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Tuesday, 8 December 2020
Page: 7133


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (20:23): I'd like to put forward a simple proposition to Australians when they think about our armed forces. We call them defence forces, and the word 'defence' comes to mind. Would you prefer to have your serving personnel in your armed forces geared to going on foreign adventures and fighting foreign wars—as we have essentially done for the last 15 to 20 years very closely joined at the hip to the United States, our allies in the ANZUS treaty, including in the longest-running conflict in our nation's history in Afghanistan, and we've obviously seen some of the complications that have arisen from that in recent times—or would you prefer to have your personnel geared up to help fight the biggest threat to our national security?

Senator Molan: It's either/or, is it?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Molan—interjections.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I'm happy to take that interjection from Senator Molan. It's absolutely not a case of either/or; it's a case of where you prioritise the future role for the ADF. Senator Molan is a climate denier. He's of the same ilk as Senator Pauline Hanson and Senator Malcolm Roberts. He's a climate denier, yet he's in government, which, of course, makes him a lot more dangerous. I think he would dispute that proposition—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Whish-Wilson, resume your seat. Senator Molan?

Senator Molan: I deny what the senator said. I do not deny climate change.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Are you taking a point of order, Senator Molan? Senator Roberts?

Senator Roberts: May I take a point of order?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: What's your point of order?

Senator Roberts: That I've been falsely labelled a climate denier; I do not deny climate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: That is not a point of order, Senator Roberts. Senator Roberts?

Senator Roberts: He mislabelled me.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: It's still not a point of order. Senator Whish-Wilson.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Very spurious points of orders, I may add. It was worth a try—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: A bit like some of the quorum calls.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I've clearly touched a raw nerve with these senators tonight, which is always an interesting proposition. Obviously what concerns Senator Molan—through you, Acting Deputy President—is that climate change is the biggest threat to our national security. If you think about threats to livelihoods, threats to property, threats to our economy and threats to our communities—what bigger threat is there than our changing climate, our warming planet and our extreme weather events, be they the horrendous bushfires we've seen that are driven by this climate emergency, be they torrential floods, be they cyclones or be they the loss of our critical habitat, like on the Great Barrier Reef or in the giant kelp forests that the commercial fishing industry and communities in my home state of Tasmania are reliant on? That's the biggest threat to our national security. Don't just take my word for it; there are plenty of people and experts out there saying the same thing. I know you won't take my word for it, Senator Molan; I understand that. I don't think you'd take any scientists' word on climate change at its face value either, because you are a climate denier, Senator Molan, regardless of what you say. Perhaps a climate sceptic may be a more politically correct term to you.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Through the chair.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: Through you, Acting Deputy President—a climate sceptic, a climate denier and a denier of science. I thought previous Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull actually delivered a fantastic rebuttal to The Australian on Q&A a few weeks ago. He said: 'If you deny climate, it's like denying physics. Did you fly here in an aeroplane? Do you understand physics?' We're talking about the same fundamental concepts, yet these people have turned climate into a matter of identity, as Mr Turnbull so rightly pointed out. They've turned it into a matter of ideology and identity, but it's actually about physics and science. It really is appalling that in this day and age we're having these political debates when the community and the rest of the world is moving on and recognising the fact that our planet is warming and that that is having an impact on us and putting us at risk.

To get back to the debate, climate change, global warming, is the biggest threat to our national security. I personally believe that the defence forces have a huge role to play in this country and in our region, whether it's providing aid, assistance or expertise on so many different levels. Going back three or four years, I initiated a Senate inquiry. The Greens didn't chair it, but we sat in on it through Defence, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and we actually looked at this. We looked at the preparedness of the Australian Defence Force for climate change and for a climate emergency. We took evidence from experts all around the country, who talked about the threat climate change poses. At a minimum, you got out of these people—and some of these people Senator Molan would know very well—that they all recognised climate change as a threat multiplier. Some went a lot further than that and were prepared to say it actually is the biggest threat to our national security. So I support a more active use of the defence forces, and I've got to say, like a lot of Australians I felt very proud seeing our Navy evacuating Australians off beaches in January this year. While I was down the coast at Bicheno, we had ash falling on our heads as we were walking along the beach on New Year's Day. We were also worried about fires on the east coast of Tasmania, and everybody was glued to what was going on just here on the South Coast of New South Wales, and all up and down the coast in the months preceding. The fact that we had to use our armed forces to evacuate Australian civilians off beaches was quite extraordinary. I recognise the role the armed forces have played over the climate emergency we've seen this summer, and it will only get worse. It is not going to get better. If the Bureau of Meteorology is telling us that under current business-as-usual scenarios we are on a three to four degree warming trajectory by the end of this century, we're in really serious strife. Sadly, Senator Molan, you and I probably won't be around when the worst effects of this are being felt by our children and our grandchildren, but we're going to leave them that legacy.

The Greens support a much more active role for the Australian defence forces in terms of realigning their training, their capabilities, their procurement and a whole range of things, like potentially looking at remote area firefighting like we see with the New Zealand defence forces. We want to see the Australian government, as we debated in here last week, buy our own water bomber fleet. I did dare suggest that perhaps the Air Force, seeing as we've got very good pilots, might consider flying those aircraft as well if we were going to buy them, but it could just as easily be given to state emergency services. But either way, I think this is a discussion we should be having at a national level. We call our defence forces 'defence' forces for a reason, but it seems that they are 'offence' forces. They spend all their time—and all their procurement is based around—fighting in foreign theatres of war, endless wars, for what strategic political objective I don't know, when we clearly have a clear and present danger here in Australia and in our region, and a need to employ our service personnel to protect Australians and to protect our region.

Saying that, we've got to be extremely careful that we get the balance right in how we legislate that and what kinds of powers we give the government to call out our defence forces. As has been outlined here tonight by my colleague Senator Steele-John, who's participated in this inquiry and has raised a number of significant issues that the Greens want to see amended, if we don't get that balance right then we risk unintended consequences in the future. And we certainly risk undermining public confidence in the rollout of our defence forces in the future.

I wanted to put that on the table. I think this is a really important discussion. I commend the government for their increased rollout of the defence forces over summer. I was very proud of what they achieved, Senator Reynolds. However, we don't believe you've got the balance right here in the Defence Legislation Amendment (Enhancement of Defence Force Response to Emergencies) Bill 2020. But this is a conversation we need to continue to have. We're going into committee stage, so we will talk in more detail on our proposed amendments then.