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Why we must keep the Climate Change Authority

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 10 Jul 2014

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (13:50):  Well, what an extraordinary day it has been so far. We have had the Abbott government failing to destroy the carbon price, although that was the promise that they said they made. And we have just had the opportunity to hear such an erudite-I know Hansard does not pick up irony and sarcasm, so perhaps I had better say 'not such an erudite' contribution from Senator Macdonald. He accuses others of vilification, but I think he is a dab hand at vituperation. He is pretty good at that, and at misrepresentation.

Today I am rising to speak on the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013 [No. 2] which will seek to abolish the Climate Change Authority and thus give additional succour to the government's anti-science, anti-evidence climate change denial-and we have had an excellent example of that in Senator Macdonald just now-that we have witnessed in this place since they came to government. I know that there are members of the government who indeed do know that climate change is happening right now and that it is a serious risk to our health, our environment and our prosperity, as a nation and globally. But, for some reason that I just cannot understand, given the privilege and the power that we have in this parliament to make decisions about the future, they are resolutely silent and they allow the misrepresentation to occur.

I keep thinking to myself: do those people think about their children and their grandchildren? How do they live with the knowledge that they are actively allowing the government that they represent to tear away the effective action we are taking at the moment and go backwards? But this action is not as effective as it could be; we all know that the aspiration of reducing emissions by five per cent is absolutely inadequate. That is one of the things that the Climate Change Authority, which this legislation seeks to abolish, has been very clear in communicating to us. And I suppose the Climate Change Authority giving messages that the government does not want to hear might be one of the many reasons why the government is seeking to silence the messenger.

The rest of the world has moved beyond the debate about whether climate change is occurring and accepted the irrefutable evidence that it is and that it is anthropogenic-that it is being caused and contributed to by human activity-and has made decisive moves towards reducing emissions. But not so this government. We have a government that is attempting to abolish, repeal and ignore anything or anyone who disagrees with their reckless path-which basically was designed to get them into power. The trouble is that, once you are in power, you need to be doing things that are in the national interest-that is why you are elected in the first place-but that is not what we are seeing here.

It seems to me that the government thinks climate change will no longer exist if it abolishes the Climate Change Authority-having already abolished the Climate Commission-repeals the price on pollution, which economists almost universally say is necessary to change the behaviour that is causing the problems we are confronting with climate change, and ignores the world's climate scientists. It is a short-sighted, futile, reprehensible and irresponsible way to deal with one of the most significant challenges that we will face this century and that we as a parliament will be asked to deliberate on and make decisions about. It is a privilege to stand in this parliament with the trust of the Australian people to make difficult, challenging and hard decisions not only for the current generation but for future Australians. It is not a responsibility that I take lightly but, unfortunately, it seems very clear that politics is going to prevail over policy and principle on this issue.

Today we have witnessed the government's ruthless attack on a price on pollution. It has not been successful yet, so this will live on for at least some more days. We will see. Hope springs eternal. Who knows what will happen between now and next week. But the government is not discriminating in its bid to rip down any skerrick of action on climate change. It will leave no stone unturned, it seems. The next on the list is the Climate Change Authority. This is an independent body established to provide balanced, expert advice on a range of climate change issues. Maybe that is where the problem lies initially-'independent, balanced and expert'-and in what we have already seen in terms of decisions that have been made by this government in appointing hand-picked people to give advice when it knows the results of the advice and what the views of those people will be. We know that those people will be giving ideological advice across the spectrum. Whether it is in relation to renewable energy or the education curriculum, this government has a practice of hand-picking people whose ideology it knows and hearing advice from them.

Of course, that is not the case with the Climate Change Authority;  it is 'independent', it is 'expert' and it is 'balanced'. Those are words that severely disconcert this government because they do not want to be hearing that sort of advice, information and evidence. The Climate Change Authority is required to take into account the latest science-and the idea of 'science' probably creates great problems for some members of the government-and what other countries are doing around the world and make recommendations to the government about the emissions reduction targets, the carbon budgets, the renewable energy target, the Carbon Farming Initiative and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting System. These are all aspects of the framework designed to reduce Australia's carbon emissions and encourage innovation in clean technology and clean energy. These are all measures that are designed to usher Australia into the future. These are all measures designed to secure a safe and liveable climate for our young people-the young adults who will be inheriting the legacy that we leave for them.

But this government does not want to hear from experts, does not want to hear from independent people and does not want to listen to the science. Its anti-climate agenda is completely ideological-no room for facts here, thanks very much! And, of course, we know that the Climate Change Authority insists on telling the government things it just does not want to hear, including that Australia should triple its minimum target for cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, that the current goal of five per cent is inadequate, and that if we fail to significantly ramp up action on climate change Australia will fall behind dramatically and not be able to play its global role in avoiding climate change.

The Climate Change Authority chair, Bernie Fraser-that renowned hippie, that renowned wild, extreme thinker!-has said that sticking with the five per cent target will make it 'virtually impossible for future generations trying to prevent a two degree rise in global temperatures'. Another thing the Climate Change Authority insists on telling the government that it does not want to hear is that Australia's minimum commitment is out of step with current global efforts-those of China and the US. And yet another thing it is saying that the government does not want to hear is that Australia should be reducing emissions by 19 per cent from 2000 levels by 2020 if we are indeed to do our fair share of the heavy lifting. And we know that this government is always talking about the 'lifters' and the 'leaners'. Well, if we go down the track that the government is proposing in relation to our action on climate change we will certainly be leaners. As a result of the actions that we are failing to take, there will be many people within our own Pacific neighbourhood who will bear the brunt of that and end up homeless because of the incursion of seawater onto their low-lying homelands. And what will we be doing then? Again, given the track record of this government of openly welcoming refugees to Australia-I am being sarcastic-no doubt we will say: 'Come and be here in Australia. You don't have homelands anymore. We haven't taken decisive action on climate change, so you are welcome to come here because we have a moral responsibility to welcome you.'

Debate interrupted.

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