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Emergency Management Amendment Bill 2018 - Second Reading

19 September 2018
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I support this bill and make a strong plea to the minister to address the key deficiency in this bill, which is the absence of any conversation about climate change. This is a climate emergency. We are all living in a global climate emergency. We are going to be addressing the global climate emergency for the rest of our lives. At the Youth Climate Leaders Conference, Christine Milne told students from across Tasmania who know this and who are gathering for their future that she was sorry that her generation had left their generation with the job of dealing with the impact of climate change.

I am so sorry that we have deluded ourselves, refused to take action, wilfully ignored the evidence in front of us to do what we need to do to make sure that we do not reach a tipping point, which may make this planet uninhabitable for humans and the other plants and animals we share it with.

Last week, millions of people across the planet marched together in solidarity, coalescing in San Francisco for a massive global conference called Rise for Climate. Thousands of people gathered San Francisco at the same time the UN Secretary Antonio Guterre made his maiden speech calling for all the countries in the world to lift our level of ambition on doing what we can to draw down emissions.

So many other leaders around the world are calling for this, yet we have a bill in the House today that does not mention climate change in the same words as emergency management.

More than 32 million people were displaced from their homes in Kerala, India because of the worst flooding they had ever seen. Crops gone and homes gone. Hurricane Florence forced 1 million people to be evacuated from Florida. Hurricane Florence came barrelling across those warmer waters which are warming all the time. The heat in the oceans will come out. None of us can deny physics. This is a global reality. We need to wake up from the delusion that it is happening everywhere except here. In Europe this summer, thousands of people died in a massive heatwave. Puerto Rico is still recovering from a massive drought.

Climate change is intensifying. Meteorologists are contemplating the need for an additional cyclone severity category. Until now there have only been five categories, 1 to 5, of cyclones and hurricanes. The physics of the planet did not enable them to be any stronger. Now they are contemplating category 6. It was not possible until now but we have 5 per cent to 8 per cent more water vapour circulating in the atmosphere than a generation ago. This, combined with warmer water temperatures, is creating the potential for super-storms.

These are being termed grey swan hurricanes or cyclones, which are distinguishing them from those black swan storms, which are totally unpredictable and unavoidable.

The point that meteorologists are making is that these are not unpredictable or unavoidable. These are perfect storms that we are creating. We humans are continuing to create the level of emissions on the planet which is causing warming, going into the oceans and being released as water vapour and warmer waters that create the conditions for these storms that are foreseen and can be systematically prepared for.

Let us look at the experience of eastern Australia. How wonderful that Tasmanians have made such a contribution to farmers in the eastern parts of Australia with the worst drought many of those farmers have had in their living memory. It has been devastating. Whole communities have been decimated. There have been terrible scenes and stories of people who have had to put down animals starving and dying. We have had fires across New South Wales all winter; not one aberrant fire but multiple fires. Now fire agencies have come out and said there is no such thing as a fire season. We can have fires now all across the year. This has huge implications for fire management, funding, volunteering and being able to conduct prevention burning activities.

Sometimes I hear the mistaken view that Tasmania will get off lightly with climate change. Maybe 10 years ago when there was an opportunity and the space was there for the world to take action on bringing down climate change emissions, there was the possibility that that might have been the case. There was the possibility that we might have been able to push down on emissions and cruise through with only 1.5 degrees of extra warming in the atmosphere - the absolute maximum that science says we can possibly reach before we have some tipping point in the climate system - but we chose not to do that. As a global community we have had a decade of sitting on our hands, arguing about and even contemplating putting in the Adani coal mine. We have wasted 10 years of fighting that we could have had a climate change emergency plan for Australia. We could have got on with doing our bit to do everything we can to make this climate less bad than it is going to be, because that is where we are up to. It seems that there is no possibility of preventing the worst of climate change but we can certainly do everything we can to make it less bad than it would otherwise be.

