released in September last year revealed that the current drought will effectively rip $3.8 billion out of the Australian economy. Quite clearly, ongoing drought conditions are going to continue to negatively impact on Australia's economy. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Nature Conservation Council of New South Wales, future forecasts of less rain and higher temperatures due to global warming generally will make bushfires more frequent and devastating than those that recently hit New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT.

The federal Minister for Fisheries, Forestry and Conservation, Ian Macdonald, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Warren Entsch, and the former Minister for Regional Services, Territories and Local Government, Wilson Tuckey, have all advocated the clearing of forests as the solution to bushfires. This is not an answer. Excessive land clearing is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, is the single greatest threat to endangered birds, plants and animals and is the single greatest cause of salinity. The negative side effects of excessive land clearing are unacceptable. The government's own Australian terrestrial biodiversity assessment, released in April this year, showed that Australia's native flora and fauna are coming under direct threat from decreased habitat availability due to drought, flood and fire. The report showed that up to 3,000 ecosystems are under threat, some of which are now beyond rehabilitation; Australia's native birds are under threat in 240 regions; 22 species of mammals are already extinct; and 40 per cent of our wetlands are in poor condition.

I do not deny that carefully orchestrated fuel reduction burning is an important part of taking steps to limit the potential impact of bushfires; however, the government's slapdash approach to wholesale clearing of forests is not a solution to this problem. It is merely another example of their hostility towards national parks. This scant regard for national parks seems to extend to our marine parks as well. A recent study reported in Science on the declining health of the world's reefs revealed:

The link between increased greenhouse gases, climate change, and regional-scale bleaching of corals ... is now incontrovertible.

Also, globally, close to 60 per cent of reefs may be lost by 2030. More specifically, research shows that the Great Barrier Reef is 30 per cent of the way towards extinction, and that it could suffer coral bleaching 100 days a year within the next 50 years, due to increasing reef water temperatures. This unique ecosystem is in imminent danger of suffering irrevocable damage, along with the $2 billion a year reef industries that are dependent upon it. The Great Barrier Reef is now Australia's greatest natural tourist asset. We cannot allow the Howard government to continue its poor record of protecting one of Australia's most fragile and important natural icons.

Global warming is also having an effect on our alpine ecosystems, which are highly vulnerable to change. It is predicted that an expected 1.8 degree Celsius temperature increase by 2030 will cause significant reductions in snow cover area and alpine habitats. This will have ongoing impacts both on the biodiversity of these areas and on Australia's tourism industry. The negative impacts of global warming are not only limited to risks for Australia's plants and animals. A recently released Australian National University report entitled Human health and climate change in Oceania: a risk assessment found that Australians will be at increased risk of diseases like dengue fever and malaria as Australia's `malaria receptive zone' extends. Forecasts indicate that, with continued global warming, these areas will expand further into the Northern Territory, the north of Western Australia and as far south into Queensland to include currently unaffected towns like Rockhampton, Gladstone and Bundaberg.

If we fail to ratify the Kyoto protocol now we not only risk losing some of our greatest natural treasures; we also risk losing a significant proportion of our tourism and agriculture industries and increasing the incidence of tropical disease in Australia. It is time for the Howard government to stop playing Russian roulette with our fragile environment and ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change to stop the enormous impact that global warming is having on our natural resources, our ecosystems and our farming and tourism industries. From an economic perspective, it is not only tourism and farming industries that stand to lose out over the continued failure to ratify Kyoto. By refusing to ratify, not only is Australia being left behind in global efforts to combat climate change but Australian industry is being locked out of future global trading mechanisms. Action must be taken now if we are going to take advantage of growing global markets for environmental goods and services and to prepare for the imminent reality of a carbon-constrained future. Prime Minister Howard used the excuse that Kyoto ratification would cost us jobs and would damage our industry. The evidence is to the contrary and shows that consideration for jobs and industry was not a determining factor in the Howard government's decision not to ratify Kyoto.

Leaked correspondence from Australian companies to the Business Council of Australia and the results of a Greenpeace survey of Business Council members have shown that opposition to ratifying the Kyoto protocol was confined to a small group of fossil fuel producing companies, who argued that the Business Council should not support Kyoto in order to stay on side with the Howard government. These letters show that it is not a case of the Howard government acting to look after Australian business; it was a small section of Australian business acting to look after the Howard government. This, combined with the Howard government's penchant for following the US into any abyss, was the determining factor.

The reality, however, is that the Business Council of Australia has changed its stance on ratification and has now declared itself neutral, and many of its members openly support ratification. In fact, there has been strong support from many of Australia's major businesses, and many companies are benefiting from green business. As an example, a BP company, BP Solar, which produces solar panels in Australia, now employs more people in its business than BP employ in either of their Australian oil refineries. Now that is a positive step forward for the environment, industry, and employment in Australia.

We have deliberated long enough. Labor have argued consistently that the Kyoto protocol should be ratified and now we have taken direct action to try to make that a reality. Where the Howard government has shirked its international responsibilities, Labor will act to avert the damage to Australia's environment and economy that is being caused by the Howard government's refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol. We believe that it is time Australia became a responsible international environmental citizen and joined the collective international effort to tackle climate change and its damaging consequences. Labor are serious about tackling climate change and committed to the ratification of the Kyoto protocol, and the shadow minister for the environment is to be congratulated on this initiative, which keenly exposes the inadequacy of the Howard government's environmental policies. I am aware that the government is aiming to prevent a vote from being taken on this bill, which is effectively the same as gagging debate—as Senator Brown highlighted earlier. What a shame we are governed by a party that is so backward looking on this issue.