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Tuesday, 1 November 2011
Page: 7705


Senator HANSON-YOUNG (South Australia) (11:01): It is with great pride that I rise today to commend the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and associated bills to the Senate. I was a teenager at high school, just forming my political views, when Senator Brown here, the Leader of the Australian Greens, first brought the issue of global warming into this place and spoke about rising sea levels. That was in 1996. I witnessed a lack of response from the federal parliament, from the major parties, from business groups and from the media. Like many young people, I resolved to follow the lead of Senator Brown and my other Greens colleagues, including of course Senator Milne, in demanding more from our nation's political leadership.

My peer group and I grew from students into adults and brought with us our clear and constant concern about the impending crisis of climate change. To us, it was not a far-off rumour or a laughable myth. There were reputable scientists telling us that greenhouse gas emissions were causing ice to melt, warmer climates, increased ocean tempera­tures and acidification, damaged ecosystems and species demise. But for many years it appeared that the major parties were not listening or were not willing to boldly tackle the problem—global, complicated and challenging as it was.

How fortunate, then, that the Australian public saw another way. In a wonderful twist of fate, the last election saw five new Greens MPs, four in this place and one in the other, and a minority government, allowing us to put this issue squarely on the political agenda through the formation of the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee. The work my colleagues put into that process was very welcome and I give great thanks to them. The end result of that 10-month process is the raft of clean energy legislation before the Senate today. It comes to our chamber sculpted and reinforced by long hours of intensive consultations with scientists, economists, business stakeholders and community members, all willing to do what they can to make sure we do not continue to delay taking action. It is a great thing indeed to be a senator at the time the federal parliament is finally taking this historic reformist step in the defence of our biosphere and all the creatures living within it.

However, it is not just Senator Brown, Senator Milne and all those involved with the multiparty committee who should stand up and take a bow. Young Australians have been particularly vocal on this issue and their involvement, the raising of their voices and their demand for action have been crucial in bringing forward this momentous reform. As the Greens spokesperson for youth, I have watched with interest, and often admiration, as the case for urgent and immediate action has been prosecuted in diverse ways by the next generation of Australian leaders. From online campaigns to parliamentary delega­tions, from forums and workshops to rock concerts and flash mob dances, a whole generation across the Australian community has told us, the law makers, that they expect Australia to address climate change and to stop delaying action. It will be the fulfilment of our obligation to them and to future generations when the clean energy legislation takes effect in July 2012.

The urgency of this action stretches far beyond Australia's sovereign borders. It directly involves the lives and livelihoods of the world population. As a proud migrant country with flourishing multicultural communities, we should be more aware than ever of the risks posed to our fellow nations. Climate change will ultimately affect people as much as environments and ecologies. Unfortunately, it will most affect the poorest of all. Back in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted that the greatest single consequence of climate change could be on human migration, with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and agricultural disruption. This prediction is already coming true. Just two weeks ago, Sir John Beddington, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the British government, made the alarming observation:

Since 2008, on average, 25 million people a year have been displaced by extreme weather events, and that's in a world of relatively benign climate change.

The effect of climate change on migration patterns and regional economies has been significant so far. Even with immediate action by the international community, it will only worsen. Any developed and geographi­cally well-situated nation which is not willing to take action on climate change will have to be fully prepared to support and assist environmental refugees who may be displaced from highly vulnerable localities such as Singapore, Shanghai, Calcutta, Dhaka and much of the Vietnamese delta.

There will of course be many people who will be too impoverished, politically disenfranchised or ill-equipped to seek haven elsewhere. The peer reviewed report Migration and global environmental change, released two weeks ago by Sir John in association with 350 specialists in 30 countries, says that by 2060 up to 170 million people will be trapped in low-lying coastal floodplains subject to extreme weather such as floods, storm surges, landslides and rising sea levels. Further complications like food and fresh water scarcities, border disputes and economic and social tension would create conditions ripe for instability and conflict. For our public discourse, at least, Australia is permanently oversensitive about the arrival by boat of a few thousand asylum seekers per year. How will we cope when the numbers of desperate people are much higher? We need to put this all into perspective.

