Senate debates

Monday, 24 February 2020


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020; Second Reading

10:04 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak in favour of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020—the Greens' bill that looks to introduce a climate trigger impact assessment into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, otherwise known as the EPBC Act. Now is the time for action. The world's leading climate scientists have told us we have a little over 10 years to cut our emissions in half. We have to get on with the job. Instead, of course, what we're seeing is emissions continuing to rise rapidly. We need a rapid transition to renewable energy. Australia's emissions keep going up and we've got to do everything we can to get them to come down. This bill is about trying to make sure things don't get worse. We have got a lot of work to do to reach the levels that the scientists are advising to reduce our pollution. The last thing we should be doing is making that job harder. That's what this bill strives to address.

We have a government that is effectively asleep at the wheel. When the country burns—as it has over this summer—when thousands of properties are lost, dozens of people are killed and over a billion animals die, and when economists estimate that the cost to the Australian economy of this summer's bushfires could reach as high as $1 billion, this government needs to stop acting as it is. We need to ensure that we reduce carbon pollution and that we have a plan to address climate change.

The cost of Australia's climate fires over this summer is over 250 million tonnes of CO2. That is a conservative estimate of what is being released into the atmosphere. We know the job to reduce climate change is already getting harder, day by day. We have a government with its head in the sand, asleep at the wheel, insisting that technology, not real reform, is going to be enough. We need to put in place the rules, the laws and the plans that are going to ensure that we have a safe climate for our children's future. The current government response is simply not good enough.

Our climate is on the brink of collapse as we continue to mine and burn coal, oil and gas. Our ecosystem is crumbling. You can see that with the results of the environmental devastation that has happened just here in Australia over the last couple of months. Our precious native flora and fauna are rapidly becoming extinct. Our waterways, rivers and streams are becoming contaminated and dry. Yet we are somehow supposed to trust that this government has everything in hand, that it has the climate crisis under control. Well, it simply does not.

We're somehow supposed to trust that this government will lead us on the world stage to meet our 2030 emissions reduction targets at a canter. Yet, of course, we know that this is done with cooking the books and trickery. The rest of the world have watched Australia burn this summer, knowing that we are at the forefront of the biggest threat that humanity has ever faced. They have seen the result of climate change with the climate fires that continued over summer. They, too, want the world to act, and they want Australia to participate in that. No-one trusts that this government is going to do it without a dramatic change of direction.

We have a government that is beholden to the coal industry and the fossil fuel lobby. We have an opposition party that is paralysed by inaction. Yes, we have an opposition party that has in the last few days announced a 2050 target, but it has no plan as to how to get there. We need action now, not into the distant future. Not only are we seeing Australia's total emissions steadily climb; so too are we seeing increasing amounts of political donations to the corrupted majors from the fossil fuel lobby. In 2018-19 alone, fossil fuel donations to the Liberal, Labor and National parties amounted to more than $1.8 million. If you want to know what's holding back climate action in this country, that is the reason. This was up 48 per cent from $1.3 million the year before, and, given Australia's track record of deliberately opaque, woefully inadequate political donation disclosure, the true figure is estimated to be at least five to 10 times higher. Here's a headline we should all be seeing: 'Australia's major political parties—proudly brought to you by the fossil fuel industry'. That's currently what is holding back our climate action.

We have to get real about the plans in place to reduce carbon pollution, to confront climate change and to ensure that we create a safe climate for our children's future. No other party but the Greens will call out the government in this manner and hold them to account. No other party but the Greens will keep fighting for real action on climate change. But we need to work cooperatively in this place if we are to deal with this most pressing threat to humanity—this most pressing threat to the health and survival of our planet. There are some simple things that need to be done to ensure we can take those steps needed to address the crisis that the scientists and the experts are warning of. Years ago, Ross Garnaut, when he wrote his report to this place about the threats of climate change, warned that bushfires, droughts and extreme weather would have a huge economic impact on our country, and that, today, is exactly what we are seeing. That is what we need to confront, and we need some steps to get there. This climate trigger bill is one way to ensure that we can stop making climate change worse.

