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Speech: Climate Crisis & Coal

I rise to support the disallowance motion and associate myself with the comments made by my Greens colleague Senator Waters from Queensland. I will say that loud and clear: she is a Greens senator from Queensland who cares about Queenslanders, who cares about the workers in Queensland, who cares that the environment they work in is safe and healthy, and who cares about a healthy planet for everyone.

This government is just shameless. I have to say that I am actually tired of rising up again and again in this chamber to speak about this government's dodgy use of public money and their refusal to act on the climate crisis. If you can't see the climate catastrophe that is staring down on us, then you have deliberately closed your eyes. We are in the middle of a climate emergency, and things are only going to get worse as this government refuses to take any meaningful action to mitigate the crisis. Bushfires, extreme heat events, drought, flooding and ecological failure of our rivers are becoming more and more common. Millions of lives are at risk. Millions of animals are dying. Across the world, people are suffering the impacts of the climate crisis. Our neighbours in the Pacific are telling us to stop digging up and shipping out coal because they are going underwater. In Pakistan, the country I grew up in, the snows on the absolutely majestic Himalayas are melting as we speak and creating havoc downstream for millions and millions of people who are being flooded every other year.

When I started teaching at the University of New South Wales about 20 years ago, I used to ask my students to imagine a time when there would be raging bushfires increasing in intensity every year, when some parts of the world would be in extreme drought and some parts of the world would experience extreme floods, and when we would have record levels of species extinctions. Do you know what? That world is upon us now, so try and do something about it. Instead of doing something about it, this government keeps making things worse by propping up some of their favourite donors—the fossil fuel industry, the coal industry, the coal seam gas industry and the gas industry—and using public money to buy election outcomes. Over and over, we hear from the fossil fuel lobby and this coal-addicted government that coal is equal to jobs and that coal is equal to cheaper electricity prices. And over and over again, that has been shown to be a lie. It does not work anymore.

The proposed Collinsville power plant is a great example of that. Even members of the government and some of the most ardent coal fans in the Labor Party have spoken against this coal-fired plant, saying that it is an economic dead end and that it doesn't stack up either environmentally or economically. Maybe it would be wise for you to listen to them. The government doesn't need a $4 million feasibility study to tell us what we already know: this is a dud. It's a bloody waste of money. Taxpayers deserves so much better from their government but, obviously, you're not going to give it to them.

When will you pull your fingers out of your ears and start listening and hearing about what people are telling you? When will you open your eyes and face the reality that is in front of us? Coal is a dead end; coal is a stranded asset. Coal is causing the climate crisis and coal kills. Have you heard of black lung disease? Do you know how much pollution coal and coal-fired power plants cause? Go and have a look—see. If you do actually care about workers, if you do care about their health and if you do care about the health of this planet and people and animals living around the world then you must wean yourselves off coal. That is the only way.

We know that our use and export of coal is killing the planet. We are the largest exporter of coal in the world. We can do much better than that. We could be exporting energy produced from hydrogen, from renewable energy. Let's come into the 21st century. We must transition to 100 per cent renewable energy and we must do it in the next decade. Why we must do it in the next decade is because if we are to have a chance of avoiding the worst of the climate catastrophe then it has to be done urgently. We must stop new coal-fired power stations and new coalmines, and phase out existing coalmines. There are alternatives; it's happening across the world. You must all have heard about renewable energy. You must all have heard about energy from hydrogen, and if you haven't then maybe you should listen more to scientists. We must leave the coal in the hole and the oil in the soil; that's the way it has to be. And it must start now.

The Greens have a plan to transition our energy system from the one we currently have, which is the oldest and the dirtiest in the world. That's where we are. We could be leaders! We could be leaders in renewable energy. We could move from the oldest and dirtiest system in the world to one of the cleanest and greenest. It would reduce pollution and it would create thousands of jobs in that process.

A government senator interjecting—

Senator FARUQI: We do need investment. The government needs to take responsibility for the health of the planet, for the health of Australians and for the health of the workers. We must have large-scale investment in renewable energy infrastructure and in local manufacturing.

Like Senator Patrick, I'm an engineer. I think we need a huge investment to have a renaissance of our manufacturing sector. We've seen through the COVID crisis how lacking in manufacturing we are. This is a real opportunity for us to actually start manufacturing—21st century manufacturing that is sustainable manufacturing. This is why we need to invest in renewable energy. Through that, we can create good, steady, dignified and unionised jobs for hundreds and thousands of people. That's what an emerging sustainable economy and society looks like.

The time has really come; the time is upon us. The time is here to build our way out of the economic and climate crises we find ourselves in. We don't have to choose between action on climate change and secure, dignified jobs for workers—jobs that keep workers healthy and safe. Those jobs are not in coal, those jobs are in sustainable manufacturing and renewable energy. We can wean ourselves off coal; we can stop burning coal for electricity and move to 100 per cent renewable energy. We can do that—

A government senator interjecting—

Senator FARUQI: You can keep on denying that until the cows come home! That doesn't make it true. We want to move to a sustainable future for us in Australia and for everyone across the world. We want to move to this 100 per cent renewable energy future with a just transition for workers who are in the coal industry at the moment. There was an inquiry that went around regional Australia which I was part of, and people were telling us that that's what they want to do. People in the Hunter Valley were telling us that they want a just transition. They want a plan from this government until there are no options left for those communities, because we know that moving to 100 per cent renewable energy, weaning ourselves off coal, is affordable, possible and necessary.


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