Senate debates

Monday, 9 November 2020

Matters of Urgency

United States Presidential Election

4:29 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that at 8.30 am today 17 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 Whish-Wilson:

Dear Mr President

Pursuant to standing order 75, I give notice that today I propose to move "That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Senate congratulates incoming US President Biden on his victory and welcomes his commitment to tackling the climate crisis, particularly his acknowledgement that climate change is an emergency and an existential threat, and calls on the Australian Government to match his target of zero-emissions electricity by 2035, if not earlier."

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.

4:31 pm

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

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

The Senate congratulates incoming US President Biden on his victory and welcomes his commitment to tackling the climate crisis, particularly his acknowledgement that climate change is an emergency and an existential threat, and calls on the Australian Government to match his target of zero emissions electricity by 2035, if not earlier.

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

[by video link] Donald Trump lost, and on 20 January, whether he leaves by his own volition or is escorted from the building by Secret Service agents as a trespasser, his shadow will darken the White House no more. This moment that the world is sharing in is profound. Many people across the United States and across the world are attempting to make sense of what has happened and what comes next. It is clear from what we have seen that this end of a despotic era, when the United States came so close to embracing fascism, was brought about by young people, by people of colour—in Nevada and Arizona, and in Atlanta and Detroit and so many cities in between—rising up, working together, calling for change. It was excellently summed up, I believe, by representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who said in the lead-up to the election that the fight was one of allowing American democracy to live another day.

As it has been given the opportunity to live another day, so has hope for action on the climate crisis—global action. President Biden has committed clearly to decarbonising the electricity system of the United States by 2035. He has acknowledged that climate change is an existential threat to humanity, offering a global opportunity to reset the climate clock conversation and take action that young people are demanding. What we have seen as a reaction from Australian so-called leaders is shameful. The Morrison government has signalled that it is not going to take further action, and Labor is currently torn apart by division about whether to shift at all. In my state of WA, the McGowan Labor government just voted down a Greens climate act that would have begun the work. This is not good enough. Young people do not accept it; the Greens do not accept it. It is clear, now more than ever, that there is an opportunity for climate action globally, and we in the Greens intend to work with the community to seize that opportunity. (Time expired)

4:34 pm

Photo of Andrew BraggAndrew Bragg (NSW, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This is a great opportunity to talk about the US-Australia relationship. Regardless of who had won the presidential election, the relationship that our country has with the United States is so complex and deep, across military, economic and cultural factors, that it was always going to withstand any particular judgement made by the American people. Just as governments of the day in Australia are here for a temporary period but ultimately it's about the relationship over the longer term. The relationship is always going to be very strong regardless of the outcome.

This is not an opportunity for Labor, the Greens and others to try to resume the energy wars. It was always very strange that people tried to push energy into a culture war, because, at the end of the day, any sort of obsession with a form of energy generation is frankly weird. The only group that is having a culture war or an energy war internally at the moment is the Labor Party, which really can't decide what it wants to do in relation to energy generation.

People want to talk about net zero targets and the like. Australia has an unparalleled record in getting our emissions down. We've beaten our Kyoto targets. We're on track to beat Paris and in fact, on a comparative basis, we're doing better than most of the other OECD jurisdictions when it comes to actually reducing our emissions over the course of the Paris accord. Yes, there will be another climate conference in Glasgow when people are able to get on to aeroplanes and meet—I assume that will be done in person. As people who follow this closely will know, as part of our Paris obligations we've already committed to get to net zero. The question is: when does that happen? Rather than trying to put in place a commitment which we don't know can be kept at a particular point in time, we have committed to our Paris obligations. We're on track to meet and beat them. In due course there'll be further statements made in relation to the Glasgow commitments that our country will make. With our track record already so strong, it is ridiculous for people to try and drag our progress on emissions reduction into an international relations discussion. Frankly, it is desperate.

Our agenda is to develop a plan to get to the target before announcing the actual target, because that is what you do in the real world. I have to say that people tire of politicians promising things and then not delivering them. Surely the people of Australia, and I think this has been supported at the ballot box, want to see politicians and governments promising things that are deliverable and delivering a framework alongside a commitment, which is effectively what we've had in the past with the Kyoto and the Paris accords.