Our environmental laws have simply not kept up with environmental reality. Right now we are in an extinction crisis. We have 517 animals, 87 distinct ecological communities and over 1,300 unique plant species listed as nationally threatened. That's Australia's environment—threatened, at risk of extinction. These numbers are all trending in the wrong direction, and this summer's climate fires have made that situation even worse. Globally, the UN tells us, there are a million species under threat of extinction and, to add pressure to the scale and impact the fires have had on these vulnerable species, we are running out of time more than ever. It is simply not good enough to think that this climate emergency and extinction crisis is something that is out of sight, out of mind. It is not. It is happening right here right now, and we have to make sure, as political representatives and as the community's voices in the parliament, that we stand up and do something. This is happening not in the distant future and not in some far off land; it is happening right here in our backyard. That is why we've introduced this climate trigger bill. The central point of this piece of legislation is to ensure that major projects—mining, oil and gas drilling, large-scale land-clearing projects—are assessed for their impact on climate change. How much worse will they make the climate crisis? How much pollution will these projects emit? How much pollution are these projects going to put into the atmosphere, making it harder for us to deal with the climate emergency we all know we are facing?

I think many members of the community would be shocked to know that, despite having environmental laws at the federal level—national laws that are meant to protect our environment—by which projects are meant to be assessed, we have no assessment as to what impact a project, an operation or a new mine will have in relation to climate change. When you put forward an application to set up or open a new mine, whether that be in Queensland, South Australia or anywhere else, you should have to make sure you know how much worse your project is going to make climate change. At the moment, that assessment is simply not done. The Adani coal mine can get a tick of environmental approval without having any assessment in relation to the impact that a massive, big coal mine will have on the climate. Of course, that's crazy. We all know that digging up more fossil fuel—digging up more coal, shipping it off overseas and burning it, or sinking an oil well in the Great Australian Bight—is going to have a huge impact on climate change. When we're all working so hard and there is a desire to reduce pollution and to get global temperature rise capped at 1½ degrees, the last thing we need is more pollution being put into the atmosphere. The last thing we need is to make it harder and tougher for us to reduce our pollution.

This climate trigger bill is a simple, reasonable, logical step. If we are to reach net zero emissions, then we have to stop making the situation worse. We have to stop taking two steps forward and one step back. Yes, we need to transition out of the fossil fuel industry into clean, green renewable energy. Yes, we've got to become more energy efficient and use the technology advancement to our best to ensure that we can transition the whole economy. It becomes harder and harder to do that the more new mines, new oil drilling projects and new massive land-clearing operations occur. They're going to make it more difficult to reduce our carbon pollution into the future.

Our environment laws should simply assess projects on how much impact they have on the environment, and that has to include the impact on our climate. We know that climate change is the biggest threat to health and safety and to the protection of Australia and the world's environment. It is an impact and a threat to our economy, and it's an impact and a threat to our health. We saw children over the summer wearing face masks to try and keep healthy from that terrible hazy smoke just here in Canberra. We saw children in Sydney going to the playground wearing face masks. That is the type of future we are looking at if we don't arrest dangerous global warming fast.

There's been a lot of debate already in this place and outside this place over the last few days as to what targets we should have. Well, we need to start now by reducing carbon pollution, and not just in 2050. We have to start doing the hard work now, and one of the simple things we could do is to stop making the situation worse. We've got a lot of cleaning up to do. We shouldn't be creating more mess as we try and deal with it.

We know that climate change is having a huge impact on some of the most precious parts of Australia's environment. I think about what happened to my home state of South Australia over the summer. I think about the fact that a third of the vineyards in the Adelaide Hills have been wiped out because of these climate fires. The economic impact of that on my state is going to continue for a long time. Here in the Canberra region, only last week, wineries declared that there would be no vintage this season because of the smoke tainted grapes in the Canberra wine area. That's less jobs. That's less money. That's less services in our community. When I think about the environmental devastation of these fires, I think about the fact that 80 per cent of the Blue Mountains world heritage area was devastated by fire. I think about the tragic impact of wiping out half of Kangaroo Island on our beautiful environment there and the precious animals that call that place home. Over half of the koalas on Kangaroo Island perished in the fires. Our tourism industry is on its knees. Our environment is in collapse, and this bill would at least be one step forward in the plan to address climate change. So I appeal to the opposition and the government: if you're serious about getting the targets right, let's stop making things worse and put in place proper assessment for these projects into the future. (Time expired)

10:19 am

Photo of Alex AnticAlex Antic (SA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this morning to speak against the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020. This is a bill which purports to introduce a 'climate trigger'—as it has been described—through a thorough environmental assessment of emissions-intensive activities. But in reality this is nothing more than greenwash and green tape from a political party who consistently place this country and its economic fortunes last on the podium of priorities and who are instead intent upon wrecking this country and its economy.

