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Tuesday, 11 October 2011
Page: 11365

Mr SNOWDON (LingiariMinister for Veterans' Affairs, Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Indigenous Health) (12:16): It is a great pleasure for me to participate in this debate. I acknowledge the contribution of the member for O'Connor. I cannot say that I agree with him; nevertheless, I welcome his contribution. I want to talk briefly about my own electorate. I will not be canvassing the idiocy of the Leader of the Opposition's position in any great detail. It is there for all to see. The blandishments that he has placed around his arguments about whether he is climate change sceptic one day or believing in climate change the next do not disguise what he really thinks, which is that he does not support the science.

My electorate is unique. It has a large area, covering 1.34 million square kilometres, and a small population. It covers some pretty interesting country, including 5,000 kilometres of mainland coastline and a further 2,000 kilometres of coastline encompassing the offshore islands. Eighty per cent of the land of that coastline is Aboriginal land. Lingiari's population is young and we have an enormous bounty of sunshine, clean air and open space that we are exploiting for the purpose of developing alternative energy futures.

Because of our good fortune it is easy to ignore—as those opposite choose to do—that as a nation our emissions per person are the highest in the world. If our emissions were saddlebags, we would each have to carry around top weights of Phar Lap proportions in any contest. The scientific evidence makes it clear that climate change is real. The planet is warming and it is now time to act.

Let me give you one example from my own electorate, the Cocos Islands, that shows that this is important. These are coral atolls with an altitude of only three metres at its highest point. Even a small rise in sea level would see the islands disappear. This is not alarmist talk; it is reality. Yet it does not seem to be something that is accepted by the opposition. This is science. Projections from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology show that if we do not reduce our carbon pollution the Northern Territory's coastline regions will experience a near 30-fold increase in the number of 35-plus degree days annually by 2070.

I welcome Labor's Clean Energy Future plan. It accepts the part that carbon plays in our everyday lives and incorporates its costs in our investment decisions to protect our infrastructure, our economy, our environment and, indeed, our way of life. It lays the groundwork that will be appreciated for generations to come. It is one of those systemic changes that comes around every now and then. If we have the courage to seize the opportunity and to deliberately make changes to legislation to give us something significant in terms of the structure of our economy, as this bill does, then generations to come will thank us—with no thanks to the opposition.

In the electorate of Lingiari the Clean Energy Future plan is already making significant inroads; it is real and it is happening. My home town of Alice Springs is on the international map in terms of solar power energy penetration into the community. Three years ago my colleague Peter Garrett launched the Solar Cities project in Alice Springs. Much has been done. I do not have time to go through all the details but I will mention four solar power projects that are a great source of pride to those of in Central Australia: the solar panels at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, the solar panels at Alice Springs Airport, the use of solar power in the $16 million aquatic centre in Alice Springs and the recently opened solar farm south of the town, which consists of the largest tracking solar array in Australia and creates enough energy to power 288 homes in Alice Springs. These are significant changes. I should also mention the 400 households in Alice Springs that have been assessed and then changed to improve their energy efficiency.

Environmentally, the potential for climate change to alter the ecology of our arid regions, our tidal coastline areas and our iconic national parks is a challenge that this legislation acts to meet. The economic development of our remote regions has been a constant challenge. The legislation in front of us, which we will pass in the next 24 hours, will provide opportunities for clean energy initiatives based in our remote regions, in line with Labor's renewed focus on this important policy area.

In Lingiari a substantial proportion of the electors—around 40 per cent—are Aboriginal people who live in many remote communities. Lingiari is therefore home to many Aboriginal organisations that have an interest in or are participating in economic, ecosystem service or capacity-building opportunities—including research and development—afforded by climate change mitigation and adaption strategies. The unique and varied Indigenous land and knowledge assets across Australia can deliver many benefits to carbon projects across the country.

The North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management organisation, NAILSMA, is a bioregional forum for Indigenous land and sea managers across Northern Australia. It works hard to support practical land and sea management using strategic approaches to care for country, with an emphasis on practical management by traditional owners across the whole of Australia's north. You need only look at NAILSMA's website to be astonished by the full range of activities which it undertakes.

Also in the Top End of the Northern Territory is the groundbreaking West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) management project, which has now been underway for a few years. This is a very significant and important partnership between Aboriginal traditional owners and representative organisations, Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas and the Northern Territory government, which has been implementing strategic fire management across 28,000 square kilometres of western Arnhem Land. This project offsets some of the greenhouse gas emissions from the ConocoPhillips liquefied natural gas project at Wickham Point in Darwin Harbour by adopting effective fire management practices. Set in what is known as the Stone Country to the west of the Kakadu escarpment, the topography, environment and Aboriginal values of this country are absolutely unique. While the project aims to offset greenhouse gas emissions, it is also enabling the traditional owners to reconnect with country and undertake cultural and natural resource management in this region of unique biodiversity.

Traditional owners' land management organisations—Warddeken, Jawoyn, Djelk, Adjumarllarl and Mimal rangers—are working closely with non-Indigenous partners, such as Bushfires NT and the Tropical Savannas CRC. Using controlled dry-season burn-offs to reduce the size and extent of unmanaged wildfires, the project measures the greenhouse gas offsets. It is a very important initiative. While the West Arnhem fire management project is a fee-for-service arrangement in which traditional owners are paid for fire management, it points to a creative, cleaner energy future. It is to be applauded. The process and accounting practices used to abate greenhouse emissions position this project to take advantage of carbon trading when it comes on stream.

