Senate debates

Tuesday, 21 March 2023


Climate Change

12:01 pm

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

I seek leave to move a motion relating to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's AR6 synthesis report: climate change 2023, as circulated.

Leave not granted.

From the contingent notice standing in my name, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent me from moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely a motion to give precedence to a motion to the 6th IPCC synthesis report.

The Greens are suspending standing orders in both chambers today to discuss an incredibly depressing and landmark report that was released overnight, and which is the last wake-up call for this parliament and, frankly, every other parliament around this whole planet. The findings of this report are no surprise, but they are incredibly challenging. The motion that we have moved today notes the overnight release of the synthesis report relating to the climate emergency, and it notes the statement by the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that there can be no new coal, oil or gas projects in Australia—and that in fact Australia and other developed nations must phase out coal by 2030. It calls on the government to heed the calls of the IPCC and the UN Secretary-General, and to stop approving new coal and gas projects.

The synthesis report shows that we're already at 1.1 degrees of warning. It also says that projected emissions from existing fossil fuel infrastructure will see us blow any chance of constraining warming to 1½ degrees. It says that the choices and actions implemented in this decade will have impacts now and for thousands of years. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres put it beautifully when he said: 'Humanity is on thin ice—and that ice is melting fast.' The climate time bomb is ticking. Today's IPCC report is a how-to guide to diffuse the climate time bomb; it is a survival guide for humanity. It shows that the 1½-degree limit is achievable, but it will take a quantum leap in climate action. The report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country, by every sector and on every time frame. Still quoting here from the Secretary-General:

Specifically: No new coal, the phasing out of coal by 2030 in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, and 2040 in all other countries.

Ending all international public and private funding of coal.

Ensuring net-zero electricity generation by 2035 for all developed countries and 2040 for the rest of the world.

Ceasing all licensing or funding of new oil and gas—consistent with the findings of the International Energy Agency.

Stopping any expansion of existing oil and gas reserves.

Shifting subsidies from fossil fuels to a just energy transition.

Establishing a global phase down of existing oil and gas production, compatible with the 2050 global net-zero target.

I don't know how clearer this guy's going to be: no new coal, oil or gas.

Yet what have we got here in Australia? We've got 116 projects in the pipeline. They were in the pipeline under the last terrible government and they're still there under this new government. I thought we had an election, and I thought people voted for a change, so you'd kind of expect that there might be a policy change. But right now we've got 116 of these projects in the works, and the government is proposing a mechanism that's going to do sweet nothing to stop any of them. It's an absolute outrage: 116 new coal, oil and gas projects; $11 billion a year in taxpayer money going to subsidise the fossil fuel sector. I mean, seriously, are we in a budget crisis or not? There is $368 billion for nuclear subs for some phoney war, when the real war is against our planet, and it's being driven by greedy fossil fuel companies that are reaping billions for their own personal benefit.

Meanwhile, ordinary people are paying the price. We've seen floods. We've seen fires. We know what the devastation looks like, and that's at 1.1 degrees. Seriously, wake up, folks! Please go and read this report. I know we're all busy, but go and read the damned thing. If you're not awake after reading it, then honestly, I don't know how many fossil fuel donations you need to accept in order to continue to have your head in the sand.

This parliament has a decision to take. As the world's scientists have said, the decisions we take today will influence the next thousand years. This is serious, folks, and I do not want the might of the fossil fuel companies—their dirty donations and their promises of incredibly overpaid lobbying jobs after you folk leave this place—making the decisions for our nation. We have a chance to actually make a difference here. We have all the world's scientists laying out the road map for us on what to do. You can't say we weren't warned. We've had years and years of these reports. They've now synthesised it for us: no new coal, oil or gas. It's what the Greens will always fight for. You can have a discussion about how quickly we exit, and the UN says let's exit by 2030, but no new coal, oil or gas. Stop giving them public money, stop giving them approvals, stop taking their dirty donations and stop going off to work for them after you leave this place.