The bill seeks to define, in the broadest terms, actions which involve mining operations, drilling operations or land clearing as emissions-intensive actions, regardless of the actual emissions associated with such operations. Those of us who understand basic economics understand that all of those operations lie at the very heart of the operational and economic success of this country and are integral to our prosperity and success. This bill seeks to destroy industries which are reliant on these types of operations, and it does so by adding more green tape and creating convoluted regulations which will do nothing but wreck, disrupt and destroy those wealth-generating activities which allow this country to prosper.

The fact is that activities such as mining, drilling exploration and land clearing are already subject to stringent regulation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act and are also subject to stringent state and territory legislation on top of that. Insofar as they impact matters of national environmental significance, mining, drilling, land clearing and other activities are subject to rigorous assessment and scrutiny by both Commonwealth and state authorities. This regulatory framework is designed to promote ecologically sustainable development through the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of our natural resources. Australia's response to emissions reduction is already being properly and responsibly addressed through a broad framework of government policy and legislation. This bill seeks to introduce yet more regulation and yet more green tape for its own sake and in truth is nothing more than a green Trojan Horse seeking to blunt economic development in this country.

This bill is premised on the misinformation that Australia's emissions are somehow responsible for the tragic bushfire season we have just experienced. But of course the Australian people are too clever to fall for such irresponsible hysteria. Just this morning Newspoll reported that only 35 per cent of people surveyed believe climate change was the main cause of the severity of the bushfires. So, if passed, this bill would give the means and the opportunity to challenge, delay, hinder and in some cases completely prevent developments on the grounds of being emissions intensive, when there is no proper basis to claim such.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act is a proud legacy of the Howard government, and the Morrison government is committed to ensuring this legislation continues to strike the right balance, enabling development to proceed in a way which protects our unique natural habitat. In fact, there is a 10-year independent statutory review of the act underway, and this bill attempts to circumvent that process. Professor Graeme Samuel, who is leading the review, has conducted a broad range of consultations to inform his report. So, if ever there was a time to be amending this act, now is not that time. This bill is ill-conceived and will merely duplicate much existing regulation, bog down industry and damage our economy.

In contrast to the Australian Greens' craven attempt to wind back economic prosperity, the Morrison government understands that sensible, reasonable and responsible attempts to reduce emissions can be made without the need to trash our economy. The Morrison government is taking meaningful action to deliver lower emissions while growing our economy and keeping our electricity prices down. While the Labor Party struggle internally with the same uncosted, unchecked emissions policies they took to the election, and were defeated on, the Morrison government has outlined a real plan to meet and beat our targets. We are on track to overachieve on our 2020 target by in the order of 411 million tonnes. We have a package of measures to meet and beat the 2030 target. We've laid out that we'll deliver the target 11 years ahead of time, through supporting farmers, businesses and communities to reduce greenhouse gasses; by bringing new electricity generation projects online, such as Snowy 2.0 and the Battery of the Nation; and by supporting households and businesses to improve their energy efficiency and to lower their household energy bills. We're now seeing record levels of renewable investment, including almost $9 billion in investments from the Commonwealth. Therefore, the utility of this bill in the chamber today is as questionable as it is unnecessary.

In fact, if the Greens actually wanted to lower or reduce emissions in this country then they would be advocating for the elephant in the room—a nuclear energy industry. Australia has had in the past an opportunity to pursue nuclear energy—a form of energy which is clean, efficient, abundant and virtually emissions free. Fortunately, this country still has the opportunity to establish a nuclear industry, as this country's geology, climate, plentiful resources and stable democracy make it possible. Yet the Greens have refused to even consider such an industry. Canada—as a case study—chose to pursue a nuclear industry in the 1950s and 1960s. As a result, they have seen a safe multibillion-dollar industry thrive. As the world's second-largest producer of uranium, Canada now exports 85 per cent of its product, as part of an industry worth $1.3 billion per annum. Nuclear energy provided 15 per cent of Canada's electricity in 2018 with next to zero emissions. In the order of 60,000 Canadian jobs are now supported by its nuclear industry, many of them high-paying and high-tech. If countries like Canada, France and the United States can meet substantial amounts of their electricity needs from nuclear reactors, there really is no reason that Australia should not or could not generate most, if not all, of its electricity from new, efficient and, most importantly, safe nuclear power generation. But, sadly, the Australian Greens are seemingly incapable of articulating why it is that they remain resistant to such a solution, save to observe that in the world of green Left politics no solution is palatable unless it is 100 per cent ideologically pure.

