Senator MOORE (Queensland) (5.28 pm)-In commencing, I want to acknowledge the work done by Senator Nettle and, in particular, by Senator Milne in bringing the Migration (Climate Refugees) Amendment Bill 2007 before us. It gives us the opportunity to again debate in this place the genuine issues around climate change and also the real responsibilities that we have in Australia to accept our part in what must be a global response to a global problem. Certainly we are looking now-immediately and not some time in some nebulous future-at a crisis occurring in many parts of the South Pacific. The evidence is there. One of the clear differences between the debate we were able to have this afternoon and ones which we have been able to have in the past in this place is that there is no confusion or argument about the reality of the problem. That shows that we have moved forward together and that the amazing amounts of evidence that are before us and have been building up over a long period of time indicate that there is no room for doubt that the impact of climate change on our environment has had a devastating impact on communities across the world. Whilst in the South Pacific and in the Oceania region it is something with which people live on a daily basis, we in Australia can sometimes distance ourselves from the problem because we can pretend that it is elsewhere.
Certainly many people who live in Australia, if they took the time to consider the evidence, to listen to the reports and to engage in the necessary community discussions, would understand that many of the climate change issues that are impacting on us are also affecting others. We have before us and we understand the impact of the major horror of the drought on many parts of Australia, the land changes and also the effect of temperature changes. We would be able to make the links to show that environmental changes are impacting on each of us daily. However, the luxury of being able to remove ourselves from the equation is not one which is shared by people who are living on islands in Oceania and the South Pacific.
Several weeks ago I was able to meet with a delegation of people from Tuvalu. I had to admit a certain ignorance, with my appalling geography, of knowing exactly where Tuvalu was. I was able to get a copy of the globe and, with their help, find the very small islands that are Tuvalu. There were also some women with them from Kiribati, another part of the world of which I had heard but have not been able to visit. I was largely ignorant of the issues that were facing them as a community. They could not take an objective view of the impact of climate change. Their personal experiences and the photographs that they brought with them to the meeting showed that their land is disappearing. That makes a confronting argument. It is no longer theoretical; it is no longer academic. It is not something you could include in a footnote. Where you were able to have animals, where you were able to walk, where you were able to gather as recently as three or four years ago is now under water. The positive aspect is that the people are receiving international support. Years ago it was only a few dedicated enthusiasts in the area that took the time to acknowledge the problems, study them, examine them and bring them back into the wider debate. Now, through very strong international environmental links, the knowledge that is gained by working with the people in those areas can be brought immediately back into the debate, which we must all have.
There is no argument that the land is disappearing. There is no argument that the long-term prognosis is that some of these whole communities are going to cease to exist. It is not something that people are happy about, certainly. It is not something from which we can distance our communities in Australia. It is our clear responsibility as global citizens to find out about what is happening, to identify what the causes are and, most importantly, to share that knowledge and to support the people who are living with this reality. In that context we must continue with the amazing work of so many of our academics across a range of institutions in this country. There is academic knowledge, scientific knowledge and the work of centres of excellence that have been established at several universities in our country. They have been working, studying and being part of global knowledge-sharing on the issues of climate change and environmental progress. We have responsibilities individually and as a community to change the way we live and to acknowledge that every change must have a reaction. We are able to work with the world to make a difference and to help people who may not have a future if we do not make these decisions. The bill that Senator Nettle has brought before us puts forward one solution. Whilst that is not a solution with which the ALP is currently totally in support, it should be debated. We should see the focus of that bill as part of whatever response we as an Australian community must make. The very sense that there are people who will be made homeless, who will have their futures curtailed, who will not be able to stay living on their land-the very fact that those people will exist-must be acknowledged openly. Australia must take some role in looking at an international solution, whether that means we should take a certain number of people or whether that means there should be a new visa status created. I share the views Senator Bartlett put forward at the end of his contribution. I am uncomfortable with just creating a new visa category in our immigration process. I do not accept that that is the best step forward. We do accept and acknowledge that there will be people on our globe that will be climate change refugees. It is something about which we must make long-term plans. We must see how we, as a country, can work with other services, not just our immigration program.
