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Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 8166

Senator FURNER (10:51 AM) —It gives me pleasure to be here this morning to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills. I was a participating member on both the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme inquiry and the climate change inquiry, one of which you, Madam Acting Deputy President Hurley, presided over as chair. What we tend to end up losing as a result of the lack of participation and contribution by the opposition towards this bill is employment, tourism, the Great Barrier Reef, successful farming and agriculture industries, and beautiful beaches. This is just a glimpse of what we stand to lose in the sunshine state of Queensland, which I represent, if those opposite do not support the Rudd government’s fight against climate change. Queensland is known for its sunshine, its beaches and, most importantly, the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches 2,100km along the Queensland coast from Bundaberg to the tip of Cape York. It covers close to 350,000 square kilometres and is the only living organism visible from space. The Great Barrier Reef is of great significance to Queenslanders and Australians. It is protected as a marine park and has been a World Heritage area since 1981. The seagrass beds and mangrove forests of the reef are home to more than 4,000 mollusc species, about 1,500 fish species, most of the world’s marine turtle species, the dugong, dolphins and whales. If we delay the implementation of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, we will lose the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

The biodiversity vulnerability assessment conducted by the Department of Climate Change states that climate change is the greatest long-term threat to the reef, with implications for nearly every part of the ecosystem. Its projections show that the sea and air temperatures will increase, the sea level will rise, the ocean will become more acidic, intense storms and rainfalls will become more frequent and ocean currents will change. This will affect the beautiful marine life which our fishing and tourism industries rely on. In fact, the Great Barrier Reef’s tourism and fishing industries bring $6.9 billion to the Australian economy annually, and the reef’s existence supports more than 53,000 jobs. Talk about jobs! Yesterday we heard from Senator Macdonald in this chamber on a disallowance motion on a proclamation of the Coral Sea conservation. He was talking about jobs and the loss of jobs in deckhands. What is he going to say in this chamber when we end up with the loss of 53,000 jobs in this area as a result of voting against this Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill?

One species which is threatened by climate change is the green sea turtle. The Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility state that climate change will skew the sex ratio towards females, which will lead to reduced nesting space and will modify their exposure to cyclones. James Cook University PhD student, Mariana Fuentes, who has been hired by the Marine and Tropical Science Research Facility, states:

Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable to climate change, because they have life history traits strongly tied to environmental variables and nest in coastal areas vulnerable to sea level rise and cyclonic activities.

Research was conducted on the largest green sea turtle population in the world, which nests in the northern Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. According to the research of Ms Fuentes, the sex ratio of hatchlings produced by this population will skew towards females by 2070 and 38 per cent of available nesting areas across all rookeries may be inundated due to sea level rises. This is an example of just one species which is already endangered and will be greatly affected by climate change. It is important that we step up and vote for legislation which will be able to reduce the effects of climate change to save species like the green sea turtle, which is, as I have already mentioned, the largest population of this species in the world.

The biodiversity vulnerability assessment also points out coral bleaching to be another problem which will greatly affect the Great Barrier Reef. High water temperatures exceeding the long-term summer maximum by as little as one to 1.5 degrees Celsius for six weeks can lead to widespread coral mortality. This is alarming because many ecosystems and species depend on coral for food and habitat. While the reef is changing because of climate change, the effect on the coral will depend on the magnitude of climate change and if nothing is done today the results will be disheartening.

On a recent visit to the Reef and Rainforest Research Centre—and I pause to commend them for their involvement and efforts in the Cairns region—I was given the chance to hear and understand firsthand what steps can be taken to save our beloved reef. The Marine and Tropical Sciences Research Facility—MTSRF—has been implemented by the centre at a cost of $40 million as part of the Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities program. It has been established to understand the threats the reef is facing. Some of the threats I have been advised of are climate change, loss of biodiversity, a decline in water quality and unsustainable use. They also stress that we do not have the freedom of time and that we must act quickly. As we face climate change, I was advised that only corals which are healthy and resilient can absorb shocks and recover from stress without loss of biodiversity or complexity. Researchers from the University of Queensland, James Cook University and the Australian Institute of Marine Science, funded by the MTSRF, are investigating the genetic basis of a common coral species to see if they would survive if water temperatures were to increase.

