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Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 and related bills. Many people in this place will know that, before I entered the parliament, I was the coordinator for the Conservation Council of Western Australia. Prior to that I worked in agriculture, so I have some experience dealing with the issue of climate change. For over two decades I have been personally involved in this debate and it saddens me that some people are still questioning whether or not climate change is real and we are still debating what we are going to do about it.

You have only to look at my home state of Western Australia to know that this debate is not theoretical. We have seen the impacts in the east, but we are also seeing the impacts in Western Australia. In fact, Western Australia was one of the first places to see some of these impacts. Rainfall in the south-west of Western Australia has already decreased by 21 per cent. This has resulted in a decrease in run-off of 64 per cent. These are not figures I have plucked out of the air; these are real figures.

In 1995, the Western Australian government realised that something was happening to our rainfall events and started to plan differently for the way they would manage our catchments and water resources. Some of us were critical that they did not go far enough, but at least they acknowledged that there were issues there. I am not saying that it is totally the result of climate change; it is the result of natural variation and climate change. I hesitate to say that I expect that those figures are going to get worse-that drop in rainfall is only going to get worse. In Western Australia, we already know what it is like to live with a changing climate. The impacts on our wetlands, biodiversity and agricultural systems are also starting to be felt. In fact, it has been noted in Western Australia that some of our farmers are some of the most efficient and effective in the world. They are good at adapting to a changing climate, but the point has been made in WA that our farmers can only adapt so far and they have reached the point where they cannot adapt without having different crops to plant and a great deal of systems support.

Agriculture in Western Australia needs to adapt to changing climate. As I was saying, they have been very good at adapting to a changing climate but there is only so far they can go. One of the things about climate change is that we know that not only will the climate get drier but there will also be variations in seasons and there will be a greater variability in seasons. Western Australia is also recognised as a global biodiversity hot spot. Not only have we over-cleared our vegetation but through over-clearing our native vegetation we have taken away our biodiversity's capacity for resilience. We have not in Western Australia, or in fact in Australia, built biodiversity resilience into our planning, so not only has Western Australia already lost much of its biodiversity but also even more of it is now at risk from climate change. A quarter of WA's 100 banksia species are predicted to disappear in their current range, under what are pretty conservative models. By 2050, it is estimated that WA's sheep and wheat production will shrink by a quarter under the scenarios predicted for climate change. Seventy per cent of the Great Southern area of Western Australia is covered by agribusiness and that is a key contributor to the economy. Just think about what it will mean if agriculture shrinks by a quarter. What impact will that have on our economy? What impact will that have on jobs?

Similarly, in the fishing industry, WA's rock lobster fishery is already going through a substantial change at the moment, with declining harvests. It is thought that at least part of that decline is due already to the impacts of climate change. Those who understand the Leeuwin currents and the flows on the Western Australian coast would understand why people are deeply concerned about the impacts of climate change. The impacts on Western Australia's health are also of great concern. As you get more climate change, you get heavier rainfalls moving further south into Western Australia. People are concerned about what impact that will have on health and the spreading of disease. Again, the Western Australian government quite some time ago recognised these potential problems and has in fact been looking into those issues.

The point here is that Western Australia is at great risk from climate change in terms of its impact on our biodiversity, the impact on our economic production and the impact on our health. In other words, the triple bottom line is affected by climate change. Western Australia's economy is largely resource based. People made much of our economic growth through the mining boom, but mining has not delivered for all Western Australians. I released a report in 2007 entitled The boom for whom. This report looked at the impacts of the boom in Western Australia and the so-called benefits for ordinary Western Australians. It showed that while the economy was being driven by the mining sector and wages rose dramatically in the mining industry, unfortunately that was not reflected in other sectors. For example, average wage rates in the hospitality sector increased by only 2.4 per cent in the 12 months during which the report was written. This was less than half the growth in mining and construction industries, and lower than the inflation rate. A paper recently produced by the Australia Institute entitled The benefits of the mining boom: where did they go concluded:

Overall, it is hard to identify the benefits to ordinary Australians of the mining boom. The estimated nine per cent increase in real incomes from the terms-of-trade changes do not appear in the figures for wage earners or recipients of government income-support payments. It seems that the benefits of the boom barely went beyond the mining industry itself. Indeed, higher mortgages and other borrowing costs meant that many households were worse off as a result of the mining boom.

The mining boom is not a sustainable way of creating an equitable, green economy. The point I am making here is it is time Western Australia expanded beyond our resource based thinking. We need a much more diverse economy.

Debate interrupted.

Debate resumed Tuesday 23rd June 2009

Last night before we adjourned I was talking about the impact of the mining boom in Western Australia and the fact that it has not produced the sustainable economic growth that some people like to make out it has produced and the fact that in Western Australia we need to diversify. If we grasped the opportunity to develop new green-collar jobs based on sustainable industries such as renewable energies, we would be doing a great deal not only to address the issues around climate change but also to address sustainable economic development and a truly sustainable future for Western Australia-a future that does not then put at risk our biodiversity, our water resources, our fishing resources, our health or places such as Ningaloo that are desperately threatened by climate change.

I am desperately disappointed that people are not grasping this opportunity to develop a sustainable green economy in Western Australia, because they are doing the state a disservice. They are not looking to the future. They are not looking to help those in Western Australia who have missed out from the mining boom. As I articulated in my speech last night, it has not produced a sustainable and prosperous future for all Western Australians. There are significant numbers of Western Australians who have missed out, who have not been able to buy a house because prices have risen so high and who have not shared the increase in wages that those in the mining industry have gained from. Instead of looking to a new, sustainable green future, what is our West Australian government doing? It is investing even more money in clean coal in Collie.

