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Christine Milne: I rise to oppose the carbon price repeal bills

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Christine Milne 7 Jul 2014

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, speaks in opposition to the government's climate action repeal bills.


Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (21:10): I rise to oppose the repeal of the clean energy legislation package that is currently the law in Australia. As I stand here I am reminded of TS Eliot's poem The Hollow Men, where he says:

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

He was asked some years later whether that was still his view. He said that he would not write that again because he was not sure that it would end in either way. As a result of the H-bomb, he said there were people whose houses were bombed who 'don't remember hearing anything'.

That is where we are in this debate. There is such denial of reality going on in this parliament, but that is not shared outside the parliament. The people actually get it. They know that we are living in a world of accelerating global warming and they know that we have to act on it. There is a level of anxiety in the back of the minds of most people, but the people I particularly want to talk about tonight, and speak on behalf of, are our future generations-of those who are yet to be born. I want to speak on behalf of the voiceless, young people like those that I met outside the parliament today with the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, and others-young people around Australia who are marshalling and marching and wanting action on climate change because they know it is about the future. I also want to speak on behalf of the ecosystems of the planet, which do not have a voice in this parliament. All we have heard are superficial and trite three-word slogans about axing the tax and about power prices, but nothing about the real impacts of what we are currently living through.

Many, many years ago I went to the Barrier Reef for the first time. Going back there in recent years, I have seen that it is much deteriorated from what it used to be. That is a result of many things, but global warming is accelerating the degradation of coral reefs around the planet-not only our own Great Barrier Reef but reefs elsewhere in the world.

Some years ago, I campaigned hard for a long time to have the coral reefs of New Caledonia listed as World Heritage areas. It was an eight-year campaign and a huge amount of work went into it. I am very pleased to say that they are now listed as World Heritage areas. But it is a pyrrhic victory, because you cannot protect the coral reefs of the planet-here in Australia, in New Caledonia or anywhere else in the world-unless you act on global warming. Acidification is weakening the structures of the corals. Warming is leading to the bleaching of corals, and cyclones around the world are leading to the destruction of those reefs. We have been seeing the melting around the West Antarctic ice sheet; we have been seeing the melting of the Arctic; and now we are seeing the ongoing release of methane from the permafrost.

We are seeing extreme weather events around the world. Those extreme weather events are already displacing people and destroying culture. On many of our Pacific Island neighbours' countries, burial grounds are next to the lagoon, next to the sea. Now, with sea-level rise and intensified storms, our neighbours are losing some of the fundamental parts of their culture, and they are being forced to move internally onto higher ground. The nation of Kiribati is buying land in Fiji, where ultimately it will move 100,000 people if it has to. The people of Tuvalu are saying that they are not going anywhere. I hate to think about the fear in the hearts of people in Tuvalu in the storms that come through there, the storm surges and the over wash of those very low-lying islands. Funafuti is already severely adversely impacted, and only a month or so ago in this parliament I had young people here from Kiribati and Tuvalu begging us to respond to the climate crisis because, as they see it, they are going to lose their homes, their country and their culture.

With extreme weather events around the world, we are going to see a loss of food security. That is why the Greens have campaigned so hard to look after agricultural land and water. We have already seen, with the global food crisis in 2008-which was caused by extreme weather events wiping out crops around the world through fire and drought-an incredible rise in prices for grains. Ultimately, that led to the Arab spring. The first marches in the Arab spring were in Tunisia and were because of the increase in the price of bread. People were marching in the streets with baguettes, protesting about the increase in the price of grain. That is the reality. It is why the Pentagon has recognised global warming as a major security risk. The Pentagon says that future wars are not going to be planetary wars or global wars, they are going to be regional conflicts as a result of the displacement of people.

As I have said many times in this Senate over the years, if we think that the current issues that are driving the displacement of people are as far as it goes, we are wrong. We are going to see millions of people displaced in the coming years because of climate conflict, internal and external to various countries. This is the situation we find ourselves in: a four to six degrees trajectory of global warming and a loss of between a third and a quarter of all species on the planet by 2050. That is heartbreaking when you think about, in particular, alpine species that cannot go any higher-that is it for them. In Tasmania there is a cider gum which is heading for extinction because it is on the central plateau and it cannot go any higher. I mentioned earlier the white lemuroid possum in North Queensland: it cannot go any higher and it is likely to become extinct because of global warming. It is the same around the world. But it is not just global warming on its own; if you put that together with habitat loss and invasive species you will see an accelerated loss.

Just last week I heard the anguish from scientists who are talking about, for example, the Ebola virus. They are saying that they now have to consider trying experimental drugs et cetera on chimps and apes in zoos around the planet in order to try to save species in the wild. This is whey we are going to hear increasingly asked: what do we do when we have reduced habitats so much that animals are in contact with humans and equally humans are spreading measles and the like into those ape populations in Africa?

Senator Ian Macdonald: Dear me!

Senator MILNE: Senator Macdonald can ridicule this, but the reality is that-

Senator Ian Macdonald: I am ridiculing, Senator Milne.

Senator MILNE: respiratory illness is being brought to the gorilla populations by humans and not the other way around. We are seeing planetary disaster because of global warming.

Australia had a framework to deal with this. When I came into the Senate, I came to address global warming. As an environmentalist I have campaigned all my life for the protection of the environment. But I realised that no amount of areas saved can survive global warning. Unless you deal with that, you will ultimately lose everything, from marine ecosystems through to terrestrial ecosystems, and you will also see impacts on people. That is exactly what we are seeing and that is why we developed a clean energy package.

