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Tuesday, 23 June 2009
Page: 3985

Senator SIEWERT (1:14 PM) —Last night before we adjourned I was talking about the impact of the mining boom in Western Australia and the fact that it has not produced the sustainable economic growth that some people like to make out it has produced and the fact that in Western Australia we need to diversify. If we grasped the opportunity to develop new green-collar jobs based on sustainable industries such as renewable energies, we would be doing a great deal not only to address the issues around climate change but also to address sustainable economic development and a truly sustainable future for Western Australia—a future that does not then put at risk our biodiversity, our water resources, our fishing resources, our health or places such as Ningaloo that are desperately threatened by climate change.

I am desperately disappointed that people are not grasping this opportunity to develop a sustainable green economy in Western Australia, because they are doing the state a disservice. They are not looking to the future. They are not looking to help those in Western Australia who have missed out from the mining boom. As I articulated in my speech last night, it has not produced a sustainable and prosperous future for all Western Australians. There are significant numbers of Western Australians who have missed out, who have not been able to buy a house because prices have risen so high and who have not shared the increase in wages that those in the mining industry have gained from. Instead of looking to a new, sustainable green future, what is our West Australian government doing? It is investing even more money in clean coal in Collie.

The people in Collie know that they need to be looking to a future that involves renewable energies. Our state government do not recognise that. Unfortunately, they do not have the wit or the wisdom to realise just what we could do with $16 billion invested in a truly renewable, sustainable industry, instead of investing $16 billion in old industry. That is where we need to focus our efforts. We are supporting and subsidising the old fossil fuel industries that have contributed significantly to climate change. We are investing in old technology in the belief that somehow that may change the polluting practices of these industries, when of course it will not.

A significant interest that I hold dearly, not only as a West Australian but also as the portfolio holder on community services, is climate justice and looking at how responding to climate change gives us an opportunity to transform our economy so that it delivers for those people in the community who have continually missed out from the benefits of the mining boom and have not seen benefits delivered to create a sustainable future for them. We believe that if we take a measured and proper approach to addressing climate change then we can create sustainable, job-creating industries, such as renewable energy, that will deliver green jobs and sustainable jobs into the future and that will help those who have missed out from the benefits of the boom. We can create new jobs and new employment opportunities for the whole of our community. We also need to be—

Senator Boswell —I wish someone would tell me what these new jobs are—put a name on them.

Senator SIEWERT —Senator Boswell, last night I did not interrupt you; I sat and listened. I disagreed with you but I did not interrupt you. You can do me the same courtesy, thank you.

Unfortunately, we are not grasping the opportunity that has been put forward through, for example, the EASI scheme, the energy efficiency access and savings initiative, which Senator Milne has been proposing for many years. It shows what we can do if we invest significantly in alternative schemes that look at how to make our homes more energy efficient, particularly homes in low-income areas and rental homes where people cannot afford to put energy efficiency measures in place. This makes sense not only from a social justice perspective but also from an economic perspective because the community and home owners invest and they see an economic return. Those sorts of issues just have not been factored into decision making. That is just one scheme that we could put in place.

We could be farming solar energy. We could be farming renewable energies. That not only contributes to a sustainable future in terms of energy production but also helps make our farming systems more sustainable. Unfortunately, as I was touching on in my speech last night, agriculture faces great threats from climate change as agricultural lands in some instances become more marginal. We need to look at alternative crops and we need to look at alternative sources of energy. If we can farm solar energy and renewable energy at the same time then not only does that benefit the economy and climate change; it actually makes our farming systems more sustainable. Unfortunately, we seem to lack the vision to put these alternative futures in place. We see this government focus on continuing the same old same old. We see it continue to support the fossil fuel industry, putting all our bucks and all our futures into clean coal. It is a bad bet by this government to invest in unproven technology when we know what we can do in this country with renewable energies.

In the seventies and eighties my home state of Western Australia was a leader in the development of solar energy. That has all gone offshore because we did not have the wit or wisdom to invest in that technology. It went overseas to China and Germany, who are doing very well, thank you very much, out of the technology that we generated. Even today, the technology that we are working on is still being taken up overseas because we are not investing. We are closing down schemes—two schemes in the last two weeks. A scheme a week is being closed down: the solar panels scheme last week and the remote community energy systems scheme this week. That is a very significant blow to industries that should now be thriving but are essentially fledgling industries because we have not invested in them.

My home state of Western Australia should be the home of solar technology for the world, and it is not because we have not invested in or developed that industry. We have to go cap in hand for small grants all over the place. How about $16 billion worth of investment in renewable energies? Then we would see a significantly different future for this country. We would lead the world. We would be an economic powerhouse in renewable energies. We are not, because we have never developed that. We have never seen that future. Australia needs to get beyond that limited way of thinking, actually grasp the future and be a leader in terms of renewable energies, alternative jobs and environmental technologies. We can do that and we should be doing that, but we are not because we are bound with old-world thinking. It is time to get out of it.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009—the ‘continue polluting regardless scheme’, as it is known in some places in Western Australia—needs significant amend-ment to make it work. Providing $16 billion worth of subsidies to the old industries is not the way of the future. Get out of the old way of thinking and grasp the opportunity that this presents. We will be not only addressing the impacts of climate change but providing a new economic future, a new green deal, for this country—not only for my home state of Western Australia, which needs alternative developments beyond the mining boom, because we have seen how fragile that is. We have been relying on that as if it is going to go on forever. Well, it is not. We need a broader base. This provides us with the oppor-tunity. As well as addressing climate change, we can truly address a new, green economy that provides sustainable jobs into the future that are not reliant on polluting industries and polluting the atmosphere and that take account of the environment and look after the environment as well as the people. We need to be embracing it from an economic, environmental and social justice perspective.

It is not beyond us—it is not beyond this place—to actually grasp that opportunity, but it is slipping through our fingers. If we do not address it now, when will we address it? We did not address it in the good times, and now we are being told, ‘Oh, you can’t address it in the bad times.’ In other words, we are never prepared to address it. We let those opportunities go by when the economy was in a so-called boom. We did not need to do it then: ‘Oh, you’ll interrupt industry and the economy.’ Now the economy is in a bad state; we cannot address it now! Now is the very time we can address it, because it can provide us with an alternative future. We need to wake up, see that and build a strong, resilient, sustainable economy.

I urge the Senate to look at the amendments that the Greens are putting forward and to grasp the nettle in terms of putting in place real, solid targets. That is what we need. We need to be addressing real, solid targets and not giving away $16 billion worth of freebies to the old industries when we can be giving $16 billion worth of support to renewable, sustainable industries. That is the future. Australia can grasp the future or it can lag behind. My vote is with the future. I know our children’s votes are with the future. I know that we can be leaders in the world by putting forward a truly sustainable scheme. We can lead the world rather than being followers. Being followers will not only leave our children in a worse situation but open the planet to catastrophic, runaway climate change, and this planet cannot afford that.