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Heatwaves and Humanity

Speeches in Parliament
Scott Ludlam 14 Feb 2017

The last fortnight we have seen a collection of the very worst that Australia can dredge up in climate politics. A record-breaking heatwave has put the blowtorch on the eastern two-thirds of the continent. Sydney recorded its hottest day in history. Last Saturday, the 15 hottest locations in the world were all in Australia. At the same time as parts of inland Australia were hotter than 50 degrees, severe floods were washing away parts of the Western Australian wheat belt.

On the assumption that you are listening to this speech from outside Parliament House, I can confirm that this building is air-conditioned. It is extremely comfortable in here. You can go whole days without knowing what the weather is doing outside because this place is so self-contained and cut off from the world. Add that cocoon effect to the built-in prejudice of the conservative mindset to reject anything that cannot be explained in a one-panel Bill Leak cartoon and that is how you can have Liberals and Nationals in here attacking Australian renewable energy companies even as people are evacuating burning townships in New South Wales or having their farms washed away in the southwest of WA.

I confess that I used to treat climate change denial as an annoyance or a psychological curiosity but not something to take super seriously. I have listened to Senator Macdonald in here talking about how this morning was unusually chilly or Senator Boswell before him proclaiming that he personally had not observed the sea level rising when he took his boat out. I have seen the contempt they have shown for CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology, NASA, NOAA and the world's National Academy of Sciences. I have been wondering for years what it would take to get through to them.

So instead of bringing a bunch of ice core data in with me tonight, I asked the advice of a schoolteacher and how they would get through. They told me to say this. What do you do if you are in bed and you get really cold? You put a doona on. How does that make you warmer? It traps a layer of warm air between the blanket and your body. It is elegant, isn't it? Now imagine that starting in about 1750 you began pulling another doona on top. Imagine that that doona is stuffed with 2,000 billion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon dioxide and methane from burning coal, oil and gas and that when parts of the bed begin to smoulder and catch fire it is not because of sunspots, socialism or the United Nations; it is because that extra doona is really starting to heat the place up.

At one end of the denial spectrum we have the total lost cause, someone like One Nation's Senator Malcolm Roberts. Senator Roberts would not recognise empirical evidence if it bit him on the face. It is empirically provable that the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the planet and that the Greenland ice sheet is coming apart at the seams. But it does not matter—he is unpersuadable. He is unpersuadable because his whole political identity is based in that denial. He is like a man wearing a hideously tight blindfold walking out onto a busy freeway, demanding to be shown empirical evidence of the traffic that is speeding towards him. Sometime soon the painful reality is going to hit the people following him out onto the road. But at least you know where he stands. He is desperately wrong about the situation that we are plunging into but at least he is consistently wrong.

A little further along the denial spectrum you run across characters like former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Premier Colin Barnett or former Labor minister Martin Ferguson. In my view these people are a lot more dangerous than weird outliers like Senator Roberts, because they have a much bigger platform and they use it to say one thing while doing exactly the opposite. They assure us that they care and that they have planned to do something about climate change but, because a lot of them are in hock up to their armpits to coal and gas corporations, their actions and their voting record are in violent contradiction to their words. So step up, Queensland Labor Party. They campaigned to save the Great Barrier Reef when they were in opposition and five minutes after winning government they started writing cheques with other people's money to help a corrupt Indian multinational to gouge out the world's largest coalmine.

Guess who else sits in this category of unforgivable hypocrites? Here is a quote. See if you can guess who this is:

It provides the most comprehensive technical blueprint yet for what our engineers, our scientists can begin to do for us tomorrow...A zero emission future... is absolutely essential if we are to leave a safe planet to our children and the generations that come after them.
Raise your hand if you guessed that that was Mr Malcolm Turnbull at the Sydney Town Hall in 2010, helping to launch the Beyond Zero Emissions' 100 per cent national renewable energy plan. I know he said that, because I was up on stage with him and I vividly remember feeling a brief flash of hope, because here was an articulate contender for the Prime Ministership endorsing a plan for a rapid rollout of utility-scale solar thermal plants and seven-megawatt wind turbines. Prime Minister, what happened? You have ended up politically grafted to embarrassing throwbacks like Mr Barnaby Joyce and Senator Ian Macdonald and you are reduced to shuffling around pathetically in the background while your idiot colleagues pass a lump of coal around the House of Representatives.

Our objective must be to make it politically impossible for people like this to ever hold high office again. The atmosphere does not care what delusions they have wrapped this criminally irresponsible conduct in. The West Antarctic ice sheet does not care about their feelings. The tinder dry forests and the dying reef do not take their cues from smug push polls from the Minerals Council.

In a couple of weeks' time the pointless, exhausted waste of space that we know as the Barnett government will finally go to the polls in Western Australia. As his final act of desperation, Premier Colin Barnett has cut a preference deal with Pauline Hanson's One Nation. That comprehensively rats out the National Party and raises the serious prospect that Ms Hanson and the 'all single mothers are lazy and have ugly children' guy will hold balance of power in the state upper house.

