Speech: Climate Change Bill


I rise to speak to the Climate Change Bill 2022 and a related bill, and I would like to associate myself with the fabulous comments that have already been made by my Greens colleagues. The Climate Change Bill, as first introduced by Labor, was a flimsy, purely symbolic bill designed to take an election promise and provide Labor with an opportunity for self-congratulations. The Greens have worked hard to improve it. We've ensured that the target can be ratcheted up over time. We've Dutton-proofed the bill with a genuine floor, which means that targets cannot go backwards. And we've ensured that government agencies such as Export Finance Australia, which in the past have funded coal and gas projects, will, for the first time, be forced to take climate targets into account when making decisions.

But there is so much more to be done. The first and most obvious thing is that we have to stop making the problem worse while we're trying to solve it. Exacerbating the crisis that we are trying desperately to fix is a brazen act of self-sabotage. That's why it beggars belief that Labor have not ruled out backing new coal and gas projects. Right now there are 114 of these in the pipeline, and this includes projects like the Pilliga Narrabri coal seam gas project in my home state of New South Wales; the Woodside Scarborough gas field; and what will likely be the world's dirtiest gas project, Santos's Barossa in the Northern Territory, which will add billions of tonnes of carbon emissions over the coming decades. On top of that, the Albanese government is opening up nearly 47,000 square kilometres of ocean waters to oil and gas exploration. These will erase any climate gains made by the emissions reduction target many, many times over. In fact, Labor's target would be blown out by just one of these. As climate expert Ketan Joshi puts it, Labor is pouring a full tanker of petrol onto the fire while spraying it with a plastic water pistol at a distance.

So weak targets like this one are really a bit of a fig leaf. The real fight—the fight the Greens are going to throw everything at—is to keep coal and gas in the ground. This includes introducing a climate trigger in environmental laws, having a strong safeguard mechanism and ending fossil fuel subsidies. We will push for massive investment in publicly owned renewable energy.

The harsh reality is this: we are in a climate emergency, we are facing an existential crisis, and the planet and people all over the world are suffering. As I speak, about one-third of my home country, Pakistan, is underwater because of monsoon rainfall estimated to have been 10 times as severe as usual. Melting glaciers are adding to these floods. One-third of Pakistan is an area roughly the size of the UK, from which 33 million people—more than the entire population of Australia—have been displaced. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, described this:

The Pakistani people are facing a monsoon on steroids—the relentless impact of epochal levels of rain and flooding.

He then called on the world to stop sleepwalking towards the destruction of our planet by climate change. In this country, we are sleepwalking. This is the climate emergency Labor is making worse every time it approves a new coal or gas project.

Meanwhile, China is coming out of the longest and hottest heatwave it has ever recorded. For more than 70 days straight this year, nearly a billion people suffered through a heatwave that saw sustained daily temperatures above 40 degrees. This is the climate emergency Labor is making worse every time it opens up a new coal or gas project.

The Horn of Africa has seen the worst drought in 40 years, which has killed millions of livestock, destroyed crops and forced 1.1 million people from their homes in search of food and water. According to the UN's World Food Program, 22 million people are at risk of starvation. This is the climate emergency Labor is making worse every time it opens up a new coal or gas project.

Of course, there are also our neighbours—the Pacific island nations for whom the climate emergency is a daily lived reality and has been for some years. Some, such as the low-lying atoll nations of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, are only six feet above sea level. Water is literally lapping at their doorsteps. Many of the Pacific island nations, which are amongst the lowest emitters on the planet, face intense cyclones, changing rainfall patterns, coral bleaching, ocean acidification and coastal inundation as a result of the climate crisis.

This crisis is global, and the decisions that we make here have global consequences. Right-wing commentators love to claim that Australia's contribution to global climate change is small in the grand scheme of things, but we emit far more than our fair share and we are one of the largest exporters of fossil fuels in the world. If we export our emissions overseas, that doesn't mean that they're not contributing to the climate crisis.

We are also far more able than most countries to manage the costs of moving away from fossil fuels because of our wealth and bountiful access to sun, wind and water. Rich countries of the Global North, like Australia, bear the overwhelming responsibility for climate change. The climate crisis is essentially something rich countries are doing to poor countries.

The Greens believe that global justice must be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis. Human rights need to be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis. Decolonising needs to be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis. Indigenous sovereignty needs to be at the forefront of tackling the climate crisis, and that means listening to First Nations people who don't want the destruction of their land, their water, their air and their culture in Beetaloo, Scarborough, Pilliga, Narrabri or anywhere, for that matter.

After a decade of climate stupor by the Liberal and National governments, this bill does represent some progress. It is a small step in the right direction, but, after a decade of coalition ruin, Australia is in such a state of despair when it comes to the climate that even the smallest step is quite notable. But it's not near enough to the solution that we need. No government should be let off the hook on climate action. It's vital that the media, activists, NGOs and the community at large do not let the Labor government rest until we see real climate action.

Without strong action, we are still hurtling towards climate disaster. Without urgent action, we are robbing the futures of young people all over the world. The planet is cooking and it is cooking fast. That's what's happening, so this is an emergency. We need a response that matches the scale of this crisis. We need urgent action. We need decisive action. We need strong action. We need an end to all new coal and gas. We need to stop killing the planet and its people. We need climate justice and we need it now.