Those of us who tell us that we're experiencing a climate emergency can, sadly, no longer have their ideological cake and eat it too. We need less politically motivated grandstanding and more pragmatism in order to reduce our emissions further. So, for the Australian Greens, who talk the emissions reduction talk, it's now time to walk the nuclear-power walk.

10:28 am

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Cabinet Secretary) Share this | | Hansard source

This has been an awful summer. It's been an awful summer particularly in my home state of New South Wales, which has suffered awfully under an unprecedented bushfire crisis and then in parts of the state with extreme weather events, particularly in relation to rainfall that has then gone on to produce flooding. It's a state that's been suffering and continues to suffer from drought, and all of these things are directly related to climate change. All of these things are consistent with the predictions made for many decades by climate scientists about the consequences of a warming planet. All of these things should propel people in this place—in this chamber and in the other place—to action on climate.

The great shame—the great waste—of the last seven years of coalition government is their complete and total inability to get a grip on this problem. The internal dynamics within the coalition party room are simply so bad, so divisive and so difficult, that no leader—not Mr Abbott, not Mr Turnbull and not Mr Morrison—has been able to present a coherent energy policy, or a coherent climate policy, to their own party room and have it accepted.

On this side of the chamber, we are keenly aware of the urgent need for action and we have offered support to the many variants of climate policy and energy policy that have been put forward by the government. We're interested in the clean energy target. We were interested when they were talking about an emissions intensity scheme. We were interested, certainly, when they were talking about the National Energy Guarantee, and I guess we'll be interested in whatever it is that they bowl up next.

We understand that it is absolutely critical that we move to an evidence based policy that accepts what the economists tell us about the cost of future energy, accepts what the science tells us about the cost of inaction on climate change and accepts what the market tells us about the enormous instability and uncertainty that this continuing failure to have an energy policy is placing on it. The truth is the market is on strike and, if there is a problem in our electricity system, it arises directly from the failure of the government benches over seven years to develop an energy policy that anyone can understand. The problems arise directly from the National Party, who simply don't accept the science of climate change—and you heard the ignorant responses presented by National Party members and senators last night when they were asked about this same question. But the problems also arise inside the Liberal Party from a group of people who prefer the culture wars on climate to actual solutions.

I want to be clear that the bill before the chamber today seems unlikely to do very much about any of these problems. My concern is that this is part of what has been a very effective branding strategy on part of the Greens political party to let everyone know they're opposed to climate change, but I don't think it's part of a coherent strategy to lay out a policy agenda that Australians can get behind. I don't think it's part of a political strategy that will built a broad constituency across the community in support of climate action. On the bill in particular, let's be honest about it. We all understand how this works. This bill will not succeed. If it manages to pass the Senate, it will go on to languish on the Notice Paper in the House of Representatives, and the government controls the legislative agenda in the House of Representatives. They're not prepared to consider their own climate change legislation, let alone legislation prepared by another party. Even if the legislation did by some miracle get up, it wouldn't make that much difference at all to the task, because the task is transforming the Australian economy to net zero by 2050 and starting now to do it.

Let's be clear about what this bill will and won't do. Nothing in this bill relates to the potential emissions of the product of a mine—just the emissions from the construction itself. This legislation treats a mine producing dirty brown thermal coal exactly the same way as it treats a mine producing zinc for solar panels. The only factor that matters is the emission from constructing it. In any event, the act that it seeks to amend, the EPBC Act, contains substantial discretions for the minister. The nature of judicial review means that the merits of this discretion will never be tested by a court, and this bill would not stop the Minister for the Environment approving 15 new Adani-size mines side by side in the middle of a rainforest if she set her mind to it. That's not to say there aren't interesting proposals in the bill. We look forward to having an opportunity to consider through the committee process whether it's fit for purpose. But this is not part of a realistic strategy for combating climate change. More importantly, it is not part of a strategy for building a coalition to combat climate change.

The Greens political party have their origin in an environmental movement that was practical and grounded. It's an ethos that has been enormously influential in Australian politics. Indeed, part of my political awakening, and part of the reason I was interested in politics as a kid, was that overdevelopment threatened the beautiful place in which I grew up in northern New South Wales. People in my community didn't like it and they responded politically. People from all walks of life got together. They were united by the realisation that the environment that surrounded us was more valuable to us than what had been promised by developers. And it didn't just happen. Small-business owners, farmers, teachers, tradies—they were all in it. You might have thought that there was more to drive those people apart than to bring them together, but local campaigners, people who showed real leadership and whom I truly admire, created a movement that was open enough for very different people to find a place in it. It was open enough and big enough that all sorts of people could come together, feel welcome and fight for common values together. Those environmentalists, those people in my community, created change by building a coalition of interests.