We worked very hard. It was a condition that the Greens made with former Prime Minister Gillard, before she became Prime Minister, that we would have a legislated carbon price and that it would come into effect by 1 July, 2012. And that is exactly what happened. It was an incredibly well designed package that was recognised by the International Energy Agency as template legislation for developed countries. We should be really proud of that. Australia took a leading role in the development of legislation that other countries could look to, together with complementary measures-things like the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

It is an emissions trading scheme. The only reason it has a fixed price for three years-and I remind people that former Prime Minister Rudd's scheme also had a fixed price for one year-was that Labor and the Greens could not agree on the level of ambition that was required, and we still do not. The Greens are the only party in this parliament who are prepared to say we have to get to a 40 to 60 per cent reduction by 2030 and zero net carbon by 2050 to give ourselves even a 50 per cent chance of avoiding two degrees. That is the reality of the level of ambition. Five per cent is so far from where it needs to be it is laughable. It was laughable in 2007 and it cannot be taken seriously as a target now, either to address the science or to address the global equity.

If you are trying to get to a 2015 treaty, it has to have a level of ambition that gives us a chance. That is absolutely the commitment the Greens will be making, from one end of the planet to the other-we are represented in parliaments of 70 countries around the world. We want a global treaty on global warming. As part of it, money needs to go to developing countries that, through no fault of their own, are now suffering the consequences of global warming. That is why we have to do that. It is immoral for Australia to stand up in a Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and block finance for developing countries to adapt to global warming.

It is not just the fact that we cannot agree on a level of ambition. The idea of setting up the Climate Change Authority came from the United Kingdom, where they have a high-level scientific panel that advises the British House of Commons on what the level of ambition should be. Climate policy has been depoliticised through that process, and that is as it should be. The Climate Change Authority should make recommendations to the parliament. To its credit, the Climate Change Authority here has made some very important reports and recommendations to the parliament, including the recommendation that we get to the 40 to 60 per cent trajectory of reductions by 2030. That is exactly what we should be doing. If you think about that, you know that we have to get on-now.

The other point I want to make is that the rest of the world is already moving. In many ways, the revolution has been won. Renewable energy around the world is expanding at a fast rate. The greatest level of investment in new electricity generation, around the planet, is in renewables. We are hearing that every progressive economy around the world is investing in education and training and decarbonising their electricity system, because they recognise that that is where the jobs, investment and growth are in this century. This is the century of transitioning to a low-carbon economy.

Senator Ian Macdonald: People should be made to listen to this!

Senator MILNE: If you do not get on board with it, you will be a left-behind rust bucket. I know that is where Senator Macdonald wants to be. That is where his comfort zone is-as a left-behind rust bucket. But the rest of us would like to see investment in education, innovation and cleverness.

Today, we heard the government trying to argue that companies had been driven offshore. That is wrong. There are big solar companies not making investments in Australia, because of the uncertainty the Abbott government has created about carbon policy. We are losing mega-investment, because there is no certainty that Australia is on the right track with climate change. If it were, we would be attracting more investment. Trillions of dollars are in the sidelines. The Investor Group on Climate Change has given evidence to that effect. That is why we need to keep our renewable energy target-and keep it at 41 gigawatt hours-but it needs to go beyond 2016. That is why the Greens are committed to 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as possible and to at least 90 per cent by 2030.

If you put together 100 per cent renewable energy and a 40 to 60 per cent trajectory, you are putting together a really exciting plan for Australia. You are talking about redesigning our cities, thinking about the way we live-a huge investment in, retrospectively, looking at building renovations, the built environment, the urban environment, changing the way we do agriculture and looking at research and development, to see how we need to change in order to sustain ourselves into the future.

They are the kinds of exciting things that young people want to be involved in. And they are the one group-the best and brightest-we will drive out of this country, because you want to abandon carbon pricing. They will go overseas, as they did during the Howard years. We lost some of our best and brightest in solar technology at that time, because they realised that there was no hope in Australia. They went overseas. They have come home to Australia and are working in these fields. But they will go again. They want to be part of the future.

Senator Ian Macdonald interjecting-

Senator MILNE: They do not want to be stuck in a rust-bucket economy like Senator Macdonald does. They do not want to be in that place. They want to be where innovation takes place. I feel incredibly disappointed that this Senate appears to want to destroy an emissions trading scheme that is in place right now, and that the Senate wants to abandon carbon pricing and leave us with nothing in terms of a market mechanism that provides the cheapest and most effective abatement of greenhouse gas emissions.

To give hope to those young people who were outside today, who are no doubt despairing at the thought of this government abandoning carbon pricing and serious efforts on climate change, I say: 'This will galvanise a whole generation. You are not alone.' Around the world people are moving, and they want a 2015 treaty. That means people under the leadership of Present Obama, in the United States, are moving. People are moving in the United Kingdom, Europe and China-everywhere you look around the planet, except for Canada and Australia, which are in the rust-bucket category. They are over there in the umbrella group and they will do everything they can to rip down action on global warming at Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's summit, in Lima, at the end of the year and into next year.

By imagining you are getting the climate-change issue off the agenda now, you are making it front and centre for the 2016 federal election campaign. Australians will not tolerate that kind of climate denial. That is why I am moving a second reading amendment in this debate. I want to make sure that we recognise the world is on track for four degrees of warming.

We are calling on the government to adopt 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030. I will move a second reading amendment because I want young people, future generations, to know that in this parliament every single one of us knew what was at stake, every single one of us knew we were on track for four to six degrees of warming and every single one of us knew what the consequences were, but only a few of us were prepared to act on it, including the Greens, who took a leadership role at that time and continued to do so. When the votes are taken, future generations will have the names to look back at of the people who sold out Australia-because they are selling us out in a global context. It is the opportunity cost to this nation, not only the physical cost of global warming and not only the trauma of global warming- (Time expired)

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Smith ): Senator Milne, you may, of course, only foreshadow your amendment, because there is an amendment already before the chair.



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