12:08 pm

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to make a brief contribution on the suspension of standing orders today. The government will not be supporting the suspension, but I do want to be clear that we think the issue of climate change is real and requires serious action. To start where Senator Waters finished, and to quote her, we have a chance to make a difference. Well, the government supports that, and we agree that we do have a chance to make a difference, and the most pressing opportunity we have to do that is to pass the safeguard legislation that will be coming before the parliament in the next week.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which was released last night, makes the case for urgent action and confirms what we already know. It puts in pretty stark terms that there is a rapidly closing window for transformative climate action, both here and around the world, and it shows that global warming has increased at an unprecedented rate over the past decade, resulting in more frequent and severe droughts and cyclones. Every region in the world is expected to face increasing risks from climate change by the 2030s. It's already at our door, and this report unfortunately just confirms yet again the wasted decade under the Liberal and Nationals governments, when they refused to accept the science, refused to take action when they were in a position to do so, and were more preoccupied with fighting each other, particularly on climate and energy policy, than with doing their job. And that's having real consequences for our nation, our region and our world.

Australians already know that they are being impacted by catastrophic climate change—severe flooding, drought, mega fires, low air quality from those fires. Every Australian has felt the ferocious effects of a warming planet, so we all know that climate change is real. Well, most of us in this chamber know that climate change is real. It is here and it's starting to have an impact. It would be great if this fortnight, instead of having suspension motions and things like that, we could actually pass the legislation that is going to give us the opportunity to start doing the work that should have been happening for years but hasn't been happening.

I accept that not everybody agrees with the detail of the design, that it is not perfect in everyone's sense, but it is a start to make a difference. If we genuinely want to make a difference, we have to start somewhere. We can't have those who want more action on climate change and those who want no action on climate change determining that nothing happens. I mean, that is the risk that we face here. We on this side have the policy design and we will continue to work with anyone in this chamber who wants to make a difference, who wants to start reducing emissions through the safeguard magnetism and through the regulation that will come down the road, and actually start doing that. That is what needs to be happening.

No four- or 10-hour debates on the IPCC report will actually do what passing the legislation that will come before this parliament will start to do if it gets the support of this chamber. The counterfactual is that it doesn't pass, that we don't reform the safeguard mechanism and that we aren't able to reduce emissions in the way that the safeguard mechanism is designed. That is the counterfactual of this chamber not supporting that legislation, that we are struck again with nothing happening. So we on this side do think that we should be progressing the most obvious, the most pressing legislation that is actually before this parliament. That will make a difference, and we can work together to do it.

We can't let those opposite, who sit there and say they support net zero by 2050—well, you used to support that anyway and you used to support the safeguard mechanism and you want to see change—sit there and block everything. The 'no-alition'—who block absolutely everything in this chamber. You are setting yourselves up to be the most obstructionist opposition in recent times—absolutely. The way you are not involving yourselves in legislation, what are you getting paid for? You come here and you don't even play yourselves into the discussions because it is the straight-up no. That's what the people who support you are getting out of this. They are getting bodies who sit in this chamber who don't participate, who don't involve themselves and who don't negotiate, and that is what has led to this policy failure, or the effect of—

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Scarr, a point of order?

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

The minister is reflecting generally upon members of this side of chamber, I believe, in quite a personal disorderly fashion and she should withdraw.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

I'm not sure it quite gets that far but I would ask the minister to reflect on her comments.

Photo of Katy GallagherKaty Gallagher (ACT, Australian Labor Party, Minister for the Public Service) Share this | | Hansard source

I will reflect on them but it seems to be pretty standard Senate operating procedure. But that is the opportunity that the Senate is faced with in the next little while. In the next two weeks we can start to make a difference. We can show Australians that we are taking this seriously and that we are working together to mitigate some of the risks of climate change.

12:13 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

It's a delight to be participating in this debate. Of course, the opposition won't be supporting this suspension, not because we don't deem the issue important; it is probably just not the form to have the debate. I mean, Senator Waters herself did concede that most of us haven't had the chance to read it. Some important points are made.

