House of Representatives Speech- Primary Industries and Resources Committee Report 2010

I commend the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources on their report Farming the future: the role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change. I particularly commend the chair of the committee, Dick Adams; the deputy chair, Alby Schultz; and, indeed, the members. This is a bipartisan report and it shows that there is a deep concern among members of this House about the effects of climate change across the country. This report deals with the effects on the farming community, and it follows a report by another standing committee of the House of Representatives—the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, chaired by the member for Throsby. It reported last year to this House on the effects of climate change on coastal management, particularly in relation to planning issues.

I commend the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Primary Industries and Resources on their report Farming the future: the role of government in assisting Australian farmers to adapt to the impacts of climate change. I particularly commend the chair of the committee, Dick Adams; the deputy chair, Alby Schultz; and, indeed, the members. This is a bipartisan report and it shows that there is a deep concern among members of this House about the effects of climate change across the country. This report deals with the effects on the farming community, and it follows a report by another standing committee of the House of Representatives—the Standing Committee on Climate Change, Water, Environment and the Arts, chaired by the member for Throsby. It reported last year to this House on the effects of climate change on coastal management, particularly in relation to planning issues.

Reports of this type show that there is an understandable and entirely proper concern among members of this House with the effects of climate change, which are real, which are being observed across the country, which will affect the lives of everybody in Australia and which do call for action by governments and all Australians. I would start with this observation. It has been noted most recently by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology and it can be summarised in this way:

Australia will be hotter in coming decades

Australian average temperatures are projected to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 ºC by 2030. If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at rates consistent with past trends, warming is projected to be in the range of 2.2 to 5.0 ºC by 2070 …

Much of Australia will be drier in coming decades

We have already observed the average surface air temperature of Australia increasing by 0.7 degrees Centigrade over the past century, and that warming has been accompanied by marked declines in regional precipitation, in particular along the east and west coasts of the continent. These seemingly quite small changes in temperature are already having profound effects across the continent, which is, as we all know, the hottest and driest continent on earth. Even if all greenhouse gas emissions ceased today, the earth would still be committed to an additional warming of somewhere between 0.2 degrees Centigrade and one degree Centigrade by the end of the century.

These real effects are what make it necessary for all industries, including agricultural industries, to adapt to the changes that are already occurring and will continue to occur. What this report does is make a series of considered recommendations. They are conservative recommendations—they show a conservative approach—and perhaps that is why the report attracted bipartisan support. They are conservative in a way that can be contrasted directly with the crazy radical approach that has been adopted by the Leader of the Opposition and indeed by Senator Minchin on this subject.

It is a matter of extreme puzzlement as to why the Leader of the Opposition and the gang of climate change deniers that are now controlling the opposition have made climate change denial a plank in the coalition’s platform. We hear repeatedly from the Leader of the Opposition that he is a conservative. We hear from Senator Minchin that he is a conservative. They are not conservatives. The approach taken in this report is conservative. Senator Minchin, the Leader of the Opposition and the gang that they are with are crazy radicals. They are reckless in the face of the overwhelming consensus of climate scientists, not only in this country but across the world. Senator Minchin and the Leader of the Opposition want to line up with the tiny minority who are denying the science. A true conservative would say that, given the scale of the cataclysmic events that are predicted, if there is even a one per cent chance of those events occurring we should be doing everything possible to conserve the world which gives us life.

A lot of this denial ideology, which we see on a daily basis from people on the opposition benches and, in particular, from the Leader of the Opposition, is taken directly from Republican Party hardliners in the United States. It is the Republican Party of Sarah Palin. I am happy to say that even some Republicans in the United States understand what the true conservative position is. I can indeed quote from a perhaps unlikely source: the Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has fought against the climate change deniers in the Republican Party in the United States. He spoke very eloquently, using a medical scenario, which I will paraphrase: 98 doctors out of 100 say to you that your child has a particular ailment and the cure for that ailment is a particular medicine, and two adamantly say, ‘Absolutely not; we don’t think your child has that ailment and, even if your child does, that is not the cure.’ Governor Schwarzenegger said—rightly; it is what any parent would do—‘I go with the 98.’ That is simply the precautionary principle, a principle recognised in environmental science and in Australian environmental law. We do not ask for certainty before taking action to prevent environmental damage; we act on probabilities. We act on proper risk assessments, just as we do in other spheres of life.

That is why this report is properly viewed as taking a true conservative approach. It recognises that the effects of climate change are happening, even if there is some doubt about the extent of those effects. For example, it is known that one effect of climate change will be less frost and therefore there will be a temporary benefit to agriculture in some areas of Australia, but overall the likely effect of climate change will be less rain over most of the continent and greater evaporation because of hotter temperatures over most of the continent, and agriculture will become more difficult. That is why the recommendations in this report which are directed to increased research by the Commonwealth government on issues affecting farmers and agriculture are appropriate, as is an analysis of government policy generally as to how government policy can guard against the potentially disastrous effects on agriculture. All of these are to be commended.

However, on a daily basis, we have had a continuation of the Leader of the Opposition’s position that climate change is absolute crap. He was at it again last week, speaking to primary school children in Adelaide and telling them, bizarrely, that it was warmer ‘at the time of Julius Caesar and Jesus of Nazareth’ than now. Rightly, scientists across Australia have condemned the Leader of the Opposition, who should know better. The President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Kurt Lambeck, was quoted as saying:

… true scepticism was fine, but required looking at published data with an open mind.

“To make these glib statements to school students, I think, is wrong. It’s not encouraging them to be sceptical, it’s encouraging them to accept unsubstantiated information.”

The Leader of the Opposition is seeking to disagree with Australia’s Chief Scientist, the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO, the overwhelming majority of climate scientists in Australia and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose work is supported by Australia.

I am hoping that the Leader of the Opposition will wake up, that Senator Minchin will depart and that the coalition will start to adopt a true conservative position, which is to preserve the earth which preserves us. That is why I commend the report of this committee for taking a true conservative position which acknowledges the risks to Australian agriculture and calls for action.