At the moment the national government have a plan on the table which is technology neutral, which is going to get us to the place where we need to be. Today we've seen my home state New South Wales deliver another plan, which is a significant investment into clean energy. Driven by the market and supported by the government, it is going to see significant new investment into wind, solar and of course pumped hydro. So you've got the national government with a technology-neutral plan, which is going to support clean energy and the transition, and then you've got the states coming in behind that and supporting that. I am optimistic that we are going to get to this net zero target in a reasonable timetable. Of course, you need to see the plan, you need to see the formula, you need to see the framework, because otherwise it's just an empty promise without any backing.

The reality is that the relationship that we have with the US is very strong. It would have withstood any particular judgement made by the American people. These two democracies go back in conflict to the First World War. We've always been there, with a very strong relationship, with the United States. So any suggestion that there is an opportunity for us to have a barney with the US now over climate policy is simply very misguided.

We always have been in these climate discussions. We have not left any of the multilateral institutions or any of the groupings. We're in Paris. We're in the TPP. The US left both, under the Trump administration, and I'm sure they will come back. We've been there as a responsible global citizen with targets that are appropriate for our economy. Over the next few months and years we will continue to make our contribution as a significant economy that is doing a lot on emissions reduction. At the end of the day, Australia has the 12th- or 13th-biggest economy on earth. It's a serious economy. It's an outward facing economy.

All these judgements we make about our economy are very important to people's lives. They're not just boxes or bits of paper that we don't think about and that have no real impact on the world. The methodical approach that the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, and the government will go through in determining these future targets will factor in all of the economic and climate factors. I would say that we are beyond the culture war and the energy wars. I think we're in a good place as a country. We've got a technology-driven focus that doesn't feature punitive taxation or a preference for any particular form of energy generation. Clean energy is up to 18 per cent, I think, of generation in Australia today, which is a great thing, and a lot of that was achieved with significant market intervention. That is not necessary now, because clean energy is very economical in its own right. It's now appropriate for the government to step back and allow that market to work with the price signals that are already in place.

Our bilateral relationship with the US is as close as any two countries can be. I'm sure our government will work closely with the incoming administration on this, on trade and on all the other important economic and environmental matters over the next few years. We will take our plan to Glasgow, which is appropriate for Australia and which is in keeping with the tenor of the commitments we have made over the last two climate conferences, certainly to Paris and Copenhagen. It will be a serious, credible bid and we will meet and beat that, unlike many countries we often hear lecturing us from abroad.

4:42 pm

Photo of Jess WalshJess Walsh (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I would like to add my voice to those welcoming the election of Joe Biden as President-elect of the United States. I'd also like to congratulate Vice-President Kamala Harris. I note the significance of her being the first woman and first woman of colour to be elected to such a position in the United States of America and the absolutely inspiring example she will set for all Americans. It was incredible, in recent days, to see a record turnout of voters exercising their democratic rights in the US and to witness the highest-ever vote tally for a presidential ticket in history. There was and is so much at stake for the US, for our region and for the whole global community.

President-elect Biden, as we know, campaigned heavily on the promise, the commitment, of action on climate change, reducing carbon emissions and supporting the growth in renewables. The President-elect's Build Back Better plan to recover from the COVID recession is all about creating jobs from sustainable infrastructure and clean energy. So it's really clear now, today, what direction the US is heading under the new leadership. What is less clear is the direction of the Morrison government. In fact, this result in the US is just another sign that the Morrison government is becoming increasingly isolated internationally when it comes to action on climate change. The rest of the world is moving, and it is moving forward while Prime Minister Scott Morrison is dragging his feet. There is real global consensus on climate change, and it won't just be the US under a Biden administration that will take climate action and emission reduction seriously; it will be the UK, Canada, Germany, France, New Zealand—so many of our major allies and partners around the world. Here, at home, the consensus is overwhelming as well: the Business Council, the Australian Industry Group, the Property Council, our largest airline, our biggest mining company, our biggest bank, our biggest telecommunications provider. There is a long list of leading businesses, organisations and not-for-profits who have made the commitment to taking action, a long list of organisations in this country that have committed to reach net zero emissions by 2050. It feels like the only people who are missing in action are those in the Morrison government. The Prime Minister is isolated on this issue.