Areas with tolerance would be able to survive if the temperature was to rise up to two degrees, but with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting a three-degree increase in the next 90 years we are at risk of losing the reef. The Climate change in the Great Barrier Reef: a vulnerability assessment report, which was put together in 2007 by the then Department of the Environment and Heritage, states that since the mid-18th century the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has definitely increased because of human activity. This concentration results in the heat being trapped, thus causing temperatures to rise. Rising temperatures lead to rising sea levels and, according to the Australian Academy of Science, sea levels are estimated to rise by 50 centimetres by 2100. This is science backed up just yesterday morning at the FASTS breakfast on the effects on the Great Barrier Reef. While half a metre does not sound very threatening on a large scale, it will have detrimental effects on our neighbours living in the Pacific islands.

I was privileged to have a delegation from three Pacific islands come to my electorate office: the Reverend Tafue Lusama from Tuvalu, Pelenise Alofa Pilitati from Kiribati and Marstella Jack from the Federated States of Micronesia. They brought to my attention the effects of climate change which they are feeling and seeing now. Rising sea levels are causing their islands to decrease in size and be swallowed up by ocean, and flooding is becoming all too familiar. Because of this, their water is being contaminated by salt water and their farming industry, which many of the islands rely on to survive, is being greatly affected.

The Australian Academy of Science also believes that rising sea levels will have a detrimental effect on our coastal lands, something which concerns me about the state of Queensland, as we are known for our golden beaches and coastline. According to the academy’s modelling, if sea waters rise by 100 centimetres then coastal beaches could retreat by 100 metres. This is a significant amount of beach to lose, and those who live on the coast would be greatly affected by this.

A report released on Saturday by the Minister for Climate Change, Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, outlines the infrastructure, services and industries at risk in coastal communities from climate change. The report, Climate change risks to Australia’s coasts, states that 157,000 to 247,600 existing residential buildings will be at risk from a sea level rise of 1.1 metres, and our airports and ports could be affected by cyclones and ocean acidification. This report is one of many telling us we need to act on climate change. As a senator from a state which boasts a magnificent coastline, I urge everyone to support the CPRS legislation.

The CPRS is the Rudd Labor government’s initiative to fight climate change today. Our commitment is to reduce carbon emissions by 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 if the rest of the world agrees to stabilise greenhouse gases at 450 parts per million CO2 equivalent or lower by 2050. The CPRS has set the challenge of Australia reducing its carbon emissions by five to 15 per cent below 2000 levels. By implementing the emissions trading scheme, Australia will be able to adjust to become a more environmentally friendly country.

The government understands that this will not be an easy task, but it is something we need to do to ensure we do not lose our precious Great Barrier Reef, which is worth billions in tourism and employment and is home to many different species of marine life which would not be able to thrive without the reef. The Rudd Labor government has engaged in a number of consultation processes for the CPRS, and I was privileged to be included in the Senate Select Committee on Climate Policy. Ten hearings were held around the country and 188 witnesses presented their views on the CPRS. Witnesses came from all walks of life, including government departments, industrial associations, businesses, trade unions, community organisations, leading scientists and economists. There were also representatives from mining, industry, farming, energy supply, financial and commercial interests. More than 8,000 submissions were received from organisations and individuals.

The result of this committee was not unanimous, with coalition senators disagreeing with the CPRS. This decision is detrimental to our nation’s fight against climate change. The position of the government senators on this committee—Senator Doug Cameron, Senator David Feeney, Senator Louise Pratt and me—is that action must be taken as soon as possible. After years of inaction by the previous government, it is up to us to implement the CPRS to reduce Australia’s carbon emissions and therefore save the environment.

With many scientists here and abroad advocating the view that climate change is caused by human activity, I wonder why those opposite do not believe climate change is occurring. After all scientists were invited to present their views at these committee hearings, not one climate scientist with qualifications and experience disputed this view. If the scientists, those who study climate change for a living, believe that climate change is caused by human activity and that it is potentially damaging to the state of this planet then who are we to dispute this?

