Monday, 20 March 2023
Private Members' Business
On 18 September 1987, the Hon. Barry Jones, minister for science in the Hawke government, stood in the House and described what was then referred to as the 'greenhouse effect' as:
… a classic illustration of how if we are only prepared to plan five years, 10 years, 15 years or 20 years down the track all the dangers that are feared can be avoided.
Climate change is now real and present. As Barack Obama quoted:
We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.
The Australian Research Council's recent report on the state of weather and climate extremes outlines the year of record-breaking extreme events experienced in Australia last year. Climate change is no longer on the horizon. It is no longer just within the purview of a prescient and lonely minister for science. Now it is squarely before the Minister for Emergency Management, the Minister for Health and Aged Care, the Minister for Finance, the Minister for Home Affairs, the Minister for Defence and every other minister, and now we have an extremely busy Minister for Climate Change and Energy.
The legislation and programs this government is currently putting in place require a consensus across the parliament—if not a consensus on the best way to move forward, at least a consensus on the fact that man-made climate warming requires man-made climate solutions. As the saying goes, trust in God but tether your camel. We need to agree on the emissions targets set in legislation and to agree that they are floors, not ceilings; that engagement with our trading partners requires serious commitment to emissions reductions; that we are in a position to benefit from development, new industries and new supply chains; and that first-mover advantages exist only for first movers and that we haven't moved for many years.
We need to meet the challenges posed by the US Inflation Reduction Act and the responses to it in Europe and other countries. We need to look for ways to leverage our natural advantages to refine more of our resources at home and at source. We need to move energy production to the sites of manufacture and, alternatively, move manufacture to the sites of energy production. We need to become a leader in our region so that our successes and progress towards our emissions goals and renewable targets can be an inspiration and a model for our near neighbours, who are then perhaps most likely to become long-term customers of our green energy production. We need to have incentives and disincentives in place, like the safeguard mechanism, to underpin action across the economy, and we need the investment environment that the National Reconstruction Fund will provide to ensure that our innovators can find a foothold each step of the way.
Just a few days ago in Hazelmere, in my electorate of Hasluck, as part of the site visit hosted by Fortescue Futures Industries for the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, I stood dwarfed by the wheel of a dump truck that runs on electricity powered by green hydrogen. It's a working prototype, and that company aims to have its whole fleet of over 200 vehicles powered by renewables by 2030. It's a picture of what is possible with commitment from industry and support from government.
Following the site visit on Friday last week at the committee's public hearing in Perth, we heard from the WA government, the Future Battery Industries CRC and the Perth USAsia Centre. One common thread to their submissions was that we need to act now to maximise the benefits of the economic opportunities that present themselves in what is otherwise a time of crisis. The US has taken action with the passing of the Inflation Reduction Act last year, which according to Forbes magazine, and I agree, has transformed the US from laggard to leader in climate change.
Australia has been a laggard for 10 years, but no longer. In every area where we can now be a leader, we have a moral, political and economic imperative to lead. As the Climate Council and others have stressed, the process of greening the energy requirements and decarbonisation for much of our industries—across steel, aluminium, chemical and fertilisers, mining, concrete, batteries and others—can also be a process of bringing manufacturing onshore. Of course, there is still more to do, such as harmonising our regulatory framework across the states and the Commonwealth, creating an efficient approvals process and establishing an integrated transition network that is agnostic about the energy molecule. The parliament has a duty to assist in bedding down the programs that will make a difference.
We are taking action, and every one of those actions will be reviewed because none of us have the luxury of sacrificing the good for the perfect. Ross Garnaut states in The Superpower Transformation: building Australia's zero-carbon future that if we take the opportunities open to us this country can be responsible for up to eight per cent of the emissions reductions that the world needs. Let's get on with it.