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Tuesday, 13 September 2005
Page: 154

Senator BARTLETT (11:17 PM) —I would like to speak on a couple of different matters. Firstly, I draw attention to an item that was in the UK newspaper the Times yesterday, 12 September, about an action that British Airways is taking that I think is worth noting. As from yesterday, when passengers of British Airways book they are being asked to pay a few pounds extra to compensate for the environmental impact of their flights. The airline is encouraging all of its passengers to make a donation which will be invested in energy-saving products. That amount will depend on the distance travelled. It is suggested that those going from London to Paris pay £5. For those going to Los Angeles, the suggested amount is £13. For those coming all the way to Australia from London, the suggested amount is £25.

According to the report, British Airways is introducing this fee to persuade the government and the wider community that it takes the issue of pollution seriously, in particular the impact of air travel and the emissions of aircraft on global warming. It is certainly something that is continually in the back of my head, sometimes in the front of my head, as a person, like all of us in this chamber, who spends a lot of time on aircraft, flying to and from home, all around the country and my state, sometimes to speak about the need to be more serious about global warming. Occasionally one has to acknowledge that in travelling around the place telling people about the seriousness of climate change we are actually contributing to it by continually jumping on aircraft. That is something we need to be more conscious of.

I believe that airlines in general need to be more conscious and more proactive about this aspect of the climate change threat. I think the issue of emissions of aircraft has escaped some of the attention that it deserves in part because it is international, a lot of it does not belong to one country. People go from one country to another and it is not seen as something that is specific to a particular country in the same way that a coal fired power station is, for example. But it is clearly a very significant contributor. Coming from Queensland, an economy that is very heavily dependent on inbound tourism and the export dollars that that brings into the state, I believe the environmental impact of encouraging more inbound tourism is something that we do need to be more conscious of.

That does not mean that we have to stop encouraging people to come. It means we need to look at redressing the consequences in various ways. Obviously technology can play a part, but we need to look at other ways of balancing or offsetting the environmental impact. Ideally I think the government could play a part in this, but I also think the industries involved should put more concrete emphasis on acting in this area. To some extent you could say that the action of British Airways is a stunt to make themselves look good and to persuade governments not to mandate specific actions and introduce specific environmental taxes. I think there are arguments both ways with these things. Frankly, I have met a lot more environmentally conscious business people in Australia over my time in the Senate than I have met environmentally conscious government ministers. In that sense, sadly, we are more reliant on businesspeople than on many within the government to push this.

In saying that, I also think the business community can, and does in some areas, play a very strong role in advancing the environmental agenda. I do not think it needs to be an either/or argument—there can be a role for both—or that we need to say, ‘Do this or else we’ll whack you with some taxes.’ This example of British Airways is one that should be looked at by Australian airlines. British Airways has joined forces with Climate Care, an Oxford based environmental trust that specialises in carbon offsetting by distributing energy efficient lamps, low-emission stoves and things like that.

Offsetting has become more popular. The example given in the paper is of the lead that was taken by the former singer and songwriter of The Clash, Joe Strummer—the, sadly, late Joe Strummer. He set up the first carbon offset forest in the world, the appropriately named Rebels Wood, on the Isle of Skye. That was an important initiative and encouraged others—the music industry and musicians being one of the groups to contribute to emissions, not just from the planes that the more successful ones jump on around the world but even from the vans that bands drive up and down the highways when they are touring around the country. So musicians can play a role as well. Joe Strummer played a good role in setting a legacy there.

There are other aspects to the issue. We cannot just plant trees endlessly to soak up carbon dioxide. It is not a long-term solution. It is important within its own right, but it does have its limitations. Trees do soak up carbon dioxide but they emit it again if they are burnt or when they die. So that by itself cannot be the solution, but it can play a part. I think this initiative is one that is worth looking at, along with many others, to encourage some more specific action by either the airline industry or the many of us, including politicians, who regularly take part in a high-emitting activity, which is plane travel.

On a completely separate topic, I would like to also take the opportunity to note the film that was screened tonight in the Parliament House Theatre. I really wanted to sit here all night and listen to all the speeches about Telstra that were made from 7.30 onwards, but I felt I had to support Australian film, so I went along to see the movie. It was the first screening in Australia of the new film The Proposition, which was written by the these days well-known Australian singer—that is what he is mainly known for—and artist Nick Cave. He not only wrote the script but also, along with Warren Ellis, wrote a very interesting soundtrack to the movie. Some senators may know that I have an interest in Nick Cave and cited him as an inspiration in my first speech in this place back in 1997.

This film was fascinating. It is quite clearly a western but it is a distinctly Australian western. It was filmed around Winton, in western Queensland, my home state. The landscape is a character in its own right in the film, as are the flies that are a part of the landscape. I highly recommend seeing the film. It is quite a subtle and many layered film in some ways, although in saying that I suggest that anybody who does not like films with graphic violence or pretty confronting brutality should give it a miss, because it is quite confronting. But it is a good Australian movie. It is good as a movie and good in the way that it is distinctly Australian. That is something that, sadly, we have been a bit short of in the film arena in recent times. I think this film should be noted as being a particularly good piece of cinematic creative art, albeit one that is quite graphic and confronting. It is quite dark but very interesting on many layers. I think the film can play a part in helping to demonstrate the positive role that Australian film can play.

Winton is perhaps best known for being the place where Waltzing Matilda was penned, by Banjo Paterson, back in around 1895. That was not too long after the time in which this film, The Proposition, is set. It was set in the 1880s. Winton is also where the very first meeting of the board that set up Qantas was held some years later. Perhaps if this film is as successful as it could be, Winton might become known for a third thing, which would be good.

I also note very briefly the contrast between the unfortunately low amount of Australian product that is consumed by people in cinemas and the very positive figures from the Australian book industry. I formally congratulate the winners of the Australian Book Industry Awards that were held last night. Around 60 per cent of all books sold in Australia are Australian. It would be great if we could get that sort of percentage throughout our culture, whether it is in the film area or in the music area. There is a lot of great Australian talent out there. We have to find ways of translating it in a more effective way for people in the film arena than we do now. I think The Proposition is certainly going to be one example of that.