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As Defeat Looms, Christine Milne Speaks Against Repeal Of Carbon Tax

With the repeal of the Gillard government’s carbon tax and emissions trading scheme looming over the next couple of days, the Greens leader, Senator Christine Milne, has described the move as “intergenerational theft”.


In a speech to the Senate tonight, Milne said parties were taking place around the parliament but the Liberals had misread the temperature: “Enjoy your celebrations: this is the last stand of the vanquished.”

On the need for action on climate change, Milne said: “We haven’t heard a peep from anyone in this parliament except the Greens on the level of ambition required.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert also spoke in the debate tonight.

  • Listen to Milne’s speech (20m – transcript below)
  • Watch Milne (20m)
  • Watch Senator Rachel Siewert (16m)

Hansard transcript of Senator Christine Milne’s speech on the carbon tax repeal legislation.


Senator MILNE (Tasmania—Leader of the Australian Greens) (19:34): As you well know, tonight there are parties going along in the corridors and around the Parliament House as the government celebrates that it has now got the numbers to repeal the only effective package of legislation we have, which is bringing down emissions in Australia and which has successfully brought down emissions in the electricity sector by 11 per cent over the last couple of years.

I want to say to the children of 2050: the people who voted for the repeal of the carbon price, the people who voted to abandon strong action on global warming knew full well what they were doing and they chose to do it. Do not listen in the future when people try to argue that they did not know about the seriousness. They did and they proactively chose to do it.

We stand here in this parliament at a critical moment of time. It is critical because we as a national parliament are choosing our response to the climate emergency, which we human beings have wrought on the planet. It will impact on every generation who comes after us on a global scale. It is a critical moment because the rest of the world is watching to see whether Australia is going to take up a responsible position as a global citizen or whether we are going to retreat and become a laggard—a global pariah in the family of nations. It is a critical moment because it is the moment when we decide, as a nation whether to embrace the opportunities that the future offers—a society powered by 100 per cent renewable energy, by the sun, the wind, the waves, the earth itself—or whether we remain captured by vested interests of the old order, the old coal and gas industries and remain tied to the last century.

Voting for the abolition of the clean energy package is voting for failure: failure to face up to the four to six degrees of warming that we are currently on a trajectory to reach, failure to do our fair share globally in the effort to constrain global warming to less than two degrees and failure to take up the opportunities, the jobs, the innovation in the green powered future. But the greatest failure is that those who vote for abolition of the clean energy bills are imposing on our children a harder life. They are imposing on our children a higher degree of anxiety about the world in which they live and imposing on them a far less awesome planet than we have now. That is not leadership; it is intergenerational theft. The Prime Minister and every single member who votes for the abolition of the energy bills are engaging in intergenerational theft. It is also the day when the Abbott government confirms what Machiavelli knew in the 16th century when he said:

“… there is nothing more difficult to handle, more doubtful of success, and more dangerous to carry through than initiating change … The innovator makes enemies of all those who prospered under the old order, and only lukewarm support is forthcoming from those who would prosper under the new. Their support is lukewarm partly from fear of their adversaries, who have the existing laws on their side, and partly because men are generally incredulous, never really trusting new things unless they have tested them by experience.”

It is certainly true that the vested interests of the old order have won this pyrrhic victory because it is the community who will be paying with their lives, their farms, their futures, so that the big polluters can get off scot-free in Australia. The vested interests of the old order who have fought like partisans include the coal miners, who want to dig coal out of the Bowen and Galilee basins. The vested interests also include the Business Council of Australia and the Chamber Of Commerce and Industry.

In 25 years in politics I have never witnessed such a dismal failure of the business community in Australia and never will the business community be able to say to this parliament that politicians do not show leadership. The Greens have stood here showing leadership on management of society and the economy at a time of a global emergency and the Business Council and the Mineral Council of Australia have said, ‘Forget it. We want to stick with the greed and the money of the last century.’ I think at some point we will have a website of climate criminals and I would have a few people to put on that list. It would include Dick Warburton, Brian Fisher, David Murray, Maurice Newman, Mitch Hook and so you could go on, with Chris Mitchell, Gina Rinehart, Innes Willox, Ian Plimer, Rupert Murdoch, George Pell, Andrew Bolt, John Roscom, Martin Ferguson and so on and so forth. In years to come, those people will try to pretend that they did not tear down the climate bills, when they have and the record will clearly show it.

The good news tonight is that this is the last stand of the vanquished. To all those people partying around the corridors, enjoy it because it is your last stand. The fact is you have misjudged the temperature. As Machiavelli said, the old order fight like artisans; the lukewarm new order are lukewarm in their support, but I can tell you they are not lukewarm in their support on this occasion. The temperature is rising. You do not have to look around to find that people want Australia to lead to global warming. They want to embrace the future. They love renewable energy. They love innovation. They want the new jobs and investment but the people who want those things do not have the megaphones and the echo chambers of the Murdoch press. They do not have the false balance of the mainstream media which feels it has to give the same column mounts to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to Ian Plimer as an equal, for example.

When we look at the temperature of the planet rising, let us look at the climate science. The fact of the matter is we are on track for four to six degrees of warming. That means people will not survive. Part of the world will be uninhabitable. There will be one million deaths per week for the next 90 years if it gets to 4 degrees. Three degrees is deemed to be a tipping point from which the feedback loops make it impossible to stop. So now we have a situation where the ice sheets are melting. Just last week we had research about the warming waters around Antarctica, the changed situation meaning that those ice shelves are melting faster than anticipated in the recent UN climate panel report released just a few months ago. It is the same with the Arctic ice melt, progressing faster than first thought. There is now genuine concern about the 50 gigaton reserve of methane stored in the form of hydrates in the East Siberian Arctic shelf. That methane can either be released gradually or suddenly.

We also have ocean acidification and warming. We have calcium shelled creatures in our oceans unable to form new shells, a simplification of the food chain in the marine environment. We are seeing a loss of coral reefs around the world and we are seeing more extreme and more intense weather events. The Greens have had the courage for a long time to call it as it is—that is, extreme weather events are made more intense by global warming. We will not be silenced by all those, when the extreme weather events occur, who say, ‘Oh, you can’t say that. You can’t say it is to do with global warming.’ It is; and as people suffer through heatwaves, droughts, more extreme bushfires, storm surge and flooding, let it be known that that is what people are voting in this Senate tonight to achieve. We are going to see not only that but also loss of food security around the world as crops are destroyed through drought, fire and flood. We are going to see conflict and disease. Dengue fever is already spreading further south in Australia than ever was expected. And we are seeing loss of species. How heartbreaking is it that a quarter to a third of all species will be extinct by 2050 if we stay on the trajectory we are on? That is what I mean when I talk about simplification and loss of the awesome wonder of our world.

The second thing about which global action is rising in terms of temperature is the willingness of the world to act—and that is something I really welcome. We have now got President Obama out there saying, ‘Yes. We must get a 2015 treaty.’ We have the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr Cameron, out there saying the same, and the European Union. The fact is that global emissions need to peak and come down and it should have been in 2015. That is what the scientists said: ‘peak and come down by 2015,’ but they have pushed that out because we have clearly missed that deadline. The fact of the matter is—and this is where I get to the point about what needs to be done—that it is not about asking the question ‘Is global warming real?’ It is about how fast we have to act on it and how deeply we have to cut. That is my challenge to the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Palmer United Party. It is no good saying that you want an emissions trading scheme. An emissions trading scheme is a tool to deliver what? What is the target? How rapidly do you want to bring down emissions? We have not heard a peep out of anyone except the Greens in this parliament about the level of ambition and the urgency that is required.

I put on the record that the Greens have a second reading amendment which says that we are on track for four degrees of warming. That means no new coalmines, no extension of existing coalmines, no new coal export terminals. And it says we need to adopt a trajectory of 40 to 60 per cent below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050 in order to go into the negotiations on the 2015 treaty. I have not heard from any other party, including those who claim to be leading on global warming. What is your level of ambition and how fast do you want to achieve it? If you are not prepared to say what your cap is on an emissions trading scheme, then it is empty words.

There is such a thing as being too late to address global warming. As I said, this is a critical moment for Australia. It is a fact, as Tim Wirth, a former Clinton secretary of state, said, ‘The economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment.’ That is why the opportunity is now before us. We need transformation. We need a wave of social, technical 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 in fact an enormous economic opportunity—an opportunity that we are increasingly being forced to recognise; and the Greens do.

Australia is in the right place at the right time in our history, and we should not be squandering this opportunity. We should be saying to the global community that we have a vision for this country to be powered by 100 per cent renewable energy. We should be out there chasing more efficient homes, more walkable cities, more public transport, more—some, at any rate—high-speed rail, for example. We want sustainable food systems. We do not want coal seam gas ripping up our farmlands. We do not want to lose our agricultural lands. We want to make sure we keep them so that they can produce food into the future. But we want to look after our biodiversity as well. We want to protect our forests and our wetlands, because they are wonderful homes and habitat to other species, but they are also fantastic carbon sinks. We want to have solar thermal in this country. We the Greens managed to achieve the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation in our negotiations in the clean energy package, and we will fight to secure and keep the money for those organisations and keep them strong, because we want to see all of these technologies rolled out in Australia, because they bring jobs, they bring innovation and they are developing renewable energy. At that point we can celebrate. I said before: it is the last stand of the vanquished, because the renewable energy sector has won. The future is with us.

The Abbott government can stand up in the middle of the road and try to hold up the future. They can try to do that. They can actually line the pockets of the coal billionaires. They can do all of those things, but they cannot stop the future. We have got solar already achieving grid parity in many countries around the world, and here in Australia we have this massive rearguard effort from the old coal-fired generators trying to knock out solar. But it is too late. People power has won. More than a million homes across Australia have solar panels on their roofs, and everywhere I go people are excited about the new technologies that have been developed in Australia by the CSIRO and by other organisations. I can tell you that the pilot project of supercritical steam, that was achieved by a combination of CSIRO and ARENA, would power a turbine from solar thermal heat instead of burning coal. The inventers proudly compared it with breaking the sound barrier, and yet the Abbott government slashes the funding for it. If ever there were a symbol of choosing the past and not the future, it is that particular decision.

The Australian Greens stand for not only a safe climate, not only ambitious targets on global action and a treaty in 2015, but we want to invest in our young people, in our universities, in education and training, in new technology, in research and development. That is where the excitement is, and that is what we need to protect our environment. As it stands, the Abbott government is going to leave us exposed to non-trade tariff barriers. If you think the rest of the world is going to put up with Australia behaving as a pariah, have another think. The Koreans will put a tax on coal imports. The Indians have already done it and that will be something that continues.

We will end up with stranded assets all over the place as people divest from the old coal past, especially as people come to realise that all of these companies that are the old coal companies only have their asset value because it is assumed they can mine their asset, their resource. The world is saying: ‘No, you can’t. Your asset value is about to go up in smoke.’ It is the carbon bubble, literally, that will be occurring.

The Greens will choose the future. We are going to choose life for the planet, for our oceans, for our species, and for our precious places like the Great Barrier Reef and Ningaloo. We are going to choose life for people who live on Tuvalu, Kiribati and Bangladesh. We are going to choose hope for the young people, the future generations who come after us. We are saying to them, ‘Yes, no wonder you feel anxious and depressed by the complete lack of leadership, by the greed and self-interest of the old order, by the fact that we have a coal billionaire leading a political party in this place voting to put money into his own companies.’ That is our reality. We will see Hydro Tasmania with one-tenth of its profits as a result of taking away the carbon price and 100 jobs will be lost in Tasmania by a decision to abandon carbon pricing. It is a huge cost to the future around the country.

But the great news here is that we have won. We may lose this vote tonight and we may lose this version of carbon pricing, but we will be back stronger and even more determined than we are now to make sure Australia does rise to the challenge. We will pursue 100 per cent renewable energy for Australia. I want to finish with:

Only in the darkness can you see the stars.

That was Martin Luther King. We can see the stars and the sun through the cold mess of the Abbott government. We will pursue those dreams not just for ourselves but for everyone out there at the moment who is uncertain. Take heart because whilst we live in a country governed by a Prime Minister who is a climate denier, the Greens are here to campaign for very strong action on global warming. And I now move my second reading amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

but the Senate

(a) condemns this Bill and the related Bills;

(b) recognises that:

(i) the world is on track for 4 degrees of warming; and

(ii) warming of less than 1 degree is already intensifying extreme weather events in Australia and around the world with enormous costs to life and property;

(c) calls on the government to:

(i) protect the Australian people and environment from climate change by approving no new coal mines or extensions of existing mines, or new coal export terminals; and

(ii) adopt a trajectory of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030 and net carbon zero by 2050 emissions reduction target in global negotiations for a 2015 treaty.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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