My concern is that the approach from the Greens political party has left this tradition behind. The Greens political party did have their origin in that kind of movement. They had their origin in sit-ins and local protests. But the new party, the new Greens, have their roots in the moral absolutism of culture wars. The problem is that that's not taking us anywhere, because they've been going on for a long time. To create deep, lasting change we need deep and broad support, and the task is to build that support in the community. The Greens are not prepared to do that work, or at least they haven't been to date. They are usually committed to demonstrating their bona fides to a constituency that is already committed to effective action on climate change. That's a really important group of people—we need people who are passionate and committed to action—but what is missing is any sense from the Greens that they are committed to engaging with anyone else.

Just last week, former senator Bob Brown was quoted as describing the people in regional Queensland who opposed his pre-election climate convoy as an unruly mob—that's a quote—that was 'cranky, nasty, inhospitable'. Former senator Bob Brown said he was tired of being polite to planet killers. That's also a quote. Now, it might come as news to many involved in the climate change debate that the Greens were being 'polite' beforehand—that this is a new position—but the bigger problem is the attitude that was displayed. The alternative is to consider the possibility that, maybe, working people with legitimate concerns about their livelihood, the livelihood of their families and the future of their children may not be the real enemy here. That would be an alternative approach—to consider that one of the challenges for us is to create a movement in which people from all walks of life can see a place for themselves; to recognise that people have a right to be worried about their jobs and the future of their families, communities and way of life, and that it's our role to answer those fears. That is the approach that Labor brings to climate change policy.

I'm proud that on Friday the Leader of the Opposition announced that an Albanese Labor government will promise to make Australia carbon neutral by 2050. Labor is the only party capable of forming a government that is committed to real action on climate change. We know this, and anyone watching the shambles on the other side knows this. It is only a Labor government that will build an economy where, by 2050, the amount of pollution we release into the atmosphere will be no greater than the amount we absorb. This is the right thing to do. Strong climate action is needed not only to protect the prosperity of future generations of Australians but also to meet our international obligations. It's also an enormous opportunity. We have the opportunity to deliver prosperity by modernising our economy and adapting to inevitable climate impacts. All states and territories have already promised to be carbon neutral by 2050. Australian businesses are calling for this, including AGL, Amcor Wesfarmers, Telstra, Qantas and others. Seventy-three countries around the world, including the UK, Canada, France and Germany—many with conservative governments—have already adopted this as their goal. So it's time to move on. Real action, science based goals, bringing the country together—that is what we need. We do not need the same old Liberal and Greens playbook of dividing the nation for political gain.

This goal is a goal that the CSIRO says will deliver higher wages and incomes and lower power costs. It is a goal that the University of Melbourne says will deliver 20 times greater benefit to the economy than any costs. The Business Council of Australia says getting to net zero emissions by 2050 will mean $22 billion of new investment per year; that is $22 billion of new jobs, new infrastructure and new industries. That is an investment boom. It's an investment boom which, like all past investment booms, will grow incomes, will grow jobs and will grow Australia. More than that, it will put Australia in a strong position to argue for greater action internationally, because, in the end, only international action will deliver a safe climate. Crucially, our policies will be underpinned by commitments to ensure no workers or communities are left behind as well as to protect future generations from dangerous climate change that would see even worse emergencies than the ones we have seen over this last summer.

Action on climate is as important for regional Queensland as it is for Sydney and Melbourne. This is a shared challenge. We are in this together. We need a movement for change that has different voices—from the bush, from our cities, from our suburbs and from our towns. Labor is committed to building this coalition and committed to taking action.

10:41 am

Photo of Jim MolanJim Molan (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McAllister says that this bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020, is not a workable strategy being put up by the Greens, who are into the moral absolutism of climate wars. This is something which makes great sense to me. We have a situation where we on this side of the parliament are criticised for the simple fact that it is perceived that we are broken. We are not broken. Every time I hear dysfunctional talk of a dysfunctional group, I think of the Otis group on coal and of the coal documents of 2016 which are in the media at the moment.

Certainly, as the Greens and the member for Warringah are aware but continually deny, we in the coalition are acting on climate change now. We don't just talk; we don't sit back and debate irrational triggers. We are well past that. I personally am strongly committed not only to acting on climate change but also to adapting to a hotter, drier climate. Both are important. Unlike the Greens and the member for Warringah, we put the focus on mitigating risk and adapting rather than on taking a closed-mind, ideological view and mouthing naive, uncosted, feel-good statements, backed up in certain circumstances by bullying and abuse.

