Back to All News

Senator Milne's 2nd Reading speech on the Clean Energy Future bills

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens) (11:44): I rise today on what is an historic day in the Australian parliament in the Senate. This is the day when the Senate will begin to consider the clean energy package and will start delivering on real action on climate change in Australia as these bills pass. It is an historic day in Australia and globally because it is the day on which the seven-billionth is expected to join us on the planet. We live on a finite planet and the non-renewable resources of the earth are under huge pressure. Equally, the earth's atmosphere, oceans and rivers do not have an unlimited capacity to absorb waste. That is why we are suffering the consequences of global warming already. Global warming is accelerating. In 2011, at the end of the first decade of this century, it poses the greatest threat to human civilisation and to the ongoing health and wellbeing of our fellow species and ecosystems with whom we share this beautiful planet.

As I stand here today, the evidence is clear. There has been near record summer sea ice melt in the Arctic. There are indications of Arctic permafrost melt and seabed methane hydrate emissions going to the atmosphere. We are seeing destabilisation of the Western Antarctic ice sheet and increased glacial decline right across the planet. Seas are rising at a greater rate than predicted and ocean acidification is worsening. We know from the research conducted at the Antarctic and Southern Ocean CRC that the tipping point for ocean acidification is 450 parts per million. With acidification of the oceans, miniscule creatures cannot form shells and the whole ocean food chain is compromised. Coral reefs, already beset by bleaching from higher sea temperatures, are weakened by acidification and vulnerable to breaking up in storm surges. The Great Barrier Reef-our reef of outstanding universal value, World Heritage listed-is a source of joy and pride to all Australians. But it is already deteriorating.

As temperatures rise, the great carbon sinks of the oceans are slowing in their ability to absorb carbon. The remaining world's forests are being cut at an alarming rate and there is a risk that they could become carbon sources in the future as temperatures rise. Extreme weather events are causing death and disruption throughout the world, but especially in the developing world, where drought in Somalia, floods in Pakistan and mudslides in Brazil have cost thousands of lives this year along. In Bangladesh millions live on the delta and now face being washed away or displaced to the cities as the tides sweep across the levies.

A recent report, Migration and global environmental change, from the Foresight Group in the UK predicts that by 2050 millions will have been forced to migrate because of climate change. Professor John Beddington of the UK warned, 'We are facing what I believe will be an unprecedented difficult times over the next 20 to 40 years.' He went on to talk about not only increasing migration but millions going into to more environmentally vulnerable areas. The report says that by 2060 up to 179 million people will be trapped in low-lying coastal flood plains subject to extreme weather events such as floods, storm surges, landslides and rising sea levels, unable to migrate because they are too poor or ill-equipped or because they are restricted by political or geographic boundaries.

Two-thirds of the world's cities with population of more than five million are at least partially located in coastal zones, including rapidly growing urban centres in Asian and African mega deltas.

We also know from our own Pacific neighbours, who have done virtually nothing to contribute to global warming, that they are already paying the price of the developed world's failure to act to address global warming. From Tuvalu to Kiribati, leaders are pleading with the rest of the world to recognise that their nations are suffering from sea level rise and incursion of salt water into fresh water lenses, leading to loss of crops and livelihood and forcing internal migration. Those leaders are already asking who will take their people.

Here in Australia, where we have always experienced drought, floods, bushfires and cyclones, the intensity of these events-from the ACT and Victorian bushfires, to the South Australian heatwave, to the Queensland floods and Cyclone Yasi and to the Murray-Darling drought-has increased with global warming, resulting in greater loss of life and property and ever-increasing economic and social disruption.

We are in a race against time. Globally, are greenhouse gas emissions need to peak and begin to come down within five years if we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change. The question before us all is whether the nations of the world are capable of acting decisively in that timeframe. This is the biggest challenge of governance facing each nation and the United Nations simultaneously and to date the system has been found wanting. While we have the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto protocol, further progress towards a global treaty that might have a chance of delivering a safe climate has been too slow. The failure to make strong progress in Copenhagen, the incremental improvements in Cancun and the lack of optimism for Durban weight heavily on those of us who understand the global emergency that we are facing. It is too late to stop global warming. The challenge now is to limit its extent.

Future generations will pay a high price in both economic and social terms for the lack of leadership from President George Bush and Prime Minister John Howard and their administrations. These leaders had the scientific information and the opportunity to act decisively early to reduce the pain and disruption of global warming but they proactively and cynically obstructed the action necessary domestically and globally. The next generation of US Republicans and Australian Liberal Party and National Party members of parliament share the same dubious legacy. All of those who will speak against these bills can count themselves in that category. Their children and grandchildren-the next generation-will look back and hold them accountable for their failure to act sooner and their failure to support what is needed know.

What we are seeing in Australian politics, in a large part of the old fossil fuel business and in the coalition is cowardice and cynical populism, and they will be defeated.

These bills will pass. They will come into law-and, what is more, they will not be repealed.

As it stands, leading into the 17th Conference of the Parties at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the world has pledged to constrain global warming to less than two degrees above pre-industrial levels. But, not only is two degrees of warming no guarantee of a safe climate, the pledges on the table from individual nations will result in warming of closer to four degrees. And in such a four-degree world, as the Royal Society said this year, the limits for human adaptation are likely to be exceeded in many parts of the world, while limits for adaptation for natural systems would largely be exceed throughout the world. That is the emergency we now face.

So to the Clean Energy package we are debating today. It is based on a core scenario of 550 parts per million, which is in line with a three- or four-degree projection. That is why one of the best parts of the package that we have negotiated is the fact that right across the package there is a capacity for upward ambition when the political will is there to deliver it. That is something critical that the Greens have delivered to this package and which makes it head and shoulders above the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme, which limited upward mobility in terms of levels of ambition. Our task as a community is now to get that political momentum underway.

In terms of the Clean Energy package of bills, the thanks have to go to the voters of Australia for having returned a minority government and a balance-of-power scenario in both houses-because it has been in balance of power, with a Multi-Party Climate Change Committee, supported by experts, that we have been able to deliver a set of bills which puts us on the path to a whole-of-government approach, an internally consistent approach, which addresses every aspect of climate change, with a few notable exceptions to which I will come in a moment.

But I want to put on the record at this point my thanks to my colleagues in the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee-to the experts: to Will Steffan, to Professor Garnaut, to Rod Sims and to Patricia Faulkner-who came into that committee and gave service to the people of Australia to try to provide policy rigour to the outcomes. I want to thank the Independents, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor, for their contribution to the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee; and of course my colleagues Senator Bob Brown, the Leader of the Australian Greens, and Adam Bandt, the member for Melbourne, who sat around the table with the Prime Minister, with Minister Combet and with the Treasurer, supported by the bureaucracy, in particular the Department of Climate Change. Everybody worked very hard to deliver this package.

In the case of the Greens it is very clear that we would not be having this legislation now were it not for a balance-of-power scenario and the agreement that the Greens reached with the Prime Minister to deliver a carbon-price mechanism in this term of government. I want to also thank those in my office who have worked for the past six years to develop the policy rigour that has enabled us to get to this outcome. In particular I want to note the work of Oliver Woldring, Katrina Willis, Tim Hollo, Sophie Underwood, Imogen Birley, Jeff Dunn, Sandy Bowden and Wendy McLeod, who over six years have worked in all manner of ways to get us to a point where we had the policy rigour to deliver. I also want to thank my other Greens Senate colleagues, and in particular Greens voters around Australia, who have stood by and have supported us at every turn in making sure that we have challenged the lack of climate policy in Australia.

The package we have developed has four pillars. It has a pillar for an emissions trading scheme, where we have achieved an 80 per cent target by 2050 and an independent Climate Change Authority, enabling us to have upward mobility. We have achieved a renewable energy package-the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which are going to be the largest boost to renewable energy this country has seen. And renewable energy is a major driver of jobs and climate action into the future. As the British Minister Chris Huhne said in a speech to the RenewableUK conference this week 'renewable energy technologies will deliver a third Industrial Revolution'. And he did say he wanted to 'take aim at the curmudgeons and fault-finders who hold forth on the impossibility of renewables' and the 'unholy alliance of short-termists, armchair engineers, climate sceptics and vested interests who are selling the UK economy short.' He goes on to outline, in very substantial detail, the attractiveness of renewables for the UK and the number of jobs that renewables are already delivering in that country. He also talks about the Green Investment Bank in the UK, which has been capitalised with £3 billion to help unlock private sector investment at scale. For the first time ever the UK will join every other leading developed economy in having a public development bank focused on key economic goals. That is precisely what the Clean Energy Finance Corporation is designed to do, and that is why Mr Abbott will not repeal it.

The third part of the package is an energy efficiency package. That is also to provide incentives to see Australia finally start reducing demand. And, to that end, we also have a directive to the Australian electricity market operators to start planning for 100 renewables and at the same time an undertaking that the Commonwealth will lead the states in moving on national electricity market reform so that we incorporate demand-side and get that well and truly onto the agenda and not just focus always on new supply.

We also have a comprehensive land sector package for enhancing carbon in the landscape, because not only do we need to reduce emissions from the big polluters through the emissions trading scheme but we need to protect the carbon stores in the landscape, particularly our forests-they are critically important-and a key component of this package is to end the ability to make renewable energy certificates from using native forests. We must protect our forests and move to increase our targets as we protect those incredibly important stores that we have in the landscape.

And these four pillars are underpinned by a compensation package, recognising that the big polluters will pass on some of the costs associated with their buying of permits to address their emissions-and that is why householders will be compensated.

What is more, there has been a real focus on low-carbon community initiatives so we can enable the people who are most affected to reduce their energy uptake through efficiency measures. It is a well-designed package of initiatives that we have.

This package misses on the transport front. We need to work hard to bring into the future more investment in public transport and we need to get rid of our fossil fuel subsidies. That is a key component of where further action will be concentrated. This package represents the beginning of a new way of thinking in Australia. It lays the foundation for a low-carbon economy and enables the scale of action required as we build that political will to make sure we do not see a four-degree temperature increase globally result from inaction. The coalition cannot escape from the old ways of thinking. As John Maynard Keynes said:

The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones...

What we have seen in here is a refusal to escape from the old ones, even in the full knowledge that the old ones have failed civilisation, ecosystems and our global biodiversity. One of the things in this package which we are particularly pleased about is the Biodiversity Fund, because in enhancing carbon in the landscape and protecting carbon in the landscape we must also do everything we can to improve connectivity so that species have an ability to move through the landscape. We will see massive extinction as a result of climate change-we are already seeing it-but by doing what we can to build resilience in the landscape we will give species their best chance. Professor Schellnhuber was here in Australia recently and he said:

If political reality is not grounded in physical reality, it is useless.

That is why the position taken by the coalition is useless-because it is not grounded in physical reality.
The Greens view of this package is that it recognises physical reality but it does not go far enough. We are proud of what we have done and what we have achieved. This parliament will be recognised in Durban later this year for the major step forward that Australia has taken in recognising that a nation so dependent on fossil fuels is prepared to move on climate action.

What is exciting about what the Greens have been able to deliver through the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee and through the result of the 2010 election is that we have a genuine engagement with the crisis that is climate change. We have a potential for upward mobility, right across increased targets, to get to net carbon zero by 2050. We also have the potential to move to 100 per cent renewable energy as quickly as possible and to take up all the opportunities that responding to global warming can bring. What we do know is that this will mean new jobs, new industries, more sophistication in the Australian economy and greater investment in education and training. They are the things that are so badly necessary in Australia.

We heard recently that more than 50 per cent of our exports are coming from digging up, cutting down and shipping away those resources, particularly coal, at the fastest rate possible. It was described as an export market that is primitive. That is how the rest of the world sees our current export market. This economy is disguising the fact that we have underinvested in education, we have hollowed out the manufacturing sector and we are losing some of our best brains and technologies overseas. What we will achieve with this legislation is the beginning of the transformation that is necessary. We need a wave of transformation-of social, technical, environmental and economic innovation that will touch every person, community, institution and nation on earth. The irony is that this transformation is still viewed as an economic cost when it is an enormous economic opportunity-an opportunity that we are now being increasingly forced to recognise as a people. In this parliament we are now recognising this opportunity and taking it up. I congratulate everyone who will support the passage of these bills, from the government through to the Independents and the Greens. This is something of which we can be very proud.


Back to All News