Senate debates

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Governor-General's Speech


1:33 pm

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

Just like the woman with breast cancer who refused to get treatment until it was too late, it is far too difficult for the coalition to reassess their view of the world in the face of what is a looming catastrophe.

Of course, it is not just about climate change denial. That would be far too simplistic. It is this heady cocktail of denial and political opportunism. It is how we end up with conviction politician John Howard, who says: 'You know what? That ETS I put to the election in 2007? Well, I didn't really believe in it. Actually, it was more about the drought, and people were a bit worried about that, and then there was that movie from Al Gore. That was a bit of a problem. And we had Kevin Rudd, and everyone jumped on that bandwagon. I had no choice.' It was political opportunism writ large.

Let us remember that the new Prime Minister is only Prime Minister because he saw a political opportunity within his own party to make a case for winding back action on climate change—because Prime Minister Abbott is the weathervane on climate change. He managed to scrape over the line by a vote. The climate change deniers in his party won out, and the political opportunism of the Prime Minister gave him the leadership of the Liberal Party.

Of course, that would be letting the former government off the hook too easily. There was the refusal to take the ETS to an election, followed by the election of a new prime minister who initially ruled out a carbon tax, proposed the citizens assembly, reintroduced the carbon tax and then, at the last election, withdrew the carbon tax. So we had the situation of political opportunism meeting political cowardice, and that is how we have ended up in this position.

The experience of the tobacco lobby and the association between smoking and lung cancer is instructive in this instance. It took 50 years before we were able to establish it definitively and get government action on smoking and lung cancer. How did it happen? It happened because a hugely powerful vested interest, a few crackpot scientists and some politicians thought this was all part of some conspiracy by the public health lobby: 'Those pesky doctors; they want to curtail our freedoms. That's why we can't let anyone believe that smoking causes lung cancer. It's all part of a global conspiracy to curtail freedom.' How ridiculous. How utterly ridiculous. Look into the eyes of somebody who is dying from lung cancer who was told for years that their smoking had nothing to do with it and talk to their children about their freedom to have a life without a parent.

That is what we are faced with in climate change. We have John Howard, whose gut instinct was that this was overblown; this was all part of some crazy conspiracy: 'My gut tells me that—you know what?—we're going a bit too far with this climate change nonsense.' I would love to practise medicine like that: 'Yes, that lump under your arm looks a bit nasty, but my gut tells me there's nothing wrong with it. Go home, take a Bex and have a lie down.'

The world of science does not operate like that. The physical world does not operate like that. Your narrow view of the conservative dogma to which you have subscribed all your life does not work like that. We are now in a situation where we have this farcical policy, direct action, a policy which is not backed up by an economist worth their salt. We have record storms occurring right around the world and we have record stupidity in this parliament with the government proposing to undo some of the most ambitious and most important climate change legislation anywhere in the world.

How is it that only in Australia is talking about climate change and extreme weather a political statement? It is not in the Philippines. The Philippines delegation to the UN talks in Warsaw are urging us to take action. In their words, 'If you deny climate change, get out of your ivory tower and come to the Philippines to see what havoc and destruction have been wrought on our people'—their words, not mine. We will not see Andrew Bolt's editorial on that today. It is much easier sport to attack the Greens—much easier and gutless. That side of politics has a vision which says that small government is the aspiration. That is not a vision; that is no vision at all. We want better government.


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