Senate debates

Monday, 10 February 2020

Matters of Public Importance

Fossil Fuels

6:30 pm

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, two proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Siewert:

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

There is a clear link between the burning of fossil fuels and worsening bushfires, and the Government must put in place a plan to eliminate climate pollution, including a phase out of thermal coal mining.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places

I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today's debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

6:31 pm

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this matter of public importance about how the burning of fossil fuels is making bushfires worse. It's also making all our extreme weather events more frequent and more extreme. We've gone from one extreme to the other. We've had bushfires that have ravaged our nation, starting one week out of winter in my home state of Queensland. They have been burning since then, and it has only been the torrential rain that is now wreaking absolute havoc in cities like Sydney and parts of Queensland—

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Climate change!

Photo of Larissa WatersLarissa Waters (Queensland, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, it is; I'll take that interjection from former Minister Canavan—I'm not quite sure what to call him now: Senator Canavan. That is in fact precisely what meteorologists and climatologists have been predicting. Perhaps Senator Canavan will have a bit more time on his hands now to read through some of that science. We would certainly welcome him turning his mind to that very clear link between the mining, exporting and burning of fossil fuels and the severity and the frequency of these devastating weather events.

It is perfectly clear that the single biggest cause of the climate emergency that we are in is coal. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and is not too far behind on being the world's largest exporter of liquefied natural gas, LNG. We are, in fact, in total, the world's third-biggest exporter of fossil fuels. Yet our Prime Minister likes to say that we have no impact on this global phenomena—that we are somehow absolutely powerless to do anything about this situation and that we're making just some tiny contribution. That flies in the face of the fact that we are the third-largest exporter of this problem which is making life harder for everybody around the world and impacting nature.

I've already talked about the impacts that we are feeling disproportionately. We have so much to lose economically if we fail to act on this opportunity to transition our economy as rapidly as possible to clean, renewable energy. We know that renewable energy is more job intensive than dirty fossil fuel energy. We know that those coal communities can see that global coal decline is continuing to occur. They want to know what the plan is for what happens next in their towns. They want to know what kinds of new industries they might be transitioned into. Perhaps they'll need retraining. Maybe they'll be able to use their existing skills. They are not hearing that conversation from this government; they're not hearing much from the state government either, I might add. They are desperate to have an input into what happens next economically for their communities and for their families. We're really proud to be having those conversations with them and to be calling on this government to be honest with people about the global coal decline and the ability to transition and create more jobs and more prosperity while we safeguard ourselves from the rampant effects of extreme weather events.

We're seeing ABARES predict that climate change has already reduced farming profits by 22 per cent since the year 2000. We have the Nationals purporting to be a party that represents farmers. They sold out to the big miners long ago. We all remember those massive donations from big mining and gas companies; Santos springs to mind, but there are many, many others. There is a conflict between farming and mining, and I'm afraid the Nationals are completely wedged on this. We've seen a 22 per cent productivity drop in farming over the past two decades, so why aren't the alarm bells ringing in that party?

The more we dig up, export and burn coal, the more we endanger human life, our economy and the state of nature. We've lost 50 per cent of the coral cover of the Great Barrier Reef, and that's 64,000 jobs on the line there if we lose the other 50 per cent. And yet we've got parliamentarians on both sides of the chamber who continue to take massive donations from big coal, big oil and big gas. Coincidentally, in the year before the election half a million dollars was donated to each side of this chamber by big coal, big oil and big gas. And in return? Well, gosh, they've got a feasibility study into a new coal-fired power plant in Collinsville, haven't they? Well, it will not be feasible. The economics of the transition to clean energy are clear: it will be good for the bottom line, it will be good for communities and workers, and it will be good for the planet. We will continue to push for that transition to happen as quickly as possible in a just way.

6:35 pm

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I always try to find redeeming features in people. You always try to be fair to people, even those you disagree with, and I certainly have my disagreements with the Greens political party. But everybody in life will have some qualities that shine through and mark them out from others, and there's no doubt the Greens have the gold medal in exaggeration and outlandish statements. They have the gold medal in taking an inch, taking a little bit of evidence, and stretching it out as far as the eye can see.

What we just heard from Senator Waters was an enormous amount of hyperbole, exaggeration and outlandish statements. Senator Waters, through this motion, and the Greens party are making out that somehow if you shut down thermal coalmines in Australia then we won't have bushfires anymore. We won't have a problem anymore; it will all go away. I think people listening to this would understand how absurd that notion is. As a country, we have been subject to bushfire risk for as long as we know. As a country, we are proud of having one of the longest continuous histories in the world. Indigenous Australians have records of fighting fires with fire for tens of thousands of years, but I can't think of and I don't know of any records of Aboriginal Australians mining coal prior to the arrival of European settlers. I don't think coalmines were the problem back then. We had bushfires back then; we have bushfires today; we are subject to this risk.