It is not going to be the case that we will have a little uptick in Tasmania because maybe we will have a nice variety of grapes we can grow that we did not used to be able to before, or perhaps there will be prawns on the east coast. That is not so bad; okay, we will lose the giant kelp but we will get the prawns. That is totally misunderstanding the way nature works. We have evolved our system. Every climate system has its background level and Tasmania's background level has adapted our trees and plants, the agriculture that we practice; all of this has been adapted to the system and the climate we have here in Tasmania. Regardless of the fact that India may have reached the highest temperature ever recorded of 51 degrees, we may not get 51 degrees in Tasmania. That is good but we do not need to have many more degrees before our animals and plants cannot survive or adapt and go anywhere else. The fish that are trying to survive on the east coast in the warmest waters on the planet will fall off the continental shelf because they have nowhere else to go. There is no other place for them to go. It is not like they can move around.

There were alpine fires that occurred in 2016 but I notice there has not been an updated review on those fires. That is how low a priority our wilderness is. It is a great place to stick commercial development into and try to flog it to get some more tourists, but as for looking after it with a plan and retaining the elements of wilderness we can, that is not on this Liberal Government's agenda. We know that if we keep as intact as it is we have the best possible chance of keeping those plants and animals and allowing them to be able to adapt because they have more space to go and their place has not been damaged.

Nothing is going to flourish on the east coast that is there now if we have sea urchin barrens. The terrible story coming out of IMAS and the research there is that sea urchin barrens are predicted across all of the eastern coast to wipe out the rocky reefs. I believe 30 per cent of the rocky reefs is the figure being discussed, with only three years to go. To the naïve person who does not know the science maybe 70 per cent is okay - 'If you lose three out of 10 bits of the rocky reef, that's okay'. Wrong. You only have to lose a few per cent because the problem with sea urchins is that once they are there they just keep multiplying. We have to be proactive in keeping our systems strong. The way we keep them strong is to make sure we do not overfish the rock lobsters which will be the only defence we have against sea urchins wiping out the whole of the east coast.

Again, it is not a case of maybe making an industry out of sea urchins. I guess we could take a bleak view of the world and say, 'Okay, let's wipe out the abalone, rock lobster, scallop, finfish and scale fish industries and we'll have sea urchins instead'. That is a possibility. We could think of the world like that but it is a pretty bleak way of thinking and not the way I choose to think. I choose to think that we need to be proactive about issues like protecting the environment so we have the best chance as Tasmanians of having resilience in the future.

We have a tipping point in the global climate system and it is coming way too fast. There are pictures of methane bubbling up out of the Arctic waters, a very bad sign. The oceans are the lungs of the planet and we need the oceans to circulate oxygen. We desperately need to get on to the problem of waste in the oceans and industrial-scale fishing of fish, of whales, that circulate the oxygen and the plant matter from the bottom of the ocean and bring them up. The whales have operated as the lungs of the ocean. We have evolved our planet along with the whales. That is the job they provide us. That is the system we have evolved within. That is the service they provide us. Do we care about the Japanese killing whales? Yes, we do because we need those whales.

We are already in a climate emergency and that means everything we do as individuals counts, but most of all leadership counts and we have to have swift and decisive action to bring down global climate emissions. For Tasmania that means bringing emissions down across every single sector. We have to stop hiding behind the story that Tasmania's carbon emissions are low because the forestry industry has been hiding the growth of trees. After the global financial crisis crashed the market and the forestry industry slowed down, that growth of trees has been hiding the reality that emissions from other sectors such as transport, agriculture, infrastructure. Other sectors in Tasmania are not going down. We have to address that reality because it is hard to bring down the emissions from those sectors and we have to do everything we can now to put that into place.

We have a big task to save the planet from becoming an uninhabitable place. I am up for it and that is why I am here and that is why I was elected to parliament because I represent people who voted Greens because they want us to focus on these issues for our children, for our future as a community and for all the other plants and animals we share this beautiful island with.

It was John Donne who said so beautifully, and I wonder why the minister is smiling at that -

Mr Ferguson - I am enjoying everything you are saying. It is just that it is not related to the legislation we are debating.

Dr WOODRUFF - Fascinating.

