Speeches

Speeches Chris has made in the Australian Federal Parliament.

ENVIRONMENT AND HERITAGE LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (NO. 1) 2006 Second Reading

October 19, 2006

Mr HAYES (Werriwa) (12.10 p.m.)—There are 409 pages of amendments to the
Commonwealth’s major environmental laws and, would you believe it, Mr Acting Deputy
Speaker Quick, there is not one mention of climate change. Given the attitude of this
government to climate change, I know I should not be too surprised about that. But this
time the government has really outdone itself with the Environment and Heritage
Legislation Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2006.
The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 is Australia’s major
environmental law. It establishes the framework for assessing environmental impacts of
proposed actions in relation to world heritage properties, Ramsar’s wetlands of
international importance, nationally threatened species, ecological communities,
migratory species, nuclear actions, the Commonwealth’s marine environment and those
places which are listed on the National Heritage List. So it is quite an important piece of
legislation. This government argues now that this bill reduces the process time and cuts
the costs of development interests. It also curtails third party appeal rights, undermines
the public consultation process and further politicises decision making.
This government has swept the pool on this one. It has managed to introduce legislation
that implements the exact opposite of what the Australian community wants. This is
quite startling. Not only does it not mention climate change, not only does it not include
a single measure aimed at reducing greenhouse pollution, but this bill also goes against
the desire of the Australian public. It is staggering. This bill will fundamentally change
the way in which the Australian environment is protected, and neither the parliament nor
the community will have the opportunity to consider the implications of this bill because,
just like everything else this government wants to achieve, or hide from the Australian
public, the government is going to ram it through this parliament. It has been rammed
through this parliament with very little discussion and little debate and, worse, little
concern from this government.
This has been an amazing week. Earlier this week we had a new regime introduced for
the regulation of Australia’s media. That was certainly rammed through this parliament.
Now we have a wholly new regime about protecting Australia’s environment. Similarly, it
is going to be rammed through this parliament. It is staggering. The government is
elected to administer public policy, and this is not good public policy.

Most people with any concern about the future of Australia’s environment have long
known that the government does not share that concern. Sure it pretends to when it
comes to a marginal seat, when one of those creatures is at stake, but generally this
government has exhibited an attitude that it could not care less about protecting the
Australian environment.
Over the last decade, while this government has been in office, Australia’s environment
has been under sustained pressure. Water resources are under strain and almost gone,
to some extent, in various areas. The amount of land affected by salinity has increased
astronomically, and Australia is facing a plant and animal extinction crisis. It is not a
record that this government often points to; nevertheless, it is a fact. I doubt that it will
make it into the bevy of material that government members distribute in their
newsletters but, as I said, it is the case and it is certainly a fact.
Since the government came to office, nearly every single measure of environmental
health has gone backwards. As I mentioned, Australia has a plant and animal extinction
crisis. Twenty per cent of our species are threatened with extinction by the end of this
century, and the number of terrestrial and animal species listed as extinct, endangered
or vulnerable rose by 41 per cent between 1995 and 2005. Disturbingly, Australia is the
world leader in mammal extinctions. This is a disgraceful record, and the passage of this
bill does nothing to try to address that. Therefore, it does not look good for our future in
that regard.
As I mentioned at the outset, I am stunned that the government has introduced 409
pages of amendments into this place without a single reference to climate change. The
science behind climate change is well established. Apart from a small minority of virtual
extremists, it is essentially accepted. Very few governments in the world persist with the
attitude that climate change is not a reality. Most are not persisting with that dogmatic
attitude to climate change and I would be confident that most governments, where they
have introduced changes to major environmental laws, would include aspects to combat
the effect of the onslaught of climate change.
Very few people continue to ignore the real and significant impact that climate change
not only will have on our economy and society but, quite frankly, is already having within
our communities. Many businesses have accepted the need to address the impact on the
economy and have accepted the fact that they need to address their levels of carbon
emissions. But still the Howard government continues to ignore climate change. A matter
of only three weeks ago Richard Branson committed $3 billion to abatement measures,
and we have this bill representing 409 pages of the government’s efforts to do the exact
opposite—that is, to ignore climate change itself.

I noted earlier that the science around climate change is largely accepted. The impact
that climate change is having on our natural environment is, indeed, largely accepted by
the community, let alone the scientific community around the world. For those who do
not believe that change is taking place, you only need to consider our weather of last
week. In addition to the fact that Australia, in some parts of the country, has just
finished the driest winter on record, we have just had the hottest and driest August in
106 years and in Sydney last week, at the start of October, temperatures were well
above 30 degrees. We have already seen the demand that that is causing with respect to
bushfire brigades and the warnings that were put out last week. It is very clear that
change is already occurring. As much as this government might want to ignore the fact
that this is occurring, as much as this government might want to avoid its international
responsibility and, indeed, as much as this government might not want to admit that it
has got it wrong, climate change is happening and it is happening now.

Last week, the Prime Minister marched into this House and, in effect, admitted to getting
it wrong on the skills crisis. He admitted that to the parliament and, therefore, to the
Australian people. I call upon him to do the same when it comes to admitting that they
have got it wrong on climate change. We know he can do it because he did it only last
week. He even conceded to the media, when dealing with the skills crisis, that it was
better late than never. With respect, I never took him to task on that. I thought that, at
least, that was somewhat honest coming from the Prime Minister. He admitted to getting
it wrong and, as he put it to the media, ‘The changes we’re going to bring about are
better late than never.’


