Feb 14, 2006

Matter of Public Importance – Climate Change and Independent scientific analysis

Matter of Public Importance –

The need to take action to avoid dangerous climate change based upon independent scientific analysis

14 February 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.13 pm)—A dangerous climate of fear clouds the Howard government climate policy, and the victims of that climate of fear have been some of Australia’s top scientists at the CSIRO. Just like the wheat for weapons scandal, this is a government that governs in its own political interests, not in the national interests. Last night’s Four Corners program raised serious allegations that senior CSIRO scientists are being gagged on climate change issues when it does not suit the Howard government’s political message. One of Australia’s most respected climate scientists—nationally and internationally—Dr Graeme Pearman, was gagged because he said that we need greenhouse gas emission targets and we need carbon trading to help avoid dangerous climate change.

Who is Graeme Pearman? Dr Pearman joined the CSIRO in 1971 and was Chief of Atmospheric Research at the CSIRO for a decade. He published 150 scientific papers. He was the winner of the UN Environment Program global award in 1989 and the recipient of an Order of Australia in 1999. In 2003 he received the Federation Medal, but in 2004 he was made redundant. The CSIRO did not need a person of this stature. Frankly, I think we need the involvement of more people like Graeme Pearman in public debate, and we need his views on the public record.

I want to tell the House that I have some personal experience with this. On 28 July 2004 I organised a forum, at Newtown RSL in my electorate, titled, ‘The day before tomorrow: the real threat of climate change and what Australia should do about it’. I placed ads in the newspapers. We produced posters. I direct-mailed around the electorate. I had speakers advertised for this information forum—Kelvin Thomson, the shadow minister for the environment; Anna Reynolds, the climate change campaign director from WWF; and Dr Graeme Pearman from the CSIRO—on the greatest challenge facing the global community. But Dr Pearman rang us up the day before the forum was to take place—it was not taking place during an election campaign, it was not canvassing votes for any political party; it was doing what good local members in this place do on both sides of the House and doing what Dr Pearman has told me he has done before for forums of all political persuasions: being there as an eminent scientist—and said that he was told he was not allowed to come to that information forum in my electorate to talk about climate change.

It is a disgrace that other scientists have been gagged; he is not alone. Dr Barrie Pittock was expressly told that he could not talk about mitigation, about how we might reduce greenhouse gases and about rising sea levels in the Pacific. But such is the attempt from the government to deceive and spin that in responding to the launch of Labor’s Pacific climate change strategy on 6 January 2006, the Minister for Environment and Heritage said, ‘I have spoken to the head of the Australian Greenhouse Office this morning. In terms of sea level rise and its impact on Tuvalu in particular but the Pacific in general, the jury is really out. Saying that we are going to evacuate them is very premature. Let’s hope it never happens.’ The response of the federal environment minister was: ‘Let’s just cross our fingers and hope it never happens.’ Political inadequacy is one thing but the systematic destruction of the very nature of Australia’s Public Service, in the dissembling of information, is another.

The Australian Greenhouse Office produced a report in 2003 entitled Climate Change—An Australian Guide to the Science and Potential Impacts. It says at page 155:

For the rest of the Pacific region, however, the number of people who experience flooding by the 2050s could increase by a factor of more than 50, to between 60,000 and 90,000 in an average year … Vulnerability in the Pacific Islands could impinge indirectly on Australia, through our external relations and aid programs.

Again, the report Climate Change—Risk and Vulnerability given to the department in July of last year warned about rising sea levels and the impact on our pacific neighbours. But when Labor comes up with some foresight, some policy and planning to do something about it, what is the government’s response? One, let us cross our fingers and, two, it misleads us once again on the advice the government had been given by the Australian greenhouse office.

If you want an example of the intimidation that has occurred under this arrogant government that thinks that it controls a one-party state just because it controls both houses in this parliament, then have a look at the exchange between Kevin Hennessy, the coordinator of the CSIRO Climate Impact Group, and Janine Cohen on the Four Corners program last night. There you see it all laid out before you. You see an extraordinary dissembling by this official.

Here you have it, and it says it all about the climate of fear—

Mr Hunt interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—and intimidation from these spivs opposite.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The member for Flinders will have an opportunity to reply.

Mr ALBANESE—Four Corners asked Kevin Hennessy, ‘Some scientists believe that there’ll be more environmental refugees. Is that a possibility?’

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: I can’t really comment on that.

JANINE COHEN: Why can’t you comment on that?

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: That’s, that’s, er… No, I can’t comment on that.

JANINE COHEN: Is that part of editorial policy? You can’t comment on things that affect immigration?

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: No, I can’t comment on that.

JANINE COHEN: Can I just ask you why you can’t comment?

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: Not on camera.

