Young and old people are feeling the stress of climate change inaction from this government

December 02, 2019

This week marks 10 years since the coalition and the Greens voted down Labor's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, and where do we find ourselves? Emissions are still going up, power prices are going up and the promises of the CPRS, which were lower emissions, better jobs for Australians and lower power prices have not been delivered. The implementation of the CPRS would have resulted in Australia's greenhouse gas emissions being between 27 and 81 million tonnes lower in 2020 than currently projected. The CPRS was supported by Liberal senators Sue Boyce and Judith Troeth. As printed in The Guardian today, my colleague Pat Conroy, the shadow minister assisting for climate change, gave a speech at the ANU. He is right when he said:

The Coalition and the Greens bear a heavy responsibility for the fact that, a decade later, Australia still does not have an effective policy to tackle climate change by reducing emissions.

The Greens' decision to side with the Liberal and National parties to defeat Labor's CPRS in the Senate in 2009 was a massive error of political judgement with far-reaching consequences. We are facing a climate change emergency in this country, and this is undisputed. There is widespread agreement among experts about the risk posed by climate change and about the policy responses needed to reduce Australia's carbon emissions at the lowest cost to our economy, and yet there is now a breakdown in consensus on climate-change policy in Australia.

In the Northern Territory, Darwin already has an average of 22.2 days per year over 35 degrees Celsius, up from 5.6 days a century ago. Without rapid cuts to greenhouse pollution, in 2030 Darwin is likely to have 132 days—that is, four months—over 35 degrees Celsius per year and 275 days, or eight months, over 35 degrees Celsius each year in 2070. We have a rich ecosystem of plants, animals and sea life in the Territory carefully cared for by First Nations rangers. First Nations people have been looking after this land over nearly 60,000 years.

I want to talk about my community in the Gulf country for the Yanyuwa, Garawa, Marra and Gurdanji peoples. The mangroves around the seabeds of the Yanyuwa sea lands are dying. Each time we go out on the water with the rangers, even when I took my family out there and when I took a group of school students out there, the dramatic change in just a few months and certainly over the last 12 months really frightens us. It certainly frightens the elders because we haven't seen anything like it. When I speak to some of the old people about what's going on there, there are lots of thoughts but we are really fearful for country. Urgency really is needed in many of our places but I speak particularly in this instance about the Anyuwar seabed and mangrove country.

Traditional owner Patsy Evans visited the site in the Gulf of Carpentaria recently as well and said: 'This is bad, worse, unbelievable. I can't even believe what is happening here.' She said she wanted policymakers to see how climate change was affecting the land near the Limmen river area, 750 kilometres south of Darwin. She said that we should go out and see what's happening, be aware, look at it and don't make decisions where you are. Here I am passing on her call.

When Patsy Evans was out there in the Limmen Bight area, she talked about that area of land and of her concern. She says, 'Go out and see what's happening.' She's talking to everybody, saying: 'Go out and see what's happening. Be aware, and look at it. Don't make decisions where you are.' That urgency that she feels, and other traditional owners feel—not just in the gulf region but right around the Arnhem Land coastline across to the west, they are seeing the changes and are raising these very same things, especially the rangers who are working on country. So I'm certainly passing on the call of Patsy Evans: find out what's happening in remote Australia and see how climate change is having an impact, not just down here in the south. We have seen tremendous examples, which are just frightening, for people in the south. But please, make sure you're checking out what's going on in northern Australia.

Mangroves are a vital ecosystem. They are nurseries for the mud crab, barramundi and prawn fisheries—or they once were, where it was really abundant. But, sadly, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, the once vibrant mangrove forests consist mainly of dead trees and dusty earth. It is truly unbelievable. The few live seedlings coming through are exposed and vulnerable to damage from the fallen dead trees. And that means no bush tucker for people who may live many kilometres from the local stores—but just because they want to go out there and look after country. Ms Evans also said that through the mangroves you get a lot of bush tucker, mud mussels and shells. But they're all dead, and it makes her feel really sad. Well, she's not alone with that. It's something that all the communities are talking about.

In Darwin Harbour there's a small island called Bare Sand Island, or Ngulbitjik; it's shaped like a teardrop. Here Australian flatback turtles have chosen their natural breeding ground. And the waters around Bare Sand Island support significant numbers of foraging green and hawksbill turtles. While the island provides an ideal habitat for breeding, with only a few jabirus and some weedy plants posing a threat to the species, still only one in 2,500 hatchling turtles is expected to survive to adulthood. Both species are vulnerable to extinction under Australian classification. Global warming poses serious threats to sea turtle populations, since sex determination and hatching success are dependent on the nest temperature.

Young and old people are feeling the stress of climate change inaction from this government. According to a national survey of young Australians by Mission Australia into young people, the number of people who said the environment was a key national issue has more than tripled, from 9.2 per cent to 34.2 per cent in just one year. In the Northern Territory, it's gone from 10.3 per cent to 27.3 point per cent, and this is causing great stress to our youth. According to a 2010 report, 'Impact of climate change on the Northern Territory', if current emission rates continue, climate change is predicted to cost Australian households roughly $20,000 per year, and that's not including the impact of extreme weather events.

Industry such as cattle exports will be affected, and also tourism. The NT's cattle exports are projected to decline by 19.5 per cent by 2030, and that's all due to climate change—19.5 per cent. In Kakadu National Park, on the land of the Mirarr people there, 80 per cent of Kakadu's beautiful freshwater wetlands are predicted to be destroyed in the next 50 years. The low flood plain makes it vulnerable to even a minimal sea level rise. In Central Australia, outdoor tourism during summer is already becoming hazardous. It's just too hot—simply too hot.

We are facing a climate emergency in this country, and there is a breakdown in consensus on climate change policy in Australia. People are waiting for action on climate change. The people across Australia—especially when we see students and so many people come together calling on legislators, wherever we may be—are calling on all of us and saying: 'Please act—please. Look after country.' It's a call that's echoed by First Nations people when they look at country and see the dramatic changes, see the different flood levels just in the Katherine region, the Arnhem region and across to the west. When you hear the old people talk about changes in weather patterns you know this mob have seen things that are unexplainable in terms of some of the areas, but we know that it is a climate emergency out there.

MATTERS OF URGENCY Climate Change SPEECH Monday, 2 December 2019

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