Of course our immigration program will have a role to play in whatever the Australian government is prepared to move forward with. We have heard a number of speakers this afternoon wax lyrical about the way the Australian immigration program operates. While there are problems and there have been problems-many of them have been identified in this place and in wider reviews of the way our immigration program operates-I think there is real strength in many of the processes that are in place through the department of immigration. There is real commitment and professionalism by so many of their staff. I think that using that skill and knowledge is one of the steps that we could take in looking at what we could do as part of a global response. So using, reviewing and understanding the way the current immigration system operates is a threshold issue. That must be done. How we then look at the various claims from people who are seeking immigration support must be considered amidst all the other things that are in front of any government looking at long-term policy. The immigration process is one response. But, building on that, we must also use the knowledge and the skills of so many other parts of our Australian government services. Certainly the Australian Labor Party has long supported the concept of effectively working with our aid budget, through the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to look specifically at how we can work with communities so that they can play a role in developing their own futures. Working with the effective people who are currently in the AusAID program, we would be able to work with people in their own countries to establish specific areas of research and support and to make short-term and long-term plans for their futures. Indeed, that must be the process that we would all be following. It is not imposing a solution from outside, because, when that happens, that dismisses the history, the knowledge and the experiences of the people who are most in need of support. That process could be extended to all areas where there is a need for support. Having outside assistance identified and then imposed on any community may offer some short-term relief, but, as a long-term solution, it is not the best way to go. Certainly there must be an ongoing effort in this country to look at any of our overseas activities. The last AusAID program particularly looked at our closest neighbours. So many of the people who are confronted by the immediate impact of climate change on their land are our neighbours, so not only do we have a neighbourly responsibility because they are people who live closest to us but we also have an established responsibility in international support in the aid program.
There has been some particularly interesting work done linking some of the Millennium Development Goals, which we have talked about many times in this place, to the impact of climate change and looking at how the MDGs can be implemented in various countries. Using the established programs that we have and using the skills and the commitment of people who are already working in the field, we need to make sure that an awareness of climate change impacts and environmental impacts of any decision is linked into the planning processes and also the evaluation processes of planning that is done. Just by taking that one step, we keep the message before all of us and before the people across the globe.
We must accept that Australians cannot self-assess themselves out of this issue. It is not enough that we understand the impact of climate change on our own environment-and that is becoming much more widely accepted and people are thinking about that. As recently as yesterday, we heard a submission from Australian Seniors talking about the issues that their extensive survey shows Australian citizens over 50 are interested in as we head towards the next election. What were the things which they were concerned about? For the first time environmental issues-the issues of climate change and of our land, our climate, our wonderful resources, water, air quality and all of those things-and their impact on citizens were identified. Our seniors identified that they were concerned about what kind of world they were going to be leaving to their children and grandchildren. It was a key issue in the Australian Seniors survey.
It would be useful if that awareness and knowledge about our own environment were extended to understanding the impact that these things are having on people who are our neighbours. That is one of the things we can achieve through having a debate around the bill that the Australian Greens have brought to us: identifying the issues that have caused people to lose their land, to lose their citizenship. If we identify what has caused those issues then we can act globally to address those causes and not only to look at what we can do to make changes in their environment but also to welcome, where possible, the relocation where it is best able to be done.
The process for the future must include the acknowledgement that the UN processes provide a wonderful mechanism for that international discussion, consultation and sharing of knowledge. There have been numerous UN conferences, and there have been some in which Australia has taken a role, but I think we need to continually reinforce that the United Nations-the environmental committees, the future acknowledgement of the global environment in which we operate-provide an effective mechanism for all of us to operate in and to share our knowledge. So the ongoing role of Australia in any of those community development programs must continue. We must take our responsibilities in there and effectively fund that, because it is no longer good enough just to have strong commitments and rhetoric around what we think ought to happen. Through the processes that are already in place, we need to make sure that we adapt appropriate mechanisms of funding and also make sure that our people are actively involved in all levels. We need to make sure that any of the programs that are put in place are effectively evaluated and that evaluation involves the communities in which we are working. That is developing and becoming better through the AusAID process, but it is certainly one of the key links that we must take into whatever happens next in this debate. There is goodwill around acknowledging that the environment is important to all of us, and that is something that has not always been in place. When I was listening to the stories of the women from Tuvalu and Kiribati, goodwill was certainly not enough, but it was the opening gambit to any ongoing conversation. I cannot but help make a comment about the organisation Friends of the Earth, which I have worked with for many years and which was the sponsor of the community consultations that I was invited to a couple of weeks ago. We have heard that the Friends of the Earth have a longstanding credibility in this area. While people do not always agree with everything that any organisation puts forward or is involved in, we certainly need to acknowledge the wonderful commitment and the international credibility over the years of people who have worked for and who have been members of the Friends of the Earth. If we can at least hold on to the title-if there is an organisation called Friends of the Earth, all of us should be keen to be part of that because, as citizens of this planet, we automatically need to be friends of the earth.
The ALP do not support the bill as it is in front of us. To keep the debate moving forward, it is absolutely essential that we continue to be involved in discussion about the impact of climate change and the reality that for some people the impact is not discomfort; it is disaster. We need to make sure that we, as global citizens, are part of developing solutions to the program and not dismissing it. We need to include all people who wish to be involved and ensure that we bring science, as well as a very strong element of compassion, into any ongoing debate-and I am sure the debate must be and will be ongoing.