The Liberal Party have been lining up for week to endorse Senator Hanson as a more sophisticated and compliant individual than the version who self-destructed in the early 2000s. So wait until they hear about the candidate for Bateman, who is running on a platform of rescuing Christians from a 'covert Nazi-inspired gay mind-control program'. I kid you not. While I am delighted to be the first person to get that phrase into Hansard, I am horrified that this is the party that Premier Barnett thinks can refloat his sinking ship. We have different view. We think on 11 March the Barnett government should be broken up and sold off to whoever will have them. One Nation can get in the sea. We need something very different in their place.

So here is the plan. In December 2015 our national energy spokesperson, the Member for Melbourne Adam Bandt launched Renew Australia with Senators Di Natale and Waters. This is what we mean by something different. It establishes a new authority responsible for leveraging $5 billion into planning, construction and operating new energy generation over the next four years. It describes a plan to support workers as we transition away from fossil fuels through a $100 million fund for training, reskilling and to assist new industries move to affected areas. It sets out a staged and orderly closure plan for coal-fired and then gas-fired power stations guided by new emissions intensity and pollution standards. Renew Australia is not a slogan; it is a roadmap that we can start putting into action as we build a critical mass of support. It sets us up with a national platform for developing more detailed transition pathways for individual states.

Unlike South Australia, WA is not connected to the national electricity market. About half the state's electricity demand is served by a single grid that runs the South-West corner of WA from Geraldton to just east of Albany. Unlike the east coast, half of this electricity is generated by gas-fired stations, fuelled by gas pumped nearly 1600 kilometres from the Burrup Peninsula in the north-west. Dwindling coal supplies from Collie make up most of the rest. A slender eight per cent is served with renewable energy, mostly wind power, topped up by a rapidly expanding rooftop solar industry.

For eight years, we have watched with mounting horror as Premier Barnett sacked nearly everyone in the state public service with any clean energy or climate expertise, hurling money at the heavily profitable mining sector instead. He has been a champion of uranium mining, fracking, gas industry vandalism on the Burrup Peninsula and James Price Point in the Kimberley. He blew $300 million refitting an obsolete coal-fired power station that we did not need. He promised an electric light- rail transit system for Perth before the last state election and then changed his mind straight afterwards and went on a freeway-building bender instead.

So faced with the government's determination to obstruct the clean energy transition, we undertook to write the plan ourselves. We published the first iteration in 2013; we updated the plan in 2014; and we launched the culmination of this work, Energy2030, earlier this month. How much renewable energy does the South-West need to get to 100 per cent? How much will it cost? Will it be reliable even at night or when there is no wind? Where would we build it? How many jobs does it create? How long does it take? These are the questions that we set out to answer with the help of a group of independent Western Australian energy experts known as Sustainable Energy Now. They were able to plot two different scenarios for a 100 per cent clean energy build. One relies more heavily on solar thermal plants and costs a little bit more but results in lower carbon emissions at the end of the build. The other is more diverse with a lower-cost set up that uses more distributed energy. In both scenarios, by the year 2030, there would be 700,000 homes and businesses with solar battery storage. That massively increases the network's resilience to shocks and it cuts but power bills dramatically. What does is look like in the year 2030 if we get this right? There will be 12 new concentrated solar thermal stations of about 100 megawatts each.

Senator Milne and I visited a small-scale version of one of these plants in Spain in 2012. I undertook to visit a 110-megawatt plant in Nevada a couple of years ago. The company, Solar Reserve, that built that plant is active here in Australia. They cannot get a project to market and they cannot get a power purchase agreement because the Australian governments, state and federal, are facing the wrong way. So 12 plants of that scale, six large-scale solar photo voltaic farms, 29 large-scale wind farms and four biomass plants. We are not interested in native forest logging or so-called native forest waste; what we are interested in the south-west of Western Australia is oil Mallee bio cropping for power stations. This is a total of 51 power stations but 17 of them already exist. We are part way into the build.

The plan creates 12,000 jobs a year in technical, trades, engineering and white collar occupations. The best part is, it costs the same as not doing it when you add the savings from energy efficiency and the fact that, by the time 2030 comes around, we no longer have an annual coal or gas bill—we have kicked the fossil habit. Colleagues, this is doable, but it is not inevitable. It is going to take political courage, determination, and a change of government in three weeks' time in Western Australia.

A week ago I launched the Energy2030 plan with our East Metropolitan spokesperson Tim Clifford, and he said:

I have been door knocking for weeks taking out policy directly to people's doorsteps and there has been overwhelming support in the community. I never thought a person with my background would ever be in a position where I would be launching an historic initiative like our battery storage policy.
So if you know someone in Western Australia, can you do us a giant favour and tag them in this video. Please share it.

