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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2182


Senator WATERS (QueenslandCo-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (18:17): I rise to speak to this matter of public importance:

Prime Minister Turnbull's failure to take action consistent with his words on climate change.

How true that is, because in the current Prime Minister we have a reincarnation of Mr Tony Abbott when it comes to climate policy—and really every other policy, for that matter. We have a truly woeful carbon pollution reduction target from this government—one that is less than half of what the science says Australia should do to have even a two-thirds chance of avoiding dangerous global warning. It is less than half of what the science says is the bare minimum.

Interestingly, even if that woeful target were met by this government's inadequate policies, Australia would still be the highest per capita polluter on the entire planet. We have that mantle at the moment. Should these targets be implemented, we will still be the world's biggest polluter on a per capita basis. It is just unbelievable that the government can somehow crow about the target being in any way adequate.

Of course, we have seen this government axe the carbon price, which was effective and bringing down pollution. We have seen this government preside over budget cuts to the CSIRO which have now wreaked upon its staff massive cuts to its climate scientists. We have seen the Emissions Reduction Fund—a misnomer if I ever heard one—paying tonnes of taxpayer moneys to polluters without an appropriate safeguard mechanism, so they are getting paid to keep polluting. Finally, this government has slashed the renewable energy target. Sadly, on that last point both of the big parties joined to slash the renewable energy target.

This is, sadly, where the commonalities start to reveal themselves. Both of the big parties—Labor and the coalition—take enormous donations from fossil fuel companies, whether they are coalminers or coal seam gas companies. Both of these big parties have never refused a coalmine application—certainly not at this federal level. Both of the big parties have never refused a coal seam gas application under our federal environmental laws. They are both wedded to big coal—the money it trucks into their re-election campaigns and the dirty-energy economy that it is hitched to.

Coal is killing our reef. Already this week and last we have seen the beginnings of serious coral bleaching. I am from Queensland and I know how important the Great Barrier Reef is to our economy. It employs almost 70,000 people. It brings in $6 billion every year. That is money that it could keep bringing into our economy if we look after this place. It does not have a time limit on it, unlike the coal industry, which is now in structural decline, sacking thousands of its workers and polluting the world's climate. We are killing our reefs with this addiction to coal that the big parties have hitched our economy to.

We know that with even a two-degree warming of this planet we will lose all of our coral reefs. If we manage to stabilise at 1½ degrees, we will still lose 90 per cent of our coral reefs. That is the dire situation that our climate scientists are telling us we are in. We have seen the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority raise the coral bleaching threat to level two just this week. We know that the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has also done the same for global coral reefs. We know that the clear choice is between coal and the reef. It is what one of our learned coral reef climate scientists, Professor Terry Hughes has said: 'The choice is stark. It's coal or the Great Barrier Reef.'

We choose the Great Barrier Reef and we choose clean energy because we know that clean energy is more job-intensive. I have already mentioned the thousands of workers who have already been sacked from the coal industry in the last few years. They are also now seeing a resurgence of black lung disease. This is a dirty industry for workers and for our environment.

It is really clear that we can get on board that global transition to clean energy, which was so evident in the climate talks that I was privileged to attend at the end of last year. There is a transition towards clean energy. Australia could stand to make an awful lot of prosperity out of that, generate an awful lot of jobs and safeguard those amazing places like the Great Barrier Reef. We could safeguard our food producing ability by protecting our agricultural land not only from the direct impact of coal and coal seam gas pockmarking holes through it and digging it up but from the terrible worsening of drought and extreme weather events that climate change will bring if we do not tackle it.

The Greens are committed to clean energy. We are committed to tackling global warming. There will be a stark choice at the coming election.