Labor, on the other hand, are confident and positive about our future. We know that we can reach that better future together. Really, everyone else agrees, so we need the Morrison government to make a plan now. But, in the past eight years, this Liberal-National government has had 22 energy policies. What has that led to? Overall, it's actually led to higher emissions and to higher electricity prices. This is not even the worst of their inaction. According to an independent report from Deloitte Access Economics, the Prime Minister's refusal to take action could crush the trade, tourism, mining and service industries. Their report suggests that the government's inaction and refusal to adopt net zero emissions by 2050 will devastate the economy. That inaction could cost up to 880,000 jobs and slash $3.4 trillion from GDP by 2070. There is so much at stake here. If the government took action and delivered net zero emissions by 2050, that report predicts it would actually create 250,000 jobs.

Here in Australia we are in our deepest recession in almost a hundred years. Hundreds of thousands of Australians have lost their jobs, and they are screaming out for a jobs plan from this government. Action on climate change will actually deliver jobs if the Morrison government embraces it. It will deliver lower power bills, it will grow the economy and it will deliver higher wages. So now is the time for this government to take that action. Scott Morrison can no longer run his anti-climate-change agenda, saying he will only meet net zero emissions in the second half of the century and, as we heard from Senator Bragg, only after they come up with a plan—acknowledging that there isn't one, as we stand here today. Australians need real climate action or we will all be left paying the price.

On the Labor team we have a clear target to tackle climate change: net zero carbon pollution by 2050. The world is decarbonising and we don't just need to make sure that Australia doesn't get left behind; we need to make sure that we actually take full advantage of the opportunities that present to a country like ours, because we have so much going for us. With the right plan and the right vision, we can be a clean energy super power with a new generation of jobs and cheaper power bills. We all know we have some of the best wind and wave resources in the world. We have the highest average solar radiation per square metre of any continent. And we have some of the best engineers and scientists in the world to take advantage of this. So working towards a low-carbon future means opportunities for our manufacturing sectors, opportunities for energy exports and opportunities for rare earth minerals mining.

And, of course, what it means is opportunities for good and secure jobs. Take, for example, Labor's plan to rewire the nation. The current energy network takes no account of the rise of renewables. It's not fit for purpose. It was designed for another time. That's why a Labor government would take action to rebuild and modernise the national energy grid. Rebuilding the grid will create thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia, and deliver up to $40 billion in benefits. It will only ever be Labor that will get this done. We know it makes sense. As the Morrison government becomes increasingly isolated on climate action, even the New South Wales Liberal government has announced its own plans to support more renewables. They've just announced plans to support new renewable energy generation supported by new storage, like batteries and pumped hydro, and they've confirmed again that renewable energy means lower power bills. So, if the New South Wales Liberals get it, why doesn't the Prime Minister?

I am particularly proud of the progress that's being made in my home state of Victoria. Just this week, the state government announced that the Southern Hemisphere's biggest battery is to be built just outside of Geelong. This is a project that will create good jobs. It will drive down electricity prices. It will boost reliability, and it will help support Victoria's transition to renewable energy. It will be good for the economy. It will be good for the environment. It will be good for the planet. Indeed, independent analysis has shown that for every $1 invested in this huge 300 megawatt battery it will deliver more than $2 in benefits to Victorian households and businesses.

In addition to the big projects like the 300 megawatt battery, the Victorian government is also helping local businesses and communities access clean energy. Just recently, they delivered grants across the state to fund projects such as community solar farms, community batteries and solar electricity systems for sports clubs. Those projects don't just help Victorians move towards the state's own 2050 net zero emissions target; they also create local jobs. That's what Labor governments can do: create jobs while supporting our environment and our planet's future—jobs in local manufacturing in regional areas like Geelong, where the old Ford factory has been transformed into a renewable energy hub; jobs in steel by setting local content requirements for all of those projects; jobs in solar installation by supporting households to install panels, hot water and batteries. This is creating jobs, driving energy prices down and driving our emissions down. And, of course, it's not just Victoria. Indeed, every state and territory is taking action to invest in renewables and drive down carbon emissions, so we call on the Morrison government and the whole parliament to unite behind 2050 net zero emissions and to unite around our future as a renewable energy powerhouse.

4:52 pm

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

I serve the people of Queensland and Australia, yet I have lived, worked and studied for five years in the USA and travelled through all 50 states. I know that under the United States' constitution the declaration of the polls in a presidential election is not made by the media or by political parties and certainly not by the commentariat. The declaration of the poll is made by each state legislature. Pennsylvania has ordered a recount. Other states will follow, because state legislatures are committed to counting every legal vote. As of today, not one legislature has declared a result and several states have now been precluded from declaring due to legal challenges to voting irregularities. This election won't be resolved for weeks, so congratulating former Vice President Biden is premature.