The challenge we have is from those who want to shut down our coalmines. They want to shut down an industry that is our nation's largest export, employs more than 50,000 people, sustains so many towns and provides billions of dollars—especially to state governments to fund hospitals, schools and other services. So they want to shut down an industry that provides all those benefits. That's their policy. You would think that they would be able to tell us: okay, how many bushfires will this stop? How many days will we be without bushfire risk because of this change? They have no such evidence, no such data, and no such rigour in their arguments; they're just broad, outlandish statements that don't add up.

In fact, it's worse than that, because the statements of the Australian Greens are also misleading this chamber. They are misleading because Senator Waters tried to put a big weight on the fact that Australia is the world's largest coal exporter. Yes, we're a very large coal exporter. We have vied for the top prize with Indonesia over different time periods. We're not the largest thermal coal exporter, not by far; Indonesia beats us on that mark. But if you add in coking coal, steelmaking coal, we sometimes go above Indonesia; sometimes they're above us. That's exports, though. That's not the use of coal; that's the export of coal from one country to another. It's not the total amount of coal used in the world, which the Greens provided no evidence about. I'm sure they'd know this. They are not silly people. I think Senator Waters is a smart person, and I'm sure she can look up these figures as easily as I can. She could use the resources of the Parliamentary Library. She could just ask the Parliamentary Library: What is Australia's contribution to the world's coal production? What is the answer to that question? It's not a hard question. It's not a complex one. The data is all available. It's an easy one: the world market for thermal coal, the global use of thermal coal, is over six billion tonnes a year. Australia produces about 250 million tonnes of that.

That's not what you heard from Senator Waters. We're a big coal exporter so we must be bad! But we actually account for only five per cent of the world's coal production—just five per cent! But that's not what you got from Senator Waters' contribution. From her contribution it would seem like we were the cause of it all, and if we just shut down the five per cent of world production that we account for then everything will be fine. That is patently absurd, because we produce such a small proportion of the coal.

But I will grant that what our great coal industry—our fantastic coal industry—produces is a high-quality product. It's a very high-quality product. It has high energy content. Typically, it has low ash and it often has low NOx. I should explain that: it has low nitrous oxides and sulphur oxides. Those are the things that can create the worst types of smog. So we have coal that goes onto the world market which helps to improve the quality of coal used in other countries.

There is a good reason for that: countries are not going to pay for coal to be transported enormously long distances unless it's of high quality. It is costly; it's costly to put the coal on the ships and the rail lines to be transported long distances. So that only happens with a high-quality product, and that's what we produce. We produce that. In raw numbers, the specification of our coal out of Newcastle is around 6,000 to 6,300 kilocalories per kilogram. So every kilogram of our coal has about 6,000 kilocalories of energy embodied in it. That might not mean much, but when you compare it to the energy content of other country's coal it is much, much better. Indonesia's coal is typically around 4,700 kilocalories per kilogram, so we're a good 20 to 30 per cent higher than Indonesia's coal. India's coal content is around 3,000 to 3½ thousand kilocalories per kilogram, and so we are a good 50 to 60 per cent higher.

If you use a tonne of Australian coal to generate electricity compared to a tonne of Indian coal or Indonesian coal you are saving something between 20 to 60 per cent of carbon emissions because you get more energy for the same input. It's not a hard concept to understand. If we want to reduce carbon emissions then we should move towards more energy-efficient and energy-rich fuel sources which can help lower carbon emissions but still provide the same amount of electricity. We should provide electricity to people who do not have it. It's very easy for us to say here: 'Let's just cut all this coal use. Let's get rid of it.' For people in countries which are much poorer than ours it's the difference between being able to heat or cool their homes with a safe energy source. In India, 20 per cent of their energy still comes from biomass—straw or wood based products, and sometimes worse things. The burning of those fuels, particularly indoors in households, contributes to terrible health outcomes. Our coal helps to electrify those systems and helps countries to cut their air pollution, as well as their carbon emissions, and is generating much greater environmental outcomes as well as supporting economic growth and development. That is why our coal industry is so good.

I also heard from Senator Waters that somehow coal markets are in decline and people are moving away from it. Again, that is actually not just misleading, it's just wrong. It is just factually, factually wrong. In the last couple of years, coal use in the Asia-Pacific region has boomed. Over 300 terawatts hours more are produced through coal-fired power than two years ago. That's a much greater increase than the increase in solar and wind. They are increasing quickly too—they are increasing substantially—but the increase in coal-fired power across the world has outpaced the increase in solar and wind power over the past couple of years. That's because, thank God, we are still seeing economic growth in the Asian region. It's a great thing that people are being brought out of poverty. Yes, we should seek to cut our carbon emissions, but we should also seek to support other important goals—the Sustainable Development Goals, for example, of ending poverty and supporting economic growth.

