Phil Coorey from the Financial Review wrote this morning that yesterday was one of the worst days that any government has had in recent memory. Well, the Minister for the Environment is trying to lift the bar. She potentially misled this parliament not only once in question time earlier this afternoon but twice, on two separate matters utterly central to her portfolio. I think any casual observer of the environment and climate change portfolios would understand that this minister, to say the least, has made a slow and inauspicious start to her portfolio. But what she has done this afternoon beggars belief. And her failure to come in and participate in this debate just compounds the insults to these portfolios and to our friends and neighbours in the Pacific islands region.
We've only heard once or twice from this minister. She's done one interview in the several weeks she's had this portfolio, and it was a complete car crash. She described the IPCC report, one of the most serious reports published on climate change in recent years, as just the 'opinion' of a number of scientists. When asked what policies she was putting in place to bring down carbon pollution, it was a whole list of things that this government has tried to abolish: the CEFC, ARENA, the Renewable Energy Target and 'building' one billion trees. It's not entirely her fault, because this has been a government at least consistent in its denial of climate science and the need to take serious action on climate change, but today brings into question very clearly this minister's fitness to hold an office of minister of the Crown.
Last night, it is said—by Senator Patrick Dodson, one of the most respected figures in the Australian community—that this minister, when informed that former President Tong from Kiribati was here in Australia again to talk about climate change, said: 'I know why you're here. It is for the cash. For the Pacific, it's always about the cash. I have my chequebook here. How much do you want?' Former President Tong is a nominee for the Nobel prize, a confidant of President Obama on climate change policy, not only an esteemed figure in the region and a regular visitor to Australia about the existential threat posed by climate change to our neighbours in the Pacific but an esteemed figure around the world. Not only is this a deep insult to him as an individual but it's a deep insult to the entire region because of what President Tong represents as a key, esteemed figure from that region.
The minister came into the parliament and didn't equivocate about this. As my colleague the member for Watson said, she denied it 100 per cent. She denied Senator Dodson's account 100 per cent. But, since question time, another figure who was at the table and heard the conversation has backed Senator Dodson's account 100 per cent. It is well beyond time that this minister came in and corrected the record, withdrew the comments she made last night and apologised not just to President Tong but to our neighbours in the Pacific. And the clock is ticking on whether or not this minister has a future as a minister of the Crown if she continues to delay the delivery of her responsibility to do this.
This government has form, unfortunately, on this question. We all remember the Minister for Home Affairs and his boom-mic moment, when he laughed at the fact, as he described it, that Pacific Islanders might be late because they have water lapping at their doorsteps. He laughed at the existential threat facing communities that Australians regard as friends and neighbours. In the Pacific Islands Forum, in recent weeks, we know—because the Prime Minister of Tuvalu said so—that the Australian government sought time and time again to water down declarations from that forum about the importance of the global community, including Australia, taking serious action on climate change.
This is a government with clear form on disrespecting the science of climate change, disrespecting the impact that climate change will have on some of our neighbours and friends in the Pacific Islands, and disrespecting individuals, like President Tong, who have devoted their remaining years to doing everything they can to engender climate action around the world. The clock is ticking on this minister. Her duty now is to come into this parliament, apologise and withdraw the outrageous comments she made last night.