A speech on climate change and Drought.
There is a devastating drought that is gripping many parts of Australia. We've seen media coverage of this recently, and it includes heart-rending imagery of people on the land managing their properties, managing their stock, managing the economic impacts on their families and managing and responding to the economic impacts in their towns. These scenes move Australians here in the chamber and out there in our communities.
More Australians may live in the cities than ever before—we are a fundamentally urban place—but our sense of national identity is still tied up with the outback and with the people who live and work in it. It's difficult to see those images of struggling farmers and not ask the questions: why is this happening? Why is it like this? Why now? The answer that is offered a lot by people who don't want to come to grips with our present reality is to quote Dorothea Mackellar, 'droughts and flooding rains'. They say: 'It's always been like this. It always will be. Nothing's changed.'
Senator Williams interjects and says, 'That's true.' We have had droughts and flooding rains—that is true—but they are getting worse. It is no longer the full story to point to historic variability, because climate change is affecting our weather. It is affecting our weather, our long-term climatic patterns and our agriculture sector. It's intensifying the variability that has always been a feature of the Australian landscape. Included amongst the many people who are paying a price are our agricultural producers.
Earlier today, over in the other place, the opposition leader spoke of a conversation that he'd had with a farmer who runs sheep and cattle out near Longreach. She told him that a lot of farmers—people close to the land—feel like the drought cycles are getting longer and longer and the periods of relief and rain are getting shorter and shorter. And she is right. That is what the scientists are telling us. We are starting to see the impact on Australia's climate, which the scientists have been predicting for years.
We are a land with variable and often harsh weather, but the effect of climate change is to make our weather more variable and more harsh and it's our farmers, often, who pay the price. In 2011, Professor Ross Garnaut updated his review. He commented:
While it is difficult to attribute specific causes to individual severe weather events, climate change is expected to increase the risk of extreme events. The changes include greater frequency (heatwaves, bushfire conditions, floods, droughts), greater intensity (all of these plus cyclones) and changes in distribution (average rainfall).
More recently, the State of the climate 2016report by the CSIRO, our science body, found evidence of exactly that in our weather conditions.
Australia's climate has warmed, with around a 1 °C increase in both mean surface air temperature and surrounding sea surface temperature …
It's a shame people on the other side aren't listening, because these are actually important facts that people may need to engage with. It is a warming of one degree since 1910.
The oceans around us are also warming and ocean acidity levels are increasing. Sea levels have risen around Australia, and the rise in mean sea levels are massively amplified when we get a high tide or a storm surge. We see significantly more impactful events, like we did in North Queensland through Cyclone Yasi and some of the other big events we've had up there. But most telling, if you're a farmer and you're facing drought, is this:
The duration, frequency and intensity of extreme heat events have increased across large parts of Australia.