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The inspiring young people of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 8 Jul 2014

In what has been a dispiriting week for those who care about a safe and liveable climate, Senator Wright speaks about the inspiring young people of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition who have converged on Canberra with a clear message to our politicians: your choice = our future.

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (20:08):  On Monday this week I had the great pleasure of meeting 200 enthusiastic, passionate young people who had converged on parliament from all over Australia with a very clear message for the parliamentarians they were meeting and wanted to communicate with, and that was that our choices in this place this week would determine their future. These young people were from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, the AYCC. Some of them are here in the gallery and I welcome them to parliament tonight. The AYCC is a youth run organisation that has a mission of building a movement of young Australians to empower them to take action on climate change. It is an incredibly impressive organisation. Since some of my children have been involved in it I have been on a journey of understanding about what they do. AYCC is now one of Australia's largest youth run organisations, with a stunning membership of more than 115,000.

I love working and meeting with AYCC people because they are smart, passionate and committed to working together. They are also effective and disciplined. In fact, their discipline and their commitment to what they are doing would put a lot of organisations staffed and with memberships of older Australians to shame. That is because they are essentially taking responsibility for the future and the way we can proceed in dealing with the catastrophic climate change that we are facing. And they are taking that responsibility in a way that many of our leaders are not prepared to do. I think that is because they know that it is their futures which are at stake if we do not act decisively and effectively on climate change.


AYCC enables young people to take action in their communities to put climate change and climate issues into the national spotlight. On Monday we heard from, among others, Daniel Spencer, the inspiring campaigner with Repower Port Augusta in my home state of South Australia. Daniel has been working long and hard in partnership with a very impressive community group, the Repower Port Augusta Alliance. Their work is to see the dirty, outdated, coal power station, which has been causing health issues for the Port Augusta community for decades, transition to a solar thermal power station of the future. That would be a wonderful thing for South Australia to achieve and celebrate.

Just last week, we were very pleased to hear that Alinta Energy have announced they will pursue a feasibility study into the efficacy and possibility of a stand-alone solar thermal power station, with storage, in Port Augusta. It was a very exciting decision by Alinta to look at that kind of power station because the storage technology would give the capacity to provide baseload power and that would mean that power would be available from the power station whether the sun happens to be shining or not. It was very encouraging and positive news in what has been a pretty dispiriting week for people around Australia who care about having a safe and liveable climate for future generations.

I congratulate Daniel Spencer and the Repower Port Augusta Alliance for their ongoing dedicated advocacy for solar thermal and a safer, healthier, more prosperous future for the Port Augusta community. Indeed, we would all benefit as well.

Recently, representatives from the AYCC also visited me in my electorate office to ask me to sign up to their Safe Climate Roadmap. Daniel and Rachel visited me that day and I was delighted to sit down with them and discuss their vision for a safe climate future. The AYCC Safe Climate Roadmap is ambitious but pretty simple. It has three aims. One is to reduce our carbon pollution in line with what we know, in line with the science which is now incontrovertible. The second aspect is to transition Australia's energy to 100 per cent renewables within 10 years. The third aspect is to move Australia beyond coal and gas. We cannot ignore the evidence any longer, and certainly that is the view of the AYCC young people. They know climate change is already here.

Australians are already experiencing the impacts of climate change, with more extreme heatwaves, rainfall, fire, floods and droughts. In the past 12 months we have had Australia's hottest year, breaking over 123 weather records and sparking the earliest ever start to the bushfire season. The predictions about what climate change would bring and look like that were made in the late eighties and early nineties are actually happening now, in 2014. In my home state of South Australia, people are telling me about droughts and more extreme weather events and how they are affecting their daily lives and their economic future. Climate change in South Australia is a threat to our wine regions. Grapevines are particularly sensitive to temperature during the growing season. If average temperatures change, many areas in South Australia may no longer be suitable for wine production. That matters to us because it is an industry that employs more than 10,000 South Australians and makes a significant contribution to the state economy. If we do not take strong action right now, the science is clear: our destabilising climate would bring huge and irreversible impacts on Australia's prosperity, our health, our wellbeing and our environment.

