Matters of Public Importance - Climate Change

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (17:33): I congratulate Senator Roberts for bringing this matter before the chamber. It would be interesting to have a debate about something where you did not have the Greens sniggering and carrying on with their normal 'we know better than everyone else' thing. What now passes as debate from the Greens in this chamber seems to be them running around with tinfoil hats. This is a serious subject. You may not agree with the mover of the motion, but the debate should be treated with some seriousness rather than having the childish behaviour we see from the Greens political party—but that is nothing new.

I have dealt with Senator Roberts before he was Senator Roberts, when he was a constituent of mine in Queensland, and we have had some long discussions on this issue. I do not have the expertise and—I always make this clear—I do not have any scientific understanding or background. I have a commonsense approach to different things. But I do know that Australia emits less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions. If carbon emissions are the cause of alleged global warming—I try to stay agnostic on that debate—then Australia's emissions of less than 1.2 per cent of the world's carbon emissions makes Australia a very small player. If remedial action has to be taken then Australia should play its part when everybody else plays their part. When the big emitters like China, America, Russia and the European Union get their emissions down to less than 1.2 per cent of the world's emissions then Australia should step up. What I say now is my own view. I do not necessarily speak for the government in this particular debate.

I had a visit earlier this afternoon from the Micah group. I was delighted to hear from Salama, a young lady from Kiribati who is worried about her island homeland going under water. I feel for her and I said to her that, if there is anything I can do to help, I will be happy to do it. I will speak to Julie Bishop about where our foreign aid goes and whether more can be diverted towards reconstruction and resilience in relation to the changing climate of the world. The changing climate of the world has been happening since mankind came to this earth. As I keep saying—everyone laughs at this—we were once covered in ice, so of course the climate changes. It always has. As I said to Salama, I do not want to understate this, but I know there are other Pacific Islands that have gone under the waves in the last couple of hundred years. It has happened in the Torres Strait and people have had to be moved of these islands. That has been happening. It is not a new happening.

People always say to me—my briefing notes even say so—that the number of days per year over 35 have increased in recent decades and there has been an increase in fire weather. I live in North Queensland and I have lived there for most of my life. People say to me, 'These cyclones are becoming more frequent and they're becoming intense.' So they tell me. Sorry, I have lived there. I have lived through 60 years of cyclones and I know what they are like. People say to me, 'This is the biggest cyclone we've ever had since 1920,' and 'The Brisbane floods were the biggest floods we've ever had because of climate change since 1928.' It is always since some other time. These things have been happening for a long time.

As I say, I have no scientific knowledge—I bow to those who do—and I think Senator Roberts might. I simply work on the basis that if this is the cause for the changing climate, then Australia, which emits less than 1.2 per cent, is doing far more than it needs to. I am pleased the government is involved. There is some money as a result of the Paris Agreement. As I understand it, there is a bit of money put aside, but it will be run by Australia and will come out of the foreign aid budget in any case. It will just be a question of where it is directed. I hope some of it might go to Kiribati to help that island, but as I said to Salama, 'I'm sorry to say this, but nothing Australia does and nothing the world does is going to make a long-term difference to islands like yours. I'm sorry, but somewhere into the future you will have to look at resettlement, as has happened in times gone past.' I repeat that when other countries who emit big amounts of carbon dioxide get down to Australia's level, then Australia should do more.

Notwithstanding that, I do support my government's approach in reducing emissions and reducing particulates going into the atmosphere. I am quite happy about that for reasons other than climate change. As a result of the good work the Turnbull government and, before that, the Abbot government have done, there are a number of initiatives that encourage Australians to look at alternatives to fossil fuel emissions. One of them is the Emissions Reduction Fund which, through using Australian carbon credit units, can mean that beef producers in Australia can get more productivity out of their herds. At the same time, through targeted feeding supplementation through improved feed quality and improved weaning rates, managing the herd age and installing fencing to control herd movements it has actually meant that these beef properties are run more productively, more efficiently and, therefore, more profitably. As a result of that, they increase the opportunities for employment. This is particularly important in northern Australia, where some of the very large beef cattle herds currently operate. The Meat and Livestock Australia analysis found that improved management activities for a herd of 10,000 animals on pastoral lands could generate annual productivity gains of $40,000 to $80,000. These returns are in addition to revenue from the sale of carbon credits. So there is an upside to some of these arrangements that have been made. I am pleased to say that farmers—probably more than the Greens political party and their supporters—understand how important climate change is, acknowledging that the world has always had climate change and that the climate of the world continually changes from what it was years ago.

I thank Senator Roberts for not only this motion but for a number of other things he has raised in the Senate. We are now able to have a debate on this subject without going on with the childish name-calling that we get from the Greens political party. I have made it clear to Senator Roberts privately and now publicly that I do not always necessarily agree with everything he says. I am not quite sure that this is a world bankers' conspiracy. I do not know anything about it, but I do not imagine that is right. But Senator Roberts does have some scientific background that most of the other senators who have participated in this debate simply do not have. Thank you, Senator Roberts, for raising it. Thank you for allowing us in this Senate now to have a rational debate about this. For years that I have been here, if you even suggested that you did not go along with the Greens' political correctness, followed by the Labor Party view that you had to have a carbon tax, you were an absolute pariah. It is this juvenile debate that the Greens and the Labor Party went on with over the last 10 or so years that I am pleased has now come to an end. You can have a rational debate with, it appears, in Senator Roberts' case, someone who has some scientific understanding of the issues for and against it. Thanks very much for bringing this up for debate, Senator Roberts. I do not necessarily agree with you, but thanks for raising it. (Time expired)

Back to List