Naturally, I rise to support the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill 2006 [No. 2] in this particularly frustrating discussion. I say it is frustrating not because the issue is unimportant. The frustrating element of this debate is that everyone in this chamber agrees on the importance of the issue . It is almost like that is given-that we say that that is fine. We have already heard from the preliminary speakers in this debate a list of statements about what must be done to adapt to what we all know is a disaster for the world. There is no doubt about that either. The frustrating element of this debate is that here we are, as Senator Milne mentioned, three years after we had almost an identical debate on the same issue. So much of the debate, the dialogue and the rhetoric will reiterate the same issues, particularly when you add this debate to that which we will be having later in the day on the environment and heritage legislation. We have the opportunity to actually take action and make a change but instead, this afternoon, we will talk round and round on the private member's bill and at the end of the allocated time there will be no action, the debate will cease and we will all sit down. That is just not good enough. This is not a complex piece of legislation. It is not a piece of legislation that makes any claim that, by itself, it will change the world. What it does is to identify one clear step that we, the Australian community, can take to make a change, to be part of the international issue-because global warming, the attacks on our environment and the challenges that face all of us are not only a national issue. We can list all of the things that are happening in Australia but the issues that are affecting our world are ones that we must all share in identifying, in accepting and also in planning effective action on. That is why we are part of an international community. That is why the United Nations called nations together to see what we can do as a global collective to work to achieve a difference, and Australia has a role in that. But, as Senator Milne has so articulately outlined, our role has been dismissed and marginalised, and that makes me very angry because we can do better. We have the ability in this country to take on these challenges strongly and we already have done so. Why this government seems unable to accept acknowledging and ratifying the Kyoto protocol as but one step towards our action in the global warming debate is beyond my understanding. I have listened at length to speeches made by various members of the government and a range of ministers. It has not just been the current environment minister who has been peddling this particular rhetoric; it has been all the ministers since the Kyoto protocol was proposed, when there was such a surge of enthusiasm across the world as to how we could effectively identify the threat and work together. There was no expectation that there was going to be some magic cure. No-one claimed that. What we did, as a world community, was to look at the threat of global change and how we could work together. One step was that we as nations together could look at what we were doing with our emissions and how we could share the load. Consistently the government have put forward how well they have done and how well the Australian community has done in addressing the issues. Why, when claiming all this success, they cannot address the threshold action of becoming part of the global solution I do not understand. No-one is debating the threat. In fact, Senator Eggleston listed in his contribution all the things that we know are happening in our world. Australia, more so than most other countries in this world, has seen the damage caused by climate change to our way of life and our wonderful environment and we know that this damage is occurring now. It is not something that will only happen in the future; it certainly has been happening over a large number of years and we cannot wait quietly and expect that someone somewhere is going to do something about it.
The CSIRO, that flagship organisation, have been expending enormous resources on looking at practical solutions here in our country, and we will be celebrating the achievements of the CSIRO in this place this evening at a celebration of their anniversary. I think it is important that we acknowledge that contribution in this place. They have stated, in one of their wonderful publications, that temperatures in our country could rise by two per cent by 2030. That is an extraordinary figure. We can say two per cent so quietly but what it actually means, and this is outlined in the CSIRO documentation, is rising sea levels and a decrease in water supplies for our cities, and we are all working through that at the moment.
Coming from Queensland, I am most aware of the impact of water shortages in our cities. There is also damage to our reefs. As a Queenslander, again, I can say that although we are blessed by having the beauty of the Great Barrier Reef in my state, it does not belong to Queensland or Australia; it belongs to our world. The concept that our reef could be dying slowly as a result of climate change is one that must cause great fear and concern to all of us.
An issue that I have learnt more about recently is that of potential refugees from our neighbouring islands in the Pacific. Senator Milne referred to some of the island nations. I know that you, Mr Acting Deputy President Watson, have been to many of those and have talked with the people in those areas. In our secure environment here-and I use the word 'secure' with some irony-we may be able to somehow make some distance and pretend that, if we do things immediately with a reduction in water use in our cities and also implement the immediate actions that people suggest, we can put off any impact to our country.
That is not a luxury that is shared by some of our island neighbours. We see photographic evidence from those countries of how their usable landmass has been reduced as their islands sink, as the water levels have risen. That is the kind of immediate threat that is impacting on those people who live so close to us. There are discussions now about what Australia can do in looking at refugee status for those people. Whilst we have not progressed those discussions as much as we ought to, I know the government has been involved in discussions. That immediate threat is just one of the pieces of evidence that are in front of us.