Net zero emissions, mentioned by Senator McAllister, need to be justified and costed, not just mouthed. There is no economic case to do so, and the reduction in emissions, if it occurs, could have no impact on the world climate. Let's not forget that China has somewhere between 1,032 and 2,400 coal-fired power stations and is building 126 more. Japan has 90 coal-fired power stations and is building somewhere between 22 and 45 more, depending on the source.

At the last election the government took a clear plan to the Australian people to responsibly reduce Australia's carbon dioxide emissions, consistent with our international commitments. We as a government remain committed to this plan. I personally remain committed to this policy as a prudent policy and I know that reducing emissions will be accompanied by rock-solid policies to adapt to a hotter and a drier continent. This government led Australia to beat its first Kyoto target by 128 million tonnes. We're projected to beat our 2020 target by 411 million tonnes. Our 2030 Paris target reduces emissions by 26 to 28 per cent, on 2005 levels, by 2030. Over this period we will halve the amount of emissions per Australian. On a per capita basis, our emissions reductions will be greater than those of many comparable countries, including the European Union, Canada, Japan and Korea.

This is an ambitious but responsible emissions reduction target for 2030. We will meet it and we intend to beat it. The latest emission projections already show we are on track to do so. We do not need triggers. But, as you quite well know but are ignoring because it doesn't match certain ideologies, Australia cannot cut global emissions in isolation. The development and deployment of new technologies will be essential to reducing emissions, both here and around the world, while creating jobs. Our focus is on improving existing technologies and adopting new technologies, not taxes. We do not support the introduction of a carbon tax. We do not support driving up electricity prices and we do not support plans that will abandon the jobs of many regional Australians and make emissions reductions unsustainable.

That's why, working closely with industry, researchers and international partners, we are developing a technology investment road map, to focus our investment on driving down the cost of low-emissions technology, as recently forecast by Minister Taylor. It will also guide us as we seek to deploy new technology as rapidly as possible, to reduce emissions both at home and overseas. That road map will position Australia to contribute to and take advantage of global technologies. It will set a framework for our investment in emissions-reducing technologies over the short period, to 2022; the medium period, to 2030; and the long term, to 2050. This builds on what we're already doing to drive down emissions, including the $10 billion Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which brings down the cost of renewable energy; the $1 billion Grid Reliability Fund, to promote investment in battery and pumped hydro renewable energy storage; our $500 million hydrogen strategy, to position us as a key player in the emerging green hydrogen economy; and our soon-to-be-released electric vehicles strategy, to accelerate the modernisation of our transport fleet.

Let me summarise by saying that Australia's emissions are coming down. In fact, Australia's emissions are lower now than when the coalition came to government in 2013. Australia's emissions are more than 12 per cent lower than in 2005. This compares to a two per cent reduction for Canada and a four per cent increase for New Zealand over the same period. Let's mitigate risk. Where risks cannot be mitigated, we must adapt. Those impacted by the recent bushfires want practical measures and not the mouthing of ideologies.

10:47 am

Photo of Stirling GriffStirling Griff (SA, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

Australia is at a point in its history where it needs to take decisive action on climate change and reduce its emissions. Disappointingly, the federal government is so far reluctant to do any heavy lifting in this area, so it's up to the rest of us to make some noise on this issue. The bill we are debating today, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020, was introduced only in the last sitting week and hasn't been sent for inquiry, so we have not had a chance to consider it in any great depth. However, there is certainly the kernel of a good idea here. At a high level, parts of what it proposes have merit and should very much be considered. It makes sense to require emissions to be factored into the environmental assessments of major activities such as mining, drilling, exploration or land clearing. We do need to consider the climate impact of major projects if we are to move Australia to a carbon-neutral future. As the saying goes, you can't manage what you don't measure.

However, this bill does take a heavy-handed approach. It is also a bit short on detail. It seeks to prohibit emissions-intensive actions as if they have, will have or are likely to have a significant impact on the environment, but the bill does not define what that threshold would be for emissions. More importantly, I'm concerned that simply banning these activities because they are high emitting is short-sighted, as it risks throwing out the good with the bad. There are other remedies. One approach might be instead to ensure there are plans in place to mitigate emissions before environmental approval is granted.