I've only got a little bit of time. I could talk for a lot longer, but I wanted to reserve some time to comment on the broader scientific issues. Again, comments from the Greens are highly misleading. We heard from Senator Waters that they are linking all types of weather—when it rains; when it hails; when it snows, presumably, or when it doesn't snow; or when there is fire; or when it's hot or it's cold. All of those things are due to the coal industry. It's an amazing industry that can cause all these issues!

What I didn't hear from Senator Waters was her quoting any science—any science at all. There were no quotes of scientific papers or anything like that. So that's what I'm going to do. There is a report called Climate change in Australia. It's the go-to guide by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology which outlines what the baseline science thinks about future projections in Australia due to climate change. That report shows that the number of fire-weather days—days that are hot, windy and dry—has increased over the past 40 years, and there's almost certainly a climate change impact from that. The report goes on to say:

… no studies explicitly attributing the Australian increase in fire weather to climate change have been performed at this time.

That's in the CSIRO's document. In the latest IPCC special report there's a table which has different natural disasters that are potentially linked to climate change and the state of science on them. In that report the IPCC concludes that for Australia there is little to no information about a link between climate change and bushfires. You wouldn't hear that from those on that side, because they don't quote you the science. There's a lot more I could quote, but I don't have time.

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

That's because you cut the research.

Photo of Matthew CanavanMatthew Canavan (Queensland, Liberal National Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take the interjection from over there, because I don't want to leave the Labor Party out of this. They've been trying to make out in the past year that, somehow, they're converts and they might actually support the coal industry. They definitely didn't a year ago at the election. Now they're trying to say: 'We didn't mean what we said. We actually support coal jobs.' We've seen the lie of that statement today, because today they had an opportunity to back, just a business case, for a coal-fired power station at Collinsville to support an Indigenous group that wants to build a coal-fired power station on traditional owners' land. Don't give me any rubbish about the Greens supporting Indigenous Australians. They definitely don't. That group wants to build that power station. The Labor Party have been tested here and they've come up short, because they're not supporting it. They're not supporting those economic development goals. You cannot say that you support the export of Australian coal and the creation of Australian jobs if you don't also support some of the use of that coal in Australia to support jobs here too. (Time expired)

6:46 pm

Photo of Louise PrattLouise Pratt (WA, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister for Manufacturing) Share this | | Hansard source

The past few months in our nation have been very much a harsh look at what could be our new reality as a nation. It was devastating to see in my home state of WA the destruction of much of the Stirling Range, one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots, which burned from Boxing Day to the new year. It's a region that may never recover. This was a drop in the ocean compared with the chaos Australia has been thrown into over the past few months. In the 2019-20 bushfires so far—they are not 'this summer's fires'; they began burning in Queensland in late winter last year, and the Stirling Range also started burning before winter—these fires have burned more than 18 million hectares of our nation. Thirty lives have been lost and thousands of homes have been destroyed. A billion animals are estimated to have died, with the possibility that some endangered species are now extinct. We still don't really know the full scale of the devastation that we are facing. In responding—as a parliament, as a national government, as an opposition—we cannot think just of short-term relief. We also need to think of Australia's long-term future, given what has so far been a dismal response to this climate change emergency. Our climate is changing adversely. Longer hot and dry spells have created a tinderbox of much of our nation. Last year, 2019, was Australia's hottest and driest year since records began.

The government hasn't been listening. The government was told that back-burning was becoming more difficult because moist and cool windows of opportunity have become fewer and fewer. There was a politicised debate in which governments blamed greenies for refusing to allow back-burning, and on it goes without recognition that this very debate is a manifestation of climate change itself. Scientists have been telling us that greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to changes in our weather patterns and that the global community should play safe and adjust its behaviour in relation to emissions. Greg Mullins, a former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, said in a letter to Minister David Littleproud in November last year:

To protect Australians from worsening bushfire conditions and natural disaster risks, Australia must accelerate and increase measures to tackle the root cause, climate change.

Despite the clear and unequivocal advice and evidence we have before us we have a divided and shambolic federal government that is divided over the science of climate change. We heard it in question time today and in Senator Canavan's remarks just now.

For years now our nation has been subjected to a government that is incapable of acknowledging the deep concern in the Australian community about the threat of climate change—particularly over this awful and, for some, absolutely terrifying summer that they've experienced in recent months. And yet we have a government that has no energy policy, just an ideological climate change denial not at all based on the evidence. The cost of renewable power generation is coming down, and this represents the future of Australia's electricity grids.