We cannot run away from this issue. We are looking now at issues around 2010, but as you look into the future and see the generational difference through 2020 to 2040, and see the impact on the world, that is a challenge to all of us. Again, no-one is pretending that the piece of legislation about which we are having the debate this afternoon will solve that. What we are saying is that we will engage in the debate by having a clear consideration of the issues and it could well be one step forward. It is a symbol. The Kyoto protocol is a symbol that is of enormous value to Australian citizens and to people across the globe. Being part of an international agreement means that there is some acceptance by our government-whichever flavour it is-that we have a role to play. That is the step in this legislation which the government continue to reject. Whilst they list, quite rightly, the initiatives that have come forward and have been funded in the last few years-and there has been a flurry of activity around the issue of climate change in the last three to four years-before that time, people on the government benches were arguing that this issue was being beaten up and that people in this place and in the wider community who were talking about environmental threat had some ideological bent that was not focused on effective economic development or progressive economic sustainability.
I think that we have made a real difference. I genuinely believe that now, in this place and in the wider community-with the exception of some people, like a particular person who insists on emailing me on an almost daily basis to tell me that it is some kind of scientific conspiracy and in fact there is no such thing as global warming-there has been a threshold change and that people accept that we face a genuine disastrous threat of global warming. Given that we have come this far, surely we should be able to take the extra move forward and cooperatively take on our role in the whole UN process. Kyoto is not an Australian treaty. The Kyoto protocol is a United Nations treaty. It has been put out to the nations of the world and we have been given the opportunity to take part in it.
One of my pet issues, as you know, Mr Acting Deputy President Watson, is that people throw phrases around without actually having read the basic documentation. I really do ask people who are involved in this debate to have a look at the website and see what is involved in the Kyoto protocol. Maybe, if they take that small step, they will see that it is not such a monumental commitment to make. When they read the protocol, they will see that it is about people working towards achieving a goal. There are a range of report-back mechanisms so that nations can actually report back and indicate what they have achieved and what they are doing to reach their goals; and, if they have not been able to achieve what they hoped, they can state the reasons why and what they are prepared to do about it.
Given that we have already heard government speakers list all the things that the government has been able to do to address our own responsibilities-and I am sure we will hear more-and given that the Minister for the Environment and Heritage comes in here consistently and claims that we have reduced our carbon emissions, why can we not accept the significant importance of being part of this international treaty? What we consistently get back from government members and ministers is: 'If the other kids won't sign, we won't sign either.'
In her contribution, Senator Milne used an analogy of colouring pencils, and I have to admit that that attracted me a great deal. I have an image in my mind now of a whole range of people sitting around a very big desk with their various colouring pencils and a few people just picking up their pencils and leaving. I would hope that we have reached a maturity in our government that is beyond that image, but I worry that, on this particular issue-and some others, but we are focusing on this one this afternoon-that is almost the level that we have reached. There is an understanding of the threat and there is great scientific study, research and practical achievement happening in our country, and we are engaging, in some ways, in coalitions internationally to look at the issues. We applaud success. Recently it seems we have been almost drowning in the range of media releases about government funding initiatives to do with solar energy, various attempts to look at alternative sources of energy and looking at ways to ensure an effective future for sustainable energy in our country. All that has been accepted but, when it comes down to this threshold difference, there seems to be a line right down the middle of this chamber, where members on one side see that engagement in the Kyoto protocol is a positive step with which we can all cooperate and members on the other side seem to think that it is somehow a sign of weakness to be engaged in this treaty. I do not accept that. I believe that we are stronger, more aware and more mature than that.
There was some hope recently, with the release of the Stern report, when there was an international outbreak of people considering the devastating economic impact of the world not accepting that there are environmental threats and that there is no option but to change. There seemed to be a movement away from theory around environmental issues and towards a more acceptable range of argument which talked about economic figures and the impact on the gross national product. There was an engagement-a flurry of activity-on that issue. That was extremely positive, because it brought into the debate the kind of statistical analysis and research that we need to ensure that people see that there is no option on these issues. There must be coordinated change across every country on the globe. We all have a role to play. What Australia can achieve impacts not only on our citizens but also on all the other people on the globe, and vice versa. It is not a sign of weakness to be part of an international treaty; it is a sign of positive leadership. So often in other areas, Australia has taken on a positive leadership role and has been seen as part of the progressive processes. It is devastating as an Australian citizen to see, in many parts of the world, Australia being labelled as regressive and negative on these issues. We should not deserve that. Our scientists, our academic community and our citizens generally have much more knowledge and awareness of environmental issues and do not need that label. Increasingly, they are saying that they want to see their government being much more active in this international response-and we can do that.
So what we will do in this place for the next hour or so, on this bill which will lead nowhere, is go round and round on this issue and then end up with the great divide down the centre of this chamber, with some people saying that we should be part of it and some people saying that we are doing really well without being party to it and that: 'Until the other kids sign up, why should we?' That is why I describe the whole process as extremely frustrating. There is an opportunity to be positive and to move forward if we ensure that we have policies that will protect our resources and ensure that we have strong sustainable energy sources in this country. As a Queenslander, I say that that must include coal. I know that there are differing views on that, but we do need to look at research aspects around having strong, clean coal processes in our country. We must work effectively together. We can do that. This bill provides the opportunity-a simple step forward so that we take what I think is our responsible position in the world, rather than packing up our energy and running away.
30 November, 2006