I understand the Greens are getting excited that a Biden or Harris presidency will advance the socialist, green agenda. What will this socialist, green agenda do to the United States? It will raise power prices as unreliable solar and wind energy expands and destroys base-load power generation, wiping out small and medium businesses and heavy industry. Under President Trump, heavy industry returned to the United States and brought high-paying, breadwinner jobs back for American workers.

The Democrats' Green New Deal will destroy those jobs forever. Americans thrown out of work by green policies will be forced onto a subsistence allowance from the government for the rest of their lives. This, the Greens have euphemistically named a 'universal basic income', and basic it will be. According to Stanford University, these policies will destroy 4.9 million jobs and reduce America's GDP by US$2.9 trillion every year of a Biden or Harris presidency. This is news to most people that I talk to, which is a damning indictment of the news media. The presentation of news is worse than just fake news; mainstream media has devolved to being propaganda.

President Trump's greatest achievements have been ignored by fake news, so let me remind everyone of these: the lowest black unemployment rate in history; the lowest Hispanic unemployment rate in history; the lowest female unemployment rate since World War II; the highest number of black-led business startups in history; the highest number of female-led business startups in history; the first president in 30 years to not start a new war; and five Nobel Peace Prize nominations for peace deals. The socialists' takeover of America will destroy these gains and end in misery. (Time expired)

4:55 pm

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

It's terrific that we have got an opportunity through this motion put up by the Greens today to congratulate US President-elect Biden as well as Vice-President-elect Harris. Indeed, it is a moment in time that heralds a new hope for addressing global climate change. It is very pleasing to see that President-elect Biden has given a strong commitment to tackling the global climate crisis. Indeed, it is leadership, and global leadership, that is most welcome. If we are going to make real progress towards saving our planet from what even President-elect Biden has acknowledged is a climate emergency and an existential threat to our existence, then we need to see the US, as a major fossil fuel user and global leader, making real progress to not only reduce its own emissions but also, and equally importantly, leverage into the global debates that help bed this down as a global ambition.

For too long the Australian government has hidden behind the fact that the US government hasn't made an adequate commitment to addressing climate change to paper over its own lack of commitment and lack of ambition. I have to say: this lack of ambition, where they stood behind President Trump's politicking and tweets and shallowness around this debate, has been very convenient for the Morrison government, but it's not really steeped in the reality of where other global leaders are going. Everyone would note, for example, the important remarks from Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, who said that he shares Biden's slogan, 'Build back better', and promotes the idea of, and, indeed, the United Kingdom's commitment to, a green industrial revolution. You can very much see the enormous strides that the UK's strong policy settings have made in driving the United Kingdom towards that green industrial revolution. It is here that you can see some of the danger for the Australian community and Australia as a nation, particularly as one that is so dependent on global energy trading as part of its economy. We can see here that the UK has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and the fact that Prime Minister Johnson has highlighted—and, indeed, highlighted directly to Australia with a view to supporting us moving on these issues—that 'driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand in hand'. Those are Boris Johnson's own words.

It is high time that the Australian government got onboard. It can no longer effectively just say: 'We will do our own thing when it comes to climate change. We will do what is in our national interest.' If we are going to be true strategic partners with the US, if we are going to create a future for our heavy industries that are so reliant on gas, if we are going to create a future hydrogen industry and if we are going to be a good partner in the Pacific to our Pacific neighbours and with the US, then we must address climate change. We must get on the path of creating those green industrial jobs that Boris Johnson speaks about.

Biden's election as US President, I think, heralds a new era where we can look again to effective multilateralism. This is very much at the heart of what is in Australia's national interest, particularly when looking to address a climate change emergency and, indeed, the existential crisis for our planet that climate change represents. I really look forward to the US reviving its leadership role in global institutions. No longer will Australia be able to say, 'We're on track to meet our carbon commitments,' while at the same time saying it's going to bank its Kyoto credits, which all of the global leaders in climate change, all of those other nations, say is an illegitimate thing to do when it comes to accounting for global carbon emissions.

