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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13049

Mrs D’ATH (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister update the House on global action on climate change and new evidence of the necessity for action?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —Mr Speaker, the Australian government is acting on climate change through the introduction of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

An incident having occurred in the gallery—

The SPEAKER —Order, the gallery will come to order! I am not sure that ‘old technology tweeting’ does my blood pressure any good either. The Prime Minister now has the call.

Mr RUDD —I suspect that that was not the first dog whistle that we have heard in the parliament today and it will not be the last dog whistle we will hear in the parliament today. But I will leave it to those opposite to wrestle with their consciences on that question, as hard as that may be.

The question I was asked was about climate change and carbon pollution reduction. The Australian government is acting on climate change by introducing a Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme to reduce Australia’s level of carbon production, by supporting Australian families and Australian businesses with any higher adjustment costs coming from a higher carbon price, by building the clean energy jobs we need for the future and by ensuring that Australia plays its part in cooling the planet for our kids and for our grandkids.

The alternative to action is to continue the inaction we have seen for 12 years. We are not proposing to do that. Instead, we have introduced the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and we look forward to seeing its passage through the Senate. To continue to engage in inaction on climate change would mean that we would continue to deny one core fact: the economic cost of inaction on climate change is far greater than the economic cost of action on climate change. To sustain a policy of inaction would be to deny the reality confronting Australians that we live in one of the hottest and driest continents on the earth. It would be to deny also the impact of inaction on drought, on fire, on extreme weather events, on coastal inundation, on the cost of insurance, on agriculture—including the projected 50 per cent fall in total agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin—and on the Great Barrier Reef. Inaction on climate change would result in the destruction of the reef over time and the 60,000 jobs generated by reef tourism. That is the economic cost of inaction.

Instead, the Australian government is acting through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. The Department of Climate Change forecasts that by 2011 to 2013 Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions will start to fall. By 2020, there will be 138 megatons less carbon pollution than business as usual. To put that into context, that is the equivalent of taking some 35 million cars off the road, which is twice the size of the entire Australian motor vehicle fleet.

That is our action here at home through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. But we must also see action abroad. I welcome the news overnight that President Obama will attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. I understand that 75 world leaders have already committed to attending the Copenhagen conference.

Yesterday the White House also announced that President Obama is prepared to put forward at Copenhagen a provisional US emissions reduction target of 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. This announcement will help build momentum towards an ambitious global agreement in Copenhagen. I quote from the White House statement released at the time of President Obama’s commitment:

The President’s decision to go is a sign of his continuing commitment and leadership to find a global solution to the global threat of climate change, and to lay the foundation for a new, sustainable and prosperous clean energy future.

The Australian government continues to work closely with the government of the United States on its climate change policy, as we do with the government of China on its policy. We welcome the constructive role being played by China and we welcome also the work which China is currently undertaking on its national response to climate change in the lead-up to Copenhagen.

I wish to inform the House that I have been invited by the President of the United States to meet with him in Washington next Monday following the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this weekend in Trinidad.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order!

Mr RUDD —I am taken aback by the outburst. Is it anti-Americanism on the part of those opposite? I am a bit puzzled by that. This is a strange world in which we live. We are now supposed to have a united position on climate change—both sides of the House have indicated which way they are going—yet each time I raise the issue of climate change there is a cacophony on the part of those opposite, who are still out there lurking in the dark with the international league of climate change conspirators, believing that it is all one big communist plot. But today it gets worse. When I indicate to the House that the President of the United States has invited me to go to Washington next Monday to discuss the Copenhagen agenda, somehow that is bad news. I would have thought that it is a good thing for the Australia-US relationship. I would have thought it is a good thing for our combined action on climate change. I would think that it is a good thing in terms of the alliance between our two great democracies. The fact that we are currently in the field with the Americans in Afghanistan and elsewhere underlines the closeness of our relationship.

Mr Truss interjecting

Mr RUDD —The Leader of the National Party interjects. He is concerned about the fact that we will be talking about more than climate change in Washington—another deep conspiracy. There are a few other things going on in the Australia-US relationship and our common efforts in Afghanistan which I do not think are invisible to the public—the fact that we are there together—and it would be a logical subject of discussion in Washington, particularly given that the United States administration is developing its own response on a long-term military commitment in that country.

Our challenge of course is not just with the United States on this matter. Our challenge of course is to work through the number of developed and developing countries which will be meeting at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago this weekend. The Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago has also invited President Sarkozy to attend the meeting, together with the UN Secretary-General and Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark.

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —Those opposite constantly seek to ridicule global efforts to bring about an outcome on climate change. Given that they have decided as a party to work together with the government on climate change, I would have thought that that would not stop at the continental shelf but would actually go offshore as well. Therefore, when it comes to America, which is the world’s single largest polluter, together with China, and with the developing countries which will be gathered together in Trinidad and Tobago, I would have thought this would be welcomed as a good thing.

The honourable member also asked a question about recent reports on climate change. I know the member for Sturt will be particularly interested in this, given the relevance of climate change to the good people of Sturt, who may in the future have him or someone else as their elected member. In the last couple of days a new report, the Copenhagen Diagnosis, was released. This was co-authored by 26 researchers, many of whom are authors of published reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The conclusions of the report are as follows, and they are disturbing. First of all, every year since 2000 has been among the top 10 warmest years since instrumental records began.

Dr Jensen —There is cooling.

Mr RUDD —Another interjection over there. In his view the planet is cooling, not warming.

Dr Jensen —The trend is cooling.

Mr RUDD —The trend is cooling. Well—

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will not treat interjections outside the standing orders as supplementary questions.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. It is hard to imagine how the Prime Minister could still be relevant to this question after over eight minutes of answering it without interruption—no points of order, simply him talking for over eight minutes.

The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will resume his seat. Before I give the Prime Minister the call: if the member for Sturt believes that the Prime Minister’s answer has been received without interruption, he has not been observing the same proceedings as I have. The interruptions against standing order 65(b) have been persistent and by a number of people, regrettably on both sides. The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr RUDD —Thank you, Mr Speaker. The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which was co-authored by 26 researchers, I would have thought would be of interest to all members of the House because some of its conclusions are indeed troubling on the question of climate change. One, every year since 2000 has been among the top 10 warmest years since instrumental records began. Two, recent melting of Arctic sea ice has been around 40 per cent higher than the IPCC predictions. Three, sea levels have risen by more than five centimetres over the past 15 years. This is around 80 per cent higher than the projections from the IPCC report in 2001. Four, measurements now demonstrate beyond doubt that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an accelerating rate. Furthermore, human induced climate change is expected to lead to an increase in extreme weather events around the planet.

These are the disturbing conclusions which are contained in this particular report. They are also particularly relevant to the Pacific island countries in our own region. The Pacific island countries will be represented at CHOGM. Their interests are of great concern to Australia. Fifty per cent of the population of the Pacific island countries live within one kilometre of their coastline—one kilometre. Therefore, in terms of sea levels rising, the impact on them is great. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is important because it brings together so many small island countries from the Pacific and elsewhere, also forging a deal in the lead-up to Copenhagen to try and craft a Copenhagen agreement. That is why the actions of the United States and China are particularly relevant.

The government has been active on climate change at home through the legislation before the House and equally active abroad. I would invite all members to again display a positive attitude in supporting this government’s global negotiations with other countries as we seek to bring about a Copenhagen agreement for the future.