Member for Isaacs

You call this a serious debate Tony Abbott?

01 November 2011

Despite Tony Abbott's four-month-long bricklaying, petrol pumping, fish-slicing fear campaign, Australians continue to engage in the national discussion about climate change.

The Dreyfus Files - The Age

Let it never be said that Australians don't care about politics.

Despite Tony Abbott's four-month-long bricklaying, petrol pumping, fish-slicing fear campaign, Australians continue to engage in the national discussion about climate change.

The opposition's response to our plan to put a price on carbon pollution has now included singing, dancing, Shakespearean recitals, made-up figures, made-up facts, a wall of Weetbix, denial of climate change followed by reluctant acceptance of climate change, and an exploration of the red cordial-induced limits of silliness.

Advertisement: Story continues below Australians could be forgiven for neatly folding up their newspapers, placing them in the recycling bin and disengaging from the debate altogether.

A more cynical observer might suggest that this was perhaps the very point of the opposition's campaign, but Australians haven't walked away. And we haven't because of a simple fact - that the majority of Australians accept the science of climate change and want the government to do something about it.

And now on this fundamental point - on which there is alleged bipartisan support - the silliness campaigners are seeking to attack the internationally-accepted science.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change and Energy Efficiency I respond to a lot of letters and emails. On average, I'd probably write around 25 letters a week to people around the country who take the time to write to me about matters of interest on climate change.

So I was particularly bemused when five-and-a-half sentences from a letter I wrote in May appeared on the blog of one of Australia's most prominent climate sceptics.

The letter was a response to a constituent, who'd asked by how much a carbon price will reduce global temperatures.

I'd explained that the carbon price will deliver Australia's emissions reduction target of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, and save 160 million tonnes of carbon pollution from entering the atmosphere over the same period. That represents what we believe is Australia's fair share.

But because of the seriousness of the problem the world currently faces, and the vast quantity of carbon already in the atmosphere from centuries of unchecked growth in global pollution, our international ambition is to limit global warming to below two degrees.

It is not to reduce global temperatures in the next few years, but to limit the warming.

The alarming thing about the appearance of my letter on the sceptic's blog was that it wasn't the entire letter, but a pdf copy of just the first three paragraphs.

Rather than including the explanation about the realities of climate change and the importance of stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations at 450 parts per million carbon dioxide, the blogger had chopped that crucial detail off.

It's a graphic illustration of how some are seeking to distil this serious and complex debate about climate change to a point of meaninglessness, such that it misleads and misrepresents.

Compounding the silliness, in the last sitting week of Parliament, one sentence from my letter was raised in question time - by the opposition, which used it to argue there's nothing to gain by meeting our 5 per cent target of 2000 levels by 2020.

It was a bizarre approach, given that the official opposition policy is to achieve that exact same target, though of course it has yet to develop a credible policy to achieve it.

It was bizarre too because the Opposition Leader said that very day that he supports the target. Perhaps it was just silliness in the same vein as Liberal Senator Mary Jo Fisher's silly hokey pokey dance, which she performed in the parliament earlier this year.

Or perhaps it was just silliness in the same vein as Tony Abbott's fear campaign on petrol prices, on the price of fish, on the price of cereal and the myriad other things he got wrong, knows he got wrong but hasn't and won't apologise for.

But this is an issue that's too important for silliness. For the sake of our children and our children's children let's hope that in what's left of Tony Abbott's political life, he starts to seriously engage in this discussion.