Tuesday, 10 August 2021
I seek leave to move a motion relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Wong moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be moved immediately and have precedence over all other business until determined.
We in this place have been here when the IPCC reported. I was the climate minister when the IPCC reported. The report we have now received—this parliament, the government and countries across the world—demonstrates the extent to which we have to take urgent action. It is a race. The earth is hotter than it has been for 100,000 years. We are just years away from an average 1.5 degrees of global warming—a point at which human security, health and livelihoods are imperilled. This is what was reported overnight by the scientists. This is what we are already seeing. For the world and for Australia this is an emergency.
It has long been predicted. As I predicted on the basis of the advice given to me over a decade ago when we sat on that side, Australia is feeling the brunt of it. Our land areas have already warmed by 1.5 degrees on average, heat extremes have increased, cold extremes have decreased and scientists have a high degree of confidence that these trends will get worse. This is why we ought to debate this motion. We are seeing sea levels rising at higher rates than the global average. We are seeing snow cover and depth decreasing. We have seen fire like we have never seen it before. Extreme fire weather days have become more frequent and the fire season has become longer. What we are told is that the intensity, frequency and duration of fire weather events will increase throughout Australia. Of course, regrettably, as a continent that is one of the most affected on this earth, we will lurch from one extreme to another because destructive heavy rainfall and river floods will also increase. This is the compound effect of years of failure to curb emissions, to curb carbon pollution.
Those on the other side speak often about what we owe future generations, and I think all of us wonder what our children will say about this parliament. My daughter did an investigation project—I think that's what they call them these days—and she chose climate change. Her first question to me was: 'Is there anything we can do?' We have an obligation. For many years we have had this obligation and those opposite have refused to shoulder responsibility. For many years we have been in a race, and the race against climate change is a race we have to win. It is a race towards renewable energy. It is a race in which we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to jump ahead of the pack with renewable energy made by Australian workers with Australian technology—energy that could be exported to a world that needs it. As we have said so often, this is about the jobs for today and the jobs of the future, because if we invest in renewables we will create thousands of good-paying jobs in growing industries. We could make power cheaper and cleaner, but we have a government that never acts until it's too late. It's a government that misses every opportunity, a government who always says, 'It's not a race; it's not a competition.' Well, this is, and it is the emergency that so many speak of.
Finally, I would make this point: the only way, as has been demonstrated with the election of President Biden, that you will get an Australian nation that is willing to do something about climate is if you change the government. You have to change the government if you want to deal with this. Fine speeches and trying to have a go at everybody is not going to do it. We have to change the government if this country is actually going to do something about the climate emergency that we face. If our Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme had been in place for the decade between 2010 and 2020, we would have emitted 161 million tonnes less into the atmosphere. That is the difference a government that is committed to climate change can make and that is why we have to change the government if we are going to actually ensure this country acts on climate. (Time expired)
The result of the division is ayes 18, noes 18. It is 18 all. I assumed that that would close the debate, but it does not. The debate continues. With the extensive pairing arrangements, I'm sure the chamber will let me give a moment for the whips to—Senator Birmingham?
As we know, these are quite unusual sittings with very extensive pairing lists in place. On the understanding of where senators and parties were voting, and of pairing arrangements, the expectation was for a different result. Between the whips we don't seem to be able to identify quite what caused the result to be a tied vote. I request the indulgence of the Senate for the vote to be recommitted.
We have always allowed for recommittal provided the appropriate steps are taken, which are that someone turns up and says, 'Oops, I missed it for these reasons.' We will extend that courtesy, as we expect it to be extended to us, but the government has not yet said what happened. They can't just recommit in hope.
I'd like clarification as to where Senator Griff's vote is going on this. This is an important issue for South Australia, and I think it needs to be on the record where he is voting on the topic of climate change and action.
It is not up to someone to speak on behalf of another senator. I don't think Senator Griff is online. There have been longstanding arrangements with respect to crossbenchers and Independents. I'm going to call for the debate to continue because I don't have leave to put the division again. Senator Waters, on the motion to suspend the standing orders by Senator Wong.
It's great that we're suspending the standing orders—as we should—to be debating this most crucial issue facing humanity, but it is incredibly disappointing that in the challenge put to the government by Labor all they want the Morrison government to do is finally commit to net zero emissions by 2050. I'm sure folk had a chance to read the report last night, and it is a clarion call for action by 2030. This issue should be above politics, and the report calls on us to act by 2030.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I'll take those interjections, but I urge everyone in this chamber to read the report. It talks about 2030—2050 is too late. We have a government that has barely mentioned a response to this report. The Prime Minister is standing up to have a press conference only to complain about protesters, who are rightly registering their concern about the inaction from this government on the climate emergency. We will shortly be moving to suspend the standing orders, once again, to talk about the need to take action on 2030. We've already seen the absolutely devastating impacts of the climate emergency—
Honourable senators interjecting—
The report last night talks about the devastating impacts of exceeding a 1½ degree climate rise. We've got 10 years, and all we see in this chamber is both parties taking massive donations from the coal, oil and gas companies. Yes, here we go again, because we will keep raising this issue until we get science based policies. We will say, until we are blue in the face, that we want to see a different government, but, if you want to get climate action, you need the Greens in the balance of power to push a new government to go further and faster on the climate crisis. If you want action on the climate crisis in the next decade—which, as last night's report says, is urgent—then you need the Greens in the balance of power, because frankly this debate about 2050 is too little too late.
