Question time: climate crisis and our pacific neighbours

The Australian Greens MPs

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:14): My question without notice is to the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Birmingham, representing the Prime Minister. Today, the former President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, has written in The Sydney Morning Herald highlighting that climate change remains the single most pressing security threat to their region. He says that, without radical action, deadly disasters will become more intense and severe, Kiribati will become uninhabitable and there will be a wider global apocalyptic disaster. He calls for serious action on climate, including moratoriums on coal and gas. In this piece, Mr Tong asked our Prime Minister if he is now willing to listen to his Pacific family and take steps to protect all of us and said courage and leadership are what’s needed here. Will the Prime Minister have the courage to listen and act on the climate crisis?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia-Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:15): I thank Senator Faruqi for her question regarding the media comments of the former President of Kiribati. I note the comments. I haven’t read the opinion piece in full, but I have heard some commentary in relation to it, and obviously, Senator Faruqi, you have quoted from it to a degree.

What I would say in that regard is that our government certainly takes our engagement with the Pacific island family of nations very, very carefully and importantly in terms of the approach we take, including on issues of climate change that we know are of very real and genuine concern to our Pacific island family. It is why we have taken every possible step to ensure that, time and time again, when we as a country make commitments in relation to emissions reductions, we meet those commitments and exceed those commitments. It’s why, unlike some other nations, we haven’t sought to outsource activities in relation to the meeting of those commitments either. Indeed, yesterday I gave some figures to Senator Waters about Australia’s rate of emissions reduction relative to other countries that have not achieved comparable rates. Those countries, generally speaking, when it comes to meeting their Kyoto 1 or Kyoto 2 obligations, rely upon international credits purchased elsewhere to be able to offset the emissions within their own country. In Australia, through our work over many years and through the technological change and investments that have occurred across the Australian economy, we have been able to meet and exceed the targets that we have set. And it’s through that continued investment in relation to technology that we will continue to meet and exceed our targets, and build upon those targets in a way that also protects Australian jobs and, indeed, job opportunities for the many Pacific island workers who come and enjoy opportunities in Australia too.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:17): Minister, in an open letter to the Prime Minister published today, 15 Pacific leaders, including Mr Tong, described their homelands and cultures as facing certain devastation from climate change. Does the government acknowledge that the worst impacts of climate change are being felt, and will continue to be felt, in poorer countries, including many in the Pacific region?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia-Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:18): The government does certainly acknowledge the severity that Pacific islanders see in relation to climate change issues. It’s why we engage very seriously and thoughtfully with them on those issues. It’s also why we believe that the first responsibility for a country like Australia, in making commitments as we have done in relation to emissions reduction, is to meet those commitments, and, indeed, to strive to exceed those commitments. It’s why we are pleased that Australia has consistently done that, unlike some others. We also acknowledge that it is, therefore, a global responsibility-you don’t get outcomes in terms of the emissions reduction that Pacific island leaders may wish to see unless other nations not only make commitments but also deliver on those commitments. The delivery is a key part that seems often to be put aside in the virtue-signalling aspects of this debate. For our government, we see delivery as essential, and that’s where our focus is when it comes to emissions reduction.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question?

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:19): Minister, in this open letter is a call for new and additional funding beyond the current aid budget to finance climate mitigation and adaptation under the Paris Agreement, including contributing to the Green Climate Fund. Will the government commit to this? If not, why not?

Senator BIRMINGHAM (South Australia-Minister for Finance, Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:19): Our government has made delivering specific assistance and support to Pacific island nations a great priority, and we see that as important across a range of different areas of policy import. Climate change adaptation and resilience is one of those, and we support work with our Pacific island family in that regard.

Equally, we have scaled up support for Pacific island nations in response to COVID and we’ve delivered additional support focused very directly on Pacific island countries. And there, in building on that COVID support in a financial sense, has also been our acknowledgement of our responsibility in working with those less developed nations, those smaller micronations within our region, for their access to vaccines and to ensure their safety and their economic wellbeing. We take the responsibility of working with those nations across all of those areas, and in other development considerations, very, very seriously.

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