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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 3950

Senator SIEWERT (9:42 PM) —I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills. Many people in this place will know that, before I entered the parliament, I was the coordinator for the Conservation Council of Western Australia. Prior to that I worked in agriculture, so I have some experience dealing with the issue of climate change. For over two decades I have been personally involved in this debate and it saddens me that some people are still questioning whether or not climate change is real and we are still debating what we are going to do about it.

You have only to look at my home state of Western Australia to know that this debate is not theoretical. We have seen the impacts in the east, but we are also seeing the impacts in Western Australia. In fact, Western Australia was one of the first places to see some of these impacts. Rainfall in the south-west of Western Australia has already decreased by 21 per cent. This has resulted in a decrease in run-off of 64 per cent. These are not figures I have plucked out of the air; these are real figures.

In 1995, the Western Australian government realised that something was happening to our rainfall events and started to plan differently for the way they would manage our catchments and water resources. Some of us were critical that they did not go far enough, but at least they acknowledged that there were issues there. I am not saying that it is totally the result of climate change; it is the result of natural variation and climate change. I hesitate to say that I expect that those figures are going to get worse—that drop in rainfall is only going to get worse. In Western Australia, we already know what it is like to live with a changing climate. The impacts on our wetlands, biodiversity and agricultural systems are also starting to be felt. In fact, it has been noted in Western Australia that some of our farmers are some of the most efficient and effective in the world. They are good at adapting to a changing climate, but the point has been made in WA that our farmers can only adapt so far and they have reached the point where they cannot adapt without having different crops to plant and a great deal of systems support.

Senator Boswell interjecting—

Senator SIEWERT —I did not interject during your comments, Senator Boswell, so I would appreciate it if you did not during mine. Agriculture in Western Australia needs to adapt to changing climate. As I was saying, they have been very good at adapting to a changing climate but there is only so far they can go. One of the things about climate change is that we know that not only will the climate get drier but there will also be variations in seasons and there will be a greater variability in seasons. Western Australia is also recognised as a global biodiversity hot spot. Not only have we over-cleared our vegetation but through over-clearing our native vegetation we have taken away our biodiversity’s capacity for resilience. We have not in Western Australia, or in fact in Australia, built biodiversity resilience into our planning, so not only has Western Australia already lost much of its biodiversity but also even more of it is now at risk from climate change. A quarter of WA’s 100 banksia species are predicted to disappear in their current range, under what are pretty conservative models. By 2050, it is estimated that WA’s sheep and wheat production will shrink by a quarter under the scenarios predicted for climate change. Seventy per cent of the Great Southern area of Western Australia is covered by agribusiness, and that is a key contributor to the economy. Just think about what it will mean if agriculture shrinks by a quarter. What impact will that have on our economy? What impact will that have on jobs?

Similarly, in the fishing industry, WA’s rock lobster fishery is already going through a substantial change at the moment, with declining harvests. It is thought that at least part of that decline is due already to the impacts of climate change. Those who understand the Leeuwin currents and the flows on the Western Australian coast would understand why people are deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change. The impacts on Western Australia’s health are also of great concern. As you get more climate change, you get heavier rainfalls moving further south into Western Australia. People are concerned about what impact that will have on health and the spreading of disease. Again, the Western Australian government quite some time ago recognised these potential problems and has in fact been looking into those issues.

The point here is that Western Australia is at great risk from climate change in terms of its impact on our biodiversity, the impact on our economic production and the impact on our health. In other words, the triple bottom line is affected by climate change. Western Australia’s economy is largely resource based. People made much of our economic growth through the mining boom, but mining has not delivered for all Western Australians. I released a report in 2007 entitled The boom for whom. This report looked at the impacts of the boom in Western Australia and the so-called benefits for ordinary Western Australians. It showed that while the economy was being driven by the mining sector and wages rose dramatically in the mining industry, unfortunately that was not reflected in other sectors. For example, average wage rates in the hospitality sector increased by only 2.4 per cent in the 12 months during which the report was written. This was less than half the growth in mining and construction industries and lower than the inflation rate. A paper recently produced by the Australia Institute entitled The benefits of the mining boom: where did they go? concluded:

Overall, it is hard to identify the benefits to ordinary Australians of the mining boom. The estimated nine per cent increase in real incomes from the terms-of-trade changes do not appear in the figures for wage earners or recipients of government income-support payments. It seems that the benefits of the boom barely went beyond the mining industry itself. Indeed, higher mortgages and other borrowing costs meant that many households were worse off as a result of the mining boom.

The mining boom is not a sustainable way of creating an equitable, green economy. The point I am making here is it is time Western Australia expanded beyond our resource based thinking. We need a much more diverse economy.

Debate interrupted.