According to the Garnaut review, put together by Professor Ross Garnaut, economist and former adviser, if we sit here and do nothing then the expected rise in temperature would be damaging to our environment and to our economy. In our report handed down after the inquiry we, the government senators, found that inaction would cause temperatures to soar and that this, combined with a decline in rainfall, would greatly affect agricultural production. We would see the Great Barrier Reef destroyed by mid-century and our snowfields and beautiful beaches would be just a distant memory. This would put an end to our tourism industry and the many travellers flocking to Australia to dive in our reefs and relax on our golden beaches.

Along with the physical damage to our country, we as humans would be greatly affected by the effects of climate change. Soaring temperatures would affect those sensitive to heat, including our ageing population. Tropical diseases and pests would spread across the country and would be detrimental to our health. An article yesterday in the Age indicates that this year we saw the second warmest winter in Australia since records began, 1.33 degrees hotter than the average from 1961 to 1990. Beyond this nation—it is not just in Australia—monitoring by Britain’s Met Office and the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia found that around the world, on land and at sea, June, July and September were the third hottest in 160 years of records.

Consultation was an important process for the government, and once the green paper was released about 1,000 submissions were received. We also conducted a number of industry and non-government organisation roundtables to enable everyone to voice their opinions. The Garnaut review, which consulted extensively, was also established and Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, Minister for Climate Change, and other ministers held meetings with stakeholders. Many regional and city based forums were also held once both the green and white papers were released. For those who have been sceptical about the consultation process, there is your answer. The Rudd Labor government went through many avenues to allow as many people as possible to have their say on this very important piece of legislation, which is needed to cut our carbon emissions and therefore prevent irreversible damage to our environment.

In Climate change in Australia: technical report 2007, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology projected that Australia would also be subject to more hailstorms, intense cyclones and fire risk. This would cost the insurance industry millions of dollars. The Insurance Council of Australia stated in 2008 that 19 of the 20 largest property insurance losses since 1967 were weather related.

The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is about cutting emissions as well as keeping people in jobs. According to CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems senior science leader Dr Heinz Schandl, a greener economy would see a boom in employment. At a hearing of the Senate Standing Committee on Economics on Wednesday, 25 March 2009, Dr Schandl said that a greener economy would bring about 2.5 to 3.3 million jobs for Australians, with 230,000 to 340,000 high-impact environmental jobs in energy, transport, agriculture and construction sectors—and he is not alone. According to Treasury modelling, all business sectors will continue to grow while emissions are falling, employment will rise by 1.7 million jobs by 2020 and the average income is expected to rise by a minimum of $4,300 per person. Even more jobs are expected to be created, with a projection that the renewable energy sector will be 30 times larger than today. With Australia trying to become a greener economy, more jobs have already been or will be created.

A study conducted by the Climate Institute states that already $31 billion worth of greener projects, either established or in the works, have boosted jobs and are expected to bring about 2,500 permanent jobs, 15,000 construction jobs and another 8,600 jobs in support. All of these figures are on top of the large number of jobs already created by the Rudd government’s energy efficient programs, including the Energy Efficient Homes Program, which I saw firsthand at the CSR Bradford Gold insulation plant in Brendale near my electorate office in Queensland. Because of the expected demand for insulation, the plant decided to extend its operations to 24 hours, seven days a week, providing more jobs for the locals and up to 80 jobs in total.

As well as keeping people in jobs, according to Treasury modelling, the quicker we act the better the Australian economy will be. The cost of implementing the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, according to the report Australia’s low pollution future: the economics of climate change mitigation, will cost the nation much less than inaction and letting irreversible damage to this country occur. As you can see, it is imperative that the Senate pass this important piece of legislation which is key to saving our environment, critical for job creation and retention and, from the information I have been presented, the right thing to do. I urge all fellow senators to vote for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme so that we may reduce our carbon emissions into the atmosphere and begin our next era as an environmentally sustainable country and ensure our future generations do not pay for our mistakes.