Federation Chamber - BILLS - Attorney-General's Portfolio - Consideration in Detail

30 May 2018

The disaster that is this government's climate change policy is of monumental proportions. It is totally clear that this is not a priority for the government despite what the minister and his colleagues on that side of the room try to tell us. They are burying their collective head in the sand, having no idea how to undo the damage their divided and dysfunctional party room is really doing to our economy and to Australia's future. The PM has completely abandoned his once strident belief in combating climate change, and the Treasurer made no mention of climate change in his budget speech—not one! This beggars belief.

The budget delivers zero dollars to combat climate change. Pollution levels are rising. Polar ice sheets are melting. Sea levels are rising. We're seeing reduced rainfall in important agricultural regions, more extreme heat episodes and intense weather events. The health impacts are alarming, and we are heading for economic changes that will not benefit workers and their communities. In fact, this government teeter on the brink of recklessness on this issue. They place all Australians at risk of serious climate events growing in intensity, at risk of falling behind the rest of the world and our international competitors in the renewable energy sector, at risk of leaving whole communities bereft without the means of making a living because, as the world relies less on thermal coal, our communities that rely on that industry will have no plan for a transition. If we only had a plan, a decent plan, Australia could be leading the way in this region and leading the battle against climate change. With certainty instead of chaos, we could be encouraging clean energy production, sustainable industries, investment in sustainable communities and jobs.

Labor has a plan. It is comprehensive, it is ambitious and it is achievable. It will tackle this wide-ranging and complex issue, and give policy certainty to investors craving opportunities to set up in Australia. It will give industry already here the ability to plan for the future and start making changes that will ensure our economy is sustainable and clean. It will also go to the problem of supporting workers as the world moves to a cleaner, more sustainable future. Workers who rely on polluting industries and whose future is uncertain need to know that they will not be left in the lurch, that they will be helped to transition to new jobs, with training, with options like redundancy pooling that we've seen in the Latrobe Valley, with plans to diversify their communities' economies—future proofing them.

This is not an easy thing to do. It will require thought and resources and collaboration with the major companies in the industries who might—just might—have to sit in the one room and share information that once might have been deemed unsharable. But this is possible and it has been done. It might require those companies to work together for the benefit of the workers and their families in the region. It will require the goodwill and cooperation of unions who represent the workers and their families by negotiating fair and reasonable outcomes. It will require the government of the day to coordinate the processes and to build a policy framework that foresees the future of these industries, with expert analysis, timelines and dedicated financial and human resources. You see, if you're a vulnerable worker worried about the future, worried about how you will support your family, worried about everything then it is hard to support change. If you know there is a plan for and your family, you can be part of the change. No-one should be abandoned. No-one should be left bereft when, with proper planning and foresight, we can do our best for everyone.

I have had firsthand experience of this. I was lucky enough to be part of the development of a just transition policy at the ACTU. We had a massive consultation day with over 200 people there. We drew together the coal-fired power station operators, the owners, the workers and the unions. We had government—state and federal—represented. I take the opportunity to thank Mark Butler and Pat Conroy for their attendance that day. We had the environment sector, the small business sector and the local community, and we agreed on a way forward. It formed the groundwork for the excellent work done by the Daniel Andrews Victorian government when ENGIE announced it was closing Hazelwood. And when the other companies pull out one by one, we will be ready. In fact, it could form the basis for a just transition for any sector of our economy that is undergoing change. It is a plan, and that is what is sorely lacking from this government.