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Wednesday, 16 August 2017
Page: 5758


Senator RICE (Victoria) (10:26): I rise today to speak on the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Amendment Bill 2017. We support the bill before the chamber as it makes minor amendments to the act to deal with the sunsetting of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Regulations 1983. Under the current legislative arrangements, plans of management made under the act will be automatically revoked when the regulation sunsets. This would mean that there would be no management arrangements that would exist for high-volume tourist areas, such as Cairns and the Whitsunday islands. Given the importance of management plans—management plans doing things like setting limits for anchoring, for cruise ship operation and for wildlife protection—the creation of each plan is a really important deliberative process.

The Greens believe that the chaos and uncertainty that would ensue if these plans were revoked, obviously, is not in the interests of the reef or, indeed, the tourist operators along the Queensland coast who absolutely rely upon the health of the reef for their business. But let's be serious: there is nothing in this bill that will go to the long-term sustainability and preservation of the reef. The government likes to make a show of the Reef 2050 Plan: that they've reduced dredging or that they've reduced agricultural run-off. Senators Macdonald and O'Sullivan tried to pass a motion last week to tell us that the World Heritage Committee did not downgrade the reef to 'endangered' status. But there is a gaping hole at the centre of this government's reef strategy, which is the total absence of a plan for dealing with the No. 1 threat to the Great Barrier Reef—and that, of course, is global warming.

While we are playing around the edges—yes, we've got to make sure the management plans are in place—they are not going to protect the reef. It's not just the Greens who are saying this. The Australian Academy of Science, the highest science-based body in the country, said:

At a high level, the fundamental driver of reef degradation now and increasingly in the future is climate change. The impacts of climate change on the reef are already being felt, and action cannot be postponed.

Here's what the World Heritage Committee and advisory bodies said:

Climate change remains the most significant overall threat to the future of the property.

And the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, in its 2014 outlook, stated:

Climate change remains the most serious threat to the Great Barrier Reef. It is already affecting the Reef and is likely to have far-reaching consequences in the decades to come.

What we are seeing is devastation. We are seeing sea temperatures rising due to a warming earth brought on by the greenhouse effect. We are seeing increased risk and the increased frequency of mass coral bleaching and thermal stress. Over the 2016-17 summer, two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef was affected by coral bleaching. It made our scientists who were observing this bleaching say that all they could do was weep. That two-thirds of the Great Barrier Reef which was affected by coral bleaching was back-to-back with the coral bleaching that occurred in 2016, and it was the fourth bleaching event in 19 years: in 1998, 2002 and then in 2016 and 2017. What is remarkable is that prior to 1998 there had not been an observed coral-bleaching event in the Great Barrier Reef before. So it began in 1998, and now we are seeing it ramp up.

We know that with a bleaching event coral reefs need at least a decade between events if they are going to have a chance of recovery, and so we saw the recovery between 2002 and 2016. But when you have back-to-back bleaching events—when you have 2016 followed by 2017, and who knows how quickly the next bleaching event is going to occur—that means the death of the Great Barrier Reef. Just consider what that means—what that means to the precious ecosystems of the reef; what that means to all the animal species that depend upon the reef; what that means to the Queensland economy and to the tourism economy; and what that means to infrastructure along the coast if we lose that reef which provides such an important barrier along the Queensland coast.

So this is the threat to the Great Barrier Reef. And as these threats continue, we know what's causing the coral bleaching; we know what's causing the death of the reef. It's our increasing pollution—the pollution from the burning of coal, gas and oil. So, given the scale of the threat to the reef and given the magnitude of the effect from climate change that's been so clearly identified, you would expect that rather than just fiddling around the edges and making sure that the management plans are going to be back in place, that the government should be putting together a plan that reflects the need to tackle climate change head-on.

But where is this plan? All that the government's climate change mitigation strategy from the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan says is that it is the government's Direct Action Plan. That's it—that's the government's plan for climate change mitigation. This is literally the only substantive emissions reduction mechanism that the government has put forward as part of the reef plan. Direct action is a policy that has wasted billions of dollars—billions of our dollars—in planting mulga, or encouraging that mulga in north-west New South Wales doesn't get cleared. Look, it's very good that the mulga in New South Wales doesn't get cleared or that some of it is replanted, but we are paying billions of dollars for that to occur while at the same time our emissions from the burning of coal, gas and oil continue to skyrocket. At the same time as well, while we are spending all that money protecting mulga in north-west New South Wales we have ongoing land clearing in Queensland in the catchment of the Great Barrier Reef. That far outweighs the soaking up of carbon that the mulga in New South Wales is doing.

The increased land clearing in Queensland is one of the most extraordinary things that has not been stopped by this government, and it has not been stopped by the Queensland Labor government either. Land clearing in those areas of Queensland has actually increased from 300,000 hectares a year to 400,000 hectares a year in recent years. And it's not just in Queensland: we've got ongoing land clearing in other parts of New South Wales and we've got the ongoing logging of our native forests. Again, if you put together all of these impacts from the removal of vegetation—which is there as a really important carbon store in our environment—that is wiping out any impact of the government's Direct Action Plan. And that's it: that's all the government is saying we need to be doing to tackle climate change. It is a complete fig leaf and it is going to do absolutely zip to protect the Great Barrier Reef.