As I say, this bill would benefit from an inquiry, but my concern with imposing a blanket ban is that it will impact in unintended ways. For instance, you can't build mobile phones, rechargeable batteries or solar panels without mining for rare earth minerals such as cobalt and palladium. And what about geothermal energy? That is a potential source of renewable energy which is still in its infancy in Australia and requires exploratory drilling. But, at first glance, this bill may rule that out. And what about mining for everyday metals such as copper, aluminium, silver, iron, zinc or nickel? This is the stuff on which we have built our physical environment and which is contained in everything from household water pipes to electric guitar strings.

We absolutely need to bring down emissions, but we also need to be realistic and practical. We don't need to take an all-or-nothing approach, as this bill does. The more sensible approach for a major project which otherwise stacks up economically and environmentally is to look at what will be done to mitigate the emissions. We need to act on climate change, and what we need is a national plan that commits to a carbon-neutral future and provides a framework for ongoing mitigation and investment certainty. We need to work towards net zero emissions. We need to plan for how we transition Australia to a renewable and clean energy future. We need more than a piecemeal approach. The business community is largely on board, so you have to wonder why this government isn't.

10:51 am

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

I commend the Greens for bringing forward some debate on these important issues, but, as the nation well understands, we need governments to be able to make decisions that change the nature of our economy, in terms of our energy-intensive nature. Labor certainly believes that strong action on climate change is needed to protect not only our environment but the prosperity of future generations and our international obligations. We know that we need to modernise our economy and adapt to inevitable climate impacts. Labor has always been deeply committed to these principles, and it was a privilege to be in this place as a member of the last Labor government, seriously working through these issues. We know, when we see the impact around our nation from this summer, what a devastating impact climate change can have on our nation. As a party, our core principles and our approach to climate change policy remain certain and unshakeable. It is, indeed, why we have committed Australia to being a carbon-neutral economy by 2050, and this is consistent with achieving the goals of the Paris accord.

We know that we can do this as a nation and we know that the sooner we start doing this the better. The Greens might say, 'Well, why not vote for this legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020?' Actually, 'the sooner we start doing this' is not just about rapidly dreaming up a clause that comes down on the economy like a tonne of bricks, with the job impacts that go with it. We need to make step-by-step changes to transition our economy and to transition jobs—something that is sorely lacking from this government. What the Australian people should be listening for from this government is their plan for jobs in a carbon constrained future. Is this government going to continue pretending that a carbon constrained future is not on the cards? Where are the practical steps that you as a government will take to put us on this path? It's all very well to have a Prime Minister who now seems to be prepared to start talking about the need to adapt to climate change when, it seems to me, the words have only very recently started to come out of his mouth at all.

We need a nation that is committed to high wages, high incomes and lower power costs. We in the Labor Party truly believe that this is possible, because we can already see greater benefits to the national economy from being on this transition plan. That is what modelling shows us relative to continuing with business as usual, which will inevitably have some massively dislocating impact on the economy in the future. What's very clear is that the environmental impact is already having a massively dislocating impact on our society and on our economy.

We as a nation must not only do the right thing by future generations but also do the right thing by our economic interests today and tomorrow. We have a government that seems prepared to act to the detriment of the safety and prosperity of all Australians. This government refuses to adapt, even though every state and territory government—Labor and Liberal alike—have recognised these issues themselves. Australia has the potential to become an energy superpower, but only if we have the leadership to bring Australia together to seize the opportunities in front of us as a nation.

10:56 am

Photo of Janet RiceJanet Rice (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to commend this bill, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020, to the Senate. I do so with the voices of thousands of my Victorian constituents ringing in my ears, calling for strong action on the climate crisis. This past weekend I joined thousands of people who gave up their usual weekend activities to rally together in solidarity as part of the national day of climate action. We put climate action first this weekend because we know what's at stake. People gathered in cities and towns across the country calling for a safe climate. It's our job as elected representatives to listen to those constituents and to act. The weekend before that I joined 2,000 people who were at the National Climate Emergency Summit at the Melbourne town hall. And this morning, on my bike ride to parliament, I met a couple and their young baby who were there, standing up for action, saying that young people, our kids, need a safe climate future.

We Greens are acting. We are listening to these constituents and we are acting. This bill is just one of the actions that this parliament needs to take to make sure that we take action, the speed and scale that is needed to tackle a requirement emergency. The Greens are the firefighters in our parliament. We are the ones who are ringing the alarm bells about the emergency and then finding a safe path through the emergency to the emergency exit. This safe path needs action now, not in 20 years time. The next decade is critical. Zero by 2050: it may be great or it may be too late. We need action in the next decade to find that safe path through. Part of that safe path is this legislation.

