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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8061

Senator BROWN (1:27 AM) —I say to the minister that the Greens are never going to allow this government to dictate what amendments we can or cannot bring forward to legislation. If we have amendments the government does not like, legislation will not pass. The minister needs to raise his game above that level. Also, when questions get asked in committee it expedites things if the minister answers them. I now have to repeat three questions which I asked half an hour ago and which the minister completely ignored. If he wants to keep us here later into the night than is necessary, I will have to ask the questions again. I do not want to do that; I simply ask for answers and I expect the minister to give them.

The minister stated, `The rest of the world is copping this legislation.' I ask him: where and who? Also, he said that talking to people in the industry has shown the targets that have been put forward in these amendments are simply not achievable. I ask him whom in the industry he has talked to and what the advice of the Chief Scientist was on this matter. Furthermore, the minister referred to wood waste that was sustainably produced. I ask him what he means by the term `sustainably produced' in relation to native forests. We are talking about old-growth forests and it seems ridiculous to me to suggest that you can cut old-growth forest in a sustainable manner. However, that is his term, so I ask him what he meant when he said that wood waste was `sustainably produced'. He also said that a statutory review would begin in a few weeks. I ask him when it will begin, what the public input will be and who will be on the review panel that the government is establishing.

While the minister is considering that, I go back to Senator O'Brien's contribution and note that he is saying that opposition policy has changed. But I am not interested in what has changed in opposition policy. I am interested in a Labor Party commitment to the Greens which was related to getting preferences at the last election on 8 November last year. The first phrase of that commitment is:

Labor will implement an immediate moratorium, via regulation or legislation ...

Here we have just that opportunity arising. The Greens have done the work on it, but Labor—I am not going to go into why they should or should not do it—have broken the spirit of that commitment. I do not accept that lightly. I will absolutely be insisting that the Greens take that into account in future dealings with the Labor Party. If the Labor Party are not big enough and honest enough when it makes explicit commitments on policy issues like this, whether it comes after an election into opposition or government, and says, `Forget it. We're changing policies. We're going to dump you on that one, even though we've got the opportunity through numbers in the Senate to bring it into being,' then that has to be taken into future consideration.

I wrote to the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Crean, about this today and I have got no response. But he knows exactly what the situation is here. It is a very serious matter. The matter at hand—the moratorium and the review—is very serious. The political implications of not being able to keep your word in this sort of circumstance are extraordinarily important. I say again that I realise that Labor did not win office, but there is a matter of good faith in doing what one can to implement commitments. To have it just dismissed by Senator O'Brien as, `Forget it, we have changed policies,' is not satisfying, is not good enough, is a complete breach of the spirit in which that agreement was made and published. We insisted that it be published, and the Hon. Kim Beazley was good enough to publish it on 3 November last year. Let that stand on the record. Finally, I say to the minister: you may say that this is just an administrative piece of legislation or a piece of legislation to fix up administrative glitches; that is your priority, but that is not ours. I read to you a while ago, Mr Temporary Chairman, and the minister was listening, the assessment of the Earth Policy Institute.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN (Senator Ferguson)—Are you listening?

Senator BROWN —Mr Temporary Chairman, you asked if the minister was listening and he has indicated that he was. If the questioning is over, I will continue. I ask the minister to listen to further concerns from Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute. We are talking about global warming and the utter responsibility of governments to do something about it and about the prime responsibility of the government of the worst per capita polluting country in the world, Australia, to do something above all other countries. Lester Brown says:

In May 2002, a record heat wave in southern India with the temperature reaching 114 degrees Fahrenheit (45.6 degrees C) claimed more than 1,000 lives in the state of Andhra Pradesh alone. In societies without air conditioning, there is no ready escape from the dangerous heat. To India's north, the temperatures in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, soared to ... 47 degrees ... during June.