You've read it? Well, good on you. That's excellent. I'm pleased for you. We'll take the time to have a look at it properly and respond properly as well. But look, there are a couple of things in there that are important. I think the motion highlights them well and I'm pleased that it is here for discussion but there are elements to this that aren't considered in the motion. I was just listening to Senator Waters' contribution there and the point was made that the ordinary people of Australia, the voters who send us to this place, are the ones who are going to be paying the price and that is true, not only with the impacts of climate change but more importantly with the impacts of higher power prices, which is what you are advocating for when we talk about this carte blanche banning of coal and gas. The one thing that no-one from that corner of the chamber seems to inject into this debate is concern for those who actually are doing it tough: the businesses, the people that work in them, the households—those people who actually are struggling with increased costs of living, including through higher power prices. It is something that we actually need to deal with, and I would love it if that were in the motion. That might be something the people of Australia would like us to be dealing with. Yes, there are bits of legislation before this chamber. As the minister outlined in her contribution, there's the safeguard mechanism. It was an interesting contribution from the minister, though.

It was made clear to everyone in this chamber that the opposition will be opposing the amendments to the safeguard mechanism. As Senator Whish-Wilson pointed out by interjection earlier, it was something that the coalition bought in. It was a structure that was put in place to incentivise investments in emissions reduction through better tech, better R&D and working with big emitters to actually bring down their emissions, rather than taxing them, which is the model we have before us. We proudly say no to a model put forward by a government that is going to drive up the cost of living. It's not right for the minister to say: 'You don't come here to contribute to legislation. You're dealing yourself out of the game.' The reality is that we're happy to work with anyone who comes forward with a good idea. Bad ones should be scrapped. Come forward with something better and we'll work with you on that. You can't just come in here and say, 'It's our way or the highway.'

You might start by providing us the modelling—the modelling that everyone in this chamber except for the Australian Labor Party wants the world to see. Every senator in this place, every party, wants the government to table the information we're expected to trust them on, which is the basis for the legislation they claim is going to fix climate change in this country. They've refused on numerous occasions to provide the Senate with that information. I hope they come to their senses because, if they don't, it's going to be them preventing the world from dealing with climate change in this country. As they put it, if this bill doesn't pass we've lost the one opportunity to deal with this issue. Show us the modelling. If it's good modelling and it actually speaks to what the government says the bill will do—the impact it will have on emissions reduction, availability of carbon credits, the cost of living and power prices—show us the modelling. What is there to hide? There hasn't even been the offer of a private briefing. That wouldn't be good enough, in my books, but not even that has been offered to give senators, who will be asked to vote on this legislation, the opportunity to see this and make a decision.

I come back to the points in Senator Waters's motion. There is reference to the UN Secretary-General's comments. I did see some interviews taking place this morning. A scientist from the ANU who works in the area of climate change characterised the Secretary-General's take on the report as fairly flourished, with a lot of emotion in it, and he had a slightly more tempered view on that. He also referenced the multiple tools that are available to governments to deal with these things, including investments in technology to reduce emissions, which is something I talked about before. It's something the coalition has a proud track record of. We've been characterised most unfairly and incorrectly by the government and others in this chamber. We're proud of our record and the investments we have made in renewables and our plan to reduce emissions. We're not going to do it by making Australians pay through the nose, keep the heaters off in winter, not be able to turn the lights on and not able to open their businesses. It's the wrong way to do it, and we won't be supporting this suspension.

12:18 pm

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

One Nation will not be supporting this motion to suspend standing orders. The real question is something that lies beneath this suspension order request, and that is: are the Greens patsies and fools, or are they complicit in fraud? They're claiming an escalating climate emergency—a climate breakdown. Here we go again, with no data to back it up. We know that the Greens have never provided any empirical scientific evidence or logical scientific points to back up their assertion of an escalating climate emergency.

I challenged Senator Waters to a debate in public in 2010—13 years ago—and she still will not debate me. She jumped to her feet and said, 'I will not debate you.' I've challenged her again, almost daily and weekly since 9 September.

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

Leave me alone!

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

Now we hear calls of: 'Leave me alone. I haven't got the data.' No. There is no evidence the Greens have that backs up their claim.


Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Read the report.

