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Thursday, 13 February 2014
Page: 371

Senator WATERS (Queensland) (12:29): I rise to speak on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 and to register my and the Greens' extreme concern at the direction of the Abbott government in regard to climate change. Given the extreme weather events that we continue to see over summer—sadly, year in and year out—it remains completely unbelievable that this government has its head in the sand. We have seen the human toll of these sorts of disasters, and we have in fact seen a complete abandonment of science by this government. This is just yet another example of that.

The Climate Change Authority is responsible for advising on the target that the government should adopt in dealing with climate change, reviewing the renewable energy target and other matters. The need for independent science to be driving these decisions is absolutely crucial. The time for politicising climate change is certainly not right now. What we, instead, see is the government wilfully blinding itself to the science and wilfully blinding itself to the human effects of the extreme weather events that we know will become more frequent and more severe. The Greens are utterly incredulous that this government is on an ideological driven path of warfare against climate action. It is incredibly risky, dangerous and negligent of this government to be on that path.

We know that the government cannot wait for the Senate to change and to seek at that stage to try to repeal this bill. The Greens are really proud that until such time as that happens we will stand firm in this place and that we will always stand up for climate action and that we will stand up for keeping these laws on our books and improving them.

In Queensland we have seen the terrible human effects of the floods of 2011. I think there is not a Queenslander and, I hope, not an Australian who failed to be touched by that human toll. I am a proud Queenslander; we have the Great Barrier Reef on our doorstep. We already know that it is at serious risk from climate change. Sadly, the latest scientific advice tells us that it is at serious risk of bleaching from just a one degree increase in climate, not the two degrees that the government has purportedly committed to keeping climate change to.

I wish to speak to the pathetic five per cent target that this government claims to support. Its own policy would not deliver that five per cent cut. It has failed to stump up the dollars that would be needed for its flawed model to come anywhere near that five per cent. We need to do better in terms of science making these sorts of decisions. That is precisely why the Climate Change Authority needs to remain as the independent adviser pointing out that, in fact, five per cent is too small and that if we fail to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions we will not only be condemning other species to extinction but be condemning our own way of life. We are a coastal community. We are a community that loves our existing way of life. That is under threat.

Why is this government selling out the science and selling out communities by simply adopting its slogan of 'Axe the tax'? There are bright people in this place, and there are bright people on both sides of this chamber. Why are they not rethinking this incredibly dangerous and shallow policy position when it comes to the carbon tax? Politics simply cannot be overriding the science here. There is too much at stake. At stake is our way of life. At stake is our biodiversity. At stake is our Great Barrier Reef. The whole nature of our economy will shift if we do not tackle climate change.

Yet, on the flip side, we have such a great opportunity to retool our economy and get ready for the low-carbon economy that the rest of the world is already moving towards. We could in fact make a motza out of starting that transition now. Yet we see this government simply committed to yet another three-word slogan of 'Axe the tax'. I think you will find that Australians are incredibly disappointed that this government has its head in the sand about the real impacts of climate change. I think you will find that with continuing extreme weather events people are more and more concerned about this issue. We are hopeful that in the new Senate cooler heads will prevail and we may be able to retain some aspects of the climate package.

I had the great pleasure of sitting in on several Senate inquiries on this matter. We heard from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation that not only is it reducing emissions with the investments that it makes in renewable energy on the government's behalf but also it is making the government money. In this so-called budget crisis which we are continually told about, why on earth would you be getting rid of an institution that is making you money? I am afraid that ideology is once again trumping good sense. Ideology is trumping science. I am very disappointed in members of the government who continue to ignore having a good evidence base for the policies that they purport to support.

Being from Queensland, I will continue to speak about climate issues. I am very worried about the future of our reef, and I am worried about the future of communities that live by the coast. We have already seen storm surges. We have already seen coral bleaching. We know that climate change is one of the greatest threats to our reef. We know it is the greatest threat to our biodiversity. With the climate changing and the nature and shape of our ecological assets changing, it is all the more important to invest in biodiversity and wildlife corridors and invest in climate change adaptation so that we can be ready for the next extreme weather events. It is just negligent for our government to fail to do that.

I had some stories from Queenslanders that I wanted to share but, sadly, I do not have them to hand. But I want to take the opportunity to acknowledge the Queenslanders who have emailed my office and shared their stories and shared why they are so worried about climate change and why they want this government to actually listen to the science and listen to the community and to keep these laws on our books—these laws which are working to bring down emissions and will help set us up for the future and protect us from the devastation of extreme weather events. Many grandparents have emailed in. The point they raise is that they are worried about the future of their grandchildren. As a mother, that plagues me as well. I fear for what the world will look like for my little girl when she is my age or twice my age. It is almost hard to imagine what the world will be like if we continue to do nothing about climate change, as this government would have us do.

We have a really good framework on our books for tackling climate change. It is not perfect. It does need to be stronger. I would like this parliament to be working on making it stronger rather than making it weaker. Instead, we have this ideological attack, this refusal to accept that climate change is human induced. The well-known phrase that our Prime Minister uttered was that he thinks that climate change is crap. I wish it was; it would be an awful lot easier if it was. But, sadly, the vast majority of the world's scientists do not agree, and we see evidence daily of the extreme weather events that are getting more frequent and more severe.