This bill focuses on our key national environment protection legislation, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, and seeks to bring it into the 21st century by closing the major loophole that exists in that act. The EPBC Act absolutely must take carbon pollution into account. We know that climate change is producing hotter conditions, more droughts, more floods, more extreme and intense bushfires, as we have all experienced this summer, and longer fire seasons. It is producing coral bleaching—the Great Barrier Reef is about to have another extensive bleaching event—sea level rise and warming oceans. It is a massive threat to our precious natural environments and our wildlife. So it makes no sense that activities that are actually causing climate change currently aren't assessed by our national environment laws. We must close this loophole. No, it's more than a loophole; it is a chasm. It's a chasm that's big enough to drive a fleet of coal loaders and bulldozers through. The Adani coalmine wasn't assessed for what impact it would have on global heating. The Beetaloo Basin, which Labor and Liberal alike want to open up, is a massive carbon bomb. Under our current environment legislation that will not be assessed for how much it is going to increase global heating.

Assessing the emissions of fossil fuel projects and tree-destroying developments is one of the easiest steps that this parliament can take to tackle pollution and its devastating impacts on us, our kids and our grandkids, who are staring down the barrel of a future filled with more fires, more floods, more heatwaves, droughts and crop failures. We have a choice, and I call upon the Senate to support this bill with a safe climate future firmly in mind.

This bill defines 'land clearing' as one of several emission-intensive actions. That is really appropriate, because we know that land clearing has got critical consequences when it comes to greenhouse gas pollution. I would like to read a summary from the Climate Council's 2018 report. It said:

In 2015 the land use sector in Queensland generated 19 million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution, which was more pollution than the agriculture sector or around 20% of the pollution from the entire energy sector including electricity, stationary energy and transport.

If that isn't shocking enough, let's put it in an international perspective. That land clearing in Queensland in 2015-16 amounted to the equivalent of almost half of the vegetation cleared in the entire Brazilian Amazon rainforest. This report outlines key ways that land clearing contributes to increased carbon emissions in terms of our climate emergency. It outlines how clearing vegetation releases the significant carbon it contains, and that vegetation that's cleared can no longer store the carbon that's so necessary, which makes it harder for us to stay within our carbon budget. That's why this bill builds land clearing and other triggers relating to emissions generation into the legislation: so we can stop making the climate emergency worse.

We have got a whole lot of clearing up to do to tackle our climate emergency, and the first thing we can do is stop making the problem worse. Clearing of vegetation across huge areas of the Australian landscape has escalated in recent years. It's contributing to a massive increase in carbon pollution and a massive loss of habitat for threatened and critically endangered species as well. Adding a climate trigger to the EPBC Act means we can assess the double whammy of this clearing: both its impacts on habitat reduction and the emissions implications.

Let's consider the Great Barrier Reef. The reef just does not stand a chance with the enormous amounts of clearing into the catchments feeding into it. Climate change is wrecking the reef. As I said, we're about to face another massive coral bleaching. It might be the end of the Great Barrier Reef. We know that land clearing and run-off are wrecking the reef, and they are both reinforcing each other. Australians are mourning the loss of our magnificent Great Barrier Reef, and this government is doing nothing. This bill does something. This bill says that land clearing and its effects on the climate crisis cannot be swept under the carpet any longer.

I note here too that rampant deforestation occurs in areas of land across Australia that are not subject to consideration under the EPBC Act due to the outdated regional forest agreements. Yes, it's the 21st century, but we've got significant areas of native forest with clear felling of complex ecosystems and destruction of significant carbon sinks for low-value outputs like copy paper and pallets for cartons of beer.

The Greens are working to improve our federal environment laws here today, but we're also working to scrap those regional forest agreements, which were made last century and which don't meet the standards and needs of our current challenges, both environmentally and economically. Every other extractive industry has to meet the basic provisions of the EPBC Act, so why not logging? We're working here to strengthen the EPBC Act with this climate trigger bill, and we also have legislation to scrap our destructive logging laws. There is a very clear choice. Only the Greens have a plan to tackle our climate crisis and to protect nature. We're the only party that does not take donations from those coal, gas and oil industries, or donations from any large corporations. We are the only party that will hold the major parties to account. We must act if we want to prevent the climate emergency from destroying so much that is beautiful in our natural world. There is no time to waste if we're going to prevent further global heating, and assessing the pollution from fossil fuel projects and tree-destroying developments is one of the easiest steps that this parliament could take to ensure that humanity has a future. I call upon my fellow senators to support this bill. I now seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.