So it's wonderful, and I'm very pleased, about President Biden's election. Of course, Australia would have worked with goodwill with whomever was elected president, but it's very clear that the American people have made a democratic decision, with a record voter turnout. Frankly, I can understand why President Trump's nose is out of joint; he did get a record number of votes. But the simple fact is he didn't get as many votes as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. It's terrific to see a reinvigorated American democracy, with such high levels of participation. It's also very good to see the robustness of that democracy in terms of the institutions there counting the votes and making sure that it is done credibly. I know that President Trump says he doesn't like losing; no-one does. I can reflect on my own experience of being unelected when the Electoral Commission, through misadventure, lost some ballot papers that affected the outcome of elections to this place. But there is no evidence that has come forth from the United States that there is any illegitimacy to the record-breaking participation in that election.

What the US election also very much shows is that people will vote for strong support for and strong action on climate change, which was a key part of Joe Biden's election campaign. We know that President-elect Biden campaigned on a promise of strong action on climate change—not only a commitment to net zero emissions by 2050 but also a proposed $2 trillion in clean energy spending, and zero power plant emissions by 2035—and a 'build back better' plan to recover from COVID and the COVID recession. It is all about creating jobs from sustainable infrastructure and clean energy.

This Australian government likes to point to its own manufacturing agenda when it looks at that, but, although it says it wants to pursue low-emissions technology, it isn't seeking to use the structural levers that will drive the economic uptake of these new industries. That was clearly delivered with the renewable energy target as being a key lever that has helped renewable energy industries gain traction in Australia. But we see a complete lack of commitment and ambition coming from the Australian government. It is high time that the Australian government got itself a proper climate change policy, a policy that the Australian people can get behind because it will lower emissions and put us on a low-emissions path. The simple fact is that with the US now coming on board to make this transition and with the UK, Japan and Europe all already on board to make this transition, we will do a great disservice not only in the context of the impacts of climate change but also— (Time expired)

5:06 pm

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

I was on my feet in this august chamber in 2016 when I saw a text come across my phone that President Trump had been elected. I remember stopping my speech and making a contribution about that and expressing my significant concern about what dark and dangerous days we had ahead under President Trump. I think, reflecting back on that, it's been entirely accurate.

What we learnt thanks to my colleagues' questions in estimates just last week about our current emissions trajectory in Australia and around the world was that, if Australia sticks to its current business-as-usual targets, we'll reach four degrees of warming by the end of the century. That will mean massive job losses in farming, tourism and trade, especially in Queensland, the Northern Territory and WA; extreme workplace risks for firefighters, health professionals and construction workers; huge price spikes for basic food, where only the wealthiest will be able to afford to secure what they want; 95 per cent of irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin will be wiped out, a former food bowl reduced to growing predominantly cotton; vast dead zones in the ocean with no more coral reefs and the extinction of all shellfish; mass migration and conflict over shrinking resources; equatorial zones will no longer be habitable, forcing people to find new places to live; intolerable heat stress and flash flooding across most of northern Australia, making it uninhabitable for most of the year; the end of Boxing Day tests and relaxed summer barbeques; and one in six animals in the world will become extinct. This is based on science; this is based on fact and what will happen if the world warms by four degrees by the end of this century.

We just heard two weeks ago in the latest scientific report by JCU in Queensland that 50 per cent of the corals have now gone from the Great Barrier Reef in the last decade. But there is a glimmer of hope, because on the weekend people in the US voted for change. They voted for a different vision; they voted to change the presidency. They voted for a president who campaigned on climate change, a green new deal and a green jobs recovery. I don't for one minute expect that that's not going to be a difficult thing for this President to achieve—it's a very divided country—but he has been very strong in his statements, as has his new administration, on acting on climate change.

Our Prime Minister and this government have been buddying up to a man who has been found to have lied 25,000 times to the American people and who, in recent days, has been attacking the principles of our democracy. It's time for us to change. It's time for us to accept that this is a new global reality, take real action on climate change and deliver a future for our grandchildren.

5:09 pm

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

On behalf of Centre Alliance I would like to congratulate President-elect Biden on his success in last week's election. When he assumes office in January, there will very much be an enormous weight of expectations on his shoulders. I don't envy him having that responsibility, particularly given the divisive nature of the previous president. But I believe America and the world are stronger when American leadership reflects the democratic, optimistic nature of the American people. I hope the new president fulfils these ambitions. I particularly welcome his pledges on climate change and commitment to rejoin the Paris Agreement. American leadership on climate change is absolutely essential. Few other countries or institutions have the ability or the influence to secure global commitments.

