Liberal Government failure on Climate Change - Senate motion and speech

Thursday 17 September

At the request of Senator Collins I move:

That the Senate —

(a) notes:

(i) the Morrison Government's complete capitulation to the hard right of the Liberal and National Parties by abandoning emission reduction as a goal of energy policy, and its refusal to legislate the Paris Climate Change Agreement Targets,

(ii) comments by former Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, who stated at his final press conference "in terms of energy policy and climate policy, I think the truth is that the Coalition finds it very hard to get agreement on anything to do with emissions. That's the truth", and

(iii) that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government policy inaction is driving up electricity prices, and that solutions, including an Emissions Intensity Scheme, a Clean Energy Target and a National Energy Guarantee, have given way to crippling policy paralysis;

(b) observes that the Abbott -Turnbull-Morrison Government refuses to act, citing any and all excuses to delay, when everyone knows it is internal Coalition division and weakness of leadership that are really to blame;

(c) agrees Australia must cut carbon pollution by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and reach net zero emissions by 2050, consistent with Climate Change Authority recommendations regarding our obligations under the Paris Accords of keeping global warming to well below 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels; and

(d) recognises, that in order to drive down prices and pollution, Australians need and deserve real leadership on energy and it is clearer every day that they will not get it from the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Government.

This motion very clearly outlines and recognises that this coalition government has given up and that this new Prime Minister doesn't care when we talk about energy policy and climate policy. Over the last fortnight a number of Morrison government ministers have repeated the lie that Australia is supposedly 'on track' to meet its international climate commitments. The truth is that the Liberals have no climate policy and no way to contain let alone reduce Australia's rising carbon pollution levels. They have a target of a five per cent cut in emissions by 2020. They have committed to the Paris climate agreement, with a 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030 on 2005 levels. But the coalition government's own data—snuck out just days before Christmas—showed that there would be a zero per cent cut in pollution by 2020. The same government data showed that there would be only a slim four per cent cut in pollution by 2030, missing our international obligations by a whopping 24 per cent.

And of course this was all before the Liberals completely junked the emissions reduction component of their National Energy Guarantee—the thing that now is dead—walking away from any plan to cut pollution in the electricity sector, which is responsible for one-third of all of Australia's emissions and has the lowest cost of cutting pollution. I really can't put it any better, though, than the way it has been set out in this motion: that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government's policy in action is driving up electricity prices and that its failed solutions, including an emissions intensity scheme, a clean energy target and the National Energy Guarantee, never came to fruition but have all given way to this crippling policy paralysis.

At every step of the way, throughout all of the different versions of an energy policy that the government has put forward, Labor have been willing to work with the government for a genuine solution to the energy crisis. We were willing to negotiate on an emissions intensity scheme, but Tony Abbott vetoed that one. We were willing to work with the Chief Scientist's, Dr Alan Finkel's, clean energy target, but Tony Abbott vetoed that one. We were willing to work with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on the National Energy Guarantee, but, under pressure from anti-renewable members of the coalition party room and without even talking to Labor, he decided to abandon that policy—the one that he had recently said was 'essential' to solving the energy crisis.

Businesses, industry and all the experts have been clear that renewable energy is the only way forward for Australia's energy system. Renewable energy is the cheapest way forward—the cheapest form of new energy. It will create thousands of jobs. It will drive down pollution. But it has been year upon year upon year of a different version, of a different policy, being put forward by this government, all of which have failed, and it has led us to this point of complete policy paralysis, where we don't have any energy or climate policy at all.

If we look at the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, and its 26 per cent emissions target, it was already inadequate to fix this energy crises. But now, with the government having nothing—no policy, no ideas, no leadership and no hope—what can the Australian people and what can Australian businesses and industry really have to guide them forward? The international community is becoming increasingly alarmed at Australia's complete lack of responsibility and, indeed, of credibility, particularly when the European Union and our neighbours in the Pacific, as we recently heard at the Pacific Islands Forum, are demanding that this government take action to reduce pollution and not just repeat the empty promises that we have heard.

What has been clear over the last fortnight is that this new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has the same position as Peter Dutton when it comes to action on climate change. Prime Minister Morrison saying that Australia is committed to our Paris target is worthless. He is merely paying lip-service, given that he has no policy to actually back that up. Australia and the world's need for comprehensive mitigation of the effects of climate change has never been greater. On current trends, the UN estimates that climate change will displace up to 200 million people by 2050, creating an unprecedented refuge crisis. The government have committed Australia to some of the weakest emissions reduction targets in the developed world. They have tried to de-list part of Tasmania's World Heritage area. Carbon emissions have been increasing the whole time they have been in power, and they are still putting those who have an ideological bent against the climate science into federal parliament.

I remember way back when Senator Duniam was about to start his term in this place and he told The Examiner newspaper that he was yet to be convinced that climate change is man-made. He is not alone in his thinking within the Liberal Party. So many of them still deny the science. It is something that former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was only too well aware of—so well aware that, even after all the compromises the former Prime Minister made, they still rolled him. They still couldn't bring themselves to agree to a policy on energy that included emissions reduction. And the NEG died. I share with you the former Prime Minister's own words on that—indeed, words that have been written into this motion—where he said:

In terms of energy policy and climate policy, I think the truth is that the Coalition finds it very hard to get agreement on anything to do with emissions. That's the truth.

That is what the former Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, said at his final press conference as Prime Minister. Yes, that is the truth, Malcolm Turnbull, and that is why I think between now and the next election we will see the absolute continuation of policy paralysis when it comes to emissions reduction, strong investment in renewable energy and Australia's commitment to our Paris climate agreement targets. All of us in this parliament must realise that we have to step up and take serious action to deal with this deep energy crisis gripping this nation.

