Skip navigation

Speech on the Climate Change Bill 2022

It is with joy that I stand in the House to debate the Climate Change Bill 2022. This is a historic moment, and it is a pleasure that this is the first bill I will speak on as a member of the 47th Parliament.

The issue of climate change is the reason I stood for parliament, and it was expressed as the top issue of concern when I listened to the people of Mackellar around their kitchen tables and at the polling booths. I feel a deep responsibility to push for the strongest laws possible. We have a responsibility to all current and future Australians to pass a bill which delivers strong action on climate change into the future.

There has been a long record of failed attempts to get climate policy right. It has been a lost decade—lost to partisan division and the politicisation of an issue that should be a simple matter of science. But today is an opportunity to start moving our country forward again and to build a bright future, rather than hanging onto the fossil-fuel past that is killing us and our ecosystems slowly. We owe a debt to the future generations to pass this bill. What else are we here for? This bill is but one step, and we have many more steps to take. But this is progress.

This remarkable moment would not have happened without the trailblazing of the member for Warringah. The bill we are debating today originated in 2020 when the climate act adaptation and mitigation bill was introduced to parliament. The member for Warringah's bill took inspiration from the UK Climate Change Act, passed in 2008, which itself was inspired by a private member's bill that was moved by a UK crossbencher in the House of Commons.

In the decade since the UK climate act passed, emissions have decreased by 29 per cent, and they have put their debilitating debate behind them. In the UK, there is multipartisan consensus on the need for action. Their climate legislation sent ripples around the world. Now many countries have their own climate change act. Australia is finally about to follow. For over 2½ years the member for Warringah persevered and prosecuted the argument for an Australian climate change act. We are finally here.

The Government's bill enshrines Australia's greenhouse gas emission targets: 43 per cent on the 2005 levels by 2030 and net zero by 2050. It provides for annual climate change statements to be made by the Climate Change Minister to the parliament and will confer new advisory functions on the Climate Change Authority, the government's independent adviser on climate policy. This bill will improve accountability, integrity and transparency in climate policy that was sorely missed under the last Government. It will ensure climate policy is best practice.

I applaud the Minister for taking a collaborative and consultative approach to the development of this bill. It has set the direction and tone of Parliament. The Government invited amendment suggestions from the crossbench, and I'm pleased that several of these proposed amendments have made their way into this bill. This is a new way of doing politics. It is what our communities have sent us here for, setting aside division to work together in the national interest. Experience has shown us that to make climate policy enduring there needs to be multipartisan consensus. The people of Australia sent a clear message at the recent election that they want concrete action on climate change now.

Renewable energy is the cheapest form of electricity and the energy of the future. A transition to renewable energy and storage will lead to lower electricity prices for businesses and families across the country, and, being generated here in Australia for Australians, will lead to greater energy security. This bill will unlock private investment in the high-tech, clean energy and clean manufacturing sectors that have been inhibited by the uncertainty of the last 10 years. These industries will be the backbone of Australia's prosperity into the future. This bill has the backing of the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Industry Group and many others.

Last week the CSIRO released a report detailing the impacts of inaction on climate. We will see higher insurance premiums and food costs and we are already feeling the effects of previously mismanaged energy policy, with Australian businesses folding under the pressure of skyrocketing gas prices.

We must build accountability measures into this legislation to ensure future governments keep Australia on the right track for a strong future. I'm pleased to say that the crossbench, working with the government, has ensured that there are now some safeguard provisions built in. The crossbench has successfully prosecuted the argument for strong objects, a statutory review after five years and 10 years thereafter; a guarantee that the 2030 target will be a floor, not a ceiling; and clearer reporting by and advice from the Climate Change Authority. But I told the people of Mackellar that I would fight for strong action on climate change, so the work is not yet done.

The independent body tasked with providing advice and recommendations under this bill is the Climate Change Authority. Established under the Climate Change Authority Act in 2014, it was designed to be an impartial adviser to government. The UK climate committee, on which it is based, has been a circuit breaker, cutting through their divisive debates which risked stalling action. The Climate Change Authority was successful until the Abbott government cut staff, limited its mandate and never sought its advice. Over 10 years of Coalition Governments, it was stacked with friends of the party and vested interests. If we are to trust the advice of our authority, it needs to be unbiased. Those members with long histories working for fossil fuel companies should be moved on. The climate debates will not be over until our 2030 and 2050 targets are in line with the science, and it's clear what we must do.

The bill also lacks a target review mechanism that would allow for an increase in the ambition in line with the science, if required. A review mechanism would ensure that the 2030 target is reviewed by the authority after three years and the 2050 target is reviewed every time a nationally determined contribution is communicated. A target review mechanism would allow the minister to ratchet up the target in line with the advice via a non-disallowable instrument.

There is also a lack of consequences in this bill for failure to meet the targets. Whilst the coalition claims that this bill will open the way for litigation, that is not true. I would recommend a requirement similar to the one in the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act, where, if targets are not met, the government would be obliged to outline to the House the emergency steps they will take to overcome the shortfall. The bill also does not establish a legislative process for effective policymaking on climate adaptation. We know that our economy and nature will be hit. We need to prepare now.

Finally, the consequential bill extends the targets to the operations and functions designated under several other acts. This is welcome, but there are a few very large gaps. Firstly, it does not extend to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. This means the minister does not have to consider climate targets when assessing major fossil fuel projects. The government's 2030 target avoids 366 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. If all new gas mines and coalmines are approved and start running, they will cause 1,030 million tonnes of emissions domestically and over 11 billion tonnes overseas when the fuels are burned.

Secondly, the targets do not extend to the Industry Research and Development Act. You may know this act as one former energy ministers used to establish programs like the subsidies for fracking in the Beetaloo Basin and the Underwriting New Generation Investments program. Both had serious integrity issues and were not in line with our climate goals. Thirdly, the consequential bill does not compel agencies to act in accordance with the targets, only to take them into consideration.

We can't forget that there are many local heroes from Mackellar who through their consistent advocacy for climate action have contributed to realising this moment of the bills being introduced: Greg Mullins, former fire chief and founding member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action; Tim Silverwood, co-founder of Ocean Impact Organisation and creator of Take 3 for the Sea; Kat Kimmorley, who now works for Boundless, Mike Cannon-Brookes's philanthropic organisation; Oliver Hartley, commercial director of Everty, a provider of electric vehicle chargers; Sam Elsom, who established Sea Forest Australia; Doug McNamee, founder of JOLT, a provider of electric vehicle charges; and Nigel Howard, who established the company Edge consulting, which helps ASX 200 companies decarbonise.

The work is not finished. This legislation is just the first step and will need amendments and refinements over the coming years. But I say to all the members of parliament, as former President Barack Obama said—and we have heard it before in this chamber—we are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it. We need to look back on our time here and see that it was more than just time wasted. What will you tell your loved ones you did when the climate crisis began to dawn on us? Let's use this legislation as a launching pad for more action. I commend this bill to the House.