Global commitments are a necessary first step in ensuring policies are adopted to prevent climate change becoming a catastrophe. We've seen examples of that in Australia over the last six to nine months. Australia is one country that can and must do more. Recent natural disasters have demonstrated the impacts climate change can have on our country. They are a reminder of the need for action and that we must raise the level of our ambitions—and we must do it soon. It's been 13 years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd declared climate change the 'great moral challenge of our time' and yet we still haven't done what countries like Britain, Canada, New Zealand and many others have done and taken serious action. I continue to hope our government accept this reality and lets it inform their policies, and I hope that the new president's election provides the catalyst for change both here and abroad.

5:11 pm

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

With the election of Joe Biden and the predictably graceless but thankfully now inevitable demise of Donald Trump, Australia is left even more exposed as an international pariah on climate action. We have the US now committing to a zero-emission electricity sector by 2035, yet Australia now remains a global outcast on climate, along with countries like Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia. Leave aside the issue of national pride, leave aside—for now—the catastrophic impact on nature, on wildlife and on billions of people mostly living in poverty around the world; this will have massive local human and economic consequences.

But, sadly, it won't be the coal huggers or the gas boosters in this parliament who will bear the brunt of it. Nor will it be the executives of the fossil fuel companies who have purchased the Liberal, Labor and National parties in this place. It is going to be the working people of Australia who'll pay the price. Every day we waste in this place not taking action on the climate on our terms we make it even more certain that the decisions will be made on somebody else's terms. That means in the parliaments of other countries. That means in the boardrooms of the same fossil fuel companies. If we don't take action on our terms then more Australians will be thrown on the scrap heap more quickly. We need to make sure that we do take the action that the climate science says we need to take.

In doing so, we need to support the people and the communities who have built their lives and their economies around fossil feels and logging native forests. We need to support them through the inevitable transition that is approaching us. If we don't support them through the transition, the transition will happen to them anyway. We need to work with them to understand their fears, to understand their desires and to support them through the transition. We have to close the revolving door between the major parties and the boardrooms of fossil fuel companies in this country and we have to end political donations from those corporations and from the big loggers so that we can start looking after the climate, repairing nature and looking after the working people of Australia who need our support.

5:14 pm

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

It's with great pleasure that I rise to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden and Vice-President-elect Kamala Harris. It is a momentous victory to stare down fascism and win. It's a win for women, for people of colour, for LGBTIQ+ people and for immigrants. It's a win against white supremacy and authoritarianism. It's a win for science and for the fight against our climate emergency.

Joe Biden has affirmed climate change as an existential threat. He has committed to net zero emissions by 2050 and he has a plan for net zero electricity emissions by 2035. Australia, in contrast, is lagging woefully behind on the world stage and is an embarrassment. But Prime Minister Morrison and the Liberal and National parties are not listening. They're not listening to the fact that the science is clear that climate change is driving natural disasters and extreme weather. At current rates we risk hitting 1½ degrees of global heating by the end of the decade and four degrees by the end of the century—within the lifetime of children alive today. Just one degree of global heating resulted in last summer's devastating bushfires. You cannot adapt to four degrees of heating. If Australia is going to play its part to keep global heating to under 1½ degrees then our targets have to be at least a 75 per cent reduction by 2030.

Tackling our climate crisis is not about whether we meet pathetic reductions based on abysmally weak carryover targets from 15 years ago. It's about our future. It's about taking the required action to avoid unliveable conditions for children alive today. I said in my first speech, in 2014, that my agenda for my time in this place is clear: I want to be able to look my grandchildren in the eye and tell them that it was during my time in the Senate that Australia turned the corner and legislated to begin the shift to a zero-carbon safe-climate economy. I said we had to stop subsidising fossil fuels, we should close coal-fired power stations, we should say no to new gas and coal and we should make the big polluters pay for all the damage they're causing.

But shame on this government that we are still having to call for this six years later. It has been six long years of the Liberal-National government doing nothing except the bidding of its fossil fuel donors. We know what we need to do to fight the climate emergency, but we need the political will to make it happen. It's clear that this government hasn't got the political will. We need to turf it out and get a government that has.

5:17 pm

Photo of Mehreen FaruqiMehreen Faruqi (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a brief contribution on this urgency motion. What a relief. The US election result is a good thing for humanity. Donald Trump is a poisonous force in global politics. While it has become something of a cliche to say that Trump is a symptom not the cause of the far Right extremism he represents, it's also clear that the racism and white supremacy he stands for have been dealt a big blow. We can't dismiss the symbolic and practical importance of his removal from office. All who believe in equity, freedom, social justice and climate justice cheered on Trump's defeat.

