Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Statements by Senators

Climate Change, Tarkine Region

1:32 pm

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Now, now, children. I'm actually going to speak about children. Last week, thousands of schoolkids all around the country went on strike. In capital cities, in regional centres, right around the country, kids went on strike because this government has repeatedly failed to act and do its job. It has failed to act on climate action, failed to show leadership on climate action and failed to prevent the emerging climate catastrophe. In my home state of Tasmania, schoolkids are so frustrated with this government that they went out a day earlier than the other states. Thousands rallied outside the state parliament in Hobart last Thursday. Tasmania leading the way again makes me bloody proud as a father of two young Tasmanians and as a senator for my state of Tasmania.

Last week's Strike 4 Climate Action was an extraordinary event and an inspiring event. These children are our future leaders. They're smart, they're strong and they're clear-headed about what is important, about what kind of future they want for all of us. I was lucky enough to be in Sydney on Friday and to go to Martin Place for the rally. I listened to their poetry, their words and their songs. I saw and drank in their optimism and their inspiration—exactly what a tired and jaded Greens senator needed at the end of a long parliamentary year, at the end of a year of constantly fighting to get the environment and the climate on the political agenda.

But, all too predictably, this government could only respond by putting on their 'stern daddy' faces and saying how naughty these kids were for not being in school—patronising, dismissive, burying-your-head-in-the-sand kind of stuff. The Prime Minister told parliament last week, before the event:

Each day, I send my kids to school, and I know other members' kids should also go to school. But we do not support our schools being turned into parliaments.

He continued:

And so what we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools.

What the Prime Minister didn't appreciate was that all good protests need good signs. And if you've got some fresh material to work with, you can get some really good signs.

I'd like to share with you some of those signs from the protests last week—because schoolkids right around this country were very quick with their reposts. Here is a selection: 'Schools have to be parliament when parliament is a schoolyard,' 'Procrastinating is our job, not yours,' 'I've seen smarter cabinets at Ikea,' 'Why should we go to school if you won't listen to the educators,' 'Naughty kids get coal; nice kids get a carbon tax,' 'We'll be less activist if you'll be less shit,' 'If you were smart, we'd be in school,' and, lastly, the one I like the most, 'Mess with the climate and in the future we'll mess with your pension.'

Last week's event was inspired by a 15-year-old Swedish student, Greta Thunberg, in protest against her government's inaction—which, believe me, is a damn sight better than our government's. Greta has spent every Friday sitting outside her nation's parliament. She said, 'I will continue to do so until leaders come into line with the Paris Agreement.' She has started a global movement. She also said:

Some say I should be in school. But why should any young person be made to study for a future when no one is doing enough to save that future? What is the point of learning facts when the most important facts given by the finest scientists are ignored by our politicians?

Hear, hear, Greta!

This is what last Friday was all about. Primary and secondary schoolkids are so worried about their future, so worried about the fate of this planet—humankind and all other inhabitants of this planet—and so frustrated with this government and the world's governments' inability to act on climate change that they feel the need to get organised and take global action. And that, senators, is quite an indictment on all of us. Our kids are so devoid of hope for their future that they've gone on strike. That's a hell of a load for them all, at their age, to be carrying. We need to sit up and listen. Also, we need to recognise that this might be the start of something new. If the Prime Minister is worried that these kids are going on strike, he might want to reflect on what people might be prepared to do when more and more of them start to understand the true enormity of the climate emergency we face and the self-interested, short-sighted idiocy that is preventing action—good policy, leadership and the courage to act.

Just this week, Sir David Attenborough said the following about the climate emergency we're all facing:

If we don't take action, the collapse of our civilisations and the extinction of much of the natural world is on the horizon.

He also said:

Leaders of the world, you must lead. The continuation of our civilisations, and the natural world upon which we depend, is in your hands.

This comes from a man who consistently, throughout his life, has refused to be political, and, frustratingly for many environmentalists, has never really talked about climate change and the environment—until the age of 94.

This is the first time in human history that we have all faced a global existential crisis of our own making. We are the first generations to have to cope with a climate emergency, and we will be the last generation that can stop it. Think about that for a second. When people start to fully understand and internalise, when people realise that we have to choose to avoid a catastrophe—and that our inaction is because of the vested interests that have a stranglehold on our politics—the Prime Minister and future prime ministers might wish for the day when all they had to worry about was schoolkids going on strike. History is full of examples of people taking extreme action and direct action in the face of opposition from the ruling class to achieve progress, and when the future of civilisation is what is at stake we might expect that people will be prepared to take direct action; a future of civil disobedience.

This government, and others which refuse to act, will have the blame for this land squarely at their feet. I hope that the schoolkids of Australia feel emboldened to state clearly that they want their government to give them hope and to give them a vision of a future that they can believe in. I hope that next year we'll see them out again, in bigger numbers and with a stronger voice, if this parliament and this chamber refuse to act. And I hope the same is said of children all around the world. And I hope that at next year's election people vote for a future for these schoolkids so that we get rid of this pathetic, chaotic rabble of a government who only care about themselves and their political power games. The Greens will be unwavering in doing whatever we can to give hope to the next generation so that we can avoid nothing less than a calamity on this planet. Prime Minister and future prime ministers: don't say you weren't warned.

In my last 45 seconds I would like to speak about a petition that Senator McKim and I will proudly bring into this chamber this afternoon. It has 270,000 signatures—a global movement to protect the Tarkine, or takayna, in north-west Tasmania. Senators, if you haven't visited Tasmania, if you haven't been to takayna, or Tarkine, please come down this summer. To see is to want to protect our wild and special places. Tarkine is one of the most special places on earth; one of the last unprotected great wildernesses in the Southern Hemisphere. Sooner or later we will get there.