Mr Ferguson - Yes, it is.

Dr WOODRUFF - That is really interesting that you would do that; interesting that you would smile in this conversation. I will have a lot to say about how this bill directly relates to it.

Madam SPEAKER - Order. Through the Chair please.

Dr WOODRUFF - John Donne made the very relevant and important point that no man, woman or child is an island entire of itself. Tasmania cannot be utterly unaffected by the changes in the climate system.

Coming to this bill, minister, since you asked, what the Premier must do is to put the Ministerial Committee for Emergency Management on a war footing. This is a climate emergency and that is exactly what emergency is defined to be in the principal act. The principal act says:

An emergency is an event that endangers, destroys or threatens to endanger or destroy human life, property or the environment or causes or threatens to cause injury or distress to persons and requires a significant response from one or more of the statutory services.

Minister, you might like to quibble with whether you could call climate change an event itself. It causes events. Is it an event? Instead we could go to part B, the definition:

Or emergency means a significant threat of the occurrence of an event of a kind referred in the first paragraph, a result of which it is appropriate to take measures -

  • to prevent that possible resulting event; or
  • to mitigate the risks associated with that threat and that possible resulting event.

We cannot prevent the effects of climate change because we are living with climate change but we can mitigate the risks. That is what we have to do. It is not that we can do it; we have to do it. We have to mitigate the risks associated with that threat and that possible resulting event.

Emergency management in relation to the Ministerial Committee for Emergency Management, emergency management means:

The planning, organisation, coordination and implementation of measures that are necessary or desirable to prevent, mitigate, respond to, overcome and recover from an emergency.

It is clear that as the first and most important task for the Ministerial Committee on Emergency Management, the Premier needs to focus on responding to climate change, focus on a whole of Tasmania system response to climate change, focus on the sectors of transport. What do we do if we are not able to get fuel onto this island? Liquid fuel travels across the oceans. We have to stop using liquid fuel. How are we going to do that in Tasmania? We cannot wait for the time when we might have electric cars in the far off future.

What do we do about food? What is our food supply plan? What engagement do we have with industries? Should it be regulatory or voluntary? I find it so interesting the member for Lyons, Mr Shelton, is sitting there smirking at these conversations as though they are something to be light-

hearted about. I actually take the issue of food security for Tasmania very seriously and I take the issue seriously of what we would do if there was some global infectious disease pandemic, given that the national response to a global influenza pandemic would be to shut down the borders of each state. What do we do in Tasmania? What is the plan, Minister for Health? What is the plan for getting food and other necessary things to this island in that situation? How do we do that? What is the education and training that we must be providing to our children in primary and high schools, colleges and universities, to equip them for the future that they will inherit, to give them the skills to navigate that volatile and extreme climate.

The member for Braddon, Dr Broad, talked about the fact that we might have, we probably will have, floods and fires. We definitely will have floods and fires, there is no doubt that. They definitely will be happening more often than they do now and they will be more volatile than they are now. That is the nature of having more water vapour in a global climate system.

What we can do, we must do, what an emergency response to climate change must include is how we reduce our emissions.

Madam Speaker, the Premier has a huge task in front of him. I would like to say I have every confidence in his ability to carry it out, but given he has chosen not to be here this week, and has hitched his wagon to the Chinese Communist Party, I am deeply concerned that he does not understand the reality of the world that we live in, and that he has a very foolish and naïve idea about how to ensure the health and wellbeing for all Tasmanians for the future. If he somehow thinks that signing away Tasmania's sovereignty to a foreign government in any way or another is going to be a good thing for Tasmania, if he thinks it is more important than ensuring that we have comprehensive statewide, war footing approach to dealing with the climate change emergency, he is not fit in the role that he has.

Minister, I hope you will respond to my comments about climate change, and I hope that you will take it very seriously because the constant absence of the words 'climate change' in every second reading speech since I have been in parliament is disturbing.

I am grateful that there are fantastic children across Tasmania who will shortly be coming into this place and taking control of the decisions here because they know what we need to act on to secure our future, and they are getting ahead and doing it.