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Speech: Aid and Climate Change in Papua New Guinea

In this speech, I discuss the alarming effects of climate change being experienced in Papua New Guinea. It is the obligation of Australia as a large aid donor to PNG and a former coloniser to provide more aid to PNG, and to dramatically reduce human-induced climate change. 

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (19:48):

This week I met with representatives from some of the aid organisations, and they provided some very alarming information about the very serious and extreme drought conditions in PNG. I have read that there is a similar situation in the Solomon Islands. The local gardens in the PNG highlands have been destroyed by frost. People have described the current weather conditions there as like Tasmania; it is so cold. It has been said that it was the worst frost to hit the province in 40 years, and it is directly affecting 300,000 people.

Disaster funds are going to the area. In the Solomon Islands they are calling for water rationing as drought conditions prevail there. This is an issue that we clearly have a responsibility to consider. We are a former coloniser of PNG; we remain a large aid donor to that country; they are a close neighbour. We have a big responsibility. But we also have a big responsibility because Australia is one of the drivers of human induced climate change, and these are some of the islands that are going to be first impacted. They are already being impacted by the effects of climate change. Much of this is linked with the latest El Nino effect. This is incredibly serious, because 85 per cent of Papua New Guinea's population resides in rural areas, and it is those areas where people are struggling to get enough food right at the moment.

So I did appreciate the briefing I received this week from the Adventist Development and Relief Agency and also the Micah Challenge. They described to me some of the people they met. One of those people was a young woman called Jenny. Jenny is a young mother. She has two young children. She is from East New Britain Province. She is experiencing-this is from the ADRA briefing-firsthand the impacts of climate change in her community, with the El Nino drought causing severe water and food shortages. This is some of her story.

The crops in the highlands have been destroyed by frost and by water shortages, and it is affecting so many communities. Jenny said to the ADRA representatives that the drought has severely affected her family and she feels an incredible burden to try and keep her children healthy. She and her children now have to walk up to two kilometres each day to collect water for the family, predominantly from unsafe water sources because the normal sources have dried up. These are some of her words:

"Because of the drought, we use the same water for washing, drinking and laundry. We experience diarrhoea and other sickness. The drought I feel has really affected my children because they have to walk a longer distance to collect water for our use."
Jenny went on:

"My children experience headache, shoulder and backache because of the daily work of collecting water.
Food supplies are dwindling as crops continue to fail."

Jenny said:

"The drought has affected our food gardens. When we go to harvest the food from our garden the yield is usually small or there is no yield at all."

That is what I have heard from many quarters and after reading many reports; in so many of these gardens that people depend on, the plants have died. These plants are not equipped; they have not evolved to survive frost. So this has truly been devastating. Jenny worries that the drought will affect her children's future. She said:

"If the drought continues, my fear is that the children's education will be affected, including those of us who are studying at the college here."

I find that deeply disturbing and I imagine that all colleagues would be very concerned that any young mother is experiencing such hardship.

We clearly have a responsibility when we consider that the impact of climate change is occurring in these countries already. Extreme and variable weather events are becoming how climate change is playing out. Climate change has undoubtedly worsened the impacts of the drought which is predicted to be worse than the one in 1997 to 1998, which also devastated most of the country.

I do congratulate ADRA and Micah Challenge for the work they are doing in this area. I think it is at this time, when we are considering the specific developments because of the drought in PNG, that it is worth reminding ourselves that it is not just drought and water shortages in terms of how climate change is playing out. We have heard from the President of Kiribas at different times-and other leaders of Pacific nations also speak about this-about rising sea levels and higher storm surges. They talk about how it is contaminating the aquifers on their little islands. It is damaging crops and it has already displaced communities.

They predict that these impacts will worsen. So we have the current situation with the hardship that is being inflicted on people in the Solomon Islands and PNG, but this in various ways is the story repeated across the Pacific. It is a reminder that Australia has an enormous responsibility-immediately-to assist in disaster relief but also to very rapidly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Thank you.

Senate adjourned at 19:58


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