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Estimates Reply – Jaensch

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Thursday, 22 June 2023

Tags: Plastic, Environment, State Budget

Dr WOODRUFF - Mr Chair, I raised a range of issues with the minister on behalf of the people we represent, the many Tasmanians who are concerned about the rapid increase in global temperatures, tipped to increase 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next couple of years. It is a deeply disturbing reality. I questioned the minister for Climate Change about his understanding of the research that has been done by Dr Jen Sanger of the impact of carbon emissions from the burning and clear-felling of native forest in Tasmania by Forestry Tasmania. The annual carbon emissions she has calculated are truly enormous. She estimates there is more than 2.5 times our total transport sector emissions going up in smoke or into atmosphere per year.

This is deeply concerning. When we have escalating climate change we need to be doing everything possible to bring down emissions across every sector. The minister would not answer that question. The department has the ability to cross check that work. On behalf of Tasmanians who are concerned that we are doing everything we can to take strong action on climate change, we would like him to put the attention of staff into having some information about the emissions from our native forest clear-felling and burning sector.

Unless we do that we have a gross figure for the Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry that we report to the federal government as part of our United Nations convention obligations. That is a net figure for the sinks and sources from our native forests. That is not good enough because we need to know how much is being lost every year. It is what we lose that we have to retain.

It is not good enough to think about net zero anymore. All the emissions coming from human activity across the world are adding to planetary heating, which is already beyond the edge in some parts of the planet of habitability. We are in a truly serious place with the jetstream over the United States as we speak being interrupted and with enormous heat islands building up in the seas of the Arctic, in southern United States around Texas and in parts of Europe and northern Europe.

We do not think that this minister is taking his portfolio seriously. He has an incremental slowly, slowly approach, which is the approach he takes to all his portfolios. He has the responsibility for some of the most important issues on behalf of Tasmanians: climate change, environment, Aboriginal affairs, children and young people. These are all weighty responsibilities in each of these portfolios. With all the questions we asked him, we received dithering responses, a lack of understanding of the urgency and seriousness of the issues he is confronting. We are really concerned about that. He could look at the figures and he could look at doing something different. There are choices. His choice is to go with business as usual, which has led us to where we are confronting an uninhabitable planet.

I asked the minister about incentives to transition away from the use of single-use plastics and what he had funded in the Budget for this. The allocation of $100 000 to support businesses in the transition away from single-use plastics is paltry. This is a major shift for human communities. It is not easy to think of alternatives to single-use plastics. There is a reason they are so ubiquitous. They are cheap and plentifully available and they are damn convenient. We have to work hard to find alternatives, but they are out there. Businesses need support to be able to make the shift.

The Liberal Government should be jumping at the idea of giving financial incentives to businesses to help them become more sustainable. Increasingly it is a cost that we will all bear as plastics go to landfill. It is also an environmental cost because so many of them do not end up in landfill.

I also want to talk about the conversations I had with the minister around the Maugean skate. The minister has form for failing to take serious action in his environmental responsibilities. The issue with the Maugean skate is a classic case in point. I asked, on behalf of people who are deeply concerned that the critically endangered Maugean skate may be only one summer marine heatwave event away from extinction, what he was doing to increase the amount of oxygen in Macquarie Harbour and to remove fish farms from the area because they are the primary cause for the loss of the Maugean skate.

His response was that they have reduced the dissolved nitrogen output that is allowed in the aquaculture industry in Macquarie Harbour by approximately 10 per cent compared to 2021 levels. Well, 2021 levels were enormously high and 10 per cent is enormously ineffective. It is a pathetic response. It will make almost no impact on reducing the nutrients that go to the bottom of the basin and that lead to the loss of oxygen.

The other great contribution that the minister for the Environment is making to save the Maugean skate from extinction is to put some money into the Cradle Coast Council to help them with their delivery of a Maugean skate awareness program. What could we possibly teach children or adults about that would be helpful for them to understand how to protect the Maugean skate, other than to teach them about what is pushing it along the road to extinction, which is primarily salmon farming in Macquarie Harbour? Anyway, what can they do that he cannot do as the minister? All he is teaching them, if he is being honest, is that it is about one summer away from becoming extinct.

We do not need awareness from the community, we need awareness from the minister who is responsible and not doing his job. We do not need to put money into educating people that he is monitoring this species to extinction and is knowingly doing it, and that he is avoiding doing all of the actions required to make a significant difference to stop it becoming extinct. We do not need to support any council to have that level of awareness in their community. It is a nightmare, especially for children, to know that there is a minister who is doing nothing effective. We have seen it again today with swift parrots. He has form and he will do nothing except support big business in this regard.