House debates

Monday, 18 February 2019


Coal Prohibition (Quit Coal) Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:37 am

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

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Australia exports 80 per cent of its thermal coal—80 per cent. That is coal that we use for electricity. Until we stop exporting thermal coal to Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan, we won't be able to stop climate change. Many people can know and see and feel the impacts of climate change: the unprecedented bushfires in Tasmania that have destroyed parts of forest that were there since Gondwanaland; the floods in North Queensland that are devastating people, animals and areas; and the drought in New South Wales and the heatwaves across South Australia and Victoria that have impacted millions of Australians. Climate change is here right in our faces.

It is almost like we are in a stand-off. Our changing climate has made a lot of moves, and it is well passed time that we made our move. We've had a long time to make it. Some scientists were speculating about climate change in the early 20th century. Exxon, now Exxon Mobil, one of the world's biggest polluters, employed scientists in the 1970s to research it and then started spreading misinformation on the topic throughout the 1980s and 1990s, following the tobacco industry's playbook, where they knew early on what was wrong and then sowed the seeds of doubt—so too, it turns out, have some of the biggest corporations and biggest polluters.

Fast forward to today and the world's scientists are practically screaming at the top of their lungs. But not enough is being done as a global community and particularly not enough is being done by this conservative climate-denying government. The thing that makes my blood boil the most, the thing that makes inaction even more infuriating to me, is that the government know the evidence, but they choose not to act. This is sinister politics. This is worse than wilful ignorance; it is wilful malevolence.

This bill, the Coal Prohibition (Quit Coal) Bill 2019, will do what the science demands of us. It will prohibit the mining and export of thermal coal after 2030. It's enough time for us to transition and it's enough time for us to look after the affected communities, but it is doing it within the time that, at a bare minimum, the climate and the science requires.

It would do it by introducing a permit system for the export of thermal coal—that is, coal for electricity—which would gradually wind down to zero over the next decade, providing companies, industry and workers with opportunities to transition into new industries.

It will immediately prohibit the establishment of a new coalmine or a new coal-fired power station. It will also prohibit the importation of thermal coal to Australia, with the exception of importation for research, heritage or display purposes.

The limitations on coal exports would begin on 1 July 2019.

The IPCC special report, which was released last year, says we need to reduce the burning of coal by 78 per cent in 2030 to avoid temperatures exceeding 1.5 degrees—just think about that for a moment. We need to reduce the burning of coal by about three-quarters within 12 years to avoid these dangerous thresholds. That's what the science is telling us. As the second largest thermal coal exporter in the world, we have a key responsibility in this area. The fact that we have made billions of dollars because of the coal we have exported so far heightens and sharpens this responsibility.

And while some may say that this kind of action is drastic, mostly it is perfectly sensible. It is what the science demands, and it is what we need to do. But because the Greens are the only party listening, understanding and responding to what the science is demanding of us and because the old parties have been so slow to act, the public's perception of what is necessary to preserve our way of life sometimes doesn't match the transformational and widespread action required.

But it is possible to do this. Not only is it economically and technically possible to transition to 100 per cent renewables but it is possible for Australia to open up an entirely new export industry, where we can export clean, cheap and plentiful renewable energy to our neighbours. There are some very exciting projects being explored in the north-west of Western Australia, where we may be exporting Australia's sunlight, in the form of electricity, across to our Asian neighbours via undersea cable.

Japan, the world's third largest economy by GDP, currently imports 94 per cent of its energy as coal, oil and natural gas. We send 44 per cent of our thermal coal every year to Japan. Japan buys about half of our LNG exports as well.

But Japan, along with South Korea, is asking us to help them decarbonise. Research led by the Chief Scientist shows that we have natural advantages for the export of renewable hydrogen to countries like Japan. It could be a lucrative industry that's worth billions of dollars. It could create thousands of jobs. Almost every state in Australia could drive the processes required to create renewable hydrogen. There are massive opportunities there for us. But what have we got instead from this mob that passes themselves off as a government? What have we got from the mob that pretend they know how to manage the economy, pretend to be agile and nimble and pretend to understand economic management and the national interest?

Instead of grasping these new opportunities, they've given us a Prime Minister who's bringing lumps of coal into this place and hugging them like a long-lost relative. They've lied to us hundreds, maybe thousands, of times that we're on track to meet our measly Paris targets. They are a mob that barely even mention the words 'climate change'.

But unlike the old parties, who are in the pockets of the coal industry, the Greens won't play this dangerous game with the future of civilization. We won't tolerate coal being burnt in coal-fired power stations domestically, and we won't tolerate our coal being burnt overseas as well. Even though the only thing the old parties are interested in when it comes to coal exports are the revenue it generates, the planet doesn't care where the coal gets burnt.

Take the comments, for example, from the Leader of the Opposition. In November last year, he was quoted as saying, when asked about the Adani coalmine:

The actual decision about Adani is not going to affect Australian emissions.

That's Labor saying here, 'Don't worry, we will make it someone else's problem. Don't worry, as long as the emissions aren't counted here, we really don't need to worry too much about Adani.

The reality is that even if you don't include our coal exports we're inside the top 20 biggest polluters in the world. When you add in our coal exports, Australia's pollution skyrockets to the sixth highest emitter in the world, behind China, the United States, the European Union, India and Russia.

The banning and phasing out of thermal coal is the next step. It's an unavoidable step. As a country, we cannot continue to be merchants of death. We cannot be the country that is fuelling global warming just because the Labor and Liberal parties have accepted $3.7 million in donations from the fossil fuel industry since 2013. We cannot be here in this place in 2019 knowing what we know about climate change, seeing the devastation that is occurring to our wide, brown land and then tell our children and our grandchildren that we failed to act, and that's why this legislation takes the burning of coal seriously.

In May last year, someone in New South Wales was sentenced to jail for three years for illegally dumping asbestos. Under this legislation, the directors of companies that burn coal—not the workers; it's not the workers' fault—could also face jail sentences of up to seven years, because it is time to act. It's time to act without fear or favour and to safeguard our future. This bill is part of a whole range of legislation that will cover everything from preventing public money going to coal-fired power stations to accomplishing an independent body, Renew Australia, to lead the transition to a decarbonised economy, to prohibiting coalmining in the Galilee Basin and so much more. If we could get the old parties' support, that would transform Australia. But due to the sheer amount of coal we export and the dire situation that we face if we don't stop, this bill could be as, if not more, important than all the others.

If we don't stop mining and burning coal, we will be extinguished. This is a bill whose time has come. We need to do what we have done in other industries, where we know those industries do not have a sustainable future. We need to say it is not the fault of the workers or communities in coalmining towns or towns associated with coal-fired power stations. They have worked to help us keep the lights on and to power this country for decades. But we now know something we didn't know before. It is like tobacco. It is like asbestos. We know this product, when dug up and used as intended, has the capacity to kill. Just as we have done in the past, when we've worked together with new knowledge and recognised there's a need for a transition to look after the people in the communities who are affected and to shift Australia to new industries, so must we do it again. I urge the government to come up with a climate change policy. And I urge Labor to start treating coal seriously because without doing so we will not stop dangerous climate change. (Time expired)

10:47 am

Photo of Rob MitchellRob Mitchell (McEwen, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Denison, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

Debate adjourned.