Has Australia had a federal government with less regard for the environment?

The Abbott government's approach to climate change flies in the face of ever-mounting evidence of the need for an emissions trading scheme.


26 June 2014

NASA has confirmed that the world's 20-hottest years on record have all been since 1990, and 13 of the 14 hottest were all since 2000. The State of the Climate 2014 Report from the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO has therefore called for 'large and sustained net global reductions in greenhouse gases'.


With climate records being smashed in Australia and across the globe, now is the time for action. The US Congress's first priority was a price on carbon, co-sponsored by a senior Republican, John McCain. Unable to pursue that path, President Obama has launched a clean air strategy at a children's asthma centre. The United States is aiming to hit a target of reducing carbon pollution by 17 per cent by 2020. China has a clean air problem too and is putting in place emissions trading schemes in seven cities and provinces, covering more than 200 million people.

As a result of Labor's action in putting a price on carbon pollution the main global investment index for renewable energy placed Australia in the top four places to invest, alongside three powerhouses: China, Germany and the United States. Renewable energy now provides 15 per cent of Australia's electricity; 3.1 million Australians now live and work below a set of solar panels.

A new study by the Clean Energy Council has shown that Australia's renewable energy target can lead to lower power prices in the long run. The government's own figures show the biggest emissions drop in Australia in 24 years: 0.8 per cent overall and 11 per cent in the electricity sector.

And yet, according to a report from the Global Legislators Organisation and the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics which covers 66 nations that account for 88 per cent of global emissions, only two are rolling back their action on climate change. Japan, as a result of Fukushima disaster, and Australia.

Here in the parliament we have had the Abbott government effectively gagging the parliament of any meaningful debate on this vital issue. Prime Minister Abbott claims that he is part of a cadre of disgruntled conservative leaders, but those comments were immediately disavowed by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, who said, 'This government takes climate change seriously. That is … why we're actively involved in international climate change efforts.' In the United Kingdom, David Cameron—a Conservative prime minister—is part of a British emissions trading scheme. Al Gore, in the Great Hall last night, made absolutely clear that a price on carbon is a priority for dealing with climate change.

But the Abbott government's wrecking-ball approach to the environment does not just stop at climate change. There has been a decision by Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt to allow the dumping of three million cubic metres of dredge spoil in Barrier Reef waters at Abbot Point. The budget has ripped funding from grass-roots environmental programs, the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and renewable energy initiatives. It cuts $10 million from the Bureau of Meteorology, $483 million out of Landcare and $2.8 million from the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

In the ACT, the Conservation Council ACT Region has lost its annual federal grant of $50,000—a cut of 20 per cent to its core budget. I commend Clare Henderson and her colleagues for working hard to make that organisation work in the absence of this grant.

As shadow minister for the environment, Mark Butler, has noted, this makes Australia an international laughing stock for our climate record. Strikingly, the World Heritage Committee has had an application to delist a section of world heritage area. That makes Australia only the third country in 40 years, after Oman and Tanzania, that has sought to delist one of its own heritage areas. Thankfully, the committee rejected the application to delist 74,000 hectares of Tasmanian wilderness—a stunning victory for those who spoke up about it.

The tourism potential of areas like the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu supports around 60,000 direct jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity, and yet Prime Minister Abbott and Greg Hunt are stuck in the past on issues of the environment. On climate change, they are still mired in the disappointment of Copenhagen in 2009 and the Prime Minister's comments that climate change was 'absolute crap'. They are unwilling to recognise that the world is moving forward, putting in place emissions trading schemes across the globe. It is ironic that the so-called free-market Liberal party is more hostile to emissions trading markets than the nominally communist country of China.

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8/1 Torrens Street, Braddon ACT 2612 | 02 6247 4396 | Andrew.Leigh.MP@aph.gov.au