Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Community Leadership

7:22 pm

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak briefly of positive things. It has been quite a dark couple of weeks in this parliament. It probably depends on your point of view and on which side of the chamber you are sitting, and it is hard to stay positive when you see the incredible unforced errors of judgement being made one after another by this government in a series of policy, tactical and strategic blunders—

Photo of Simon BirminghamSimon Birmingham (SA, Liberal Party, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment) Share this | | Hansard source

So you're going to be positive tonight?

Photo of Scott LudlamScott Ludlam (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, I will get to the positive stuff, Senator Birmingham. It is difficult to stay positive, but let me begin with something that the Acting Deputy President, Senator Whish-Wilson, will be pleased to know. It is being reported on the wires that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations in Singapore appear to have crashed, or stalled for the time being, which means that this parliament and its Treaties Committee, which I sit on, will not at some stage in the near future be presented with that document, which no Australian citizen outside massive lobbyists has seen, and ordered to bring it into Australian domestic law. I start with that information as a place for positivity because you would not expect to find optimism in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement because it is effectively a way of subordinating sovereign parliaments and domestic law beneath the rule of unaccountable corporations, most of the largest ones from a long way from here. Yet it has invoked a spirited people's movement right around the world, particularly in places where the impacts of such agreements would be much more severe than they would be even in Australia, where we have things like cheap medicines, which would be on the chopping block, as well as software, entertainment products and various other things, including the ability of corporations to sue sovereign governments This has invoked an extraordinary people's movement around the world and maybe tonight we are seeing some signs of their progress.

We are also seeing a parliament where the government is doing everything it can to smash up progress on climate change. But, again, around the world we see a global movement of civil society, a global movement of people, 600,000 of whom signed a global petition to stand with the Philippines. So the colossal disaster that overtook the coastal Philippines with the hurricane of only a few weeks ago was occurring against the backdrop of stalled progress on climate negotiations in Warsaw. We saw national governments in the industrialised world failed to do very much and are, in fact, taking us backwards. Yet voices from civil society, voices of ordinary people coming together in a movement around the world can actually change things and are probably going to provide the leadership that this parliament is so dramatically failing to provide.

The global power shift brought 500 people from 135 countries together to plan and get active in building a global climate movement. When leaders fail, leadership arises from elsewhere. We are seeing that happening all over the place. It is not just a movement of radical activists; it is mothers and fathers, it is grandparents, it is church leaders, lawyers, teachers, nurses and students. It is a community standing up to an industry and a set of linked industries that are threatening our future. It is tremendously inspiring to work as part of the green movement and the global green movement. We are the Australian representatives of a parliamentary movement that exists in many, many countries around the world and has representatives all over the world. It is extraordinary to be a part of that uprising and upwelling.

One of the most optimistic things that is happening at the moment in the climate movement, even as this government moves to dismantle what instruments we have to bring our carbon emissions back under control, is the movement under the broad umbrella of—which refers to that no-go zone of parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere—for divestment. If the fossil industries have captured national legislatures and stalled international progress towards an agreement, we will attack them where it hurts, which is the bottom line, through that global divestment movement. Noting that only 200 companies hold the vast majority of coal, oil and gas reserves—the top four include BHP Billiton and the top five oil and gas companies include Exxon, BP and Chevron—the global divestment movement brings tremendous optimism to me. This is something we can do a bit about by divesting, whether it is pension funds, superannuation funds, investment interests managed by churches or by universities or by people of good heart anywhere at all, right down to the ordinary deposit holder who can go to their bank and divest—and let them know exactly why they are doing it—and put their savings with an entity that is not investing in the ruination of the climate and thereby the economy and society itself.

In this campaign to date we have seen 22 cities in the United States, seven colleges and universities, 19 religious institutions in Australia including the Uniting Church in New South Wales and the ACT, three foundations and six other large institutions that have divested from fossil fuels. It is a beginning. It is not necessarily shaking the fossil industry to its foundations yet, but it will, as we gain traction and as people realise just how much power they have to undermine the financial underpinnings of the entities that are undermined in the biological underpinnings of our whole society. That movement is pretty strong in Perth. We have a wonderful young woman, Jamie, who is helping to motivate and inspire and bring people together in Western Australia. There is Charlie, who visited us from Melbourne and lit up a meeting when they suddenly realised the tools we have to hand to take our power back, and Jamie Hanson, whom we unfortunately, and I hope temporarily, lost to Melbourne. Bill McKibben, the American environmentalist, whom I was very fortunate to meet when he spoke at the National Press Club earlier this year, is motivating this global divestment network that I think stands a better chance perhaps than this legislature does, certainly over the next few months, of making a substantial difference. Of course, we need both kinds of action going at the same time. As the carbon price and entities like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation provide the instruments and the capital that we need to build the platform of the energy industries of the century that we are now in, at the same time we need to go after and quite seriously attack, as directly as we can, the entities that seem hell-bent on profiting from the destruction of the environment.

Communities around the country are resisting fracking and it might not seem that the Lock the Gate movement has all that much in common with them. A farmer in regional New South Wales or in the midwest of WA: what do they have in common with a university student approaching their university senate to ask for them to divest? They have an enormous amount in common. In Broome, in the midwest of Western Australia, the campaign against gas fracking is only just taking off. Lock the Gate has found a place in Geraldton, as you can imagine. And I cannot go past a shout-out to those who occupied the camp at Walmadan beach on the Kimberley coast, a few dozen kilometres north of Broome, and held off Woodside—another one from the fossil fuel industry that seems to be hell-bent on wrecking the climate—and they beat them. People motivated in protection of country and culture, who can stand up against some of the most powerful institutions in this country and, indeed, in the world, can prevail. The people of the West Kimberley know a bit about resisting and fending off inappropriate development. Some of the same people were involved in the late 1990s in preventing a very large dam, or a network of dams, being thrown across the mighty Fitzroy River partly for an irrigated genetically modified cotton plantation proposal—absolute madness, completely opposite to the kind of development that people are pursuing up there. I believe that those people will prevail, not simply in holding off the things that they do not want, but in providing for and catalysing the things that they do.

For me, a lot of these things wind back ultimately to climate and energy issues. They are at the root of some of the most fast-moving but also the most profound changes that our society is undergoing, and if we can crack that one I believe we can do anything at all. Last year, there were 109 operational concentrating solar thermal power stations generating over 3,000 megawatts. Against the backdrop of global energy markets, 3,000 megs is a drop in the ocean. But watch what happens. Fifty-two more are now under development and that will generate an additional 8,000 megawatts. This is an industry that provides baseload, or better than baseload, solar power day and night, 24-7.

Senator Milne and I visited a plant in Spain last December—about this time last year—a plant that had been running for 365 days. Solar Reserve, a company that is building a plant six times the size, recently set up an office in Perth, in my home town in Western Australia. They will be working with the mining industry with those who are looking for a hedge against rising gas prices out in the goldfields in the central Pilbara, and good luck to them. We will be doing everything we can to help.

I just want to finish with a quote from Paul Hawken in a speech to a graduating university class called 'You are brilliant and the earth is hiring'. He said:

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren’t pessimistic, you don’t understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren’t optimistic, you haven’t got a pulse.

I thank the chamber.