Wednesday, 7 September 2022
Climate Change Bill 2022, Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022; Second Reading
The Climate Change Bill 2022 and the Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022 are the first bills the Albanese Labor government introduced into parliament. There's a reason for that. It helps us send a strong message that we acknowledge that climate change is a major threat and one that needs to be dealt with urgently. It's a threat to our prosperity, our safety, our national security and our way of life. The likelihood of it threatening the very survival of the human species is enough that we cannot afford to deny action. Even the climate change impacts we are seeing in Australia right now are disastrous enough to warrant urgent action.
There has been a dramatic increase in extreme weather events such as heatwaves, floods and wildfires, with the consequent loss of property, livelihoods and even lives. To give you a picture of the impact of climate change on Australia so far: since 2005, Australia has experienced nine out of 10 of its hottest days on record; in January and February 2009, a period which overlapped with the devastating Black Saturday bushfires, 374 excess deaths were recorded in Victoria due to heat related illness; in 2018, the fire season began in winter, while the 2019 bushfires created air pollution in areas such as New South Wales 11 times the hazardous level; the disastrous 2019-20 bushfire season caused around $80 billion of damage across Australia and burnt somewhere between three and four per cent of our land mass; and, this year, floods in Queensland and New South Wales have led to almost $5 billion in damage and killed 22 people.
The world has warmed by 1.1 degrees since 1880. As it continues to warm, we will see a loss of biodiversity and an increase in extreme weather events. Not only do these extremes threaten people's safety and property, but we're also likely to see the increased spread of infectious diseases as changes in climate force the migration of species to new areas. Climate change has also exacerbated the severity of drought, putting pressure on agricultural production. Australia has always been a vast, rugged country subject to weather extremes, but what has been happening in the past two decades is something entirely different. This is not normal. Australians see these impacts and suffer from them, which is why increasing numbers of Australians keep calling for real action on climate change.
Sadly, the time spent in office by the previous government was a wasted opportunity for climate change action. Every year that went by was a year of delay, denial and inaction. Among the Liberals and Nationals, we heard a variety of views on climate change while they were in government. They could not move forward because they remained hopelessly divided on the issue. Among the ranks of the coalition were the outright deniers, ranging from those who refuse to believe changes in climate were influenced by human activity through to the even more bizarre view that the climate was not changing and government agencies were deliberately falsifying data. Those in the coalition who accepted the evidence that human activities were responsible for the extreme weather events we saw offer an array of excuses for refusing to act. Some suggested that Australia should not be taking action to cut emissions until other countries make stronger commitments, despite Australia having the highest emissions in the world on a per capita basis. Others talked about the size of Australia's contribution to global emissions, but the question of Australia taking action is not just about our emissions; it's the example we set for the rest of the world, particularly the countries with the highest overall emissions.
For years we've been seen as a pariah. We need to do our share of the heavy lifting if we're going to encourage others to do the same. Even when the previous government accepted that climate change was real, their actions failed to match their words. We saw policies advanced under the pretence of action. For example, the backbone of the coalition's policy for many years was the Emissions Reduction Fund, which wasted hundreds of millions of dollars on projects that did not deliver real cuts to emissions. Another great example was the so-called net zero by 2050 blueprint, which relied on a series of costly, unproven and underdeveloped technologies to do the bulk of the heavy lifting.
A policy that makes heavy cuts to Australia's emissions has to rely on the renewable energies that we know are cost-effective and work at scale, and they are wind and solar with backup battery storage. But those opposite have shown their contempt for renewable energy. They tried to abolish the Clean Energy Finance Corporation under the guise of cutting red tape, even though the agency was making a profit. They also tried to abolish the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, and, when they failed at that, they tried to get ARENA to invest in fossil fuel and carbon capture and storage projects. And they even proposed underwriting coal-powered generation to the tune of billions of dollars. It's incredible that the previous government had such a pathological hatred of renewable energy that they opposed it, even when it made fiscal and economic sense without reference to emissions.
The legislation sets an interim target of a 43 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, and we know we can achieve a 43 per cent cut because it's the outcome predicted by the modelling of our climate change policies. Reaching this target will get Australia well on the way to our ultimate target, also enshrined in these bills, of net zero emissions by 2050. The 43 per cent target, mind you, is a floor and not a ceiling. We can be more ambitious if the circumstances call for it. In addition to these two emissions reduction targets, the bills now before the Senate will provide for an annual statement to parliament from the minister responsible for climate change. The statement will include an update on Australia's progress towards meeting our emissions targets. The bill will also restore the Climate Change Authority to provide independent expert advice to the minister on the annual statement and to provide advice on any new or updated emissions reduction targets to be communicated to the UN under the Paris Agreement.
I was pleased to have the opportunity to participate in a Senate inquiry into these bills and to hear from representatives of business, academia, environmental organisations, unions, think tanks, welfare groups—the list goes on. Overwhelmingly, those who contributed to the inquiry via written submissions and addressing our public hearings were in favour of the objectives and provisions of the bill, with only a small minority opposed to them. These bills are just the foundation for our climate change action. We will get to work on our other plans, which include Rewiring the Nation, an enhanced safeguard mechanisms and Australia's first-ever electric vehicle strategy. Rewiring the Nation will get us to 82 per cent renewables by 2030 and will put downward pressure on power prices for Australian households.
It's sad that against the weight of public opinion the opposition would oppose those bills. They remain stuck in the past on this issue, their heads firmly planted in the sand. After almost a decade of delay, denial and inaction, they've finally had an opportunity to end the climate change wars for the good of all Australians, but rejected it. Incredibly, they were even going against the wishes of the business community who they purport to represent. But we are not deterred. We know that the overwhelming majority of Australians want climate change action. We will legislate these targets, and we will make a meaningful contribution to global action under the framework of the Paris Agreement, because Labor is getting on with the job.