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Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Page: 4445

Senator MILNE (2:31 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Minister Wong, and refers to the recent Pacific Islands Forum and the Smaller Island States Group meeting which Australia hosted and for which Australia provided secretariat support. Given the consistent and outspoken calls from Pacific Island nations for a 45 per cent below 1990 level reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from developed countries by 2020, why was that not reflected in the outputs from either of these meetings held in Australia? Did you as the minister, the Prime Minister or any Australian official block the inclusion of such strong targets or any reference to a 2020 target in the Pacific Islands Forum communique or did you or any other Australian official block the release of a communique at all from the Smaller Island States Group meeting?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —It is unfortunate that Senator Milne does not seem to consider the enormous work and priority that the government has given to engagement with the Pacific Island nations on the issue of climate change. You may recall that the Prime Minister in his press conference in fact invited representatives, certainly from Kiribati and, from recollection, Vanuatu, to talk to the issue of climate change. Australia, as host, made climate change a significant priority in the discussion, as it should have. This is an issue which is important for Australia, because we are one of the most vulnerable developed nations. Equally, it is very important to many of our Pacific Island neighbours, many of whom, as the good senator knows, are already experiencing the impacts of climate change.

The PIF declaration was a leaders’ declaration. My recollection is that it was finalised at the leaders’ retreat. I might be wrong on the detail of that, but that is my recollection. Certainly Australia participated in that discussion and sought an outcome that could get agreement across all of the nations represented. We want to continue to add momentum.

Senator Bob Brown —So you did block it.

Senator WONG —That is not what I said, Senator Brown. It is unfortunate that you want to play politics with this issue. Given that—

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Senator Wong, address your comments through the chair. Ignore the interjections.

Senator WONG —Australia has made it a significant and important priority to engage with its Pacific Island neighbours. The declaration indicates a very strong desire for strong action.

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I specifically asked the minister: did Australia block through the minister or any other Australian official the inclusion of a reference to a 2020 target or a higher target? What the minister just said was that Australia wanted to get a consensus. Did New Zealand or any other Pacific Island nation block a stronger reference or did Australia block a stronger reference? Given that at that meeting the government also announced $50 million for climate change adaptation, were these countries given to understand that financial support would only flow in the absence of criticism of Australia’s weak targets?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —In relation to the second issue of the $50 million, absolutely not. Australia’s position on this issue was made clear at the election. We provided in our election commitment $150 million for international climate change adaptation, focused in particular on the Pacific and East Timor, although not exclusively. Senator Milne might like to look at the document that the Prime Minister released that outlined Australia’s strategy for engagement with the Pacific on these issues. We developed that after consultation and consideration. That goes through the way in which we want to engage with our Pacific neighbours on the issue of climate change. This government is serious about engaging on this issue. This funding was delivered in accordance with an election commitment. As I said, the declaration was a leaders’ declaration. (Time expired)

Senator MILNE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. It is very clear from the minister’s answer that Australia did block the Pacific from being able to give a higher 2020—

The PRESIDENT —Your question, Senator Milne.

Senator MILNE —Thank you, Mr President. The government now has the weakest minimum unconditional emissions-reduction target in the Australian parliament. Given the plea from the Nepali representatives in the parliament today for Australia to commit to a 50 per cent reduction on 1990 levels by 2020 because the big melt in the Himalayas is threatening the water supply of a billion people, when will the government increase its reckless and unjust five per cent unconditional target?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Again, I make the point that if you have a target you need to have a mechanism to meet it. While some in this parliament may like to think that just talking about a target ensures that you meet it, we on this side understand that this is a significant and major economic reform. We will approach it responsibly, which is how we have approached it.

In terms of Australia’s target, I again remind the senator that Australia’s target of 25 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020 represents a very substantial reduction. In fact, between the period 1990 and 2020 it is almost a halving of Australia’s per capita emissions. It means that we are doing as much or more than the European Union in terms of where we are now and to where we go.

Senator Bob Brown interjecting—

Senator WONG —I understand why Senator Bob Brown is interjecting. He is proposing to stand on the same side as Senator Joyce in the forthcoming vote, and he can explain that to the people who put him here.