So that's what's happening on the land-clearing side. That's what's happening on the government's direct action side. That's all that the Reef 2050 plan says that we need to be doing about tackling climate change.

On the other side is the government's agenda to absolutely ramp up the use of coal, which is talked about over and over again in this place. We've got a government that is hell-bent on coal, a government that can't imagine a world without coal, a government that is obsessed with digging up every last bit of coal and burning it and, in the process, cooking the climate and destroying the Great Barrier Reef. This is a Liberal government where the backbench insists that if the private sector doesn't actually want to build a new coal-fired power plant, then the government should pick up the tab and build it instead. This is a government that wants to include coal in its definition of clean energy. This is a government that's never seen a coalmine, a coal seam gas field or a piece of coal export infrastructure that it doesn't want to approve.

This is a government that wants to give away a billion dollars of our money to a multinational coal company to build a rail link to the Galilee Basin. No example stands out more than this. At the same time as we're talking about a few minor issues, minor legislative changes and governance changes to management plans of the Great Barrier Reef, we have a government that, hand-in-hand with the Queensland Labor government, is willing to facilitate the approval, subsidisation and construction of the Adani Carmichael coalmine. Any government that had the slightest bit of interest in trying to do something about stopping dangerous climate change would have ruled out this mine from day one. It's a mine that's being fought and opposed by citizens right around the country. Millions and millions of committed citizens are saying as one, 'We need to stop this madness.' It is heading in the wrong direction compared with what we need to be doing. We need to be protecting our climate and protecting wonderful natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef. This will be the mine that opens up the Galilee Basin to exploitation. The Galilee Basin is estimated to have 250,000 square kilometres of thermal coal sitting beneath it. It's a ticking time bomb. That coal has to stay in the ground if we are going to have a future for humanity on this planet. It has to stay buried underground if we have any hope as an international community of meeting our Paris target of staying under two degrees.

The bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef is occurring with only one degree of warming. That's what one degree of warming has caused to the Great Barrier Reef. Even if we keep that warming to under two degrees the Great Barrier Reef is gone. That's something that I, as a senator in this place, am not willing to accept. That's why we will continue to fight for serious action to protect the Great Barrier Reef. That means being serious about climate change, and that means being serious about planning for the end of coal. The choice is stark: it's coal or the reef. It's a choice between throwing a lifeline to the polluting industries of the past or protecting the future—our future, the future of the reef, the future of our planet—a healthy future for generations to come. And it's well past time for other members of this place to choose a side.

The Greens have been very clear. Our colleagues here, around the country and around the world have been clear that we are at a crossroads. We need to be keeping fossil fuels in the ground. We need to be shifting our energy sources to renewable energy. This is the direction in which we need to head. We could be stopping the Adani Carmichael mine today. We could be stopping it if those on the Labor benches would only stand up and say that they do not support the approval and the construction of the Adani Carmichael mine and that if they were to win government they would rule it out. If they would stand up and say that today, we know the Adani coalmine would be finished. We need the Queensland Labor government to rule it out. For all its talk about wanting to stop climate change, the Queensland Labor government is hell-bent on ensuring that the Adani Carmichael mine goes ahead. We want the Labor Party to join with the Greens today and rule it out. If we have Labor and the Greens together, we can make sure that the troglodytes of that side, the troglodytes of this government, who are hell-bent on coal, who think that coal is the future, can be wiped out along with the Carmichael mine. The Greens will be moving an amendment to this legislation, similar to the one moved in the House by my colleague Adam Bandt yesterday. The amendment has been circulated in the chamber on sheet 8212.

I really welcome the chance to contribute to this debate today, because any issue to do with the future of the Great Barrier Reef is important in itself. We know how precious and important and valuable the reef is, and this really underlines, because of the threats to the reef, why we need to be spending so much energy and time and effort to make sure that the issue of the biggest threat to humanity on this planet, the issue of the biggest threat to those natural assets like the Great Barrier Reef, gets the time that it deserves in this place. We really have to build the case that we, the parliament, have got the power here to make changes. We've got the power here to move legislation that will accelerate that shift to clean, renewable energy and to make sure that we get out of the dirty fossil fuel energy industry that our country has relied upon.

I welcome the chance to contribute to this debate, and I'd also like to acknowledge all the work that my former colleague Senator Waters has done, both in relation to the fight for a safe climate and in protecting the Great Barrier Reef. I hope to see former Senator Waters back here in due course to continue that important work.

In conclusion, the Greens will be supporting this bill, but we must make it known that without a plan for a safe climate this bill is not worth the paper that it's written on. I move:

At the end of the motion, add "but the Senate notes that global warming is the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef and calls on the Government to immediately take all available steps to stop the Adani Carmichael coal mine".