This Government's blundered response to the Northern Rivers floods

Abigail spoke in Parliament about the LNP Government's continued failure to protect communities affected by climate change induced flooding. 

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (15:52): 

I thank my colleague Ms Cate Faehrmann for bringing forward this very important motion today. I do not need to tell everybody how devastating these floods have been. It is absolutely unthinkable and devastating. The emotion within flood-affected communities obviously ranges from despair, sadness and then to burning anger—really burning anger. From speaking with my colleagues Tamara Smith, the member for Ballina, with Sue Higginson, who is in the Chamber today, with Mandy Nolan up in the Northern Rivers and with every other Greens member and other person I have spoken with up in that area, I know it is absolutely devastating. But to say that this is not a time for politics is, I think, misguided, because politics is about what government should or should not be doing, not just at the time of an event but also before that event. I do not think it is the case that everybody in flood-affected communities does not want us to be talking about politics at this moment and to be making this political. I think a lot of people would like us to use this as a catalyst for change.

When I first came to this place three years ago, every time I talked about climate change I had eye rolls on the other side. Over time those eye rolls reduced, and now we hear the rhetoric from the Government and from the Opposition that they accept the science of climate change. They accept it. That is done now. We do not need to talk about that. That is great, but instead now every time we raise in this place the failure to provide an adaptation plan for the State or the failure to take actual real action to reduce greenhouse emissions by, I do not know, not approving new coalmines, what I get in response is, "But we've got targets. We're targeting zero emissions by 2050. Haven't you seen our great renewable energy plan?" That is now apparently the get‑out‑of‑jail card for doing anything else meaningful on climate change.

The thing about targets is that we cannot really stand behind targets and say, "Look what I've done" until the target has been achieved. That is before we even talk about the target being completely inappropriate in light of just how much urgency we are in right now. That is the thing about an emergency response. To respond to an emergency, we need to accept that we are in an emergency. Last night The Greens moved a motion—again, through my colleague Ms Cate Faehrmann—declaring a climate emergency because that is what we are in, and we were not supported by anybody but the Animal Justice Party in this place. Everybody who says they accept the climate science clearly has not read the climate science.

Perhaps I can give some sort of an analogy. If someone came and told me, "Quick! Your children are out in the lake and drowning," and I just sat there and said, "Okay. Well, I'll write this plan. I tell you what, I have a target. I'm going to save them in maybe an hour," that means I have either not appreciated how urgent the situation is or I have decided I do not care. That is what we have with this New South Wales Government at the moment. Telling me the Government has renewable energy zones and targets to deal with one tiny part of what is causing climate change does not impress me. It does not impress the people of Lismore, and it does not impress the people in the Northern Rivers. They are absolutely fed up with talking about climate change and not having it dealt with. This is a political issue. We will make it a political issue because we are literally in an emergency and the Government is acting like it is business as usual.

Mitigation is one thing. Adaptation? Again, it is astounding. In 2016 we were told that this State Government—this State Government, not a prior one, of which all the Government members in the Chamber today are members—would be preparing a statewide adaptation plan for climate change. The Government would be doing an audit, looking at all of the different things that it needed to do and making a plan so that when these extreme weather events come along it has a plan for dealing with them. Perhaps the Government has taken some concrete steps to mitigate against it to prepare communities like Lismore for when we have this sort of catastrophic flood. I asked the Treasurer about this last year. I was told it was coming soon. I asked him again this year. I asked whether, perhaps, if we had an adaptation plan we could have reduced some of the damage that was done to those communities in the Northern Rivers. He said, "No, I don't think so." Now, I am sorry, but the people in Lismore disagree. That is an absurd assertion.

We now have six more years of evidence on the impacts of climate change on extreme weather events. That is six years of people banging on about it. That is six years of the Government saying that it now accepts the science of climate change and takes it seriously. Yet it could not even prepare the statewide adaptation plan that every other State and Territory in this country has. This is not a government that treats this as the emergency that it is. The Government was not prepared. When I blame the Government for some of the catastrophe that has occurred in the Northern Rivers—for the additional damage to people's homes, for the failure to rescue people in time and for failing to help them now—I am looking at a government that was not prepared. Only the Government could have been prepared. Only the Government could have prepared those regions better. I do blame this Government and I do not think it is extreme to refer to what this Government has done as a failure.

The private sector simply cannot save us from this. This Government has been running an agenda of personal, individual responsibility and the private sector coming in to transition us et cetera. There are times when the Government actually needs to govern and it needs to look after people, and an emergency is one of those times. The Hon. Stuart Ayres said to me during budget estimates hearings that people should take responsibility for where they live and that if they are going to live in a place that floods, that is their fault. Clearly that is an absurd proposition. If we are to take this issue seriously, we need a proper plan for relocation and for financially supporting people who are in areas that will be devastated by climate change events.

We might think that Fiji is a million miles away from us and from the way that things are going in this country, but it is not. It has had a national planned climate change relocation strategy for many years because it has seen what will happen if it does not make those preparations. This is not a time for the Government to be hands-off. We need significant financial resources but we also need a plan. We are in a climate emergency and the only thing that gives anybody hope right now is seeing communities like Lismore clearly show this Government, which is obsessed with individual responsibility, that people are social beings and that the community will pull together to do whatever we can to help each other in a time of crisis. It is time for the Government to accept that the community is ready to treat this as a climate emergency and to actually do something to help.

 

The full transcript of the debate can be found in Hansard here.

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