10 February 2020

Climate Change & Bushfires - Matter of Public Importance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10 February 2020