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Thursday, 21 February 2008
Page: 1147

Mr CHEESEMAN (2:04 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister outline the threat that climate change poses to Australia’s future and what the government is doing in response?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Corangamite for his question. If we are looking out to the big economic challenges facing Australia, fighting the fight against inflation is one; second, making sure that we are doing whatever we can to boost long-term productivity growth in the economy; and, third, to do what we can also embrace on the overall, overarching challenge of climate change. Climate change is as much an economic threat as it is an environmental threat as it is long term a national security threat as well, unless we are capable of acting on it.

The government accepts the scientific evidence. The government accepts that the scientific evidence is in that climate change is real, it is happening, and no longer can this nation afford to be in any state of denial on something as fundamental as this. It does go to our long-term interests across the spectrum: economic, environmental and national security. And overall our view has long been, put in simple terms, that the costs of inaction on climate change are much greater than the costs of action.

If you look at some of the data, the Bureau of Meteorology reported that 2007 was the sixth warmest year on record in Australia. Furthermore, 16 of the last 18 years have been warmer than the long-term average in Australia. Again, the CSIRO recently projected that temperatures will rise another one to five degrees by 2070 depending on the level of carbon emissions in the coming decades. This means that we in this country and the world at large are facing the requirement for a global economic transformation to a low carbon economy of an order of magnitude that we have not seen since the great economic transformation of the Industrial Revolution.

This is a deep challenge not just for our country, Australia, but for the entire world. Failure to act is in fact consigning the future for our children to a very dismal destiny indeed. Without decisive action on climate change, we in this country will also be in the front line of the victims of climate change. Australia is the driest continent on the planet. As weather patterns change, this leaves us more vulnerable to impacts of climate change than other advanced economies. Great national assets such as the Barrier Reef and Kakadu are affected. There are also the risks to our farming communities, who are already exposed, as well as water shortages which could in the future make vast tracts of Australia uninhabitable.

Australia must therefore seize the opportunity now to become a leader globally. In the transformation to a low-carbon energy economy, a low-carbon energy revolution is what is necessary. We have an opportunity to become world leaders when it comes to clean coal technologies. We have an opportunity to become world leaders when it comes to the proper deployment and use of renewable energies—what we do in the future with solar, wind, ocean tidal flows and other energy renewables. We have an opportunity to become world leaders when it comes to energy efficiency in our homes and our businesses, as well as in our factories and our mines. This is where we need to position Australia, not in a state of denial but out there ahead of the pack, because it is in our deep economic interest, our deep national interest, to do so.

This government took steps very early in its term to become not just a part of the global climate change problem but a part of the global climate change solution. On our first day, we ratified the Kyoto protocol. Within our first week or two, we delivered that instrument of ratification of the Kyoto protocol to the Secretary-General of the United Nations. And, within that conference at Bali, within that first week, we had the Australian Minister for Climate Change and Water there, not skulking at the edge of the conference, as has happened in previous times. The Australian Minister for Climate Change and Water, within two weeks of this government taking office, was there acting as a co-chair of the important final negotiating sessions of the conference—part of the action, part of the solution; not just a carping part of the problem. And, if there was an opportunity for action on this, I simply pose this question to those opposite: why did it take 12 long years for those opposite to finally harness themselves into action? I ask them this question: do you support ratification of Kyoto now? Will you embrace the possibility of deratifying Kyoto? You do not have any clarity on that either. We in this government therefore are embracing a range of policy measures.

The SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume his seat. Before giving the call to the member for Flinders, I hope it is not a point of order—or that he thinks he has been provoked—to make a statement. If he makes a statement—

Honourable members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! As you know, there is no provision for the opposition to be asked questions. The Prime Minister was being given a little bit of slack, as leaders are, but that was out of order. So I call the member for Flinders on a point of order.

Mr Hunt —I come in peace, Mr Speaker!

The SPEAKER —We will be the judges of that.

Mr Hunt —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: I wish to raise two things. We are happy to respond to the Prime Minister with the simple answer of yes if he is—

The SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member will not resume his place; he will leave the chamber for one hour.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. On previous occasions, when a minister at the dispatch box has asked of the opposition a question, the Speaker has provided some leniency to the opposition in addressing the question that has been asked. I just ask whether this is a policy change from the chair or—

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. At some stage perhaps the member for North Sydney might bring his edition of Practice around to share, because I think that he is starting to stretch it a little bit. He knows that there is no provision for the opposition to be asked questions, and, quite frankly, I do not think that there is a need for slack at all, because that is an abuse of question time.

Mr Randall —Well, he abused it.

The SPEAKER —I acknowledge that, member for Canning, and it is not something that I encourage. The member for Flinders will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for Flinders then left the chamber.

Mr RUDD —Climate change therefore warrants a whole-of-government response. We need to be acting globally, as we are doing through our Kyoto ratification process, having embarked on the Bali road map, which will conclude with the Copenhagen conference at the end of 2009. Another element of our comprehensive approach is the development of a national emissions trading scheme. Another element of our approach is to introduce a new, much more ambitious and nationally consistent renewable energy target—and, on top of that, to ensure that we have proper energy efficiency measures across the economy, encouraging people in their homes and elsewhere to do their bit when it comes to dealing with the challenge of climate change. And then there is mitigating those unavoidable impacts of climate change, including for the farming community. That is why we have a $130 million climate change in agriculture program out there at the moment.

Later today, Professor Garnaut will be delivering an interim report on his investigation into climate change. This goes directly to how we deal with the overall challenge of climate change into the future. Professor Garnaut was commissioned because the previous government refused to commission any such report in order to assess properly the economic impacts of climate change. Together with my state colleagues, we commissioned this review last year, asking Professor Garnaut to look at the costs of climate change and to recommend medium- to long-term policy options for Australia, and that interim report will be produced today. The Garnaut review will be a valuable source of advice to the government.

Professor Garnaut has acknowledged the complexity of the economic impacts of climate change, and he has made clear that the release of his report is intended to encourage further debate across the Australian community. That is as it should be. We as the government encourage such debate, because climate change affects all of us. It affects our kids. It affects our farms. It affects our businesses. It affects the future of the country and the economy itself.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. Under standing order 100, about questions, and the standing order with respect to relevance, standing order 104, I know that answers only need to be relevant to the question. But previous Speakers have ruled that they should also be timely and, if they go on for an extended period of time—and this one is now nine minutes long—the Speaker does indicate that they think that is too long and they try and get them to come back to the question or sit down. I ask you as Speaker what your policy will be with respect to the extended length of answers to questions, as this one has become.

The SPEAKER —Order! I will not be adding any further comments to those that I made earlier this week. The length of the answers perhaps is a problem to the chamber, but the chamber should be using the committee system, when it gets up and running, to deal with that. The question was in order; the answer is relevant to the question.

Mr RUDD —So the government looks forward to the release of Professor Garnaut’s interim report. It will inform the public debate. We encourage the nation to engage in that debate. The government, by the time the final version of the Garnaut report is produced later this year, will be taking advice from other sources as well—the Treasury and other agencies within government. It is important we get our long-term policy settings on climate change right—critical for the economy, critical for families, critical for the environment and critical for national security. After 12 years of inaction on the whole question of climate change, it is time that Australia led the international community on this question. It is time we had a government in this country which led the national debate on this question. That is what needs to be done now; that is what this government is now engaged in.