As I reflect on the election result I'm thinking particularly of migrants and communities of colour in the US that have suffered much under the Trump administration, for whom there may now be some hope. I'm also thinking of the black-lives-matter, the green-new-deal and medicare-for-all activists who worked so hard to end Trump's regime. It was a joy to watch ordinary people filling America's streets with impromptu parties, dancing and laughter. We should celebrate this win in Australia. A win against the autocrats and the far Right is always worth celebrating. But while we celebrate we should also recognise a few uncomfortable truths.

Trump's new fascist presidency was too often given a free pass or endorsed by large sections of Australia's right-wing media and political classes, including some in this very chamber and some of the loudest media voices in the country. With the writing on the wall and Trump on the way out, quite a number of his former allies and advocates are now distancing themselves from his administration, but, mark my words, we won't forget what they supported and attempted to normalise, and we will continue to challenge their reactionary and toxic politics.

The dystopian racism and authoritarianism of the last four years has been rejected. More ambitious climate and energy targets are a good step forward. One consequence of the Biden election is that Australia will be more and more isolated in our dead-end obsession with fossil fuels led by this dead-end Liberal-National government. It's frankly embarrassing that our country is now even more of an outlier in addressing the climate emergency.

The future is so uncertain, and in the United States, here in Australia and across the world, as COVID-19 rages on, the urgency of tackling systemic racism, economic inequality and the climate emergency is only ramping up. I must say that all my strength and solidarity goes to the insurgent politicians, the grassroots activists and the social movements, which have been incredibly powerful. It goes out to them as we begin the end of this horrific chapter in global politics.

5:20 pm

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

I will make a little contribution on this motion here this evening. I don't have too much of an issue with the first part of the motion, which seeks to congratulate President-elect Biden on his victory. I think seeing a democratic election of a leader from whichever party is always a celebration of the free principles that we live by here in this country, and we hope other people around the world can similarly have rights to choose their own leaders. I celebrate that, for sure. It is strange, though, that the second part of the motion is almost seeking to undermine those very principles of democracy.

This motion seems to indicate that, because of the result of an election in the United States, we should change our own policies here. It seems to indicate that, because there was an election in the US last week involving, I think, something like 140 million to 150 million Americans who voted in the end, that should determine the policies of our nation. I've got a sort of quaint view that the policies that are decided in this country should be dictated by the free people of this country, expressing their views through a democratic process in our country—not in other countries. Those countries are free, and they have every right to elect the leaders that they choose, to adopt and implement policies as they see fit, but I firmly defend the right of Australians to decide what should happen in Australia. The latter part of this motion seeks to undermine what I thought would be a pretty standard and well-regarded principle across the chamber in this place, but we see people who otherwise support democracy—they say that they're against fascism and that they support democracy—wanting to see the Australian people bound in chains by the votes of those from overseas. Those two views are a little inconsistent and expose the lack of sincerity of those seeking to say that they support democracy when they're actually seeking to get their way. That's what they want; they want to get their way.

There are, of course, allegations in the United States of fraud occurring in this election last week. There are allegations of people from different states voting in other states and there are even allegations of dead people voting, but I haven't seen a single allegation that—maybe I've missed something—an Australian got to vote in the US election. Did that happen? Did any Australians get to vote in the US election? I don't think anybody has made that allegation yet; I don't think that's being litigated in the United States. Maybe I'd change my view on this if there were actually some kind of voice from Australians, but I don't think, despite the Greens attempt, we are going to be the 51st state of the United States. The Greens here seem want us to be part of the US. They want us to sign up and tie ourselves to the US and somehow become the 51st state of the union. I don't want to do that to Australia. I love America. We've got a great relationship with the United States, but we are a free, proud, independent nation here and should cherish and protect that.