Recently, as Senator Canavan highlighted, we've seen plans to spend large amounts of taxpayers' money on building a new coal-fired power station that even private investors will not touch. Let's be clear: Labor does not support government funding for new coal generation. Given the investment that's been going into renewable energy, I do not believe that, without a government subsidy, you can attract investment for a new coal-fired power station. In this delicate climate, we as Australians should be demanding an update of processes and careful distribution of our resources to a more sustainable method of energy generation. And yet we have proponents of nuclear power promoted to our ministry.

I know. I work very closely with coal communities in my state, and their jobs are jobs we're fighting to keep around for years to come. But that's not the debate that you're having now in promoting new sources of coal-fired power in northern Queensland. We also have a Prime Minister who says his government is meeting and beating its climate targets. Well, your own data—your own official emissions data—confirms that Australia will not meet our Kyoto commitment to cut emissions by five per cent. Our emissions reduction by 2020 will amount to little more than a rounding error of 0.3 per cent. As a high per capita emissions nation, this is simply not good enough. We are experiencing the effects of climate change as a nation, and it's all very well for this government to say that Australia is but a tiny fraction of those emissions. The rest of the world does look to what Australia does and they can see. If we as a higher per capita emissions nation cannot lower our emissions then why should their citizens have that burden? We have to show national leadership in order to deliver emissions reductions within Australia and to have credibility in global discussions and agreements about these issues. Without that, we will be simply preparing for disaster after disaster after disaster, which we know we need to do in any case. But we must bring down that risk and reduce it as much as we can. Three degrees of global warming will represent catastrophic impacts on our nation, but time and time again we see a government that cares more about their image than about the Australian people.

I find it somewhat ironic that the Greens should put up such a motion given their voting down of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme some 10 years ago now. I believe they bear a very heavy responsibility for the fact that Australia still does not have an effective policy to tackle climate change and reduce emissions. If those five Greens senators at that time had voted with Labor, the CPRS would have passed this parliament. A carbon price would have been embedded in our economy, reducing emissions in the most environmentally and economically efficient way, and driven the rollout of clean energy technologies, creating a great boost for Australian jobs. Very importantly, greenhouse gas emissions would have been some 81 million tonnes lower in 2020 than currently predicted. It would have been something incredible we could have taken to the world stage. Over the past 10 years an additional 218 million tonnes of emissions would have been prevented from entering into our atmosphere. The Greens' rationale for voting against the CPRS was that its emissions reduction targets were inadequate and its transitional assistance for emissions-intensive industries was too generous. But you will find that these elements are very similar to what was finally past in the Clean Energy Future Package with the Greens support.

There's much more I would like to be able to say in this debate. Labor is very proud to have been responsible for the most comprehensive energy and climate plan during the Gillard government, and emissions dropped under that plan. Professor David Bowman, an experienced fire ecologist from the University of Tasmania, said that this fire season would 'reframe our understanding of bushfire in Australia', and it would be 'teaching us what can be true under a climate changed world'. It's not always comfortable but, if this impasse of climate change denial cannot be resolved, I dread what future generations will think of us. (Time expired)

6:56 pm

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens are seen as ambulance chasers, using a political stunt and falsities on the back of a natural disaster tragedy. The Greens are making brazenly false statements and they're relying on people suffering climate amnesia and weather amnesia. Let's have some facts. Bushfires are not worsening, no matter how they are measured. In 1939, the loss of life number was 71, while 1,300 homes were lost and 3,700 buildings were lost. In 1974-75, 117 million hectares were burnt, four times the number this year. Lomborg provides graphs of satellite data from the years 1997 to 2020. There's been a one-third decrease in 20 years and a continuing downward trend. He also provides data going back to 1900. Twelve per cent of Australia was burned in 1900. It is now less than four per cent. That is not bushfires worsening.

Secondly on facts, there is no clear link with burning hydrocarbon fuels. Senator Macdonald stood over there in 2016, looked across at me and said, 'I don't always agree with Senator Roberts, but he is the first to start a debate on the climate science in this parliament.' We still haven't had the debate because the Greens will never specify their science. The Chief Scientist has said there will be virtually no impact, virtually nothing will occur, if Australia shuts down 100 per cent of its industry and transport. CSIRO, in cross-examination from me, have told me that temperatures in the last 10,000 years showed that today's temperatures are not unprecedented. CSIRO have admitted that they've never said that there's danger from human use of hydrocarbon fuels—human carbon dioxide.

Temperatures—fact!—in the 1880s and 1890s were warmer than today. Heatwaves were longer, more intense and severe. The medieval warming period a thousand years ago was significantly warmer than today. Ninety-seven per cent of the Holocene period, which is since the end of the last ice age, was warmer than today. The longest temperature trend in the last 140 years was 40 years of cooling at a time when carbon dioxide from human activity increased dramatically. For the last 25 years temperatures have been flat despite massive increases in human production of carbon dioxide. Greenpeace wanted to shut down the Australian Open in Melbourne due to severe temperatures. In 1939, the temperatures were warmer than today.

