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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4459


Senator MILNE (3:30 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water (Senator Wong) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to the Pacific Islands Forum and climate change.

I think this is a critical issue that all Australians need to understand and observe because when you see how Australia bullied the Pacific island nations at the Pacific Islands Forum held in Australia recently you will understand where Australia is going in Copenhagen. I have made it very clear that, once Australia adopts very weak targets, it will go to Copenhagen and it will undermine the rest of the world seeking higher and more ambitious targets. That is precisely what happened with the Pacific Islands Forum.

The small island nations of the Pacific have been saying for some time that they are drowning in their own backyards. We have seen sea level incursion into their freshwater systems. We have seen internal migration. We have seen the loss of their ability to grow taro. For example, at the moment on the Cartier Islands half their land area has been wiped out. We have got crises from extreme weather events and we have countries like Tuvalu saying they can no longer stay and they have to find somewhere for their people. You have the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and Niue. All of them were in Australia at the Small Islands States group meeting and the Pacific Islands Forum. They were saying that they expect developed countries like Australia to adopt a 45 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020. But what came out of the Small Islands States meeting? No communique. They always put out a communique. Why didn’t they put out one here? Because Australia was the secretariat and Australia obviously bullied those countries.

The Pacific Islands Forum was then held. Australia was a participant and the Prime Minister was the host. The minister today acknowledged that at the leader’s meeting, where they worked out the communique, Australia’s role was to try and get consensus across the groups. We know that all of the Pacific island nations want much stronger targets and they all want 350 parts per million as an atmospheric concentration, so how is it that in the communique from the Pacific Islands Forum we did not get a reference to a 45 per cent reduction from developed countries by 2020? There was no reference to 2020 and—what a surprise!—they came out with a bland statement that happened to coincide with Australia’s targets. The minister today says they were seeking a consensus. That only means either Australia or New Zealand—or both—blocked consensus on getting higher targets.

Look at what will happen in Copenhagen. We will see precisely the same. Australia will be there chairing the umbrella group, undermining the rest of the world getting higher targets. If we legislate for these weak targets, they will argue that they have a mandate from the parliament of Australia and cannot go any higher than 25 per cent—and even that is so conditional that I do not believe that is even on the table. And all those people who are sitting at home saying, ‘Oh well, something is better than nothing,’ should look at what Australia did to the Pacific islands in the last fortnight and understand that is what Australia will be doing.

Today in the parliament we had the Sherpa who has the record for the fastest climb of Mount Everest saying that already in Nepal they have massive ice melt from the glaciers. What is happening is that small glacial lakes are forming and they are bursting, going straight down the valleys and wiping out villages, causing major mudslides and so on. They are saying they want a 50 per cent reduction from developed countries by 2020 because their lives are on the line. They are also pointing out that one billion people in Asia depend on the ice melt—when the snow captures freshwater and melts over the course of the year. Without it, you will see water shortages in the major rivers of Asia affecting a billion people. We are talking about the Ganges, the Yellow and the Brahmaputra. We are talking about a massive loss of food and water security. And last weekend we had reports from South America about the glacial retreat there.

We are burying our head in the sand if we think that Australia can get away with insulting the rest of the developing world by saying, ‘We will only do five per cent, and 25 per cent conditional, and the rest of you can just do what you like. But we are not going any further.’ What that simply means is— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.