No-one from the other side has mentioned that—they might have missed it; I've only seen some contributions from the other side—we had an election here last year. It wasn't that long ago that we had our own election in which all Australians got to vote and have their say on a range of issues, including the one that's dominating this debate: climate change. In fact, I went and had a look this afternoon. The Guardian website declared before last year's federal election that it was, in fact, a climate-change election—that the whole election was about climate change. The then Leader of the Labor Party, Bill Shorten, made it his final pitch a couple of days before the election, saying he wanted to send a message to the world on climate change. He made that policy a central part of his pitch. Labor took to the election a policy of cutting Australian carbon emissions by 45 per cent by 2030. That was a central part of their policy platform. Australians had their say last year and the Labor Party lost. They lost the election—they lost the climate-change election. Australians did not sign up to impose unilateral, radical cuts on our carbon emissions that would cost jobs here and do nothing to lower the temperature of the globe. They were not the policies that the Australian people supported at last year's election. They re-elected a government that, yes, through the agreements we have made, did seek to have a plan to cut our emissions, but to do so in a way that was consistent with other countries around the world, or at least with what other countries have said—I'll come to that. They elected a government that wanted to see the growth of great industries in this country, like coalmining. They wanted to see the Adani coalmine get going. It's up and running now. Over 1,500 people are now employed at that mine, thanks to the re-election of the Liberal-National government here in Australia.

That is what should happen in a democracy. The Liberal-National government gets to implement the policies that it took to the election, and policies of cutting carbon emissions by more than what we agreed with other countries were rejected. This motion seems seeks to overturn the will of the Australian people expressed just 18 months ago and impose a different set of policies because of an election in the US. What an absurdity.

I'll also just briefly touch on the fact that this motion glosses over the fact that there were many elections in the US last week. Many elections occurred in the United States, one of which, of course—the presidential election—has the most focus. But at every US election there is also an election for the House of Representatives and an election for the Senate—or at least a third of the Senate every two years. In those elections, the policies of the Democratic Party—I'm not seeking to speak on behalf of the Democratic Party in the US, but others are here in this chamber—purportedly saying that somehow they wanted to radically cut carbon emissions were all rejected. The Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives. They did not take over control of the Senate. So it's unclear that the United States will take any further action, from a legislative perspective, on climate change now, because their chambers, the ones elected by their own people, have not significantly changed from before the election.

That's just a small point though. The bigger point here is: what should we do? The bigger point is we should look to base our actions on what other countries do, not what they say. Too much of this debate is focused far too heavily on what other countries are saying. Whether it's the President-elect of the United States, whether it's the Chinese government, whether it's European governments or whether it's the re-elected New Zealand government, there's always this focus. Someone's come out and said they are going to go to net zero emissions—whatever that means—by 2050. They've committed to that. Therefore, we should act. In what universe should you do something based on what people say, not what they do? Smart people, sophisticated people, actually base their business decisions and their actions in life on action—what people actually do—not what they say. Anybody can say anything. It's very easy to say words. It's very easy to say: 'I'm going to do a 10-kilometre run this afternoon. I’m going to save lots of money this year. I'm going to cut back my spending.' It's very easy to say these things; it's a lot harder to do them.

We've seen that writ large through this climate change debate in recent years. For example, the New Zealand government has a net zero emissions commitment by 2050. They were just re-elected on that platform. They want to implement that policy. But they had a five per cent reduction by 2020 target under the Kyoto agreement. They wanted to cut their emissions by five per cent by this year. Guess what? Their emissions have only gone down by one per cent. They only got to 20 per cent of the target they committed to with the Kyoto agreement. But we're meant to believe: 'No, it will be different over the next 30 years. Don't look at what we've done; look at what we now promise to do in the next 30 years.' Why would we base our decisions in this country on that? Why would we put jobs and people's real livelihoods—people's actual jobs—and the sustainability of our public finances and our ability to fund our public services on the line?

Why would we put all that on the line based on the empty rhetoric and statements of other governments? Why would we put that on the line for the sake of the Paris Agreement, which doesn't impose any obligations on governments around the world? The Paris Agreement makes no binding commitments at all. That's demonstrated by the fact it never went through the US Senate, so it's not actually a treaty. It wasn't ticked off by the US Senate, as is required for treaties under the US Constitution. It's simply an agreement between countries that have no obligations to commit to it. No enforcement mechanisms were put in place at the behest of the Chinese government, which refused to sign up to proper accountability and enforcement under the agreement. There is no way of even knowing if other countries are doing what they say they are doing. So we should keep the long cherished principle of this nation that we decide what happens in this country. We should continue to act in the interests of those Australians who want to work, who want to have a job, who want to see our community thrive. We should not act on the views of those who are not in this country and we should certainly not act on the empty statements and rhetoric expressed by other governments that are not backed up by real action and real change.

The Acting Deputy President:

The question is that the position moved by Senator Waters be agreed to.

Question agreed to.