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Wednesday, 11 December 2013
Page: 1427

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (12:27): Having listened to the recent contributions of Senator Singh and Senator Williams, I too have decided to make a short contribution to this debate on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. I am very concerned, and I think all senators should be very concerned, that if this bill is passed and if the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill becomes law, it would significantly weaken Australia's ability to understand and tackle climate change.

Of course we need to acknowledge that climate change is a complex issue for all governments. Not just the Australian government, but for the entire international community. It is complex in relation to its environmental aspects. It is complex in relation to its economic aspects, and it is complex in relation to its social aspects. As the scientific case for climate change grows stronger and stronger, so does the importance of taking responsible and effective action to minimise its impacts.

The truth is that the facts are that dealing with climate change is assisted by an agency like the Climate Change Authority, so that all the elements, all the key strands of environmental, planning, economic and social research can be brought together and so that quality, expert advice can be provided to government. The Climate Change Authority should remain to provide the highest quality advice on climate policy, to take into account expert scientific and economic advice and to take into account developments in the international arena. I say that expert advice should be treasured, not junked; climate change policy should be directed by evidence and facts rather than by fear and prejudice and political opportunism.

The Climate Change Authority was designed to take all the short-term, mindless and silly politics out of the climate change debate. In this regard, of course, the Climate Change Authority in Australia has many similarities to the United Kingdom's Committee on Climate Change. I think it is worth the Senate noting that successive British governments, governments of differing political persuasions, have benefited from such advice. Australians, in my view, deserve an approach to tackling climate change that respects the scientific and economic consensus, where facts, not fear, set and drive public policy. Of course, the Climate Change Authority here in Australia is already providing this advice—providing strong advice based on scientific and economic evidence.

Of course, we can acknowledge that it is for government and for the parliament to decide how they might respond to the advice they receive. We all accept that. However, I fear that, without such advice, government strategy and government decision making about climate change will be less than adequate—will be ad hoc and will be uninformed. Of course, I suppose to some extent the risk is that it will be informed, but by focus groups and the ignorant, not by experts. Abolishing the Climate Change Authority is a short-term political gesture that is simply not in the national interest.

It is true, I think, and fair to say, that the Climate Change Authority has a strong record in providing independent, frank and fearless advice to government on a range of critical matters: matters such as Australia's emissions reduction targets and caps for carbon pricing; matters such as progress towards meeting our medium- and long-term emissions reduction targets; matters such as the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System; matters such as carbon farming; and matters such as the renewable energy target. The advice that is provided on these critically important aspects of climate change policy must be based on scientific and economic research and it must be independent, and that is the advice received from the Climate Change Authority. That is the advice; that is its nature. I say that independence is essential.

The Climate Change Authority's board has an excellent scientific, economic, industry and also academic pedigree, making the authority well placed to deliver considered and expert advice to government. We must acknowledge in this debate that the Climate Change Authority uses evidence based policy. The Climate Change Authority is an important tool in the battle to avoid dangerous climate change. It is an important tool for any federal government, whatever its political persuasion, so the government can be assisted in developing and reviewing climate change policies. I say that the Climate Change Authority is the right body to do this job.

I note that the opposition whip in the Senate has a close interest in this, so much so that she is waving her hands. Were you waving them at me? It is rare in the chamber, as you would know, Madam Acting Deputy President Stephens, to have such a level of support that the opposition whip would enter the chamber and wave her hands in support of a speaker. I suspect even Senator Williams and Senator McKenzie have never seen such extraordinary support provided by the whip of any major political party to a mere humble backbencher on his feet in a debate like this. I am really knocked over by that level of support.

Senator Williams: Flattery is the word.

Senator FAULKNER: I am flattered. Flattery, as you know, Senator Williams, will get you everywhere in politics.

Getting rid of the Climate Change Authority would mean that Australia would no longer be taking the battle against climate change seriously. It is as simple as that. Despite the scepticism of some, the reason temperatures are rising is not an issue of serious debate. As I have on so many occasions now over many years, I want to stress the issue of climate change science, because the overwhelming majority of scientists agree that human activity is the principal cause of climate change. The evidence is in: humans are responsible for climate change. The evidence is compelling, it is unequivocal and it is growing.

I know that there are some who wish to argue a different position. I accept that opponents of the scientific basis of climate change are entitled to their view, but I do not expect such views to be taken seriously, because global warming is not a giant conspiracy. It is not an abstract theory, but part of a new reality that we all face—that Australia faces; that every nation in the world faces. As I say, I have spoken for many years now on many occasions about the science of climate change. It should be a guide to what we do because the science of climate change is becoming surer, not less certain.

I would refer interested senators to the International Panel on Climate Change and its most recent report. I do not want to traverse the ground that I covered in a recent speech in the Senate about that report. Suffice to say the IPCC predicts that if carbon dioxide emissions only increase at the minimal rate, then global average temperature could rise by 0.9 degrees to 2.3 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century. But, if the worst-case scenario is met, this could be as much as 3.2 to 5.4 degrees Centigrade.

Let's look at our most recent experiences in Australia—not what might happen, but what actually has happened. Australia has just experienced its warmest September ever; its hottest summer day on record, 7 January 2013; its warmest winter day on record, 31 August 2013. And this year, 2013, is on track to be the warmest year on record. According to the World Meteorological Organization, all the warmest years across the planet have occurred since 1998. Even the coldest years are warmer than anything before 1998. This means we are committed to a warmer future—so you better get used to it. These numbers cannot be fudged, they cannot be spun, and nor should anybody try to do so. Increasing average temperatures is affecting human health; it affects animals, it affects plants, it affects agriculture, it affects industry—it affects so many parts of our lives. It is also having knock-on effects on the weather, as we know, with a warming ocean increasing the intensity of storms and melting the polar icecaps.

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. So I say yet again: it is crucial that we focus on the science of climate change and that we consider the most efficient methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To do this Australia needs long-term bipartisan strategies in place, based on expert advice, so it is so short-sighted to abolish the Climate Change Authority. That is why the opposition opposes the legislation.

Debate interrupted.