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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1435

Senator LEES —My question is addressed to the Minister for the Environment. Minister, I refer you to a recent report by a United Nations panel of some 2,500 climate change scientists and experts who stated very clearly that climate change is occurring and will continue at a rate that will lead to `significant loss of life' and `possibly the obliteration of entire cultures' unless urgent steps to reduce emissions are taken. I ask: does your government accept that climate change is occurring, and that Australia has a responsibility to work with other industrialised countries to significantly reduce emissions? Finally, do you agree that, if your government continues the previous government's policy of attempting to block international action to cut greenhouse emissions, this will leave Australia exposed to international actions over which we would have no control?

Senator HILL —I think, on the balance of the science, climate change is occurring as a result of human intervention—and I say `on the balance of the science' because it is not beyond dispute. Nevertheless, the paper that is to be presented by the panel to the Geneva conference in July comes to that conclusion, and it has been produced by a very eminent group of scientists—and that, I accept. I accept also that it is a global responsibility and all states, whether they be developed or developing, have a responsibility to contribute to remedial action and, therefore, look to ways in which we can internationally reduce greenhouse emissions.

I think the third part of the question was: do I fear that Australia may be left out alone and suffer some punitive action as a result of our position? What I can say to that is that I think there are areas of concern for Australia because of the nature of our economy. In many ways our particular economy is unique among those of the developed world, and we must ensure that we find a formula that not only makes an international contribution on our part but also protects our economy.

We have a responsibility to look after the interests of three-quarters of a million Australians who are still out of work. If you are asking me to adopt a position that will significantly reduce Australia's international competitiveness, then I do not think that would be in our national interest.

Senator LEES —I thank the minister for his answer. I just ask for further clarification: in what way is our economy so unique that we have a right to go on polluting the environment at a faster rate than any other industrialised country? Do you realise that there is a range of industries that we should be encouraging, particularly in the solar industry area, that could indeed lead the world with new technology? If we do not support them, surely we are missing out on export opportunities, particularly into developing countries and Japan and the United States.

Senator HILL —One way is that I think we are the world's largest coal exporter, or near enough to the largest. If you have a look at today's current account figures, you will recognise that we have a major problem in our external accounts. If you are advocating a course of action that would substantially reduce one of our principal areas of exports, I would say to you that it is not in the national interests. If you are—

Senator Lees —So, forget about it all?

Senator HILL —I am not saying forget at all. You went on to ask whether we should be developing alternative methods of energy. I answered that: obviously, yes. We are. I am pleased at the voluntary action that is being taken by a lot of Australian industry not only to reduce emissions but also to develop alternative methods of energy. I believe there is an opportunity for Australia to be an exporter of that technology. It is starting to happen already and there is great potential for it in the future. (Time expired)