Climate Change Matters of Public Interest

I too rise to address this matter of public urgency that’s been brought forward. I’m glad that Senator McCarthy did talk about the mental health impacts, because one of the concerns that I do have—and this is regardless of whether or not one believes in human caused climate change or that the climate has changed for other reasons—is the impact of some of the dialogue on young people, some who have written to my office, some who I have seen interviewed, some who appear in various reports, who are suffering high degrees of anxiety because of the nature of the language and wording that is used, which sometimes is quite inappropriate for children of their age.

One of the concerns I have with the whole climate change debate—and I speak here about the validity of science as someone who has a science degree and has worked in an engineering environment for most of my life—is if you take the time to not just read the political summaries from the IPCC but actually dig down to the underlying scientific reports what you find is that, in the vast majority of cases, the scientists do their job. They highlight the fact that there are a range of variables, and for some variables they’re not quite sure about their impact. They look at the modelling and they give various degrees of confidence in the modelling. They give various outcomes depending upon which variables you accept, which you don’t and how you vary the impact of those. And sometimes the impacts that may come out would be very small, but they say a different set of assumptions and combinations might make them very large. That is science at work: observation, measurement and appropriate reporting. But the summaries are often going to the extreme to try and capture a headline or to drive action. We see that reflected in some of the actions of the people who superglue themselves to roads—and all the rest of it—trying to get the attention, but the flow-on effect for young people, particularly primary school aged students, who aren’t equipped at their age to distinguish between rhetoric or advertising or a scare campaign or fact, is that some of these kids are suffering significant anxiety. I encourage people on all sides of this debate to choose their words carefully for the audience that they are dealing with. And for young people to be having nightmares about an impending apocalypse and end of the world, essentially in their lifetime, I think is irresponsible on the behalf of the people who are putting that information in front of them.

Senator McKim interjecting—

Senator McKim scoffs on the other side of the room, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t talk about it if you believe that climate change is caused by man and Australia taking action on its 1.3 per cent will have an impact, by all means, argue for that, but argue with the policymakers, argue in public forums, but don’t put it on the shoulders and in the minds of young children is what I’m saying, because it does cause harm. They are not the policymakers. They are not the people who are leading industry or environmental movements—

Senator McKim: They are the generation that is going to have to suck it up because of your inaction.


(Senator Sterle): Order!

So there we have, yet again, the kind of action and the kinds of words that actually cause the problem. It’s interesting that, with the bushfires that are currently occurring, it is the Greens who resort to that sort of language. And I quote here from an editorial in The Australian in November this year:

Aside from the deaths and suffering wrought by the disaster, it was the callous, cynical politicking of climate change activists, especially Greens MP Adam Bandt, party leader Richard Di Natale and West Australian senator Jordon Steele-John, that has left a bitter aftertaste. Their blaming Scott Morrison and his team for the loss of lives dragged politics to a repulsive low. It is time for a dose of icy water.

Climate change did not cause the fires. Drought and even deadlier blazes have been part of Australian life for more than a century. Climate change, many scientists argue, intensifies the dangers. But even if Australians eliminated all of the nation’s greenhouse gases (about 1.3 per cent of the global total) and pandered to extremists who wanted meat consumption, grazing and flying reduced markedly, virtually nothing would be achieved. Mitigation must be global. And global emissions are rising, significantly.

My point is well made here in the chamber today by the Greens, who continue with this kind of hyperbole and extreme language that is doing harm to young people, regardless of your view on this debate.

Today we come to the motion moved by Senator McCarthy about carbon pricing. One of the comments that has frequently been made is that we’d all be better off if that carbon pricing scheme had gone through. Bearing in mind that affordability of power is one of the critical things for Australian families, Australian small businesses and, particularly, Australia’s manufacturing industries—where energy intensity coupled with high prices mean that many of these industries, the workers who support them and the supply chains that support them are at risk with high prices—I quote from a report from the Parliamentary Library into energy market challenges. Again, the Parliamentary Library is not a partisan body; it is an independent group of researchers, who say:

Between July 2012 and June 2014 there was a period of relative stability and declining wholesale electricity prices in the NEM as a result of the repeal of the carbon price arrangements.

So what we see is that pricing carbon drives up price. There are a whole range of other factors that come to bear. Certainly, instability in the market and driving out base-load providers who can’t amortise their costs, because of the spot prices that can be achieved by renewables—heavily subsidised by the taxpayer, I might add—contribute to rising prices, but so, clearly, do carbon prices.

One of the final things I want to highlight is paragraph (3) of Senator McCarthy’s MPU, in which she calls on all parties to end the political opportunism and work together to agree an enduring solution to the challenges of climate change.

I was very pleased to see that Mr Joel Fitzgibbon MP, who I regard as a friend in this place, gave an address in which he refers to lesson 5 for Labor. He says:

… Labor needs to reach a sensible settlement on climate change. How many times are we going to let it kill us? Indeed, how many Leaders do we want to lose to it?

Australia is responsible for around 1.3 percent of global emissions, nothing we can do alone can have a meaningful impact. But act we must … as a wealthy nation…

Further on, he says:

But what would be the outcome if Labor offered a political and policy settlement to make 28 percent the target by 2030? The focus would then be all about actual outcomes, and the Government would finally be held to account and forced to act.

A political settlement would also restore investment confidence and for the first time in six years, we could have some downward pressure on energy prices.

He then goes on to say:

Based on recent history, 28 percent would be a meaningful achievement, certainly a better outcome than the one Labor’s last climate policy is now achieving.

The good thing that I can report to Mr Fitzgibbon is that, according to the ANU and scientists Professor Andrew Blakers and Dr Matthew Stocks, a study they’ve produced indicates that Australia is, in fact, on track to meet those targets here in Australia, which is good news. I welcome also Mr Fitzgibbon’s support for states like Victoria to end their ban on fracking, because we need various suppliers of energy in order to mitigate the high costs and uncertainty around dispatchable power.

So, in response, not only does the coalition have firm targets that have been set but we’re taking meaningful measures to actually reach the targets, to make sure that dispatchable energy is available when Australians need it and to drive down the cost of electricity through a range of sensible measures in both dispatchable power and renewables—in which, as the ANU said, we’re seeing investment at record levels—as well as bringing in measures to firm up or stabilise that power supply.

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