Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 September 2022


Climate Change Bill 2022, Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022; Second Reading

9:18 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | Hansard source

Thank you, Deputy President. The passage of this bill would be a landmark day for climate action in Australia. The government is proud of this legislation. It's a demonstration of our commitment to ambitious action on climate change, to transparency and to accountability on this defining issue of our time.

We are entering a new phase. We move on from discussing whether we will join the global transition and instead discuss how. We are working with workers, businesses, farmers and climate advocates. We can and we must take strong climate action and start taking the real and necessary steps to create a low-carbon future, and that is what this bill does.

These bills provide the clearest signal this parliament can provide that Australia is serious about climate action, serious about building a net zero economy and serious about capturing the jobs, the investment and the other benefits that a net zero economy will bring. These bills demonstrate that we are serious when we say that we care about future generations and the effects of climate change on the world they will inherit.

The Climate Change Bill legislates Australia's emissions reduction targets to be achieved by 2030 and by 2050. It makes clear that these targets are a floor, not a ceiling, on our ambition. The bill enhances accountability and transparency through an annual statement to parliament, reporting on Australia's progress towards the targets informed by independent expert advice from the Climate Change Authority. It provides for independent advice from the authority on future targets. The consequential amendments embed consideration of the targets into the objects and functions of a range of Commonwealth entities and schemes, focusing effort and ensuring that they are all pulling in the same direction.

These bills have been developed and added to following collaborative good faith discussions with other members of parliament. In July the government invited the Australian parliament to end the climate wars that have stymied and delayed action for so many years, and many across the parliament accepted that invitation. The government consulted with interested members of parliament in good faith. We have agreed to reasonable amendments that strengthen the bills, are consistent with the government's election mandate and will facilitate the passage of these important reforms. The government thanks those members and senators for their engagement.

The government also thanks the Senate Environment and Communications Legislation Committee for its comprehensive report on the bills. Naturally, we agree with the committee's recommendation that the Climate Change Bill and the consequential amendments bill be passed. The committee also recommended that, after the bills are passed, the government undertake further consultation on possible legislative amendments and policy responses, including reviewing the use of native forest wood waste for renewable energy and the transition arrangements for Australian workers affected by decarbonisation.

On Tuesday Minister Bowen announced the government will release a consultation paper on the native forest wood waste issue, inviting stakeholder views on the changes recommended by Senator David Pocock and the Greens party. The concerns raised relate to a decision by the Abbott government in 2015 to put native forest wood waste back into the scheme. The government will consider next steps in light of the results of that consultation and look to make any necessary changes to the regulations by the end of the year. We understand that the issue raised relates to eligibility under the Renewable Energy Target. It is not a reflection on the government's general support for sustainable native forest industries and the workers that depend on those industries. Minister Bowen had previously committed to exploring further amendments to primary and subordinate legislation to embed the targets and the Paris Agreement into a wider set of relevant legislations and schemes. We will undertake that review and consult with stakeholders, implement further actions and report back to parliament in the second annual statement. We will welcome suggestions for further amendments.

Looking beyond the bills to the broader implications of the net zero transition for Australian workers, I note that the Greens, in their dissenting report, recommended that a statutory authority be established. Climate action brings enormous job opportunities, but it also brings challenges. At last week's Jobs and Skills Summit the government committed to a coordinated approach with industry, unions, local governments and communities to assist affected workers and regional communities prosper in a clean energy future. We will continue to work with states, territories, unions, industries and communities to deliver a framework for net zero economic development in our regions, including through the national energy transformation partnership agreed by energy ministers last month.

As the Prime Minister has said on numerous occasions, this is a government that will make sure that no-one is held back and no-one is left behind. That includes the workers who build, maintain and operate our energy system and who are so crucial for its transformation. Decarbonisation of the global energy system and the broader economy presents immense opportunities for Australia's regions and reduces the serious threats to rural and regional areas that arise from unchecked climate change. This government is committed to harnessing these opportunities and to a brighter, more hopeful and more prosperous future.

The Greens also recommended, in their dissenting report, that a climate trigger should be placed on all projects in development so that the Minister for the Environment and Water can assess projects against the government's emissions targets. The government will formally respond to the Samuel review of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to help strengthen Australia's environmental protection law. The government has committed to introducing legislation in 2023, following extensive consideration and consultation. We're currently consulting on changes to the safeguard mechanism to cover existing and new facilities with over 100,000 tonnes of direct emissions.

I also thank Senator Andrew Bragg for his engagement with the Senate inquiry into the bills. I'm pleased to say that the government agrees with him that the market should be supported to invest in low- and zero-emissions energy and the transmission infrastructure required to decarbonise. Our Powering Australia and Rewiring the Nation policies are providing that support. We note Senator Bragg's recommendation that the Australian government should support the supply of gas as a transition fuel. We understand gas is not a low-emissions fuel but does play an important part in helping power communities by firming peaking electricity and as a feedstock and source of heat for industry. We also concur with Senator Bragg's view that Australia should be a first-mover in legislating an emissions disclosure regime. We are committed to ensuring large businesses, including financial institutions, provide Australians and investors with greater transparency and accountability when it comes to climate related plans, risks and opportunities. The Treasurer is leading work to introduce a standardised, internationally aligned reporting requirement to ensure that climate related disclosures are usable, credible and comparable, which will be informed by substantial consultation. The government does not, however, agree with Senator Bragg's recommendation to lift the nuclear energy prohibition. This is a distraction from the need to implement cuts to pollution now to meet our targets and to put downward pressure on power bills through the deployment of renewable energy.

I thank Senator David Pocock for his contribution to the Senate committee inquiry and his genuine engagement with the government to discuss the bills. As a result of those discussions, the government will be agreeing to a number of amendments relating to the transparency and content of the annual statement to parliament and the Climate Change Authority's advice.

The government does not accept the other recommendations in the report.

I note that some opposition senators have raised concerns about this bill enabling climate litigation. The legislation does not change the statutory decision-making for other legislative schemes, such as the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. The idea that it gives rise to new causes of action or litigation against resources projects is just another excuse. BP submitted to the Senate inquiry:

… our hope is that by legislating the target and providing a transparent and accountable framework for its delivery, the legislation might even reduce the uncertainty that can sometimes be a driver for litigation

Santos, when questioned on the risk of litigation, said, 'No.' The Department of Climate Change, Energy the Environment and Water submission stated this: 'The bills do not create new legal risks for the Commonwealth.' They explained that the bills are different from the UK bills, so the same risks do not apply.

This is typical of the objections so frequently raised by the opposition. They are so often prosecuting concerns that seem to be shared by them alone and are out of step with agriculture leaders, with business leaders, with not-for-profits and, indeed, with common sense. The truth is that those opposite have been too busy arguing with themselves to do anything over the past decade. They squabbled their way through 22 energy policies and in their last year of government oversaw one of the biggest spikes in emissions in 15 years.

Our government is acting to end the years of delay, dysfunction, denial and denigration. These bills will lay the foundation of the biggest economic transformation in our lifetime. This is our duty to our children, to our grandchildren and to future Australians. This is necessary to safeguard Australia's environment, our community and our economy, and this is necessary to unlock the innovation and investment that we need to drive jobs and growth in the industries that will underpin our prosperity in the decades to come.

Senate adjourned at 21:29


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