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

I will get to the report in a minute. The second thing is (a)(ii) of the motion, the statement by the United Nations Secretary-General. Did we know that Greta Thunberg, who did not finish high school, was yesterday given an honorary doctorate in theology by the University of Helsinki? It's a religion, this climate stuff, and the great god is the United Nations. Did you elect the United Nations Secretary-General to run our country? No. I didn't. They've never been elected.

Let's have a look at the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. The first, in 1990, was built on fraud, but even that showed that the medieval warming period was warmer than today's temperatures. That was quickly whipped out of the United Nations next report, in 1995. The scientists gathered under the UN banner said there was no evidence of warming due to human production of carbon dioxide. Yet Ben Santer, one of the scientists, went in and changed that report and presented it in 1995 based on a fraud. In 2001, 2007, 2013 and 2020 there were reports by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Let's look at chapter 12. In each of those reports there was only one sole chapter claiming warming and attributing it to carbon dioxide from human activity. In 2001 it was chapter 12. In 2007 it was chapter 9. In 2013 it was chapter 10. Not one of those reports' sole chapters claiming warming and attributing it to human carbon dioxide contains any evidence for that claim. It's the same in 2020.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Whish-Wilson, do you have a point of order?

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

I can put up a lot in this chamber, but having Senator Roberts directly yell at me from five feet away is very difficult to take. Could you ask him to address the chair, as he should according to parliamentary rules?

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

He was going through me, but it's a lesson to us all to speak through the chair.

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

We always see that when someone has no evidence they rely upon slurs, innuendo and misrepresentation. Thank you for not being able to challenge my argument.

Let's have a look at the basis of this United Nations report. Maurice Strong was a crook. He died in 2015 after returning from self-imposed exile in China. Maurice Strong started the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a political tool to get his way for his objectives globally. Maurice Strong started the Chicago Climate Exchange. He was a director of the Chicago Climate Exchange. He sought to make billions of dollars of profit from the Chicago Climate Exchange. He was then pursued for the oil-for-food scandal in the United Nations—complicit; another scandal in the United Nations. He was also wanted by American law-enforcement agencies for serious crimes in the United States, including one very big crime in western United States. He fled in exile. He's a crook! That's what the Greens are basing their policies on. That's what the Labor Party is basing its policies on. That's what the Liberals and Nationals, with a few exceptions—I note Senator Rennick—are basing their policies on. These policies that are destroying everyday Australians' lives economically, socially, mentally and morally are based upon a crook, and you've fallen for it. What's more, you're now getting the people of Australia to pay for it. That is inhuman, it's irresponsible and it's dishonest. Are the Greens guilty of fraud or are they simply patsies and fools?

I note that China produces 4.5 billion tonnes of coal and gets more of our coal, while we're not allowed to use the 500 million tonnes that we produce in this country. They produce nine times as much and yet they have got no agreement for 2050 net zero. This is fraud, and this is why we will not support this suspension.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator McAllister indicated she wanted the call, and then I'll look to the call after. I can't quite remember who came first.

12:24 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

The government welcomes the report that was released last night. In commencing my remarks, I'd like to acknowledge the Australian scientists and experts who contributed to this report and to the IPCC process. Australia has a strong track record of producing world-class climate science and research. I thank them for their work.

This report will be concerning for many Australians. Scientists have been telling us for decades that without significant emissions reduction we can expect worsening and cascading climate events. The report confirms what we already know, that there is a rapidly closing window for action on climate change. Actually, Australian communities know this. They know this in their hearts because they are already experiencing the reality of climate change. Even when faced with devastating bushfires and with devastating floods, the previous government refused to act. Those on the other side, along with their enablers on the crossbench, spent 10 years arguing among themselves, refusing to do what was needed to lead Australia out of the worst effects of climate change. They presided over a decade of delay, denial and dysfunction, and they delivered nothing. Finally, we have a federal government that is committed to strong and swift reform. We are unapologetically focused on transforming Australia's domestic economy to a low-carbon economy. I will make this point. It is the most important thing that we can do to support the ambitious international action—collaborative, collective action—that is necessary to contain global warming.