Although I have a certain amount of respect for the comment—and certainly I have
some criticism, in that he has taken 10 years to get to that realisation—I hope we do not
have the same approach taken when it comes to climate change. When it comes to
climate change, it is not an option to be better late than never. It is not an option that
we continue to stick our heads in the sand and try to pretend that this is not a real
phenomenon. For many people, communities, species, plants and animals, better late
than never will mean never. These changes are occurring now and they do require the
attention of this government.


A better late than never approach may in fact be too late, as we hear from scientists, for
some islands, particularly Pacific islands. Following the Prime Minister’s recent comment
about gloomy climate change predictions, on the 7.30 Report former US Vice President
Al Gore said:
He’s increasingly alone in that view among people who’ve really looked at the science ... The so-called “gloomy
predictions” are predictions of what would happen if we did not act. It’s not a question of mood. It’s a question
of reality.
Mr Gore went on to say:
And, you know, there’s no longer debate over whether the earth is round or flat. Though there are some few
people who still think it’s flat, we generally ignore that view because the evidence has mounted to the point
where we understand that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.
The Australian people should take the view that this government’s level of inaction when
it comes to climate change should be taken seriously. It is too serious a problem to
ignore and it is certainly too serious a problem for the government not to show
leadership on.

Labor has called on the government repeatedly to address this issue, to identify and
acknowledge that the issue is real but also to show leadership. After all, a government is
elected not to govern in the present but to make decisions that influence our future, the
future of our kids and the environment that we wish to bequeath to those who follow us.
This is just not occurring. Labor has shown leadership on this issue of climate change
and will continue to do so. It will be a central plank in our policy. I have to say that I am
very proud that we have shown that leadership throughout our communities, because it
is a reflection of our ongoing commitment to this country and to the sustained and
appropriate development of industry while having regard to the sensitivities imposed by
the environment.
Labor members understand the importance of the problem, and that is why Labor has
committed itself to ratifying the Kyoto protocol, cutting greenhouse pollution,
establishing a greenhouse emissions trading mechanism, substantially increasing the
mandatory renewable energy target, the MRET, and establishing a climate change
trigger—which has now been formally rejected by this government—with the introduction
of the private member’s bill by the member for Grayndler.

This government continues to resist the need to ratify Kyoto, sticking to its alternative,
the Asia-Pacific climate pact. If Kyoto is so bad, you have to ask yourself: why is it that
every other country that is involved in the Prime Minister’s alternative model—that being
the Asia-Pacific climate pact—has already ratified the Kyoto protocol? All countries other
than Australia and the United States have done so. Republican Senator John McCain is
someone who ordinarily would not be a standout for supporting Labor ideals or anything
that Labor has to say. Nevertheless, he said the following about the Howard
government’s position on the Asia-Pacific climate pact:
The pact amounts to nothing more than a nice little public-relations ploy. It has almost no meaning. They
aren’t even committing money to the effort, much less enacting rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
That is not a bad commentary from a Republican senator in that regard. But there is
more. The Chinese ministry for foreign affairs said:
This pact has no power for legal restrictions. It is a complement to the Kyoto treaty, not a replacement.
These are the views of some of the major players in the world on the government’s poor
facsimile of the Kyoto protocol, and if this is the calibre of people who are criticising the
Australian government over its lack of action, one can only conclude that the time for
hiding from climate change has well and truly passed.
Comments made yesterday by the Canadian environmentalist Dr David Suzuki have
been reported pretty widely in our newspapers. He has commented on the Howard
government’s approach to Kyoto. The member for Throsby made some remarks about
this, but I would like to pick up on one thing that Dr Suzuki had to say. He said:
I believe that future generations will look back on the inactivity, the unwillingness to do anything, as a crime
against future generations.
That is a reasonably strong statement from an environmentalist of his calibre. Future
generations probably will damn us for our failure to act and to act now.
To say that I am disappointed by some of the contents of this bill would be an
understatement. To say that I am amazed that in 409 pages of amendments to the
government’s major environmental law there is not a single mention of climate change
would also be an understatement. The Australian people expect more. The Australian
public recognises the real and present danger to our economy and our society if climate
change is not addressed. The Australian public is doing its bit but it is lacking the
leadership that it expects the government to provide.
The Prime Minister and others continue to argue that taking action on climate change will
cost jobs. I disagree with that. As anyone who has ever dealt with businesses going
through change will know, businesses look for certainty. Certainty encourages
investment decisions and innovation, as businesses try to get ahead of their competitors
and protect their market share. Give businesses certainty, introduce measures to
address climate change over a period of time, but set out the markers now. Allow
businesses to understand where the government expects them to be and how they
should achieve that within a reasonable time frame. There is no need to surprise them
and introduce changes overnight. That has not worked in the past and it will not work
here. But to lay down a series of markers that business can work with will establish
certainty and will contribute a lot to reforming and changing business practices. Give
Australian businesses certainty about what is expected of them and I am pretty
confident that they will move in new and innovative ways to meet the goals which are
established.

I am opposed to this bill. I believe that all fair-minded members of this place should also
oppose it. I am opposed to it because it will decrease accountability, it will increase the
strength of development interests and it will all but silence the public in speaking out
against development interests that are not in the interests of their communities. If the
National Party members who come to this place to represent the agricultural
communities really care about those communities, they should be voting with Labor on
this bill—and voting it down. I strongly support the second reading amendment moved
by the opposition.

WE'LL PUT PEOPLE FIRST