Senate debates

Thursday, 4 August 2022

Governor-General's Speech


12:24 pm

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I was reflecting on four key elements of the Greens agenda, which are reflected to some extent in this government's agenda as well, and contrasting the ambition. In particular, I want to talk about First Nations justice, about climate, about nature and about inequality.

I will begin with First Nations justice, which has got to be at the heart of everything that we are doing in this place. It is good to see the increasing attention to First Nations justice that this parliament has, compared to the previous one, but it is still not good enough. We need to be centring rights, justice, truth-telling and treaty, as well as a voice to parliament, at the heart of everything we do and to be viewing, through a lens of First Nations justice, all of our considerations in this place. We need to remember at all times that we are working on stolen land. This is stolen land. Here in this place, we are on Ngunnawal, Ngambri and Wiradjuri country, and sovereignty has never been ceded. This always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.

As I speak today, the debate on the government's climate bill is almost completed, I understand, in the House. There is about to be a vote on the bill, which will set a target of 43 per cent reduction in our carbon emissions by 2030. We, as Greens, know that this is so far from what is necessary, but we, as Greens, also know that it is a step forward. It is a massive step forward from the climate denialism of the previous government. Their target was clearly completely out of step with the rest of the world and completely out of step with what the science requires. But we also know that the 43 per cent target is basically going to be baking in the most extreme climate change and the most extreme heat, with global heating double what we've got now. It is just not enough.

As people know, the Greens announced yesterday that we would be supporting the government's climate bill because it is a step forward. But, as Adam Bandt, our leader, said, 'It's like bringing a bucket of water to a house fire.' It's a step forward, but it's nowhere near enough. We need to be doing so much more if we are going to have a safe climate for us, for the people of the future and for all the other species that we share this planet with. We know what the science says. It's not just the Greens saying this. Scientists, the International Energy Agency, certainly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and countries all around the world know that we need to have at least a 75 per cent reduction in our carbon pollution by 2030. Even that is going to bake in 1½ degrees of warming.

We've seen what less than 1½ degrees of warming means in terms of the weather that is being experienced around the world now. We have seen it in our Black Summer bushfires—those extraordinary fires that killed billions and billions of animals, that caused deaths around the country from heat stress and caused massive impacts on our natural environment. We saw the huge fires and the burning of our native forests. In the East Gippsland region of Victoria, 80 per cent of the forest burned in those fires. We've seen the heatwaves in Europe. We've seen the temperature in England reach 40 degrees. We have seen the hundreds, if not thousands, of people dying there. We've seen the heatwaves across Pakistan and India. We've seen the floods here in Australia. This is what's going to continue. This is what we need to tackle.

We know what's causing this. We have known it for decades. Certainly I came into this place with a history of having worked on climate. I knew that the No. 1 existential issue that we needed to take serious action on was to reduce our carbon pollution to zero as quickly as possible and, in fact, to achieve negative emissions. That means getting out of coal, gas and oil, because it is the burning of those fossil fuels which is causing the climate crisis. So our position, of course, is that we are going to keep on talking about the need to lift our level of ambition and get out of the burning of coal, gas and oil as quickly as we possibly can here in Australia. We also need to stop contributing to the world's burning of coal and gas and oil by continuing to open up new mines and new coal and gas. We cannot afford to do so. We just can't.

One of the problems with decision-making in this place is that there is such a short-term approach, one that thinks about what's going to happen in terms of profits for a very small number of people over a very small period of time, when that's not the decision-making framework that we need to have. We need to be thinking about the reality of what the burning of those coal and gas reserves is going to mean for our future. And it's not a happy future. The science is really clear. Every tonne of coal and gas burnt increases the intensity and the speed of changes to our climate, which means more floods such as those experienced across New South Wales and Queensland this year, more intense droughts, more heatwaves and more frequent bushfires.