We can't control the energy choices of other nations, but we can make sure that Australia makes its own contribution to build confidence that, collectively, as a globe we can do this. Of course, that is the point of the report. It sounds the warning bell of the dangers of inaction, but it makes the point that there is still a pathway, a pathway to stay below two degrees and to come as close as we can to 1½ degrees, as we agreed to in our international arrangements. This is, of course, the focus of our international effort, and we are working closely with international partners to advance practical action on climate change and build new clean supply chains. But most importantly, we are acting at home.

One of our first acts in government was to legislate an ambitious but achievable emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030 and net zero by 2050. The Powering Australia plan invests in this transformation—$20 billion to upgrade, expand and modernise our electricity grid to support more renewable power and $1.9 billion to establish the Powering the Regions Fund, which will support new jobs and the decarbonisation of emissions-intensive industries and will help ensure that regional Australians drive Australia's transformation to a renewable energy superpower. The Driving the Nation Fund and the National Electric Vehicle Strategy provide us the opportunity to invest in cleaner, cheaper transport. And while we work, while we make every effort to limit future climate change, there are some changes that we now can't avoid, and we need to support communities to adapt to the impacts that are already baked in and build their resilience.

The parliament is currently considering a most important bill, a bill to reform the safeguard mechanism, a mechanism that, until the last election, was the stated policy of those opposite. But after 10 years of denial and delay, that mechanism never actually achieved what it was supposed to do. It didn't contain rising emissions from our biggest emitters. This is the first opportunity we'll have after nearly 10 years of those guys to turn that around. Our proposal will deliver 205 million tonnes of emissions reductions by 2030. It is a workable policy that will reduce the emissions into our atmosphere. The chamber has a choice this fortnight to continue to allow big emitters to continue with no real restrictions on how much they can pollute or to require them to drive down Australia's emissions and put us on track for net zero by 2050.

Every bit of emissions reduction makes a difference. That's why we have to seize this opportunity and not squander it, because that is what the Australian people expect of us.

12:29 pm

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

This is an important suspension today because there is no greater issue facing the future of our country—indeed, the future of the rest of the world. I want to address my comments to the children who are watching us in the gallery today: this report paints a warning sign and a very bleak picture about your future. I want to say—through you, Mr Acting Deputy President Sterle—to the kids up there watching that we have a responsibility to secure your future, to look after the planet for you and your children and to ensure that we take seriously the warning signs that have been given over and over again by scientists and that we act on them. This report shows clearly that runaway, dangerous climate change is here, and rather than sprinting, as the authors of the report have said, we are simply walking—we are sleepwalking into climate catastrophe.

We know what needs to be done. This report outlines clearly what needs to be done. We have to stop expanding fossil fuels and we have to phase out our current use of and the dirty pollution from coal, gas and oil. We need to get out of coal by 2030, this report says very clearly. We can't keep spending taxpayers' money and public subsidies on the fossil fuel industry. For every dollar that we're spending on fossil fuel subsidies, we need even more to be spent on responding to the climate crisis that is here, right now, already. We've seen some debate over the last few days about the enormous amount of money, the $370 billion, that Australians are going to fork out for submarines in this country because of a threat, we are told—a huge global security threat. Well, there's nothing more threatening to our survival as the human species on this planet than climate change. Where are the billions of dollars that are coming from wealthy countries to address the climate crisis?

We know that the climate has already changed. We're already dealing with the threats to our livelihoods, our homes, our jobs, our economy. We've seen the floods. We've experienced the heartache of people's homes being destroyed, their businesses being demolished and, sadly, the loss of lives. The fires are still burnt into our recent memory. What the scientists are telling us already is that before we know it we are going to be back there again. It is not negotiable to sit here and take piecemeal action on the climate crisis. We need to make sure that we take these warnings seriously so that we can actually address the crisis that we are confronted with. It has been greed and complacency that has ruled the day, and it's time it stopped.

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The question put by Senator Waters was that suspension of standing orders be agreed to.

12:40 pm

Photo of Glenn SterleGlenn Sterle (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll wait for senators who won't be participating in the next debate to vacate the chamber. While I'm at it, I welcome back a former senator, Rachel Siewert, from the great state of Western Australia. I take it you're not here to take up an adviser position, and you've just come to say hello.