Climate change inaction a great intergenerational unfairness

Published on Wed 3 August 2022 4:54pm

The change that we are making with this legislation has been a long time coming and it represents a belated important step on a path that has been neglected for a long time. It is utterly necessary for our broad health and wellbeing—our human health and our environmental health.

Mr Wilson (4:54pm) – I’m glad to make some remarks in support of this legislation—the Climate Change Bill 2022 and the Climate Change (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2022. It is genuinely momentous legislation. It’s a change that this country has been crying out for for a long time. I think all of us in the first half of this year, and particularly through the campaign, would have had a range of different experiences of where our communities were at and where our nation was at in terms of the challenges that we face and the way that the people we represent see those challenges. I’m always mindful, as a representative, of the interests of younger people. We must always remember the tendency for there to be intergenerational unfairness, and climate change is a great example of where, as the Prime Minister said before, there’s a huge risk that communities and governments and decision-makers, as we are in this place, don’t take our responsibility to do what’s necessary and instead leave a completely unacceptable burden on young people and people, essentially, who will be citizens of this country in the future.

For me, the standout moment in the first half of the year was during the campaign, when I went to Fremantle College—which used to be South Fremantle Senior High School when I was growing up—to talk to high school students in years 11 and 12, I think. I spoke to them about Australian democracy and how important it was and how they should feel their right and their entitlement to participate in how decisions are made. While I was explaining various things about how I represent a federal seat and the three levels of government and all of the other bits and pieces, there was a young woman to the left in the front of the crowd who caught my eye because she had her hand up like this. From the moment I was introduced to the stage she had her hand up, and she kept her hand up even though it was clear that I was going to be speaking for 10 minutes or so by way of introduction before we got to questions. I think a teacher at some point came over to her and said, ‘Hey, listen: he’s going to say a few things and then there’ll be time for questions.’ She kept a head up. The teacher came over and she put her hand down temporarily, and then the teacher went away and she put her hand up.

It was clear to me that she was in distress, and as soon as I finished speaking, which I tried to do pretty quickly, hers was the first question. Her question was: ‘How can it be that—when we know the science, when we’ve experienced the bushfires, when we know that the last eight years have been the hottest years on the planet on record and when Australia experienced a bushfire event that included the largest bushfire in our history and we saw three billion animals killed and 19 million hectares torched—you as a representative and all the people that you’re with and the institution that you’re a part of have done nothing? How can that be the case?’ She was angry. She was distressed. She was insistent. It was kind of a question and a statement mixed in together. The teachers, I think, were very supportive of her. At some point they kind of encouraged her to wrap it up. She went on for several minutes, and she was so passionate and insistent and disappointed at what was going on.

That really stuck with me because, when you work in this place and you have the privilege of being part of decision-making, you can start to be a bit desensitised to what it’s actually like for people who are watching what we do with great expectation for how we should respond to things that are obvious and be prepared to consider things that are necessary. So I say to that young woman and to young people in Australia: you’re right to be disappointed and frustrated and distressed. You’re right to look with a huge amount of dismay at the way national government has conducted itself in this country, particularly over the last 10 years, because it’s been appalling. I say that to young people in my part of the world.

A lot of the focus during the bushfires was, of course, on the terrible inferno on the east coast. We had similar events in Western Australia that were, I guess, not as noteworthy from a media point of view because they didn’t involve loss of homes and lives, but they did involve 35 per cent of the Stirling Range National Park being burnt to the ground over 2019-20. We had, in the most recent summer, the hottest summer on record in Western Australia. The average daily temperature was a full degree hotter than it has ever been before. In previous summers, the record for days over 40 degrees was seven. This recent summer we had 13. We had six days of over 40 degrees in a row. We had more days over 35 then we have ever experienced before.

Young people know what’s happening. They are clued in to the science in Australia and the science internationally. They have watched what’s happened in this place under the previous government with justifiable dismay, distress and rage because what they have essentially seen is their future being utterly ignored and their wellbeing and the wellbeing of biodiversity in Australia, for which we’re all responsible, being utterly ignored. This government isn’t going to allow that to stand. This government, in passing this legislation, is doing some quite different.

I say to young people: Your feelings of anger, distress, disappointment and disbelief are all utterly justified. But look at what is happening in this country now. Look what those of you who voted in the recent election have been able to bring about in terms of change. Look at what has occurred in the first few months of this government already. Unlike when the previous government went to Glasgow, where the expectation was countries would come with greater ambition and the last government could barely be bothered to take a glossy pamphlet and didn’t shift what was already an inadequate nationally determined contribution of 26 to 28 per cent one iota, one of the first acts of the Albanese Labor government was to significantly shift that dial to commit to 43 per cent, which Professor Mark Howden, the director of the Institute for Climate, Energy and Disaster Solutions at the ANU and a vice-chair of the IPCC, has said is entirely consistent with the obligations set out at Glasgow and entirely consistent with Australia’s obligations and intentions to get to net zero by 2050.

We know that 43 per cent is not the end of the story; 43 per cent is the beginning. So are all the other changes that we’re making. We’re restoring the Climate Change Authority so that we can have proper transparency and accountability, ensuring that there will be an annual statement of ministerial responsibility. I think those who claim that passing this legislation is unnecessary and only symbolic miss a pretty big point. While there is a prerogative of the executive to go and make treaty commitments, it is right that we as parliamentarians, as the representatives of the people, get to have our say. It is entirely up to everyone in this House to vote on these bills, and then it will be the same for those in the other place. That endorsement by the parliament is a powerful thing in terms of certainty and clarity but also democratic integrity. It means that the representatives of the people in Australia are endorsing that commitment and are essentially calling on the government, the responsible ministers, to deliver on those commitments.

The change that we are making with this legislation has been a long time coming and it represents a belated important step on a path that has been neglected for a long time. It is utterly necessary for our broad health and wellbeing—our human health and our environmental health. It is utterly necessary in terms of our leadership as a middle power country, the 13th-largest economy in the world, a nation that has among the highest per capita emissions in the world. It’s absolutely our responsibility to reflect those facts with our actions in our own interests and in keeping with the leadership that Australia has traditionally shown, which has been sadly lacking over the last 10 years.

I look forward to these changes because they are necessary, despite the fear mongering that we will unfortunately continue to hear in this debate. This is not a balanced thing between imposts on the one hand and benefits on the other. The benefits run in both directions. There are enormous economic benefits, job benefits and pollution reduction benefits as well as climate benefits. So I support this bill wholeheartedly, and I thank the young people of Australia for their patience.

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