Farmers may now be facing higher temperatures than any generation of farmers since agriculture began 11,000 years ago. Crop yields have fallen as temperatures have climbed in key food-producing countries, such as the United States and India. Many weeks of record or near-record temperatures this past summer in the northern hemisphere, combined with low rainfall, withered crops in many countries, and reduced the 2002 world grain harvest to 1,813 million tons of grain, which was well below the projected consumption of 1,895 million tons.

This was before the awesome drought took hold in Australia. We have had both Senator O'Brien and Senator Ian Macdonald referring to the need for science in this matter and, Mr Brown, a globally renown scientist, says:

One of the most sensitive indicators of higher temperature is ice melting. Scientists now report ice melting in all the world's major mountain ranges, including the Rocky Mountains, the Andes, the Alps, and the Himalayas. In Alaska, where temperatures in some regions have risen 5-10 degrees Celsius over the norm, ice is melting far faster than had earlier been reported.

On Africa's snow-covered Kilimanjaro, the area covered by snow and ice has shrunk by 80 percent since 1900 ...

He goes on to say:

Scientists report that ice cover in the Arctic Ocean shrank to 2 million square miles this summer compared with an average of 2.4 million ... during the preceding 23 years. The thinning of the ice is proceeding even faster. Since this ice is already in the water, its loss will not affect sea level, but when incoming sunlight strikes snow and ice, 80 percent of it bounces back into space and 20 percent is converted to heat. Conversely, when the incoming sunlight hits open water, only 20 percent is reflected and 80 percent is converted into heat, warming the region.

Scientists are concerned with this warming because Greenland lies largely within the Arctic Sea. This past summer ice melting occurred over 265,000 square miles of the Greenland ice sheet—9 percent more than the previous maximum. If the Greenland ice sheet, which is 1.5 miles thick in some areas, were to melt entirely, sea level would rise 7 meters (23 feet). What happens to the ice in the Arctic Sea and the climate in the region is of concern to the entire world.

I can add that if the west Antarctic icecap were to melt—and I am speaking here from my own knowledge—and there is some danger that it will by mid-century, sea levels will rise 16 metres. Think of what that will mean in Sydney and Melbourne, let alone Calcutta and Dakar. We are confined, because the government scheduled it this way, to debating this legislation at 1.37 in the morning, and the minister is confined to saying that this has to be administrative—forget the substantive issue; he is concerned about administrative matters here.

It is time this government got its head out of the sand and recognised its obligation to stop the prodigious polluting, with global warming gases from this country—and particularly from the coal industry, which Chief Scientist Robin Batterham promotes—further threatening the world. This is a supremely serious matter. It should be at the top of the agenda. We should not be in a situation where the money is being ripped out of the hope of the future, renewable energy, which is what this bill is about—

Senator Ian Macdonald —Ha, ha!

Senator BROWN —and siphoned across into the coal industry, worsening the situation. The minister laughs; let that be on the record. These are serious amendments, which go to reviewing the situation and taking the burning of forests—which is a net greenhouse producer, regardless of what Senator O'Brien may say—out of the equation.

Senator O'Brien —CSIRO.

Senator BROWN —Senator O'Brien hides behind a misrepresentation of CSIRO. What the CSIRO is looking at is not the destruction of forests per se but a component of that. World science says that the best thing you can do as far as forests are concerned is to leave them standing, particularly the great carbon banks of the Southern Hemisphere in Tasmania, which Senator O'Brien and the Labor Party are cutting at the greatest rate in history.

Senator BROWN —Senator O'Brien thinks it is trite as well.

Senator O'Brien —You are being trite.

Senator BROWN —He says, by interjection, that I am being trite. Let people read that 50 years down the line and see what they think of him.

Senator Ian Macdonald —I am sure they can't wait to get their copy of Hansard.

Senator BROWN —The senator interjects about Hansard. However, we cannot progress very far with the mind-set that Labor and Liberal have. Tell that to people struggling with the problems being created by this attitude later down the line. It is a deplorable situation, and the way in which it is being treated speaks for itself. Finally, I would be interested to hear the answers to the questions I put to the minister at the start of this submission.