But one of the things that I love is meeting with the young people of the AYCC, because they are optimistic. They are not all about doom and gloom; they see climate change not just as a threat but as an opportunity. Indeed, they helped me to see what an opportunity it can be. Although Australia is one of the biggest polluters and exporters of coal and gas in the world, we are also one of the sunniest and windiest countries. So that means that we can transition to 100 per cent renewable energy in just 10 years if we put our minds to it and we decide that it is a priority and that is what we are going to do.

The Safe Climate Roadmap is a plan to protect our climate for this generation and generations to come. Clearly, Australians overwhelmingly support ambitious action on climate change, and the road map is just reflecting what is, in fact, a popular view. A 2014 Lowy Institute poll found that 63 per cent of respondents believed that the government should be taking a leadership role in reducing carbon emissions and only seven per cent thought that the government should be doing nothing.

As part of the road map, people all across the country have been sharing their stories about why they are passionate about this issue. The stories are varied and compelling. There was one story that I was taken with, and that was Jamarley's story. Jamarley is from Charleville in Queensland, and I will quote him:

I am a young Aboriginal Bidjara man. The traditional Bidjara language is nearly extinct and so my connection to the land and the environment is really all of my culture that I have left. I care about climate change because for thousands of years me and my ancestors have heavily relied on the land and all that it provides for us and climate change will jeopardise this relationship.

In my home town of Charleville, there are several proposals for coal seam gas wells. I’m worried about the impact that these projects will have on native species, plants, sacred places, our waters and our climate.

We have the technology to power Australia with renewable energy, energy that is clean and sustainable. It's time we stopped digging up coal and gas and look towards a greener future.

And this is Maddie's story. Maddie hails from Mount Barker, a suburb on the outskirts of Adelaide in my home state of South Australia. Maddie says:

When I first heard about climate change I was frightened by the devastating impacts already occurring on our planet.

I felt powerless in the face of such a big, urgent and seemingly hopeless problem. But at some point I realised that we do have power to make a change in Australia. We are huge polluters but have equally huge potential for renewable energy.

The opportunity we have to make a positive change inspired me to start a climate change action group at my school when I was 16. I care about climate because I care about people.

Everything that we need—food, water, clean air and a safe and beautiful environment to live in—is dependant on a healthy climate. Globally we do not have the capacity to deal with more extreme weather events like bush fires, cyclones and flooding, without experiencing catastrophic impacts on human life. I want to see a solar thermal power plant at Pt Augusta.

I want to see a stop to the investment in coal and a start to the investment in renewable energy. I won't stop fighting until we as a nation take some responsibility for the lives of future generations.

We know that climate change is an issue that without swift and meaningful action will have an impact on many different aspects of our lives. In Australia we have the opportunity and the resources to be a world leader in climate change mitigation but we are falling behind.

Nations around the world are taking decisive action on protecting our climate, while here in Australia we face the repeal of legislation that is actively working to reduce our carbon emissions: this is not the way to go. International institutions, such as the IMF and the World Bank, are strongly encouraging countries to implement pollution-pricing schemes. And I must confess that although I am a resolutely optimistic person, because I think the alternative is not worth considering, I have been pretty disheartened of late. We have very good climate change mitigation legislation in place and yet we have a government inexplicably trying to take us backwards.

Since the carbon tax was introduced, Australia's annual greenhouse gas emissions, excluding land sources, have fallen one per cent, or 5.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. More than one million Australians now have solar photovoltaic systems installed in their homes, a huge commitment to renewable energy. This government is trying to reverse laws that make sense and that work, and which will secure a sustainable future for our country.

Scientists and politicians have been talking about climate change for decades, but as decision makers at the highest level here in Australia we have not done enough. The decisions we make between now and 2020 will determine the severity of climate change that future generations—like my children and their children, and the young people from the AYCC and throughout Australia—will experience.

That is why I am inspired by the leadership that an organisation like the AYCC shows.

Because Australians care about climate change; Australians care about the effects that climate change will have on future generations and these young people of the AYCC are taking responsibility to do something about it. I wish we could say the same about the government of Australia.

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