While we see millions of dollars sloshing around in donations from the coal, oil and gas sector, and while we see public money being given to private companies, headed up by Liberal donors, to open up new gas basins against the wishes of a First Nations community in the Northern Territory, you will not see science based climate policy. That is why it is urgent that we suspend standing orders today—not to talk about net zero by 2050 but to talk about decent climate targets by 2030, so that we have some chance of saving agriculture in this nation and of reducing the severity of awful bushfires like those we saw not two years ago, when the Prime Minister was taking a holiday in Hawaii. We've seen awful fires now hit the birthplace of democracy, Athens, and we've seen flooding in Europe. This is real. It is not something for the future. This is happening now. We've seen saltwater incursion into our Torres Strait Islands food-producing land. This is not something that can be delayed. We need action now, and, if we want to have any chance of staying below 1½ degrees, we need rapid and urgent cuts to emissions.
The government haven't even read the science; they've never met a scientist, and they're certainly not going to start listening to them now. The flaccid pressure on them by the so-called opposition for a 2050 target, which will be too late, is frankly embarrassing. We need science to be deciding policies in this place, not donations from the coal, oil and gas companies. Until such time as other parties join the Greens in refusing donations from those fossil fuel crony capitalists, then we won't get science based policies—and, in fact, that's what the Australian populace expect and deserve from us.
We had a decent carbon price; it was working to bring down emissions. The Greens want to see good climate policy, we want to see a change of government and we want to work with the next government to push them to go harder and faster on the climate crisis, because, at the minute, without the Greens, you won't see urgent action. You will see donors getting their wishes delivered upon, which is not enough. We need a decent opposition, we need a government to listen to science and you need the Greens in the balance of power if we're to have any chance of taking climate action.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I rise to apologise to the chamber: I made an error in the pairing arrangements. I sent Senator Hume from the chamber in error. She was not included on the pair sheet. It was my error, and I apologise to the chamber—in particular, I apologise to my colleagues for making the error. I wish for the vote to be recommitted.
I seek leave to move a motion relating to 2030 targets in light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Leave not granted.
Pursuant to contingent notice standing in my name, I move:
That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Waters moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to provide that a motion relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change may be moved immediately and take precedence over all other business until determined.
We had a report last night that could not have been clearer in its warning. It is not the first time that we have had a clear warning and report from the world's scientists, but this one is the most urgent and the most pressing yet. I find it a little baffling that we have consternation in the chamber about the fact that 2030 is what we need to be talking about. You have a government whose targets for 2030 are so weak they are essentially one-third of what needs to occur to keep this country safe and to keep us underneath a 1½-degree tipping point, beyond which there is no return. Certainly this government's policies have on us on track for four degrees of warming. That's actually catastrophe. That is actually the end of agriculture as we know it. It's dead oceans. It's bushfires of such severity that we cannot even fathom it. It is not an option.
So, yes, we need to change the government. Of course we need to change the government. This government is controlled by its climate denialist backbenchers. They can't even bring themselves to meet with the scientists, let alone follow their advice.
Honourable senators interjecting—
I'm being reminded by my erudite colleagues here that it's not just the backbench that have a problem with science in the government; of course, it's many of their frontbenchers as well. So it is absolutely clear that the government of this nation, the Morrison government, are not doing what is necessary to keep Australians safe. They are, in fact, setting us on a trajectory of a death sentence for nature, for society and for our economy. Wrong way; go back.
What we cannot tolerate is discussion of 2050 without discussion of what needs to happen in the next 10 years. The report last night could not have been clearer: 2050 is too late. Net zero by 2050 is too late. We can do so much better. We can actually create a jobs boom. We can transition those existing fossil fuel workers into clean jobs that will last and that won't cause them health problems. We can actually tackle this crisis collectively as a nation and give our nation and the world the best shot at a safe future. But we need to be doing that rapidly and urgently by cutting emissions from the coal, oil and gas sector, not by opening up new coal, oil and gas fields and not by dishing out public money to help private companies do that—certainly not when those private companies are donors to either the Liberal Party or, in many cases, the Labor Party. It is about time we stopped those fossil fuel donors from exerting so much influence over policymaking. We welcome the fact that parliament has spent a short part of today—we would hope for the whole day—talking about this issue, but what we cannot stomach is the idea that 2050 is somehow enough.
