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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3939

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (8:51 PM) —I thank the late Anita Roddick for the other analogy, following upon Senator Back’s reference to the bee and the elephant, which is: if you don’t think a small entity can change the world, think about the mosquito that comes into your bedroom at night, because it changes the whole way we think about whether we are getting to sleep or not. Yet what we have had from the opposition-side speakers tonight is speaker after speaker reference the insignificance of this great country of Australia. Senator Back says 1.4 per cent of emissions come from Australia. Well, we are 0.3 per cent of the world’s population. On the basis of our potential sportspeople, if we were to look at that statistic and say that we are insignificant we would never send a team to the Olympics—

Senator Boswell —We won’t be able to afford to now!

Senator BOB BROWN —Well, this is the analogy coming from your side, Senator Boswell. We would not have people aspiring to great achievements in the creative arts—in writing, in opera, in ballet—in the other sporting fields or, indeed, in science. In all of those things, in the last century or two Australia has not only been a world player but has played way beyond its statistics. That is because we had wealth, we had get-up-and-go and we had the zeal to show that we could be achievers in an otherwise huge and daunting world.

But the ‘daunting’ has overtaken the opposition. I am amazed that the National Party, of all parties, should be so transfixed by the insignificance of this country that their Leader in the Senate talks about the fact that Prime Minister Singh of India, President Hu of China, Mr Medvedev of Russia and Mr Obama in the United States do not toss and turn at night thinking about Australia—in other words, we are irrelevant to their thinking. It is a matter of pride and conceit—which come before a fall, says Senator Joyce—that we Australians think we should be able to go out and not only contribute to the world but take a lead in the world. I disagree. We Greens disagree. In particular, we disagree on one of the most overwhelming problems confronting the planet now, and that is climate change.

I go to the United Nations figures. Senator Milne quoted some of what the United Nations and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been saying in recent months. They indicate that, in the last 12 months of statistics, 300,000 people around the world died because of climate change. It is not a thing for the future; we are moving into it. It is human made and it can only be fixed by human action. Senator Back spoke about food production. I ask all members of the Senate to consider this: we are just managing to feed a world of fewer than seven billion people, so how is food production going to cope when we move to nine to 10 billion people by mid-century when we will have cities taking over land? It is estimated that the impact of climate change, the issue before us tonight, will cause a massive reduction in food production in some of the most prosperous places in the world, not least Australia’s very own food bowl, the Murray-Darling Basin. Anyone who thinks the Murray-Darling Basin is not being affected by climate change, or will not be, should read Professor Ross Garnaut’s very daunting statement about failure to tackle climate change. He knows that Australia needs to take a lead. There is potential for 128,000 rural jobs to be lost from the basin and the collapse of its ability to provide food for a world that is going to need it so much.

This afternoon Senator Macdonald referred to my contribution to the debate on forests in 1998—over a decade ago. You would remember, Madam Acting Deputy President Troeth, that I tried very hard to get from the Howard government a definition of ‘ecologically sustainable forestry’, because that was the whole predicating factor of the Regional Forest Agreement legislation to which Senator Macdonald referred. In days of questioning, the then government could not give an answer to that. I will tell you why: because it knew that the legislation was in the interests of big corporate players in this country but would lead to the wholesale destruction of forests—and there was no sane argument, no logic and no ability to put forward a case that it would have been environmentally sustaining, let alone enhancing, for this country. Since then, hundreds of thousands of hectares of native forest and woodland have been destroyed in this nation—under the last government, supported by the Labor Party in opposition, and now under a Labor government—and every year we see hundreds of thousands more hectares being destroyed. These are the biggest terrestrial carbon banks—that is, bulwarks against climate change—that we have, and under the current Rudd government policy they are being destroyed.

A recent report from the Australian National University indicated that in the Central Highlands of Victoria are the most carbon-dense forests on earth. It is through Rudd government policy and coalition complicity that those forests continue to be logged at an awesome rate to provide woodchips to Japan, with massive amounts of greenhouse gases going into the atmosphere. Under the most forensic questioning that I could put to Senator Abetz, a former forestry minister—who would not answer—and now to Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, there are no figures to show what the greenhouse gas emissions from those forests are. We have had to leave it to university experts to look at that and establish that this is the biggest slaughter of carbon banks on the face of the planet. This is for a very tiny sectional industry—that is, the woodchip export barons—not for use here in Australia, and it is against the interests of this planet’s forward security. It erodes, by the way, the biodiversity of the planet as we know it. It is shocking, it is shameful and it is unforgivable in an age of climate change that this government, let alone the last one, cannot even tackle the loss of forests and woodlands in this country under government policy which causes the emission of 20 per cent of the greenhouse gases coming out of this nation. It is not a small figure when you consider the massive contribution from coal, transport and agriculture, the latter of which Senator Back gave a very reasonable speech about from a different point of view just before I got to my feet.

I point out that the current process in this chamber is about filibuster and delay by an opposition that does not want to vote on the issue. That is the height of irresponsibility. For better or worse, this nation wants this parliament to make decisions and hopefully, as Senator Milne said, we should not agree to make a decision unless it is the right one. We do not believe this is the right one, but at least we make up our minds on it and have a better option available. That is laid down in Senator Milne’s amendment, which I will of course be supporting, and that is where the government should be. But what we have from the opposition is a filibuster. After 13 years in government doing nothing on climate change, the opposition now wants to do nothing on this legislation. It wants to block this government and anybody else from taking action on climate change in this chamber. It is considering two outcomes: one is to not have a vote here and the other is to delay it till August, September or October through the good services of the Independents on the crossbench. Why? Because it is concerned about DD—and I do not mean doomsday for the planet if the ICCP is correct. That is not on the opposition’s agenda. It is self-invested concern about a double dissolution that it is trying to escape.

Finally, let me quote a comment from Mr Bernard Keane from On the politics of the day in this parliament, he said:

... the breathtaking hypocrisy is this. The Opposition and the media have worked themselves into a lather over the John Grant business—when the bloke got no financial assistance—but where’s the outrage over far more appalling examples of the Government looking after its mates and donors?

In the last 12 months one of the great heists of tax payers’ money has been perpetrated by Big Carbon. Resources companies and heavy energy users, many of them major donors to the ALP, have extracted billions in assistance from Government ... lobbying backbenchers, these ... low-lifes with their forecasts of doom and their ... modelling have directly lobbied senior Government ministers and for their efforts obtained massive handouts that will have highly-damaging long-term implications for our economy and our climate. The Government’s mates in the union movement have been in on the giggle as well.

If you want corruption of the worst kind, it has been on display since the ETS Green Paper was released last year. Right out in public sight.

Where’s the outrage over that from the Press Gallery?

By the way he is referring not least to $16.5 billion inherent in this legislation—to go to whom? Not the sufferers, not the people who may need assistance, not the farmers that Senator Back was just talking about who may need $2 billion on his figures. No, it would go to the polluters. The more you pollute, the bigger the handout under this government arrangement. To return to the article:

Where are the furious editorials and mocked-up emails from News Ltd papers? Where’s the harassment of public servants at their homes on this? Only a couple of Gallery journalists have reported it. Many others have actively served as an echo chamber for the rentseekers.

No one will remember Ozcar in five years. Unfortunately we can’t say the same about climate change. Our capacity to lose perspective is remarkable.

We have no excuse. I again put this down on the record. Every single member of this Senate is responsible for this nation’s response to climate change and for the onrush of the gargantuan threat of climate change to our economy, our lifestyle, our environment and the rights of our children, our grandchildren and their children and grandchildren. That is what is at stake.