SPEECH - LEADERSHIP ON CLIMATE CHANGE - 23 NOVEMBER 2016

Australia needs to step up when it comes to action on climate change. 

Donald Trump's recent election in the United States means that there is now increased uncertainty over the Paris climate change agreement. Even though the president-elect now claims to have an open mind on the agreement, throughout his campaign for the presidency, Mr Trump pledged to cancel it.

At the recent conference of parities, or COP22 meeting held recently in Marrakesh, it was announced that Fiji would be the president of the COP23 meeting in Germany next year. This is a significant achievement for the Fijian government, and one on which I congratulate them sincerely. Hopefully, it will be a defining moment for the debate around climate change. Fiji's Prime Minister Bainimarama, whom I have had the honour of meeting on several occasions, used the appointment to appeal to President-elect Trump for a change of heart and policy on climate change. He said:

Sir, you have said that you do not believe that climate change is man-made … I am especially alarmed by reports that you intend to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which would be disastrous for every person on earth. I appeal to you to show the leadership that the rest of the world expects the United States to take on this issue.

Australia should support this show of policy leadership in this area from one of our largest Pacific neighbours. We also have a significant role to play in meeting our commitments in the Paris Agreement. For our Pacific Island neighbour nations like Fiji, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, this is not only a debate about targets and technology; it is a debate about their very survival.

These island nations are battling not only against rising sea levels but also against more frequent and damaging storms and cyclones. Cyclone Winston, which hit Fiji earlier this year, was the strongest tropical cyclone ever recorded in the Southern Hemisphere, killing 44 people and leaving many homeless. In inviting President-elect Trump to visit his country, Prime Minister Bainimarama brought the consequences of climate change into sharp focus. He said:

We will show you how we are already having to move entire communities out of the way of the rising seas and you can meet the families of the 44 Fijians who were killed last February.

Australians are always generous in helping our neighbours when disaster hits. We were large contributors to help Vanuatu recover from Cyclone Pam in 2015, the Philippines from Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and Fiji from Cyclone Winston earlier this year, but we should not just be worried when a disaster hits. We can take action to reduce our carbon footprint and assist with mitigation efforts.

For example, the IAG's recent report on natural disasters found that every dollar spent on natural disaster mitigation efforts can save at least $2 and help to prevent future losses. The benefits of mitigation are often unseen and expensive, and often we do not fully appreciate them until they are actually needed. It can be a hard policy to prosecute, but it is an absolutely necessary one because, while climate change impacts on all communities, it particularly hurts those who already have the least.

Australia must do more to help our neighbours, and one of the ways we can do this is by taking serious action on climate change. On that point, I was delighted this week to meet with representatives of Micah Australia from my local area.

They are focused on Australia being a good neighbour in our region and helping developing countries who are increasingly being hit by more severe natural disasters. As Micah states: 'Beyond responding to emergencies when they occur, it will be critical that the global community acts decisively to build communities that are resilient in the face of these disasters.'

We on this side of the House completely agree, and we know that that is what the majority of Australians want. Unfortunately, we have a government that is full of climate change deniers and a Prime Minister who is beholden to them. This is despite his once declaring that he would not lead a party that was not as committed as himself to tackling climate change.

Labor believes the science, and we understand the need for real action on climate. That is why we took a comprehensive climate change and energy policy to the last election, including a plan to reduce pollution and increase renewables. If we are serious about meeting our obligations under the Paris Agreement, then the government should strengthen their 2030 targets as well as implement real policies to reduce emissions, especially in the electricity sector.

I and my colleagues on this side of the House will continue to support real action on climate change in this parliament. We stand with the overwhelming majority of nations that are now committed to reducing emissions and stopping the devastating impacts of climate change.

Our Pacific island neighbours like Fiji should not only have Australia's help after natural disaster hits to help them rebuild. We can, and should, do more to make sure their homelands are not washed away by the impacts of climate change.