The positive thing about a government agenda and what we can be working on together is that Australia is so blessed with renewable resources, both for ourselves as a country and for export to the rest of the world. We are probably the best placed in the whole world to be leading this transition, and that's what we need to be doing. We need to be working towards that, rather than, hypocritically, using the drug dealer's defence about our coal and our gas—if we don't burn it, if we don't mine it, if we don't export it, then somebody else will. Not only is that immoral, completely unsubstantiated and completely unacceptable in relation to what the impact of it would be for our future, it's just not true. We are the world's second-largest exporter of thermal coal. Australia is the third-largest fossil fuel exporter behind only Russia and Saudi Arabia. In fact, if we had a planned transition out of coal and gas—we've got our coal and gas mines at the moment—if we had a planned transition out of those and we absolutely did not open up any of the 114 new coal and gas mines that are being planned, if we did that in a planned and measured way, it would have a massive impact on the world's supply and it would turbocharge the shift which is already happening around the world to renewable energy, including so much Australian renewable energy. Australian electricity, Australian hydrogen, created with Australian jobs in the future focused Australian economy—that's the direction that we need to be putting all of our efforts into. We need to be saying, 'This is the sustainable future for us all. This is what's going to be bringing wealth and wellbeing to Australia as well as to the rest of the world.'

The Greens implore the government to listen to the science and to lift its ambition. We will keep on talking about the need to get out of coal and gas. The Climate Change Bill 2022, which is going through the House today and which will come back to us in the Senate in the coming months, is just the first step. There is so much more that needs to be done. We implore the government to listen to the voices of the community, rather than to the voices of the big coal and gas corporations, and to listen particularly to the voices of young people, who, unlike most of us—I don't know whether I'll still be around in 2050: certainly, in 2070 I'll be long gone. The young people, who are talking about their future, are going to be here in 2050. They're going to be here in 2070. They are the people who will have to live with the consequences of our decision today.

On our opening day, on Tuesday of last week, when the Governor-General gave his speech, we had young people here in this parliament. They came to parliament to have their voices heard on these urgent issues of climate and inequality. However, very sadly, in an attempt to silence them, these young, peaceful protesters were ejected by the parliament, by police, for singing—for singing, mind you!—in peaceful protest. I'm so glad that the following day I was able to get out and meet them and to sing with them on the lawns of Parliament House, to tell them that we heard their voices, that we listened to them and that we were going to keep on acting, being their representatives in this place and trying to get the government to listen.

I will use some of my time here today to elevate their voices and to give you the words that they were telling us—their message to us all on Tuesday last week. They are a strong and growing movement of young people from all over the country, and they want you to hear this. They told us that, with people across the country facing unprecedented climate disasters, rising costs of living and a housing crisis, we need climate jobs for all, and that solving the climate crisis is too important to be left in the hands of big business. We need sustained action, coordinated by the government, in the hands of the public. They said that a climate jobs guarantee will end unemployment and get our economy back on track. It will solve the climate crisis. It will prepare us for climate disasters. And they said that our politicians have a choice to make: they can either bend to the will of big business or choose a people-first recovery that makes society better than what it was before the pandemic. So I pledged to those young people from the Tomorrow Movement that we Greens are listening, and I implore everybody else in this place to listen to them as well.

One of the other things that was really notable in the Governor-General's speech was the absence of any commitment to protect our native forests. Protecting our forests is one of the most efficient, effective and immediate ways to take climate action, because our native forests are excellent carbon sinks. There was a recent study on Tasmania's forests by the Tree Projects, which revealed that protecting native forests could provide $2.6 billion worth of carbon sequestration by 2050. Alarmingly, the study also found that annual emissions from native forest logging in Tasmania are equivalent to the annual emissions of 1.1 million cars. Experts have also warned us that logging our precious native forests increases the frequency and severity of bushfires, driving threatened species further into extinction and placing Australians in danger.

Yet, we are not protecting our forests. We must protect our forests, or we risk a climate catastrophe, and yet native forest logging is being facilitated by state and federal governments, who are recklessly destroying our forests. Native forest logging will never be sustainable. It destroys First Nations' country and totem species. It destroys habitat and robs our future generations of the right to our environment.

And yet, again, as I'm speaking here today, this afternoon, in the Victorian parliament, there is legislation being passed that is going to mean that the people protesting about this and defending our forests could be imprisoned for up to a year or receive up to $21,000 in fines. Similar antiprotest laws have also been debated in the Tasmanian and New South Wales parliaments. So I'm calling upon this government to speak out about these state government laws. We need to scrap our logging laws. We need to protect our native forests. But, at the very least, what this Labor government could do is to speak up for people's rights and speak up for the environment. They should be making the strongest representations to Victoria to abandon these laws, which are an attack on people's rights as well as an attack on our forests.


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