The WALFA project has led the way in demonstrating potential alliances between corporate Australia, government, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal scientists and land managers. Initiatives such as the WALFA project provide for collaboration between governments at all levels to develop direct relationships with Aboriginal people who are landowners for their participation in climate change initiatives generally and carbon projects in particular.

As recently as last week my colleague the Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Tony Burke—in announcing the collaboration between government, Aboriginal owners and the not-for-profit conservation sector to preserve the Fish River estate—pointed to the potential of this unique bioregion for local traditional owner participation in collaborative clean energy initiatives. The stewardship of the Indigenous Land Corporation, working with the Nature Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group, will enable Aboriginal traditional owners to manage their land in an ecologically sustainable and economically responsible manner in their interests and in the interests of all Australians. I acknowledge the value of the work done and the contributions made by the ILC, the Nature Conservancy and the Pew Group in showing the way forward to a future that our children and grandchildren deserve and require. And, of course, in Central Australia there is also a great deal of activity. The return of land to its traditional owners, in areas such as the Simpson Desert and the Finke Gorge, is providing similar opportunity for such collaboration, including the potential for carbon sequestration and other farming initiatives.

Aboriginal ownership and interests in land can correlate neatly with the interests of all parties involved in the progressive development of a clean energy future. Labor's necessary and productive reform recognises the right of traditional owners to be central to the trade in carbon associated with reforms. In this respect I acknowledge the work of the National Indigenous Climate Change Steering Committee and its chair, Rowan Foley. The NICC Steering Committee aims 'to bridge the divide between Indigenous Australia and mainstream Australia through providing a mechanism for the purchase of carbon credits with identified social, environmental and cultural benefits'. Labor's clean energy policy will have such social benefits. Its transformative economic impact will be important in our remote regions while also providing a necessary environmental investment.

Indigenous Australians manage approximately 20 per cent of the Australian land mass. Through the Indigenous Carbon Farming Fund, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will receive $22 million in assistance over five years to participate in the Carbon Fund Initiative. I welcome the establishment of the National Indigenous Climate Change Steering Committee and the dialogue they have established with community and government in identifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and organisations in carbon initiatives.

For many years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have been at the forefront of renewable energy generation systems. For instance, in Lingiari there is the work done by the Bushlight program and the many activities of the Centre for Appropriate Technology, known throughout the NT by the acronym CAT. Organisations such as CAT will welcome the Remote Indigenous Energy Program, which will help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities access clean, affordable and reliable 24-hour power supplies. Over four years the $40 million program will assist 55 remote communities with solar panels and wind turbines and will include training in power system maintenance and information to support households and communities to manage their energy.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I am also a minister under the Health portfolio. There are a number of important health impacts from climate change. Dr Peter Tait, an Alice Springs resident, has written of the negative health effects of global warming derived climate change. He quotes from Turner, Muscatello, Zheng and others, who have written about the effects of heatwaves, particularly involving high night-time minimum temperatures, on a range of conditions such as heart disease. Maes, De Meyer and others report on a correlation between temperature and violent suicide, while an article by Craig Anderson casts light on the relationship between prolonged hot weather and domestic violence. Conditions such as hay fever and asthma are similarly exacerbated. Other factors—such as humidity, the rate of change of temperature, the length of time the temperature is raised, the absolute daytime temperature and high temperatures at night—all contribute to heat stress. The effects of heat are more pronounced in outdoor workers, who make up a significant proportion of the mining, construction and pastoral industries in Lingiari and elsewhere across Northern Australia. Rates of diarrhoeal disease, more common in hot conditions, are already high in the Northern Territory. It is harder to maintain fluid intake in infants in hot weather, increasing the risk of dehydration, which tragically can lead to death in the very young and the elderly. Melioidosis is known to be associated with wet weather. More storms and flooding, even if rainfall overall is reduced, could increase rates of melioidosis in those at risk. Melioidosis has already been reported in Central Australia during exceptionally wet periods. This has previously been seen as a tropical disease. I look forward to working with corporate and Aboriginal interests as Australia moves to a cleaner, environmentally responsible and economically progressive future.

The Labor Party has always been a party of reform. We show responsibility and leadership when it is required, and now is such a time. Acting now to move to a clean energy future will avoid long-term costs. I welcome the challenge and I totally support the legislation.

As I said at the outset of my contribution, I am bemused by the attitude of the Leader of the Opposition. He spent a year travelling around the country spreading his scare campaign, making claims based on wild speculation and downright untruths. He needs to be held to account for the untruths he has perpetrated on the Australian community. The Leader of the Opposition has confirmed that he will strip back the $15 billion in household assistance we have promised over four years under this legislation, unwinding our tax cuts and ripping up the pension increase we are delivering to every single pensioner across the country. Mr Abbott believes these people do not need a helping hand and he will take that assistance from them, slugging them with a higher tax bill to pay for his plan. His side of the debate has only half-hearted responses and shows an inability to confront the reality of climate change. The exaggerations from the other side of this chamber have been startling. The fact is that the average price impact of the carbon pricing in this legislation would be only 0.7 per cent— (Time expired)