JANINE COHEN: Oh, OK. But is it a policy thing?

KEVIN HENNESSY, CSIRO IMPACT GROUP: I can’t comment on that.

And so it goes.

Mr Hunt—An absolutely cowardly attack.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The member for Flinders, if he wants to speak, will remain quiet.

Mr ALBANESE—If you want to see who this attack is on, this is an attack on the government, a cowardly government that hides behind the bureaucrats and officials, that intimidates them, that threatens world-renowned scientists with redundancies if they actually speak about what they are expert in. And these clowns over here have the hide to say that it is us attacking the bureaucrats. These are the clowns that will not allow bureaucrats to answer questions in Senate estimates hearings. These are the clowns that attack independent institutions, world-renowned institutions such as the CSIRO—one of the world’s great science organisations intimidated. And if you want to see it, parliamentary secretary—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr ALBANESE—just have a look at the body language of Mr Hennessy in that Four Corners program last night. Just have a look at the graphic depiction of the intimidation. What we have seen from the government are completely contradictory positions and it was clear last night. I also encourage people to watch the Insight program on SBS in a couple of weeks, because the minister put in an absolute shocker there. He could not explain the contradictions in the government’s position.

These are the government’s contradictions: firstly, that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are on track—‘She’ll be right, mate; we’re doing real well.’ The fact is that, but for land use changes in New South Wales and Queensland, we are headed for a disaster. The Australian Greenhouse Office reports that emissions from energy and transport will be 70 per cent above the 1990 baseline by 2020. The ABARE report given to the climate pact meeting—this is best case scenario, if everything they want to do comes off—indicates a 50 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions. This is at a time when the rest of the world is indicating that we need to move to a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. A great contradiction is there.

The other great contradiction is that somehow ratifying Kyoto will be bad for the economy. We know that they do not actually believe that, because we know that the Treasurer took a proposal to the cabinet in 2003 to introduce a national greenhouse gas emissions trading scheme—and we know that he was knocked over by the Prime Minister. We have asked questions in this House on that basis. The truth is that it is one thing to be a climate sceptic. We know that the industry minister is a climate sceptic. Just last week he was saying that there will be no impact of climate change on the Great Barrier Reef—we know that he does not believe that it is happening. But it is another thing for a government that prides itself on its free market ideology to be a market sceptic. That is what this government is. Due to ideology it has rejected the Kyoto protocol and it has rejected emissions trading—it has actually gone out there and said that it is bad for the economy.

The great contradiction is that, on the one hand they say they are going to meet the target of 108 per cent; on the other hand they say that the Kyoto protocol is bad for the economy. The truth is that the Kyoto protocol is a carrot and a stick. The carrot is that, if you meet your target, you open up economic opportunities—

Mr Hunt interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—Order! The member for Flinders will have an opportunity to reply.

Mr ALBANESE—in what the future economy will look like, in what the future is—the future in areas such as solar energy, which increased globally in 2004, the latest figures, by 65 per cent. Fifteen years ago we were in the position to be the Silicon Valley of the solar industry; now we account for less than one per cent. With the reaching of the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target, and the refusal of the government to get on board and do something about that, we are seeing a decline.

The member opposite, the member for Flinders, talks about the climate pact. We see the climate pact as being positive. We see discussions that are taking place around the world as being positive. But they are extremely limited, because they do not provide a real solution. You need both the push of new technology and the pull of the market to make them happen. One of the government’s favoured ideologue on this, who they brought out from the Pew Centre in the United States, Eileen Claussen, had this to say:

If you really want results you have to do something that’s mandatory. It’s not going to happen with voluntary approaches …

History tells us that good intentions simply are not enough. They certainly are not enough, and surely we should look at cases such as Enron in the United States and James Hardie to see that, unless you intervene and establish a market, you will not get the innovation. It is an absurd position because the government—the Treasurer, the environment minister, the foreign minister—are all on record as saying that what we need here is a price signal, but not yet.

What an absurd proposition. Here we have the carbon market that will be the world’s biggest market. And we are saying, ‘We don’t want to get involved; we want everyone else to have a head start.’ That is why Australia is isolated. The government said that Kyoto would not come into effect—Russia ratified it, and it did. They said emissions trading would not start, and it did on 1 January last year. They said that it would not last beyond the Montreal climate change summit, but that summit saw the world move forward and start negotiations for the global situation post 2012. But we are not around the table for those decisions. Australia and the United States, alone among industrialised countries around the world, are on the outside looking in. We cannot afford that luxury—we need to engage, because younger generations will recall climate sceptics who denied human contribution to climate change as being misguided but those who acknowledge the problem but fail to do anything about it will be judged much more seriously indeed. We need to take action now. We need to take action if we are going to avoid dangerous climate change.