We've heard the Labor Party and the Greens talk about drought. Rainfall, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, was about 25 per cent higher in the first 20 years of this century than the first 20 years of the last century. The last fifty years show considerably higher rainfall than the previous 60 years. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows these is no link to drought.

What we need to do now is consider the Greens. I asked Senator Larissa Waters, the Leader of the Greens, to provide the evidence for her claims—

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Leader of the Greens in the Senate.

Photo of Malcolm RobertsMalcolm Roberts (Queensland, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

in the Senate—and for 154 days she has failed to respond. For 154 days there's been no evidence. Ten years ago, I challenged Senator Waters to a debate on the climate science. I've challenged her three times in total now. She won't front. In fact, she runs from me. On 5 February, in motion No. 353, Senator Waters said that the State of the climate 2018 report, authored by the CSIRO and the Bureau Of Meteorology, indicates that 'as the climate crisis continues'—they'd never used the term 'climate crisis'; they never used the term 'climate emergency'; they didn't even say, 'We're all going to die!' No, Australia, she was making that up. Talking about a climate emergency, we've now seen her saying 'the science says that, the experts say that and the community knows that'. That was just one week ago, Wednesday 5 February. False, false, false. And now we are told that coking coal won't produce carbon dioxide and we only have to shut down thermal coal. What a lot of rubbish!

The Greens are hurting people. They are dramatically hurting the cost of living. They are hurting industry and exporting it overseas. They are hurting jobs and killing Australia's future. Remember two things, Greens: you need empirical evidence to determine 'science' and you need to come up with proof of causation. You have zero!

7:01 pm

Photo of Paul ScarrPaul Scarr (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on this MPI. In the first instance, I think Australians are getting very, very tired of the polarisation of the debate in this respect. Certainly, Queenslanders are getting very, very tired of the polarisation of this debate. I note that Senator Siewert's motion talks about 'the elimination of climate pollution'—as if it were easy for a government, or anyone, to eliminate all climate pollution. And what do we mean by 'eliminate'? What are we actually eliminating? Because one person's climate pollution is another person's job provider and wealth creator, adding value to our resources. And that's what we would be eliminating if we followed the extreme policy advocated by the Greens.

Let me draw this out by talking about our smelters and out refineries. I believe that this country needs to do more to add value to the resources which are mined here. We need to add value to those resources, create jobs and generate wealth in this country rather than exporting those jobs and that wealth overseas and importing the value-added products. We've got a number of successful refineries and smelters in this country. So what do they say? What are the people who actually run businesses that rely on intensive electricity provision saying about renewables and electricity prices in this country?

Let me give you three examples. This is what Matt Howell, Chief Executive of Tomago Aluminium, was reported as saying in a newspaper article on 7 February 2020. Matt Howell actually has solar on his roof to provide heat generation for his water. Fine. That's good. So it's not that he does not believe in the benefits of renewable energy, but he is realistic. He said:

There's no question you can have a smelter run by batteries and renewables: wind and solar—

so he says you can do it—

But you'd be bankrupt, you can't make money from it.

That's the reality. It's not an extreme ideological position, it's the reality. Mr Howell explained that he had been approached by wind and solar developers on the hunt for an industrial customer who could underpin the projects. But the typical offer, approaching $45 a megawatt-hour, only applies when the plant is generating—when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. In the meantime, you need to rely on gas. And that means that the rate goes up to $70 a megawatt-hour for firmed renewables—typically wind or solar backed up by gas power. At that price, Tomago does not have a future in this country. That's the reality. That's not a politician speaking; that's someone who is running a business providing thousands of jobs directly and indirectly to people in this country. Those are his words: renewables plus gas are not good enough to maintain the future of that smelter. That's renewables plus gas; the Greens wouldn't even have gas.

Example No. 2, Alcoa, with the Portland smelter in Victoria, provides thousands of direct and indirect jobs in this country. Alcoa reported a $1.12 billion net global loss in 2019, and its President, Roy Harvey, said that part of the reason is that Australia has one of the 'highest energy price markets on the planet'. About his Portland smelter he said:

… it's a plant that operates very stably, it is a good technology, it just happens to be one of the most highest energy price markets on the planet.

Our electricity prices are too high, and this ideologically driven argument just means electricity prices would go higher and higher and the jobs of Australians would be put at risk.