As a good global citizen Australia has a responsibility to other nations to do what it can, and so it is exciting to see that the clean energy legislation before the Senate today. It has been widely admired as one of the most effective and well-structured programs for transforming the Australian economy for a cleaner, greener future. It will place us as a leader in the world. It will place our next generation on a good footing to know that we are taking the action necessary and it will give them the opportunity to participate.

Australia does not emit its fair share of greenhouse gases—it is far above that. It is the world's 15th largest total emitter and has the highest amount of emissions per person among the major polluters. As a wealthy, developed and highly liveable nation, we owe it to our less fortunate neighbours, such as those Pacific nations currently fighting for survival, to do all we can. It is not good enough to simply pull down the shutters and pretend that it will all go away.

All people have the right to clean water, good shelter and health but these inherent human rights will be compromised by catastrophic climate change unless all nations start to work towards bringing down emissions within the next five years. No one is suggesting that there is not a long and difficult road still to travel before this goal is reached, but at least Australia will no longer be seen to be avoiding its responsibility.

Just as the environment has changed, community attitudes have also changed. No longer do we accept the false dichotomy between the economy and the environment. In 21st century Australia we cannot have economic growth and job creation that is not environmentally sustainable. The common misconception when discussing the need to transition to a low-carbon or no-carbon economy is that there is a slash and burn approach to jobs. The reality is, however, that those industries that are environmentally sustainable are guaranteed to survive in the long term. For young people this is absolu­tely paramount to our long-term prosperity.

As a South Australian I am only too aware of the vulnerability of some of our local industries to climate change. For instance, when I first began my term in the Senate, I had the opportunity to visit local commu­nities along the Murray-Darling Basin and see first hand the corrosive damage of droughts. Not only was the drought destroy­ing jobs and robbing farmers of their incomes; it was also strangling entire communities—infrastructure and the environment.

Who could forget the iconic South Australian production of Storm Boy that showcased to the nation and to the world the natural beauty of our Ramsar listed lower lakes? This natural beauty, which was on the brink of destruction at the depths of the drought over the last decade, shows us that action must be taken.

As Australia's driest state, South Australia will experience devastating outcomes from unchecked climate change. My fellow Greens member Senator Wright has already raised the dire predictions for our state as expressed in the Climate Commission's Critical decade report. Those ominous outlooks are reflected elsewhere. The Bureau of Meteorology indicated that by 2030 days will get even hotter and drier in Adelaide than they are today, with more days above 35 degrees, more extreme fire danger days and longer fire seasons. I happen to live in the Adelaide Hills and I know the concern our communities have every summer in relation to bushfires. These concerns and fears will only grow.

Climate change also threatens one of our most precious resources: water. The Murray-Darling river system, which is already experiencing problems with salinity, will suffer further reductions in water quality by 2050. We are about to see a final plan from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority for how to tackle the overallocations of the Murray-Darling system. The big fault in this plan is that it has not considered the impact of climate change, the drying climate and the lower rainfall. Declines in rainfall will lead to a greater frequency and severity of drought, with decreased flows in water supply catchments. However, research also shows that despite a drier average there may also be an increase in flood risk due to an increase in extreme rainfall.

It is a terrible irony that floodwaters, while destroying some communities, have revived others in the last couple of months. This should not serve as an excuse for complacency in tackling these issues. We know that communities must be working with government and we must have leader­ship to tackle these issues. This bill goes some way towards doing that. A small window of opportunity is open and we must not allow it to shut. We must not allow it to shut for the sake of some people who are arguing for delay.

As well as being the Greens spokesperson on early childhood and child care, I am mother to a four-year-old girl. Aside from all the crucial environmental and economic reasons for passing this legislation that have been raised consistently in this chamber for years—since Senator Bob Brown first entered this chamber in 1996—I only need to look at my daughter to be reminded that securing a cleaner future for her is one of the most important things that I, and my colleagues, can do as in this place. We must do this as responsible members of our community and as elected members of our community. I join with the sentiments of parents around Australia arguing that we have to take action, if not for the sake of our river systems, our clean air and for our food security, then for our children. I commend these bills to the Senate.