A review into the renewable energy target has also been announced by this government. We all know that that, sadly, is code for slashing the renewable energy target. I ask the government to reflect on their party's history. It was John Howard who, as Prime Minister, introduced that target initially. It was a very good thing to do. It was a low target, at two per cent, that of course has subsequently been increased to 20 per cent. I ask the government to reflect on their own history and their own previous commitment to having a renewable energy target. We now know that that is under review. We fear that the figures will be fiddled, either that it will now be not a target but based on a kilowatt hour target. I am worried that this is code for the renewable energy target being completely slashed.

If we want to tool ourselves up for the new economy, if we actually want to maintain our very solid economic position in the world—we all know we avoided the GFC for a whole variety of reasons—then investing in renewable energy is the way to go. It is the future. We know that it creates more jobs than dirty coal and gas, which are becoming increasingly mechanised. We know that renewable energy is more job intensive. We know that it is genuinely clean and we know that it works and can power our cities and homes.

There have been wonderful initiatives in the last few years that, sadly, the rest of the globe is getting ahead of us on—things like solar thermal, which is actually baseload power. The refrain we hear from government is that, somehow, renewables cannot keep the lights on. They can, and power sources such as solar thermal, where you heat the water or the molten salt during the day and you can store that heat overnight, can provide power 24/7. That technology has been partially developed by Australian scientists who have had to go overseas because research and development funding was slashed the last time this lot were in power.

We have so much innovation and initiative and talent in this country that could be well directed and focused towards renewable energy development. I do not want to see those bright minds go offshore to develop that technology. I do not want to see other countries getting the jump on us when we have a natural advantage here with renewables. We have the best sunshine in the world, some pretty good wind, some excellent potential for tidal power and some pretty good geothermal deposits. We have so many options here for clean energy that will help us tackle climate change, that will keep power prices low and that can serve so many positive purposes. Why do we have this ideological attack by this government that slashes the steps we have finally started to take to get our economy ready for tomorrow and to finally start to tackle climate change, that biggest, greatest moral challenge of our time? The Prime Minister needs to shine a great big spotlight, as he likes to say, on some science. He might like to shine a great big spotlight on the Climate Change Authority, which is there to provide him advice on the basis of science about what our greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets should be, about what our renewable energy target should be and about a whole range of other useful policy advice that will help this Prime Minister shape the future of the nation in a positive way rather than simply taking us backwards, rather than putting our lot in with the fossil fuel companies and, unfortunately, damning us to yet more extreme weather events.

We are told that there is a budget emergency. There is a Commission of Audit that will recommend slashing and burning all sorts of investments. We are told that the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is one of them. Of course, the carbon price is another. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the carbon price are making the government money. If we have a budget crisis and if the Commission of Audit is genuinely looking at all options, not only should it be looking at revenue options but also it should be looking at the ability of these policy measures to actually bring in money. I fail to understand why, if that is your stated objective, these policies are on the chopping block. The answer can only be that you are committed to the pathetic three-word slogan that you think got you elected and you think the Australian people want. I think you are sadly mistaken. This is a very risky course of action that stands to threaten the way of life of all of us, your children included. I ask you to reflect very seriously on the importance of this institution in giving you the evidence on which to make good decisions. It makes no sense to abolish the givers of independent advice on such crucial policy matters.

I hearken back to the so-called budget crisis that we are in. If you are really looking at trying to plug holes in the budget or get us back onto what you say is a more solid footing more quickly, can you please look at the fossil fuel subsidies that your government is giving to the big mining companies? There is so much money that could be made there. Depending on whether you include the diesel rebates and subsidies, you could get up to $12 billion. That is an awful lot of money for companies that are doing pretty well for themselves already. Of course, it is not stopping them slashing jobs. I ask this government to reflect very seriously on the Climate Change Authority and on the ability of the carbon price to bring in revenue and to tackle the serious problem of climate change.

My staff have kindly delivered to me the statements I referred to earlier from Queenslanders who emailed me and who are very concerned about this government's direction on climate change. The first contribution is from a woman named Marilyn Livingstone, who lives in beautiful North Queensland. I will read her statement. She says:

I live in Tropical North Queensland. I was born here in Innisfail in 1951, grew up on a sugar cane farm in Feluga and later in the town of Tully. This area is World Heritage rainforest and the rainforest area is shrinking.... Several of these cyclones have visited the Tully - Mission Beach area in my lifetime - the first in 1956, then 30 years later Winifred in 1986, 20 years on we had Larry in 2006 and lastly Yasi 5 years later in 2011… if we have another like Yasi in the next few years, I fear it will seriously change things. Already the climate seems to be more like that experienced in Darwin with extreme wet and dry seasons - Tropical Savannah not Tropical Rainforest. Growing up here in the 1950's-1960's, and 1970's the weather could be described as wet and very wet now, there is a definite dry season where we get very little rain for several months and then the heavy wet. I believe action on climate change should have been taken a couple of decades ago and that it may well be too late to stop the changes already in motion but I do not believe that is an excuse to do nothing. We have to harness every safe option we have to halt carbon pollution so that the most extreme result of climate change is not triggered. Australia may have a small population but our reliance on carbon intensive export industries (including coal.) makes us a big part of the problem. We need to set an example. We need to support clean energy solutions such as wind, solar and small hydro …

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Gallacher ): Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired.