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Taking the power back - Christine Milne at the National Press Club

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Christine Milne 18 Sep 2014

Thank you very much for your warm welcome.  

I begin by acknowledging the Ngunnawal people, the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay my respects to their elders past and present.
I wanted to come here today, straight from a fantastic community forum that I was in last night in Sydney to save the Renewable Energy Target. It was in the electorate of Barton and it's held by a very small percentage of the vote - 0.3 per cent is the margin in that seat. I wanted to be here also because it's the lead up to the United Nation's Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Climate Summit held in New York next week and I'm here to say, the move is on. Vigorous, innovative, climate action. People taking back power is actually happening.

The event last night was full of families, mums and dads, plumbers, electricians and postgraduates who have all seen the sense, the dollars, the jobs, all in renewable energy. Effectively there in that RSL last night was a people’s power station and the same thing is going to happen in New York next week. The UN Summit is a global people’s power station, and all eyes will be on whether governments are up to delivering for the people and the Global Commons. 

What is now blatantly obvious to everyone, except Prime Minister Abbott, is that climate change is not only real, but it's accelerating. If there were an alert system for the threat global warming poses to our way of life, the alert meter would now be reading ‘extreme’. And Just because Tony Abbott and Clive Palmer have voted together to transfer the cost of pollution from the big polluters to the community, it hasn’t made the problem, global warming, go away.
If serious and rapid action is not taken, the world is on track for a temperature rise of more than 4 degrees, leaving us with an unliveable planet.  The Chair of the IPCC Dr. Pachauri has warned, “We have assessed the impacts of climate change and not a single person on this planet will be untouched”.

The science has been laid down clearly for us. We have no excuses to offer future generations.

In Australia, we will be amongst the first and hardest hit. The intensity of extreme weather events is increasing. The frequency of record high temperatures since the 1950s has increased, while record lows have been decreasing. Last year was the hottest year ever with the hottest ever day averaged from the hundreds of weather stations across the country, coming in at 40.3 degrees. 

We are already seeing the snow season shortened, the snow dumps have become smaller, heatwaves have lengthened, their frequency increased to the point that now heatwaves kill more people each year than the road toll. In the heatwave that preceded Black Saturday in 2009, 980 people died. 374 more than the five years of 606. In 2050, if we do not act now, extreme bushfire days in Australia will quadruple. Every extreme bushfire day we have now will multiple by four. 

Our oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic as they absorb more greenhouse gases. Our coral population has declined by half in the Great Barrier Reef since the 1980s, and this is further stressed by invasive species and of course the dumping of dredge spoil and coal ships using the Great Barrier Reef as a coal highway.

Add to that, the extinction of Australian animals and plants and spread of invasive species. Already the white lemuroid possum is facing extinction, with only four individual animals left, and the koala is being wiped out because of extreme heat conditions in South West Queensland.
The area for transmission for vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever is spreading south-wards from Far North Queensland and could come down as far as Sydney, covering around 5 million Australian homes. Speaking of which, the Climate Council report released yesterday says that $200b worth of infrastructure including 250,000 homes are at risk from flooding and massive storm surge as a result of sea level rise.  
Yet, in the face of all this, Prime Minister Abbott has thumbed his nose at the science and has just abolished our price on pollution knowing full well that it will increase greenhouse gas emissions. And it has. In the two months since the abolition of the carbon price, greenhouse gases in the electricity sector have increased by a million tonnes annualised. It is a climate crime.
Nowhere has the Abbott Government’s ideological attack on Australia’s clean energy future and global comparative advantage been more pointed than their attack on the carbon price, the Renewable Energy Target, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, energy efficiency opportunities legislation and the Climate Change Authority. One after the other they have all been caught up in the Government’s ideological zeal to leg rope Australia to a fossil fuel intensive past, dig it up, cut it down economy, and catapult us into an uncertain future subject to more extreme weather events and increasing risk associated with a rust bucket economy, stranded assets and unattractive investment environment.  

Well, the Greens will stand up to this climate denialism and irresponsibility.

We stand with Ban Ki-moon and the hundreds of thousands of people who will be mobilising on the streets of New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Rio, Delhi and here in Melbourne this Sunday, and we'll all be mobilising for a safe climate. People are mobilising because they want to demonstrate to world leaders they want action, they won’t stand for more equivocation and lip service.

Their message is simple – “Action, Not Words" – it’s time for Australia to put up, shut up or get out of the way of real climate action. We have to say no to new fossil fuel expansion and we must protect and grow our renewable energy sector.

Momentum is in the air.

Not only have we got the summit next week, but we've the G20 in Australia in November, then we have the UNFCCC meeting in Peru leading into the global negotiations next year with a requirement for countries to put their pledges on the table by April. Let me tell you: the world is serious about addressing global warming, and the ball is in Australia’s court as to whether we help or whether we hinder that global effort.
People want their country leaders, to lead. People want innovation. They want a clean energy future. They want clean, cheap energy, clear air to breathe. And people are waking up to the ideological scare campaign run by this government and big business. The Budget has helped with that. The people now see that the Abbott Government is not governing for the common good or the Global Commons, but for the big end of town. 

Our PM sees global security only in terms of military alliances and defence hardware while ignoring the alliances we will need in addressing the ongoing, direct and real security threat of climate change.  Isolation on this strategic front is a high risk for this country, and our Prime Minister's credibility in global fora will be diminished as other world leaders, like President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron, recognise the need for action on global warming.

In the Abbott Government’s first appearance in global climate negotiations in Warsaw last year, it quickly became clear that Australia was now doing the bidding of its own coal export industry by obstructing progress and dissuading its trading partners for taking tougher action on the climate.
And if these are the marching orders PM Abbott is going to issue to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for Ban Ki-moon’s Summit, or the climate talks in Lima, then it would be better for the planet and the negotiators if Australia stayed home.  I will be going to Lima and I will be telling people there that 71% of Australians think addressing climate change is important and that Prime Minister Abbott does not speak for the people of his country. And I will tell our neighbours in the Pacific and the small island states that we will fight for them and not let them drown in rising sea. 
The climate emergency is dire. The problem is immense. The world is acting and Australia is going backwards by our backward looking Prime Minister and by a political class that is content with 5% tokenism and zero dollars in the Green Climate Fund. 
The Climate Change Authority has said that for Australia to carry its own global share, we should be responsible for no more than 1% of the world’s total greenhouse budget by 2050. This is the real budget emergency. That means we have 10 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent to emit until 2050. With business as usual, we will use up our national budget in 16 years.
The Climate Change Authority has plotted this trajectory required and said that our 2025 target, just 11 years away, has to be 30-40% below 2000 levels. This is so far away from the Liberals, Labor and Palmer 5% level of ambition that it is actually laughable. And the Climate Change Authority is actually being conservative with that estimate. I believe that Australia should put on the table for the 2015 negotiations a trajectory of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050. This is the reality of the task ahead. This is our climate reality. Doing what is necessary is not radical, it is prudent.

Australia has all the resources and talents necessary to transform our society to an innovative, jobs rich, clean energy future. 

As President Kennedy said, when he announced they would put a man on the moon within a decade, “We have never specified long range goals on an urgent time schedule, or managed our resources and our time so as to ensure their fulfilment”. Well the Americans did it. And we could do it with a clean energy future. We could set a long range goal. We could set the urgent timeframe. We could develop internally consistent policy. And we could succeed. 

If we did, it would be our entire nation that would benefit from the best possible positioning environmentally, socially, economically and diplomatically in a world rapidly shifting to a carbon constrained future. It is the key to Australia's prosperity post the mining boom.  

Why wouldn’t we give it a go? As Ban Ki-moon has said, “Instead of asking if we can afford to act, we should be asking what is stopping us, who is stopping us, and why?”

Who is stopping and why? I’ll tell you. This Government is stopping us because it is governing for its big fossil fuel donors. That's who's stopping us from acting on climate change.
I’m tired of hearing business leaders complaining that no one in politics has a vision for the country and that they're waiting. In an oped for The Australian, Business Council of Australia head, Jennifer Westacott wrote:

“If the parliament is not able to make the choices required for a stronger future, it must be willing and able to confront the Australian people about the long-term consequences of failing to act.”

The long term consequences of failing to act are staring us in the face.

But the Business Council of Australia, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the IPA, the whole lot of them, have got their blinkers on.  

With big business wielding such power and influence over the Labor and Liberal parties, we need to face the cold hard fact that Australia is no longer a democracy. It has become a plutocracy; a country governed by and for wealthy people and corporations.

We Greens don’t want to see this country governed for corporations; we want it to run for people and the environment which sustains us.  We cannot win on the climate front until the people take that power back. 

We need major political reform to break the stranglehold that the vested interests of the fossil fuel era have over the Government and the Labor Opposition.  We have reached such an extreme position that a coal magnate has his own political party to vote down the carbon price and the mining tax, and oppose an end to fossil fuel subsidies.  

How is it possible that mining and CSG companies which were corruptly granted approvals can still proceed with their mines and drill holes after the truth is revealed? How is it possible that a mining company like Whitehaven can propose a coal mine in an area of critically endangered vegetation and secured Federal approval with an offsets proposal that was not an offset and then the company escaped prosecution for misleading information? Meanwhile, one of the protester, Jonathon Moylan, faced the full force of the law.   

The public won’t have the confidence in our federal parliament until there is reform of political donations and we put in place a national independent commission against corruption.  We have to end the corrupting influence of the big end of town. We need a national ICAC.  
This is part of a multi-pronged attack coming on old king coal and his son, Coal Seam Gas. The corrupting influence it has on politics is on the nose after being exposed in the NSW ICAC, and ordinary citizens are putting their money where their mouth is, and divesting from old polluting fossil fuel industries, from the banks that fund them, from the superannuation companies that invest in them. The world is moving rapidly from wanting to buy our coal. 
Right around the country we are seeing examples of people standing up against big business, and taking the power back. The Uniting Church has voted to sell its investments in fossil fuels, Sydney University last month issued an instruction to its Australian equities managers to make no further investments in the coal and consumable fuels subsector of the ASX. And they are not alone. The market challenge facing coal is that it is in structural decline from which it will never return to its previous highs. The sooner the Abbott Government realise this, the better we can plan for the future. But the Prime minister has said, and I quote: 
"It’s particularly important that we do not demonise the coal industry and if there was one fundamental problem, above all else, with the carbon tax was that it said to our people, it said to the wider world, that a commodity which in many years is our biggest single export, somehow should be left in the ground and not sold. Well really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future." 

Said our Prime Minister. 

Well, really and truly, I can think of few things more damaging to our future than Prime Minister Abbott. The atmospheric reality is that two-thirds of the coal reserves currently held and on the books of mining companies cannot be sold in order to keep global warming at the internationally agreed level of two degrees and within Australia's allowable carbon budget. Yet these coal holdings are built into the value of each coal company. If we know that this value can never be realised, the true worth of coal companies looks greatly inflated. 

Last month, in a review for their clients, investment giant Citi gave a time frame of around four years for the thermal coal price to rise up to that magic number of $100 per tonne. And it is at level that it would make expansion of coal mining viable in Australia.

China drove last decade’s thermal coal investment boom, but they're now making it quite clear that they are going to cap the quantity of the coal that they import ant the quality of that coal. Japan, our biggest coal customer, is currently building 65 gigawatts of solar power over the next two years – for perspective that is bigger than Australia’s entire grid.

The last remaining hope for coal’s growth is in India, where around 300 million people live without electricity. However, they just elected a pro-renewable energy Prime Minister, who has increased the tax on imported coal and is using that increased tax to fund the roll out of solar in India. 

The Renewable Energy Target is providing the coal industry with stiff competition. The RET has been so successful at generating jobs, investment and feeding Australian’s enthusiasm for solar power and taking control of their energy bills that it is destroying the traditional business models of the coal fired generators in the electricity market. It is now on track to overshoot 20% target and reach 26-28% of our electricity supply by 2020, and isn't that fantastic. We should be lifting our Renewable Energy Target.  

And, the hundreds of people who have turned out to community forums in Petrie in Queensland, in Eden Monaro and in Barton have heard electricians, plumbers, installers, small business suppliers, and companies all talk about the 21,000 jobs and $20 billion of dollars in investment that has been the result of the renewable energy target, the Australian renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. There will be 18,400 more jobs created and $15bn worth of investment in addition if we keep the Renewable Energy Target as it is.

So the coal industry and the Abbott Government are on notice. 
There will be no more secret favours for their big mining mates. There will be no more consumers to take for granted. There will be no more international market. There will be no more generous handouts to the coal industry and coal fired generators when a more ambitious emissions trading scheme passes our Parliament. They have four years to try and match the leaps and bounds that clean energy is making and then it's lights out for Australia’s second largest export.

We need to drive the Government harder on the suite of measures necessary to operationalise a 40-60% greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2030.
While the emissions trading scheme was critical in the Clean Energy Future package to bring down emissions in the electricity sector, it did not act alone. It was supported by other grants, legislation, regulation, and mechanisms like the Renewable Energy Target, by ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and by the Energy Efficiency Opportunities legislation. The ETS was and remains critical as a market based mechanism to deliver an increasing emissions reduction target. But it would be a dreadful mistake to focus on it alone. It is a case of an Emissions Trading Scheme plus.
Talking about returning to an ETS as if it is the only thing we need to do and when we have it, the climate task will be done is wrong on two levels. First it assumes that an ETS by itself is all that is needed in responding to the climate emergency and secondly it has become so misunderstood that people think ETS is code for climate action. Well, it's not.
The flashing lights issue is how much greenhouse gas we have to remove, and what do we have to do, including an Emissions Trading Scheme to achieve it.  Continuing to talk about “the price” as opposed to the level of Australia’s ambition is wrong. And, it's silly to hear Labor commit to an ETS and Clive Palmer to commit to an ETS without either of them saying what the emissions cap should be, and what they will do about logging our carbon dense native forests, about more coal mines, about CSG. 
That we have got to this situation is a mistake that all of us in the climate and environment movement made. We focused all of our campaigning energies and all of the community engagement on having the price on pollution, rather than on selling the vision for the future of the country that the suite of measures, including the price were delivering: that's research and development, new technologies, jobs, investment, clean energy, clean air, protected eco-systems, all part of an exciting future. And what happened is that it enabled the debate to be about a so called “tax” rather than the win-win of addressing climate change and a prosperous post the boom Australia.
But now, as our emissions continue to rise and the need to act grows more urgent by the minute, we must lead a multi-pronged response which not only brings down emissions but stops them being emitted in the first place. I mean forests and I mean coal.
Minister Macfarlane admitted recently that there is a surplus of 9000 megawatts of energy in the system. This is the equivalent of 9 coal-fired power stations too many. If we were to regulate the emissions from coal fired power stations we could remove this excess capacity from the electricity market and make it more efficient. This should be a regulated phase out based on emissions intensity.

Now is the best opportunity we've ever had to phase down coal fired power without running any risk to energy security. It would be great for the climate, for people's health, for jobs, as a proposed plan to rehabilitate coal mines at Hazelwood in Victoria actually demonstrates.
And all this brings me to Direct Action, the Government’s pathetic ill-defined excuse for climate action. Under the Carbon Farming Initiative Labor and the Greens created jobs for farmers, Aboriginal communities and landfill operators with more than 150 projects around Australia. The Abbott Government and Clive Palmer destroyed those jobs and investment by axing the carbon price. 
The only way those jobs and ongoing climate emissions reductions can be rescued is for the Government to negotiate on putting some spine or rigour into Direct Action. So consistent with our view that all tools in the toolbox must be used to genuinely reduce emissions, the Greens are prepared to negotiate with the Government to knock Direct Action into shape, but only if it is not separated from the Renewable Energy Target. 
Destroying the RET and pretending Direct Action alone can work to bring down emissions will not cut it. Prime Minister Abbott must abandon his attack on the Renewable Energy Target if he wants the Australian Greens to consider Direct Action. Over to you, Prime Minister. The RET is popular, it's bringing down emissions; it's creating jobs; it's attracting investment. It must not only be saved by the Senate, it must be given long-term certainty.  
In conclusion, time and tide wait for no man, as the old saying goes. Time is running out and the rising seas are coming in. The tide of public opinion is behind strong action. The shift to renewables and away from fossil fuels is on. No new coal mines, no extensions of existing mines, no new coal export terminals ought to be front and centre of Australian policy.

It means no more CSG and no more pretence that gas is a transitional fuel. Australia must hit 100% renewables as soon as possible. It also means protecting precious carbon-rich forests in the landscape.

It means a federal independent commission against corruption so the revolving door of politics and business is jammed.  The relationship between mining approvals and brown paper bags full of cash must be shattered.  Winning on the climate depends on it. 

It’s no longer a question of ‘if’ and ‘when’, it is now a question of now or never. As Anne Frank said, “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” 
The Australian Greens know what is at stake in facing global warming. We've the courage to say what needs to be done, and provide hope for our future. And we need to say to the Government and those who support denialism, your gift to the next generation is despair. 

This weekend when citizens around the country take to the streets, the greens will be with them. Ban Ki-moon will be with them in New York and we will be with them around this country. The Abbott Government in Australia represents the last stand of the vanquished. The temperature is rising.

Thank you. 

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