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Monday, 7 November 2011
Page: 8345

Senator FAULKNER (New South Wales) (15:44): I think senators should ask themselves this question: why would the opposition propose a matter of public importance on an issue which is currently the subject of a committee stage debate in this chamber? Why take an hour from the detailed consideration of the Clean Energy Bill 2011 and related bills, particularly as the Senate is debating this package of bills under time constraints agreed to by the Senate last week? Is it unfair to draw the conclusion that the opposition is either unwilling or unable to examine the detail of this exceptionally important legislation in the Committee of the Whole? After all, we are now debating just the first of 37 amendments that have been moved.

I suppose the opposition thinks: why turn up the opportunity for some more negative politics? Why be constructive when you can be destructive? Why talk about the great challenge of climate change to Australia's environment and economy and what we should do about it when you can spend an hour or so bagging your political opponents? Why talk about the actions that responsible governments around the world must take to minimise the impact of global warming when you can take the easier path of just slagging those you do not agree with in the Senate chamber?

Australia has a particular responsibility, in my view, to act on climate change. Australia is heavily dependent on carbon based fuel for the supply of electricity, and, as a result, we are the highest per capita greenhouse-gas-emitting OECD country. In fact, per capita, Australian emissions are nearly twice the OECD average and more than four times the world average. We even beat the Ameri­cans—which, I have to say, is saying something! So, yes, it is true: the Australian government does support pricing carbon emissions in Australia and the government encourages the development of clean energy. The truth is we need to take action on climate change, and we need to do it now.

According to the World Meteorological Organisation, last year was the warmest on record globally since instruments were first used systematically to make such measures in the 1880s. Nine of the 10 hottest years in history have occurred in the last 13 years. The CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology report that the last decade —from 1 January 2000 to 31 December 2009—was the warm­est ever in Australia. Not only was the last decade the warmest decade on record but the number of record hot days has been increas­ing every decade for the past 50 years and the number of record cold days has been decreasing. The science shows that south-eastern Australia is getting less rain and is getting drier. The drying of south-eastern Australia is of great concern because this is, obviously, where most Australians live and, as every senator knows, it is where most of our food comes from.

The warming planet affects not only air and soil temperature but also water tempera­ture. We know that the warming of the oceans is melting polar ice caps, melting glaciers and causing sea levels to rise. An enormous mass of ice, more than four times larger than Lord Howe Island, broke off Greenland last year and slipped into the sea. Sea levels rose by around 10 centimetres from 1920 to 2000, measured by monitoring stations around the Australian coast.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change'sfourth assessment report finds: 'Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.' This is an authoritative study by 3,000 of the very best scientific experts in the world. These are scientists who do not use the word 'unequivocal' lightly. What the reports from the IPCC and those of our own scientists at the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology show is that the climate is warming. It will continue to do so as a result of greenhouse gas emissions from human activity. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow unabated, the problem will get worse.

The science of climate change, of course, has been endorsed by every national academy of science of every major country on the planet, every major professional scientific society related to the study of global warming, and almost—not quite but almost—every climate scientist. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear: sea levels are rising and coastlines are shrinking. The science is telling us that Australia is warming; the science is telling us that the world is warming. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. Climate change is real and is being caused by human activity.

There is an overwhelming case for sensible precautionary action to limit the impacts of climate change. Precautionary actions that encourage energy efficiency, encourage businesses and households to switch to clean energy, and encourage the development of sustainable energy supplies are all measures the Australian government supports. Only through measures that minimise industry and household use of carbon based fuels will we reduce the impact of climate change.

I say to the opposition: the time has come for that political party to end its opposition just for opposition's sake on this issue. It is too important an issue for that to occur. I strongly believe it is in our national interest to act on climate change, it is in the national interest to act with resolve and it is in our national interest to act now.