What about Boyne Smelters in Gladstone in my home state of Queensland? Just recently, in August 2019, Rio Tinto's chief executive officer, Jean-Sebastien Jacques, said the company was on very thin ice in terms of the buyability of its Australian smelters. He said:

I am not going to lie to anybody here, at this point in time it is a very, very challenging situation, and we are in discussions with the federal government and the state government and our utility providers ... in order to see ways to ensure the long term viability of those assets.

Three smelters—Boyne, Portland and Tomago—are all struggling, under our existing electricity prices, to keep those businesses operating in this country. The chief executive of Tomago said that even with solar and wind plus gas—and we know the Greens don't like LNG, don't like gas—he can't make Tomago work. Once those smelters are shut down, once that capital-intensive business leaves this country, it is not going to come back.

I was part of a regional select committee that travelled to Victoria and spoke to the union representing the workers from Loy Yang. We heard from them in Hazelwood with respect to their prospects. Even with the best of intentions from the Victorian state government and other agencies to try to assist them to transition, the empirical evidence was that a third of them got full-time jobs, a third got casual jobs and a third have never worked again. Those are the outcomes when energy-intensive large capital projects are shut down. Those are the results. Doing that on a mass scale across our country, including in my state of Queensland, would be an absolutely nightmarish scenario—especially when common sense tells you that it would have absolutely no impact because Australia accounts for only 1.3 per cent of the emissions. It would have no impact on the climate. All you are doing is shifting those jobs and that capital intensity offshore to countries like China, India and the United States.

Let me give you two examples. BlueScope recently invested $1 billion in a steel mill in Ohio—not in Australia, in Ohio! Those jobs are now offshore in the United States. Those jobs should be here. They once were. They're now offshore. Incitec Pivot has built a $1.1 billion ammonia plant in Louisiana. Again, those jobs should be here. But the electricity prices, even today, are too high in this country, and we need to bring them down.

I say to the members of the Labor Party: if you're going to criticise our policy, maybe you need to have your own policy. If you're going to criticise our policy, you need to come up with your own policy first. Watching Richard Marles on Insiders yesterday was as excruciating as watching a patient in a dentist's chair. The Labor Party still can't get their heads around where they are up to in terms of the coal industry, neither in terms of thermal coal power nor in terms of opening new coal mines. It was absolutely painful to watch. On this side, our policy was articulated by no better person than the Prime Minister when he said before the National Press Club:

Our action though, is a balanced and responsible emissions reduction plan to reduce emissions by 26 per cent through to 2030.

These are the three cornerstone pledges that were made and this is what the Prime Minister said. We will do this consistent with the commitment we gave to the Australian people: (1) without a carbon tax that will slow our economy; (2) without driving up electricity prices; (3) without leaving behind Australians so often ignored, so often left out, particularly in regional areas, including in my state of Queensland. Whilst I'm ever in this Senate, whilst I'm standing in this chamber, I will always fight for Queensland jobs and I'll fight to make sure those jobs are not sacrificed on the altar of extreme Green ideology.

7:11 pm

Photo of Marielle SmithMarielle Smith (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I hope anyone who might be listening along at home or listening online to the debate today just engages in a little bit of fact-checking before taking some of the comments which have been made by previous senators on board. A little bit of fact-checking would help because there have been pretty extreme views from those opposite put forward in today's debate. I don't have time to go through them one by one, so before you take them on board, a little fact-checking might help. I'm really pleased to speak on this matter of public importance today and I'm pleased to do so because I stand here as part of a great political party which is the only political party that can come into this place with a meaningful record behind it on strong action on climate change, meaningful action on climate change which would make a real difference, which did make a real difference and, if it was still in place, would be continuing to make a real difference.

We in Labor are the only ones who can hold our heads up high in this regard because, if we look at the facts, if we look at history, we know those to my left voted against meaningful action on climate change when they voted down the CPRS almost a decade ago. Despite their rhetoric, despite their claims to the moral high ground on climate change and climate action, they joined the Liberals and Nationals, those on the other side who made the kinds of interesting contributions we have seen this evening. They joined with them to vote down the CPRS. It is convenient to forget it but that's what happened, that's on the record, and we remember it. That fateful day one decade ago, that decision was made and, because of that decision, we lost the opportunity of a generation in that moment to take meaningful action on climate change which had a political mandate behind it, which had the will of the Australian people behind it.

The consequences of that vote were severe, and I wonder if a different decision had been made that day would we have the same policy vacuum we have had this past decade? Because the reality is those to my left care more about rhetorical climate change than genuine policy, more on rhetoric than actually delivering change. Of course, they're not the only ones in this chamber who have issues when it comes to climate change because, even worse than what's on my left, on the other side, we've got people who don't even believe in climate change. They don't believe in science. They don't believe in the facts.

