Dr HAINES (Indi) (12:19): I thank the member for Jaga jaga for this important motion. No-one, in our near global neighbourhood, understands the existential threat of climate change better than our Pacific neighbours. Recently I participated in a multiparty parliamentary delegation to Fiji funded through Save the Children Fund and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. I wish to discuss three issues we addressed through this delegation, each of which is fundamental to this motion. The first is ambitious policy to respond to climate change through scientifically driven emissions reductions targets. The second is disaster relief. The third is building economic resilience by expanding our Australian Pacific workforce partnerships in the agricultural sector.

First, I will talk about climate. It was a great honour to meet the secretary-general, Henry Puna, at the Pacific Islands Forum. Mr Puna described the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent and the crucial top-order priority of a scientifically backed response to climate. This was not new. The Pacific Islands Forum was formed in 1971, and the Pacific Islands Forum have been global leaders for more than a decade in calling for action. Climate action and climate adaptation are already happening at speed in the Pacific islands. They have no choice. Take biosecurity as an example. Climate change is threatening biodiversity and food security in Fiji. I visited the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees. They’re responsible for the conservation of the region’s genetic resources, especially food, and they maintain an extraordinary seed and plant tissue bank. I visited the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research, and they’re focusing on emerging pests and diseases in the Pacific. They were clear when they told me that climate change is creating new challenges for them. Australian investment in these centres is not only vital to Fiji, but it’s vital to us here and our agricultural industry.

Nowhere is the impact of climate change more dramatic than on the frequency and the intensity of extreme weather events in Fiji. In December 2020, at Christmas time, Cyclone Yasa, a massive category 5 storm, hit the islands of Fiji, and those communities are still desperately trying to recover. The people in many villages I visited told me that cyclones such as Yasa had never before affected their particular islands. They were absolutely clear that this type of storm was something they had never experienced in Fiji before. Those people—like many of our bushfire victims—are living in tents, and COVID has had a devastating impact on their recovery. It’s been so slow and so difficult. I visited health clinics and women’s projects, and everyone, without exception, talked to me about the physical and psychological impact of climate change and their feelings that the world is acting way, way too slowly—because climate change is not going slowly in Fiji.

Finally, I met with several communities who participate in the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility scheme, the PALM scheme. The importance of this scheme to the economic stability of Fiji cannot be underestimated. It’s not just good for us in our agricultural centre, but it’s crucial to economic security and relationship building with Fiji. I was profoundly struck by how much the Fijians supported this scheme. Being able to have a family member travel to Australia to work in the agricultural sector and send wages home was transforming people’s lives and transforming communities. With the incursion of rising sea levels in the Pacific and the relocation of villages, the economic opportunity that PALM offers is not to be underestimated. And yet there are many workers across the Pacific who want to come—and many Australian farmers are crying out for more farm workers—but there are such long delays in getting them here. Recently I heard from one of my berry growers who lost 80 per cent of her harvest last summer because there was no ability for those Pacific island workers to get to her farm.

I urge the government to think creatively about how it can solve these urgent problems. There are 50,000 people waiting to come here on the PALM scheme. I urge the government to look beyond that, too, to a broader agricultural visa to address our desperate need for agricultural workers and the important economic impact it has on these communities. I urge the government this week as the Senate debates the Climate Change Bill. We’ve passed it through the House, and, while I was pleased to support it and have my amendments successfully moved, we need to do better. Forty-three per cent is not enough. We must do better.

Sign up

Keep up to date with the latest news and information