Senate debates

Monday, 2 December 2019

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change

5:04 pm

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I listened carefully to Senator Fawcett's contribution and his concern about the impact of this debate upon young people. I tell you what: if you're worried about the impact of this debate upon young people, you've got to concern yourself, in my view, with three things. Firstly, you've got to be serious about the science of climate change. There is no room for equivocation. There is no room for denialism. With the greatest respect to Senator Fawcett, arguing about the ins and outs of what assumptions may underlie a particular report takes the country nowhere. The overwhelming bulk of evidence says one thing: climate change has been induced by increasing emissions over time and it's dangerous for the future of the planet. Secondly, there is a point about making sure our language is precise. It should be precise, but it shouldn't be dishonest and it shouldn't try and hide the truth from young people.

The third component is making sure that we're taking action. That's where the Morrison government has failed. That's where the Turnbull government failed. That's where the Abbott government failed. The point of the resolution is that the culpability lies down there with the Greens just as much as with the government. The culpability lies with the Greens political party as much as it does with the Liberal and National parties and the climate deniers. While they say the things that people who are worried about the climate need to hear, they should be judged by their actions.

In truth, with that vote on the CPRS in 2009 something broke in Australian politics. The Rudd government had a mandate for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I know this; I worked in regional Australia around the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. I worked with blue-collar workers and manufacturers, and there was universal support amongst industry for a scheme that gave them certainty. Since then, we have had a descent into chaos. We've had a lost decade on emissions. The report released today shows that, if the CPRS had been endorsed and had become government policy, emissions in Australia would've been on a downward trajectory since 2009. Four hundred and fifty-nine million tonnes would've been emitted this year, instead of 540 million tonnes. That's 81 million tonnes less emissions in 2019. In the decade 2010 to 2020, there would have been just less than 220 million tonnes emitted by Australian emitters, and that would've been a significant achievement itself. It would've been a more profound achievement to have emissions going down, not up, and a more profound achievement to have a downward trajectory, not the ongoing increase in Australian emissions that characterises our economy. We've had a lost decade of investment. Australia should have been a winner in the global race for jobs in the renewable sector. Between 2000 and 2010, there were queues of investors in the Australian economy queuing up in solar, in wind, in solar thermal—in all of the energy efficiency measures. That's billions of dollars worth of potential investment that has evaporated in the decade 2010 to 2020.

We now have a government that has no energy plan. Jobs have gone and potential jobs have gone missing. We've had a lost decade on global leadership. Australia has gone from being a leader in global climate change discussions, setting an example and leading the way on jobs, to being a pariah, a laughing-stock in international forums. In our region, the Pacific step up is hollow indeed if we don't get right action on climate change. Australia has been left isolated, vulnerable and less safe in the Pacific because of the failure to act on climate change. In the industries that I come from, the manufacturing industries, we've had a lost decade. We've had decreases in jobs, energy policy uncertainty and investment evaporating. Opportunities have gone. The auto industry in Australia, which had a bright future with green cars, low-emissions vehicles and 40,000 jobs, is gone, goaded offshore by this government. We've no energy policy. Renewable energy jobs are disappearing out the window.

The Greens political party don't really understand at a deep level what it is that they did. They are more obsessed with student style politics than with what the business of this place actually should be about. For the Greens political party, politics is all about what they think, not about listening to working people. It's all about what they believe, not what they can achieve. It's all about the slogans—the 'we did it' memes—not about long-term reform.

The CPRS was bad for Australia and bad for Australians. It's left the country with higher emissions and higher power prices. It's damaged Australia's standing. It's cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. It's cost us billions of dollars worth of investment. But the vote was good for the Greens political party. It was an achievement for them. A political failure for the country is a political achievement for the Greens political party. It's big at the dinner party table—it allows them to continue to posture—but it is a disaster for the country and it is a disaster for people who care about climate change. It's a bit like the cavalcade to Queensland that they recently executed: smug, vacuous and self-focused.

What has happened to the Greens political party? I remember Ian Cohen, who was actually a substantial figure in the environment movement, who had actually done a few things before he got to the New South Wales parliament. I vividly remember him on a surfboard riding the bow wave of US ships as they entered Sydney Harbour. He was actually committed to the cause of peace and the environment. You won't find anybody like Ian Cohen on the Greens political party benches now. It's just former student politicians: smug, self-focused, bloviating, completely and blissfully unaware and uncaring of the consequences of what they do. For Australia and for the world, the failure of the Greens political party on the CPRS, their incapacity to put the country and the environment first, has had very real consequences for Australia, for our climate and for developing consensus. They are just as much to blame as the government is for the political failure. If you're worried about the kids who are out in the streets, marching about climate change, then you've got to respect the science, treat them with respect and actually do something about making sure that the government is pointed in the right direction and doing something about climate change. You don't see kids in Denmark, in Germany, even in the United Kingdom with the same levels of anxiety as they have in Australia. It's because the government isn't acting and because these guys in the Greens have aided and abetted that political failure all the way.

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