Indeed, we had Senator Molan on the ABC recently say that climate change may not be caused by humans and declare that he was not relying on evidence when he came to his views. Of course, the senator is in good company. He is certainly not alone in the coalition; he is not alone in the LNP party room; he has plenty of company. We have a party filled with people who deny the facts on climate change, who deny the science, who aren't interested in engaging in genuine debate and who aren't interested in genuine policy reform when it comes to climate change.

We have people like the member for New England accusing those calling for action on climate change within his own party of using the recent bushfire tragedy to push the hobbyhorse of climate action. We have another member of parliament from the other side who told the BBC there was no link between Australia's bushfire crisis and climate change. We've had a former Prime Minister from that side who claimed climate change zealots have threatened the energy sector. We had another former Prime Minister using phrases like 'climate cult', not to mention relentlessly campaigning against meaningful climate action. Yes, we've got senators on my left who care about the talk. We've got senators opposite who don't believe in any action, who don't believe in change, who struggle with the basic science and with the facts, who find the facts inconvenient to their ideology, who repudiate them and who will not engage in genuine debate. They are in denial on this issue.

Only Labor governments have delivered genuine action on climate change in government. We were responsible for the most comprehensive energy and climate plan during the Gillard government. Emissions dropped under that plan, yet it was dismantled by the current coalition government after the 2013 election—and not just dismantled but proudly dismantled. We were beamed scenes of jubilation and celebration as that legislation was repealed, with pats on the back, wide smiles and celebrations in the other place when that legislation came down. So what do we know now? Emissions are no longer dropping. That's the fact.

Labor believes in action. We believe in genuine policy reform. We've driven genuine policy reform and delivered it, because we believe in the science. We believe in the facts. We know that climate change is real, we know that it's a global problem that needs a global solution, and we know that every country must play its part, including ours, Australia. We have a strong role to play, and we need to be part of the global story in reducing emissions. First and foremost, that starts with meaningful action at home.

There is no doubt that the burning of fossil fuels is a contributor to higher greenhouse gas emissions which raise global temperatures and mean more intense climate-driven events such as bushfires. There is also no doubt, of course, that the future lies in renewable energy generation, and there is no doubt that climate change is increasing the frequency and severity of extreme weather events and natural disasters. The scientists have been telling us this. The experts have been telling us this. They've been telling us this for years. Their predictions have come true, yet we still have those opposite who deny the facts, ignore the warnings and ignore their responsibility as those holding the keys to executive government, those in a position to enact change and to develop meaningful policy to join global efforts at tackling climate change to get us out of this policy stagnation, this hole, which has left Australia without meaningful policy on energy and climate change. That affects the market, of course. It affects our international obligations. It affects the public's confidence in this place to tackle the real, ever-present, serious, urgent challenges of our time. What greater job could we have here than to tackle something like climate change and develop a policy response to it?

We know climate change is making us more vulnerable to extreme weather and climate related events, just like the horrific bushfires that have recently torn through South Australia. We all paused and talked about the horror and the scale of the tragedy. Climate change exacerbated that. You cannot separate those bushfires from climate change and pretend that they're completely unrelated and that there's no link unless you completely deny the science, deny the facts and deny the things that the experts have been telling us. We cannot deny them, and it is disrespectful to deny them. It's disrespectful to not stop and take the meaningful action that we must take to try and stop these things happening again—to try and stop these extremities. That's our responsibility here. There is a link between the severity of this season—the extreme weather that exacerbated conditions—and our change in climate.

My state, South Australia, is especially vulnerable to some of the risks of climate change—especially vulnerable. We saw that in the recent fires and we see it in our River Murray. We see the risks and the risks that are presented to our entire state—to our future, to our livelihoods, to our wellness and to our health and wellbeing. The goal of this government should be to genuinely reduce greenhouse gas emissions in line with its Paris commitments, not dodgy accounting. They need to stop with the phony climate wars and they need to stop with the phony arguments, because the best policy change in Australian history, the best things we've ever done as a nation, we've done with consensus. We do it when we come together—when we work together—to deliver meaningful change. It will be when we negotiate, come together and accept the facts, talk about the solutions and work together towards change.

Those opposite hold the keys to this change. They have the levers of government, which enable them to enact change. They talk a lot about Labor and Labor policy, but the fact is that they are in government. They have the opportunity here, and there is a huge weight of expectation from the people we represent out there to do something meaningful: to act on climate change and to work with consensus; to come together and to solve this urgent issue for our nation.

7:21 pm

Photo of Jordon Steele-JohnJordon Steele-John (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

The choice which has been put before this chamber tonight by the Greens is a simple one: join with the community and join with the experts—the scientists, the nurses, the teachers and the students—in acknowledging that which is true, that there is an indisputable link between the burning of coal, the burning of gas and the burning of oil and the climate crisis which now grips our nation. The Greens are asking this chamber and the major parties within it to work with community and to heed that demand for action in creating a plan which removes from our community the dirt, the filth and the fossil fuels that are so choking us.

