House debates

Monday, 22 July 2019

Bills

Coal-Fired Power Funding Prohibition Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:03 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

It is utter madness to use public funds to prop up coal-fired power stations or even build new ones, but that's what this government wants to do, and this parliament must stop them. This bill is as environmentally responsible as it is economically responsible. The bill will help Australia cut its greenhouse gas emissions, which we need to do in the middle of a climate emergency, by preventing the Commonwealth from actively assisting in the construction of new coal-fired power stations, extending the life of existing coal-fired power stations, helping purchase new coal-fired power stations or assisting the owner of a coal-fired power station to use, fund or operate the station.

The bill will also protect the Commonwealth and the Australian taxpayer from unnecessary exposure to the significant financial risk associated with providing financial support to potentially stranded assets. It also protects from exposure associated with underwriting the carbon risk of new coal-fired power generation, something previous ministers have flagged, which may be significant if a future government takes steps needed to limit Australia's greenhouse gas emissions.

The contrast between the activities and priorities of this government and the movement that is building outside of this place is truly remarkable. As people in Australia and all around the world gather together to recognise and demand action on the climate emergency, our elected government ignores it.

As our movement demands rapid reduction in pollution, they're rising under this government.

As our movement demands that coal is kept in the ground, this government wants to dig it out.

As our movement demands that we stop Adani, this government starts it.

As our movement demands action, there's inertia.

But the Greens will not be complicit in these crimes. We will not permit this reckless government to get away with destroying our future. We will try and save them from themselves.

Because 50 or 100 years from now, when future generations learn about what happened in the early 2000's, they will wonder why the people in power ignored the unavoidable truth of the climate emergency. Because right now we are witnessing the condemned. We are bearing witness to those who are in power, who will soon be usurped because they broke their duty of care to act, and act swiftly. I am standing here and I am looking at the people who tried to keep things the same in the face of incontrovertible danger. I condemn them now, as they will be condemned in the future.

They will be condemned for rushing to hand over taxpayer money to ageing coal-fired power stations or, worse, funding a new coal-fired power plant. They will be condemned for trying to open new coal and gas basins that are giant carbon bombs, even when we know that to limit global warming to 1½ degrees, we can't have any new fossil fuel developments. They will be condemned for propping up the fossil fuel cartels that are destroying this planet. And they will be condemned for not enabling and accelerating the transformation that they are desperately trying to foil.

The good news is that the science and the economics of the transition are not in favour of the climate deniers. The power of renewable energy and 21st century technology is blasting 20th and 19th century technology out of the water. But my warning to the movement and to the millions of people in Australia and around the world who are pushing for change, is the change may not be inevitable if this government and governments like it stand in the way.

The reason this bill is so important is that the government is led by a Prime Minister who hugged a piece of coal in this chamber and is looking to deploy the vast resources and power of government to protect and encourage fossil fuels, at significant risk to the taxpayer.

The government has made its intentions clear: that it is looking to use public money to underwrite investment in new generation and that this generation could include coal and gas and oil. As I said last year, when introducing this bill:

Any new coal-fired plant or a plant with an extended life risks being a stranded asset with the taxpayers losing our contribution.

But the risk to the taxpayer doesn't end there. The government has also flagged the possibility of indemnifying coal plants from a future carbon price or from other policies to limit emissions brought in by a future government. This potentially open-ended liability for taxpayers is an irresponsible concoction from the coal-power-obsessed minority in the coalition that tore down a previous Prime Minister and now wants to booby trap climate and energy policy for future governments.

The most recent report from the world scientists from the IPCC says very clearly that the world must retire at least two-thirds of its coal-fired power plants in just over a decade by 2030. By 2030 we have to shut at least two-thirds of the coal-fired power plants in Australia to have a decent chance of staying below 1½ degrees, and we have to close the rest soon after. That's what the scientists told us last year. They warned that, unless we accelerate the transition away from coal, we face catastrophe. But this government shows no signs of behaving responsibly, and, if the government is not prepared to behave responsibly, then this parliament must make it do it.

My message to the government is that, if you do not act, you will be taken on by one of the biggest movements this world has ever seen. We know this from the school strikes for climate, where over a million students in over 2,000 cities rallied this year. And we know that on September this year there will be even more people, students and adults, pouring into the streets around the world to demand action.

I am confident that the paralysis that is gripping governments all over the world will be broken through the sheer force of the will of millions of people demanding action.

And the Greens will play our part in parliament, which brings me back to what this bill will do.

As I said before, a primary aim of the bill is to assist in the reduction of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by preventing the Commonwealth from actively assisting in the construction of new coal-fired power stations, extending the life of existing coal-fired power stations or helping purchase new coal-fired power stations.

The bill will also protect the Commonwealth and the Australian taxpayer from unnecessary exposure to the significant financial risk associated with providing financial support to potentially stranded assets. It also protects from exposure associated with what the government has flagged, which is underwriting the carbon risk of new coal-fired power generation.

Upon commencement of this bill, the Commonwealth must not provide financial assistance for the building of, refurbishment of or purchase of coal-fired power stations. And this includes the provision of indirect assistance, such as through the underwriting or guarantee of someone else's financial obligations.

Exemptions are provided to permit the Commonwealth to exercise its usual regulatory processes, to provide support to workers and communities affected by power station closures, to fund research related to coal-fired power stations generally or to manage the closure of coal-fired power stations.

It is distressing that in 2019 we have to introduce a bill to try and stop a trigger-happy government from using public funds against the best interests of the public. But this is truly a piece of legislation that is desperately needed and it says a lot about how dire the situation has become in this country.

Last week was the five-year anniversary of the carbon price repeal. People will remember when members of the government hugged and celebrated the repeal of the only mechanism in Australia's history that has successfully brought down pollution, and since then pollution has gone up and up and up. There is an infamous image of five Liberal politicians in this chamber, some retired and some current, celebrating the moment that Australia became the first country in the world to repeal a price on pollution.

Well, as they celebrated, a country mourned.

Pollution is going up at the same time as you're proposing to cut it. When you take out the unreliable land use data, pollution has gone up six per cent under this government that says it's committed to cutting it. Well, pollution is going up and up and up. The parliament does not want that; the public does not want that.

Right now, though, the real legacy of this government on global warming is increasing pollution. And we are no longer leading the world with action on climate change—something that Labor, the Greens and the Independents did when working together—because it was torn down by this government and their fossil fuel donors. We need to take some steps to save this government from themselves, to save them from exposing the taxpayer, and pass this bill.

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