Canberra Air Quality - 11/02/2020

11 February 2020

I want to talk today about the health impacts of climate change—in particular, the air quality crisis that we experienced in Canberra over this summer. While of course we didn't experience the devastating bushfires in the way that other parts of our country have, I think that we can call our air quality over that period a genuine crisis. We had 35 days that were classified as hazardous, and, in that time, we had over 200 hospital admissions that were linked to smoke and over 570 presentations to our nurse-led walk-in centres. I've had over 250 Canberrans write to me about their concern about these issues, and I want to bring some of their voices into this chamber today because what we experienced over this summer was awful; it was a wake-up call about the need for climate action, and I will make sure that the voices of my electorate are heard in this place.

Firstly I want to talk about Lucinda, who contacted me and said:

I do not breath deeply in my own home at this time. The smoke is too thick, my eyes sting except for when I am asleep, my throat burns, my nose bleeds.

I like many others in this community fear greatly what this future will look like if the approval of additional stations to mine and burn coal, gas and oil continue, in conjunction with the negligent and despicable lack of climate action by the Coalition.

On 21 December, Heidi from my electorate contacted me, and she raised a really important aspect of this issue. I will read her email:

The last two weeks have been miserable and I'm feeling so lost and discouraged. I'm a disabled pensioner that works part time and studies part time. My house doesn't have air conditioning. The smoke that has smothered Canberra is literally suffocating the poor with no air conditioning. With nearly 40 degree weather we are experiencing, we have to literally choose which health deterioration we'd prefer to deal with. Should we swelter in the heat? Which for me, hurts my health … and my physical stress goes through the roof. Should we open the windows … to cool our homes? Sweet relief but at what cost? My home filled with smoke and breathing it in. Everywhere I look, the instructions are to 'run your air conditioner' to clean the air and keep cool. Renters, pensioners, like me, aren't so lucky to be able to have houses that are temperature efficient, keep the smoke out, or have air conditioning.

Many parents also wrote to me with their deep fears for the health of their children, which I can relate to.

I'm really proud that Labor has called on the government to make climate change a health priority. We will continue to keep the pressure on them.