Labor is ready to do that. We have been ready to do that for a very long time. We want to do that. Our households and our businesses know only too well that wholesale power prices have doubled in the four years of this government, primarily because of the policy paralysis and uncertainty that has gripped this nation. Labor has tried again and again to work with this government, but it's now clear that it will not provide the leadership needed to solve this energy crisis. Fortunately for Australia, the choice is clear going forward: Labor is for renewables and for lower prices; the Liberals are for more coal and for higher prices.

During the last Labor government carbon pollution decreased by 11 per cent, but carbon pollution has indeed increased by six per cent under this changing Liberal coalition government. That gives you the stark difference between Labor's commitment on energy policy and emissions reductions, and this shambles of a government. We have real policies with real outcomes for Australians. We are committed to cutting our carbon pollution by 45 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030 and to reaching net zero emissions by 2050 as is consistent with our obligations, under the Paris accord, of keeping global warming well below two degrees above pre-industrial levels. Our position is to transition Australia's energy system, with 50 per cent renewable energy by 2050 at its core. We know what that will do; it will drive investment in renewable energy. Coming from Tasmania I know that very clearly, because of Tasmania's expanding wind farms. In fact 30 sites in Tasmania could potentially have more wind farms if we had an energy policy with the right parameters in place to allow that investment in renewables.

Labor has that policy. We want to drive that investment in renewable energy. That isn't only good for our carbon emissions and a reduction in energy prices; it is good for jobs and investment. I don't think anyone in this place can say they do not support that. Whatever the other side's ideological bent against renewable energy is, how can they deny the jobs and investment that will come with the creation of more renewable energy and the various technologies that keep coming forward? Labor will also implement sector-specific policies for energy, transport and agriculture to ensure we deliver on our pollution reduction obligations in a way that maximises our economic and job opportunities. We remain convinced that if we can cut our pollution, as we were doing when in government, and transition to a clean energy economy, then it can only be good for our country and what we have signed up to.

We have only to look at our neighbouring countries in the Pacific, which are crying out for us to make this happen, and also other countries further afield. I saw just the other day that California is going to use 100 per cent clean energy by 2045. I was recently in Europe, and I passed so many wind farms. In such a small land mass—that is, when Europe is compared to Australia—they are maximising that opportunity for renewables in every part of Europe as it stands. Yet here we are still having those same old, tired debates on whether the Liberals can believe the science and whether or not they have to continue to roll another Prime Minister because he is just a little bit too pro-renewables and just that little bit too pro the Paris agreement.

We then have the dumping of the Paris agreement. How far did the former Prime Minister go only a few weeks ago—with the killing off of the NEG, the National Energy Guarantee, and the dumping of the Paris climate targets—for those ideological right-wingers within the Liberal Party to be happy? Well, they still weren't happy, and the former Prime Minister is now gone. We are now all the worse for it because we now don't have anything. We don't have a NEG. Even though it wasn't good enough, it gave us something to start with and to build from after the policy paralysis of so many years. Even though the government's own projections have shown pollution will keep rising all the way to 2030, they have no policy to even meet the weak 26 to 28 per cent target that they held. What this means is we will have pollution going up in every sector.

We need to take stock here of where we find ourselves as a country and how far backwards we've gone. I remember my time in this place when Labor was in government and the day we introduced the carbon pollution architecture, those clean energy bills that gave us that road map forward and that road map to be part of transitioning our economy into a clean energy economy. It was a momentous day. I remember it was a momentous day for then Minister Greg Combet as well and for all of those Labor colleagues. Yet look how far backwards we've gone. With the change of government in 2013 and all of the various leaders that they've had since, we have gone so far backwards not just on our rising pollution and not just on the rising energy prices but on the fact that we as a country stand for nothing now when it comes to energy, when it comes to our commitment to emissions reduction and when it comes to the future for our children and playing our part in reducing our emissions on this planet. That is shameful; it is incredibly shameful. It is shameful because we will have long been gone from this place. We know from the science that if we do not reduce our emissions and if temperatures continue to rise, we are going to be in real trouble as a planet. How can we deny that? How can we just turn our backs and do nothing?

Look at the way Australia, even domestically at the moment, is suffering. Look not just at those households that obviously have rising energy prices, which is bad enough, but at our farmers who are suffering the drought. Listen to our farmers. Listen to those Pacific islanders who are trying to mitigate rising sea levels. The climate is changing. There is global warming happening. At this present time, as we speak, I think there is a typhoon that's about to be experienced over the Philippines. We've also got hurricanes and weather in the southern states of America. All of this is continuing to happen and all of it is a contribution of the changing climate that we live in.

We need to act and ensure we are doing as much as we can to contribute to the reduction in warming—that is, the reduction of two per cent. We are not on track to do that in this country, and we have every single means to do it. We've got more sun here, I think, than nearly any country in the world. We've got such a huge land mass. We have such an opportunity and there are such opportunities to create future jobs from it. Yet, here we are in this place, and in the other place, stuck in a policy paralysis because of a few hard-right-wingers within the government who just want to put their heads in the sand and hope it all goes away. Every time we bring a policy idea forward—our opportunity to contribute in a sensible, negotiable way with the government—they don't want a bar of it, because they simply do not believe in it.

This complete capitulation by the Morrison government to the hard Right of the Liberals and the Nationals by abandoning emissions reduction as a goal of energy policy and its refusal to legislate the Paris climate change agreement targets means only one thing. It means that the sooner we have an election the better. The sooner that this lot are voted out of office the better so that we can move forward and ensure that we do have the right energy policy for this country and that we do indeed start to get back on track in reducing our emissions. The sooner that day comes the better for all Australians.