Personally I cannot think of a better favour that Western Australia could do the rest of the country than voting Colin Barnett and his One Nation partners into the bin on 11 March. The most important thing is to prove to young people that we are determined not to abandon them to the kind of hothouse future that Premier Barnett, Ms Hanson, Mr Morrison and his pet lump of coal are setting up for them. I hope some of these individuals live long enough so they can be around to get a glimpse of the future they are setting up for those who are too young to vote but I doubt it. The negligence of this generation will probably not be punished. It will be long after these old men have died that the impact of their contempt for the generations will be felt. I honestly believe that there is still time to prevent the very worst impacts of what we have set in motion but there really is no more time to stuff around. We have proven that we do not have an engineering problem. We do not have a technical problem. We have a very substantial political problem. On 11 March, a little more than three weeks from now, we can take a decisive step to solve part of a problem.

What I find most perverse is that the same people working hardest to prevent clean energy companies from getting a start in Australia are the same ones who are most horrified at the idea of giving safe harbour to refugees. It is about the most brutal failure to put two and two together imaginable. Here is one obvious example. There are around 170 million people living in Bangladesh, so about seven times the population of Australia. Most of these men, women and children—sisters, brothers, grandparents, grandchildren—live on alluvial flood plains on the edge of the Indian Ocean. Conservatively, 10 per cent of the land area will be inundated and lost if the sea level rises one metre. Not in a slow and gradual manner but given effect by violent storm surges and hurricanes. So how many people do we realistically think will be on the move by mid-century?

Like many in here, I am at risk of becoming numb to the statistics of suicides, murders, mental illness, sexual assaults and rapes on the island internment camps that are Australia's national shame. But it is essential that we do not turn away from the horrors being inflicted in our name because the way that we treat desperate people forced to flee their homes will be the issue that defines whether or not the human family survives this century.

Last week, the Australian government began forcibly deporting people from Manus Island. The UN Refugee Agency has said that no deportations should take place because there are concerns about how people's refugee claims have been assessed. Asylum seekers on the island have provided dozens of examples of procedural mistakes, inconsistencies and perverse decisions. Legal avenues for these asylum seekers have not been exhausted, and many of them have not yet been subject to the possibility of judicial review.

The detention centre in Manus Island was declared illegal 10 months ago. The PNG Supreme Court ruled last April that the indefinite detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island was unconstitutional but nothing has been done to close it down. Today the Liberal and Labor parties washed their collective hands of responsibility by refusing to support a Greens motion opposing these forced deportations.

I said I would avoid statistics, so let us learn a little more of one individual's story. Iran, the theocracy that the United States government inadvertently set in place when the CIA helped overthrow a democratically elected government in 1953 has long refused to accept any person who is repatriated involuntarily. This means that these individuals face the prospect of indefinite detentions or worse when they are forced to go back to Iran having fled that place. One such person is the Iranian asylum seeker and cartoonist known by pen name Eaten Fish. Eaten Fish is 25 years old. His real name is Ali. He suffers severe mental illness. He has been on a hunger strike for 16 days as of today. He is bleeding from his stomach and he is becoming more and more unwell. His ability to communicate and be lucid is deteriorating and he is desperate.

Eaten Fish has received a deportation notice but he wants people to know that he is not on hunger strike for that reason. He is on hunger strike because he has been the victim of sexual assault, chronic sexual harassment and abuse in Australia's immigration prison camp. He cannot bear the suffering anymore. He is petrified of being moved from his supported accommodation back into the general area and he is petrified of being returned to Iran and executed. His refugee determination status process was an obscene joke. During the determination, and he was so unwell that he was unable to present his case. All of this has been documented. It has taken Eaten Fish a year to talk about his experience and now he wants people to know what is going on.

The Australian government has been petitioned many times both from within Australia and from internationally asking that Eaten Fish be brought to Australia for medical treatment. Cartoonists Rights Network International is one such group, and they write the following:

It is with profound alarm and sadness that we learn that our friend and colleague … Mr Eaten Fish, currently held in an Australian refugee rendition camp in Papua New Guinea, has decided to undertake a hunger strike. He is a man who has given up hope, cannot struggle any longer, cannot face the future that is being forced upon him, and would rather die than submit to the indignities of further inhuman treatment.
Today the Greens stand once again against this unacceptable treatment of asylum seekers by this government and by the ALP, who initiated the establishment of these camps in the first place. We urge you to transfer this critically ill young man to Australia, or you risk another death on our hands.

I would like to acknowledge Senator Nick McKim, our spokesperson on this issue, and the work done by Senator Hanson-Young over many years on this issue. The Greens will never give up while these camps remain open. I also take this opportunity to say that we will not forget the young men who have died in our care in these death camps: Reza Berati, 24, also from Iran, died from head injuries after he was beaten to death by security personnel who were paid by Australian taxpayers to protect him; Hamid Khazaei, 24, also from Iran, died from medical neglect after a treatable foot infection; Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27, from Sudan, fell ill and died on Christmas Eve 2016 after seeking medical treatment 13 times in two months. On the death of Faysal, Manus Island detainee Abdul Aziz Adams said, 'This system is designed to kill us one by one.' Colleagues, this system shames us one by one. It is time that these camps are closed and that the people were brought here to Australia.

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