That is a simple request, and yet what we have seen during the course of this debate is nothing less than spin, self-interested one-liners, howls of derision and the quoting of pseudoscience in the face of reality. We have seen nothing but low politics play out in this chamber this evening, and our communities are demanding high action. They will be looking to this place and asking themselves, 'Why?' Why in the face of 3,000 homes lost, why in the face of a billion animals lost and why in the face of 33 lives lost can this chamber not recognise that which is immutably true? Climate change is driving this disaster, and the burning of fossil fuels is driving climate change.

The answer is as simple as it is terrifying and terrible. It's money—dirty money—from coal, from oil and from gas. It is from the people who are making billions as our towns burn. They donated a million bucks—$500,000 to each side of this chamber—in the lead-up to the federal election in the full knowledge that it would buy them the government, whoever won. In the years from 2012 they have donated more than $100 million to both sides. That corruption and that complicity have leached out from this place across the nation: down to Tasmania, where the Liberals try to trash the forests; up to Queensland, where the Labor Party want to dig up Adani and sell it to the world; and across to Western Australia, where the Labor Premier, Mark McGowan, is seeking to open up the North West Shelf, a gas project which would contribute more to the global emissions of this country than the entire Adani project. This corruption leaks out across our community, across our nation, and binds the major parties together in a mutual pact of destruction—a mutual pact which says: 'Whatever happens, however many die, whatever the suffering, we shall continue to allow to you trash our planet. We shall continue to allow you to pollute as long as you fill our back pockets with the money we need to keep our position of power.'

This low, cynical politics, this cowardice, is why the Australian people look to this house in contempt. They hold the Prime Minister in contempt. They hold the opposition leader in contempt. They see what is being done here. They know the decisions that are being made. They know that their kids' lives, that their families, are being sold out to the highest bidder, and they are revolted by it. They have gathered here in their thousands, in the weeks after some of the worst disasters ever to grip this country, to demand action. Your response is to turn them away and make excuses for your inaction. Shame on the lot of you! The damage is on your hands. The lives are on your hands. Good luck sleeping at night.

7:26 pm

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

This debate clearly shows what the fossil fuel companies have bought through their donations to the major parties. They have bought deliberate ignorance. There is a clear and present danger between burning fossil fuels and dangerous climate change. There is a clear and present danger between strip mining our native forests and burning most of them on the ground, which is what the logging industry does, and dangerous climate change.

You will hear words, accurate words, like 'a climate emergency' or 'a climate crisis', but we need to be clear what that means: there is a clear and present link between burning fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—between strip mining our native forests and burning what's left on the ground and the bushfires that we have seen so tragically destroy so many millions of hectares and so many communities. Over a billion animals and 33 people are dead. Fires are made more dangerous and more likely as a result of the breakdown of our climate.

To those who come in here and keep running the agenda of the big emitting corporations—for the avoidance of doubt, that is the LNP and the ALP in this place: you are nothing but climate criminals and history will remember you as such, mark my words. Those who come in here and shill for big coal, big oil, big gas and big forestry are stealing. To them: you've stolen from those communities who were devastated by bushfires and you are stealing from your children, from your grandchildren and from their children. It is our descendants and billions of the poorest people around the world who will pay the price, just as many have paid the ultimate price in the bushfires that we've just seen.

I want to talk quickly about my home city of Hobart. We are one of the most vulnerable cities in Australia to bushfires. I tell you now, I shudder to think what will happen if, in one year's time, we get dry lightning strikes up in the Derwent Valley when it's a 40-degree day and the big nor'-westers and the big northerlies are all blowing. We could lose whole suburbs in Hobart as a result of bushfires. Whole suburbs could go. We are extremely vulnerable.

But we can't just focus on the risks. We have to focus on the solutions and what gives us hope. Renewables are a solution. We can plant trees instead of strip mining our forests. Plant trees to draw down carbon instead of emitting it. We've got to end those fossil fuel subsidies. We've got to break that nexus, that corruption, those links in the big donations from the big emitters to the major political parties. When I need hope, you know who I look to? I don't look to either of the major parties in this place. I look to the kids who come out on the climate strikes and say: 'Enough is enough. We are no longer prepared to sit quietly by and watch our future get trashed by people who will not act in line with the climate science.' So to those kids I say the Greens are with you. We back you in. We support you in what you're trying to achieve. Every day in here we will demand the major parties get with the program; end their shilling for big forestry, big oil, big gas and big coal; and start taking the action that the climate scientists have been telling us for decades that we need to take to reduce emissions and give us all some hope for the future.

Photo of Scott RyanScott Ryan (President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the discussion has expired.