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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4152

Senator MOORE (2:33 PM) —My question is to Senator Wong, the Minister for Climate Change and Water. Can the minister advise the Senate on recent developments in our understanding of climate change? Is it the case that climate change is accelerating, and isn’t that because our carbon pollution is also accelerating? Is it the case that it is not just the earth’s air temperatures that are warming but also that recent estimates indicate ocean warming is about 50 per cent greater than had previously been reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change? Also, Minister, are there any other particular signs that are of concern for our community and our nation?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank Senator Moore for that excellent question and for her continued interest in the science of climate change—unlike those opposite. I regret that I can advise the chamber that there are developments in our understanding of the science of climate change and that the signs are not good. In fact the signs are that climate change is accelerating. This should not come as a surprise because climate change is accelerating at the same time as carbon pollution continues to accelerate. Senator Moore is correct in saying that current estimates indicate that ocean warming is about 50 per cent greater than that which had previously been reported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Those opposite do not want to hear this because they ignored this in government and they are governed by those inside their own party who are sceptics and who, even now when we discuss climate change science in this chamber, continue to deny the reality. I remind them that these recent warnings have been repeated from the past.

Sir Nicholas Stern, who will be known to most senators in this chamber, followed up his groundbreaking 2006 report with the statement:

The impact of global warming is already being felt, and future generations face grave risks if activities continue unaltered. Delaying action increases the cost of meeting any temperature or concentration goal, and raises the risks of irreversible impacts as temperature thresholds are exceeded.

The simple fact is that all senators have to face up to the fact that climate change is accelerating. It will get worse within the lives of our children. We cannot ask climate change to wait while we delay. The Liberal Party cannot ask climate change to wait while they delay endlessly. (Time expired)

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, doesn’t the recent Copenhagen synthesis report state that the key to tackling climate change is to create stable price signals, and that if ambitious mitigation goals are to be achieved then we need to implement carbon pricing as quickly as possible? Isn’t it the case that the report says ‘inaction is inexcusable’? Does the minister agree with the chair of the report-writing team, Professor Katherine Richardson, who said at the report’s launch:

Society has all the tools necessary to respond to climate change. The major ingredient missing is political will.

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I think many of us would agree with that statement, particularly as it applies to Mr Turnbull and his divided party, who have demonstrated no political will on this issue. The only political will is the will to consider issues of the party room. All they want to do is deal with party room internal politics. The fact is that Mr Turnbull has run and is trying to hide from the division in his own party room, but we cannot run and hide from climate change. Those opposite may think they can delay a decision but they cannot run and they cannot hide. Climate change is not going away, and the Australian people expect this parliament to take action. So I say to the other side: if Mr Turnbull cannot overcome the division in your own party room to take action on climate change perhaps it is time you found a leader who can and will. (Time expired)

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, isn’t it the case that, while climate change is having a big impact around the world, Australia is particularly vulnerable? Hasn’t it been projected that river flow in the Murray-Darling Basin may decline by 10 to 25 per cent by 2050 and that by 2100, without global mitigation of atmospheric carbon, the value of production from irrigated agriculture in the basin may decline by as much as 97 per cent? Isn’t it also the case that the most recent drought update from the Murray-Darling Basin Authority showed how badly we are really tracking, with May inflows into the River Murray the third lowest on record, at only 90 billion litres, well below the long-term May average of 390 billion litres? Doesn’t it say that the Murray-Darling Basin has experienced its ninth consecutive autumn with below average rainfall?

Senator Cash —Maybe you could do a rain dance.

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —Senator Moore is correct. As she has pointed out, the Murray has been doing it tough and climate change is compounding the problem. Those opposite should take note of the facts that Senator Moore referred to about the impact on the Murray-Darling Basin that is projected from climate change. The reality is that climate change is not some abstract, pie-in-the-sky issue but an issue that will have serious impacts on this country, and people who claim to be leaders in this country cannot run and they cannot hide. They cannot avoid making a decision in their own party just to avoid more splits.

I will take the interjection about a rain dance from those opposite, because it seems that Mr Turnbull’s answer to climate change so far may well have been only to fund a rainmaker. That seems to be the way he is approaching these issues. Let me remind you: you went to the election with a commitment to act on climate change; you are swimming in it. (Time expired)