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Climate Change is ALP Business

December 1, 2011

An op-ed I wrote, published in The Australian today, to accompany the release of the statement on sustainability and climate change:

The passage of carbon pricing this month is the end of a bumpy and bruising process. We might have had a scheme in December 2009 if Kevin Rudd’s legislation had not been blocked when the Green Party in the Senate voted with the Coalition. Of course, if John Howard had won a fifth term, he would have been bound to implement a promise for an emissions trading scheme based on cap and trade. We would have had “a big bad tax” under the Coalition.

But enough of the alternative histories. The legislation is in place. And the Federal Labor Government could be forgiven if it wanted to put the contentious politics behind it. It might be drawn to distance itself from carbon pricing, to dedicate itself to economic management, health, education and industrial relations.

A generation of state Labor premiers and chief ministers held office when changes in climate were first beginning to worry Australians. We don’t now want to see the issue become a fifth order one. Climate change can’t be seen as a nature conservation issue alone. It can’t be left as a slogan for the Green Party which after all, delayed carbon pricing by two years. In our view, climate should be a core Labor Party concern.

Of course, even if we were inclined to relegate it, circumstances will correct us.

Tuesday saw the release of research providing the first snapshot of climate change altering the dynamics of the Southern Ocean. It confirmed the more rapid melting of Antarctic ice sheets, the ocean becoming less salty and the waters becoming more acid.

Our focus has been on chemical changes on the earth’s upper atmosphere – overwhelmingly believed by scientists to be caused by human activity and to be the cause, in turn, of global warming. But this might be overtaken by a new anxiety about the state of our oceans as they struggle to absorb the surplus carbon being pumped out by the world’s coal-fired power plants.

Until John Howard, seeking re-election, took up the issue of climate change in 2007, all the action was at the State level. For example, in 1996, the government I led in New South Wales introduced the first controls on broad-acre land clearing. Peter Beattie did the same in Queensland in 2007. These actions restrained what had previously been a “let it rip” approach to tearing out Australia’s native vegetation on farms. The state-level restraints were responsible for Australia coming close to meeting its Kyoto obligations, even though, until Kevin Rudd, we’d never signed the treaty.

In January 2003, New South Wales launched the world’s first carbon trading scheme, the NSW Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme. It was introduced a full two years before the European scheme and is treated by the World Bank as the world’s first.

Steve Bracks in 2005 employed Ross Garnaut to prepare a cap and trade scheme for all the States to sponsor. Victoria then bequeathed its work to the incoming Rudd Government. Mike Rann is able to boast that if South Australia were a country, not a State, it would be second only to Denmark in terms of wind power generation. Geoff Gallop saved the old growth forests of Western Australia, huge breathing carbon sinks that had been slated for logging.

As the Labor Party gathers for its National Conference, marriage equality and uranium exports make the headlines. But climate change must not be relegated: following through on the legislation must be core for this Labor government.

Great Labor leaders of the last century stood up for workers rights, public services, economic modernisation and national security. Their names will be invoked in speeches by a party proud of Curtin, Chifley, Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. In a like spirit, the Labor leaders of this century will need to continue to fight, and fight again, to see a resilient Australia liberate itself from over-dependence on destructive fuels and help steer the world that way as well.

  1. Jock O'Neill permalink
    December 1, 2011 10:38 am

    Australia’s 130,000 Disabled Diggers had their pensions downgraded by 11.4% in September ’09 as part of the ALPs sustainable pensions review. This reduction amounts to $3,200 of legislated theft annually from the families of our most severely disabled and blinded servicemen and servicewomen.
    Men and women already on welfare level replacement income for their inability to no longer engage in waged employment due to their wounding.
    They gave their health and life’s dreams for our defence and foreign policy and this is how our government rewards them. Yet our politicians will make the most of photo opportunities and promotions from shedding crocodile tears at the Diggers graveside to being seen supping with the troops.
    There is no shame in these politicians minds only use and abuse for our Diggers in their hour of need.

  2. Pip permalink
    December 1, 2011 11:47 am

    The Rudd government raised the Age and Disability pensions in 2009.

    Great post Bob and another here from Cafe Whispers.

    The Great Southern Warming

    • Jock O'Neill permalink
      December 2, 2011 6:12 pm

      .Correct Pip the Rudd government did raise the pension’s level on 20.09.2009 with a one off boost increase of 2.7% of the average wage. The payment was described as “maintaining the purchasing power of your pension increase” and promoted as part of that year’s Federal Budget as a sustainable review of pensions.

      However the Department of Veteran Affairs Disability Pension was the only government funded pension not afforded the increase. 130,000 wounded Diggers and their families were singled out for special treatment, special legislation blocking this one off increase to their pensions.

      This was against previous bi partisan supported legislation of 2007 initiated by the ALPs Alan Griffin that linked DVA Disability Pensions to movement in the services equivalent of the age pension. (The Rudd government raised one but not the other).

      The ALP broke this link creating the loss of parity between the DVA Disability Pension and other government pensions. Not counting the loss of relative income when compared to community income levels. This effectively downgraded the income of our most wounded servicemen and servicewomen by $3,200 per year. The message the ALP is our wounded is that their pension is not worthy of the increase that all other pensions received

  3. Lynda Newnam permalink
    December 1, 2011 2:50 pm

    Great, we need more publicity for Blue Carbon and for seagrasses to be recognised as carbon sinks. Seagrasses, mangroves and saltmarshes are possibly the most intense carbon sinks on the planet. A recent study of Botany Bay sediments has revealed that since European settlement their composition has changed from largely “blue” carbon sources like seagrasses, mangroves and salt marshes to microalgal sources resulting in an estimated 100-fold loss to their carbon capturing ability. While healthy seagrasses are brilliant at capturing and storing carbon, unhealthy seagrasses do the opposite. So the consequences for not protecting seagrasses are highly significant. You can get an idea of how little value is placed on our local marine environment by the following example. As part of the conditions of approval for the Port Botany Expansion in 2005 the then Minister for Planning required the Penrhyn Estuary and the area off Foreshore Beach to be ‘valued’ for ‘offsets’. This was in anticipation of the loss of Penrhyn as bird habitat and loss of seagrasses and saltmarsh. The 3.4ha of bird habitat at Penrhyn was valued at $340,000; the 1.4ha of Saltmarsh at $980,000 and the 6.5ha of Seagrass at $900,000. Using these values and government figures on the size of the Bay and the extent of remaining Seagrass and Saltmarsh, and allowing the Penrhyn habitat valuation to cover the remainder, we end up with an overall value for the natural environment of Botany Bay at $954,345,000 – which is less than the cost of the Port Expansion.

  4. scott permalink
    December 2, 2011 2:35 am

    In “the Australian”? Still keeping bad company, Bob?

  5. D. John Hunwick permalink
    December 2, 2011 1:39 pm

    While Carr’s history is biased towards labor, the underlying message cannot be overlooked – a continuing strong focus on climate change is needed. If Labor is unable to maintain momentum on the changes necessary to deal with such a ‘wicked’ problem then our children and ggrandchildren will live to curse us for our hypocrisy in professing one thing (concern for society and what supports it) and our disregard for maintaining the environmetn on which we all depend.

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