The people in Collie know that they need to be looking to a future that involves renewable energies. Our state government do not recognise that. Unfortunately, they do not have the wit or the wisdom to realise just what we could do with $16 billion invested in a truly renewable, sustainable industry, instead of investing $16 billion in the old industry. That is where we need to focus our efforts. We are supporting and subsidising the old fossil fuel industries that have contributed significantly to climate change. We are investing in old technology in the belief that somehow that may change the polluting practices of these industries, when of course it will not.

A significant area that I hold dearly, both as a West Australian but also as the portfolio holder on community services, is climate justice and looking at how responding to climate change gives us an opportunity to transform our economy so that it delivers for those people in the community that have continued to miss out from the mining boom and that have not seen benefits delivered to create a sustainable future for them. We believe that if we take a measured and proper approach to addressing climate change we can create sustainable, job-creating industries, such as renewable energy, that will deliver green jobs and sustainable jobs into the future and that will help those that have missed out from the boom. We can create new jobs and new employment opportunities for the whole of our community. We also need to be-

Senator Boswell-I wish someone would tell me what these new jobs are-put a name on them.

Senator SIEWERT-Senator Boswell, last night I did not interrupt you; I sat and listened. I disagreed with you but I did not interrupt you. You can do me the same courtesy, thank you.

Unfortunately, we are not grasping the opportunity that has been put forward through, for example, the EASI scheme, the Energy Efficiency Access and Savings Initiative, which Senator Milne has proposed for many years. It shows what we can do if we invest significantly in alternative schemes that look at how to make our homes more energy efficient, particularly homes in low-income areas and rental homes where people cannot afford to put energy efficiency measures in place. This makes sense not only from a social justice perspective but also from an economic perspective because the community and home owners invest and they see an economic return. Those sorts of issues just have not been factored into decision making. That is just one scheme that we could put in place.

We could be farming solar energy. We could be farming renewable energies. That not only contributes to a sustainable future in terms of energy production but also helps make our farming systems more sustainable. Unfortunately, as I was touching on in my speech last night, agriculture faces great threats from climate change as agricultural lands in some instances become more marginal. We need to look at alternative crops and we need to look at alternative sources of energy. If we can farm solar energy and renewable energy at the same time not only does that benefit the economy and climate change; it actually makes our farming systems more sustainable. Unfortunately, we seem to lack the vision to put these alternative futures in place. We see this government focus on continuing the same old same old. We see it continue to support the fossil fuel industry, putting all our bucks and all our futures into clean coal. It is a bad bet by this government to invest in unproven technology when we know what we can do in this country with renewable energies.

In the seventies and eighties my home state of Western Australia was a leader in the development of solar energy. That has all gone offshore because we did not have the wit or wisdom to invest in that technology. It went overseas to China and Germany, who are doing very well thank you very much out of the technology that we generated. Even today, the technology that we are working on is still being taken up overseas because we are not investing. We are closing down schemes-two schemes in the last two weeks. A scheme a week is being closed down: the solar panels scheme last week and the remote community energy systems scheme this week. That is a very significant blow to industries that should now be thriving but that are essentially fledgling industries because we have not invested in them.

My home state of Western Australia should be the home of solar technology for the world, and it is not, because we have not invested in or developed that industry. We have to go cap in hand for small grants all over the place. How about $16 billion worth of investment in renewable energies? Then we would see a significantly different future for this country. We would lead the world. We would be an economic powerhouse in renewable energies. We are not, because we have never developed that. We have never seen that future. Australia needs to get beyond that limited way of thinking, actually grasp the future and be a leader in terms of renewable energies, alternative jobs and environmental technologies. We can do that and we should be doing that, but we are not, because we are bound with old-world thinking. It is time to get out of it.

The CPRS-the ‘continue polluting regardless scheme', as it is known in some places in Western Australia-needs significant amendment to make it work. Providing $16 billion worth of subsidies to the old industries is not the way of the future. Get out of the old way of thinking and grasp the opportunity that this presents. We will be not only addressing the impacts of climate change but providing a new economic future, a new green deal, for this country-not only for my home state of Western Australia, which needs alternative developments beyond the mining boom, because we have seen how fragile that is. We have been relying on that as if it is going to go on forever. Well, it is not. We need a broader base. This provides us with the opportunity. As well as addressing climate change, we can truly address a new, green economy that provides sustainable jobs into the future that are not reliant on polluting industries and polluting the atmosphere and that take account of the environment and look after the environment as well as the people. We need to be embracing it from an economic, environmental and social justice perspective.

It is not beyond us-it is not beyond this place-to actually grasp that opportunity, but it is slipping through our fingers if we do not address it now. If we do not address it now, when will we address it? We did not address it in the good times, and now we are being told, ‘Oh, you can't address it in the bad times.' In other words, we are never prepared to address it. We let those opportunities go by when the economy was in a so-called boom. We did not need to do it then: ‘Oh, you'll interrupt industry and the economy.' Now the economy is in a bad state; we cannot address it now! Now is the very time we can address it, because it can provide us with an alternative future. We need to wake up, see that and build a strong, resilient, sustainable economy.

I urge the Senate to look at the amendments that the Greens are putting forward and to grasp the nettle in terms of putting in place real, solid targets. That is what we need. We need to be addressing real, solid targets and not giving away $16 billion worth of freebies to the old industries when we can be giving $16 billion worth of support to renewable, sustainable industries. That is the future. Australia can grasp the future or it can lag behind. My vote is with the future. I know our children's votes are with the future. I know that we can be leaders in the world by putting forward a truly sustainable scheme. We can lead the world rather than being followers. Being followers will not only leave our children in a worse situation but open the planet to catastrophic, runaway climate change, and this planet cannot afford that.

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