We want to work with the opposition. We want them to be in government, but without the Greens in the balance of power you won't see the strong and urgent action that the scientists are saying is necessary. We had world-leading climate laws. That's what the Greens and Labor delivered under the Gillard prime ministership. It was working. It is the only time emissions have come down in our nation's history. It was world leading and it was axed by this climate-denying government. We want to work with the opposition when they are in government, and we want them to go harder and faster on the climate crisis, because we don't have any time to lose. Warming of 1½ degrees is a tipping point that we cannot go above. We know that if we even hit two degrees our global coral reefs will be written off.
I take umbrage at the quite extensive 'contributions', as I might term them, from the opposition to our suspension motion. We know 2050 is too late. Delay is the new denial. We need this parliament to be talking about 2030 targets. The government's 2030 targets are so weak that they have us on a path which is a death sentence. I'm sick of fossil fuel companies calling the shots on our nation's climate policies. So is the rest of the country. For God's sake, give the money back and start listening to the scientists when drafting climate policy, or you will be consigned to the opposition benches, as I hope you will be, and the Greens will work with the new government to deliver decent climate action.
I want to briefly contribute to this debate to flag that Labor will be supporting the motion to suspend standing orders. We will not, however, be voting for the substantive motion, because it doesn't reflect the Labor position.
I do want to take the opportunity to also bring to the chamber's attention the very serious risks that have been outlined in the IPCC report released overnight, particularly for regional Queensland and especially for northern Australia. It is somewhat ironic that in this chamber some of the hardest opponents of taking action on climate change are representatives, so called, of regional Australia. The IPCC report makes very clear that it is regional Australia, more than any other part of the country and almost more than any other part of the world, that faces the most serious risks if action on climate change is not taken. Even in the last couple of years, whether it be the Black Summer fires, whether it be floods or whether it be cyclones, we have seen that, constantly, it's regional Australia that bears the brunt of our changing climate. It's regional Australia that pays the price for this government's lack of action on climate change, and it's regional Australia that is being so profoundly let down by a government that claims to represent it.
That's before we get to the incredible job opportunities that can exist in regional Australia if we actually start taking action on climate change. We can create jobs in regional Queensland and elsewhere in regional Australia if we take action on climate change. That's probably why every stakeholder, from the National Farmers Federation to Rio Tinto, BHP and gas companies, is backing net zero emissions by 2050. It's not because they're good corporate citizens; it's because they know that there is money to be made and jobs to be created. That's why they're backing it, that's why Labor is backing it, and that's why we need this government to actually start taking some action rather than continuing the approach we always see from them, which is to never take responsibility, to blame others and to come up with spin lines to avoid actually doing anything.
Just in closing, though, I do want to respond to a couple of the points that Senator Waters has made on behalf of the Greens. In fact, I predicted, as we walked into this chamber, that most of what we would hear from the Greens this morning would be attacks on Labor, and it was, because it always is, because the Greens exist to take votes from Labor, to take seats from Labor and to actually guarantee the re-election of LNP governments.
Now, if we needed any proof of that, let's look at the founder of the Greens party, Bob Brown, and what he had to say about the notorious Adani convoy that ran through Queensland last year, contributing to the re-election of this government. He said that he was very proud of the Adani convoy; it had achieved its objective by returning Senator Waters to this chamber. It didn't matter that, in the process, it led to the re-election of an LNP government that even the Greens say is destroying the climate. That wasn't their concern. Their only concern is to come after Labor.
As for this notion that the Greens holding the balance of power would be a good thing for the climate, let's just remember the last time there was a Labor government with the Greens in the balance of power in the Senate. They blocked Labor's initiative around the CPRS. Why on earth would you let the Greens have the balance of power if you actually want action on climate change? The only way to have action on climate change is to elect a majority Labor government, and that's exactly what we intend to do at the next election.
We've had a whole wave of posturing from those opposite and certainly bickering between the Greens and the Labor Party. It's a bit like being at a bad family gathering. But the simple fact is: what we have to see and what we are committed to seeing is not the posturing of those opposite nor the bickering of those opposite, but simply calmly getting on with the job of investing in the technologies that reduce emissions whilst protecting the jobs of Australians.
Here are three quick facts. Firstly, between 2005 and 2019, Australia's emissions fell faster than Canada's, faster than New Zealand's, faster than Japan's, faster than Korea's and faster than those of the United States. Action in this country is real and is seeing a reduction in emissions. Indeed—the second fact—Australia beat our 2020 emissions reduction targets by 459 million tonnes. When we've made commitments to the world, we've honoured them—we've delivered—and we've exceeded them, and we are on track to meet and beat our 26 to 28 per cent reduction targets by 2030. Lastly, we are committed to the Paris Agreement and its goals, as well as to achieving net zero emissions as soon as possible. I move:
That the question be now put.