The Goldstein community made it crystal clear at the last election that they wanted faster and more decisive action on climate change. I’m not expecting everything all at once, and nor are they, but they have a right to expect more than we’ve seen from this government. Despite their rhetoric, their repeated record in this place speaks for itself. Labor did legislate a reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions of 43 per cent by 2030, but that’s still less than experts state is needed if we’re to have any hope of getting to net zero by midcentury. An amendment that I moved explicitly made that target a floor, not a ceiling, but the climate change minister himself admits it will be a challenge to meet even the moderate target his government has set. Just this week, the Reserve Bank’s Carl Schwartz stated that, for clean energy alone to get to net zero by 2050, annual investment would have to be running at three times the current pace by 2030—three times!
He didn’t disaggregate the figure for Australia, but he did say that financing for sustainable activities would need to increase substantially if we’re to decarbonise and meet net zero goals. This is a clear warning. As I’ve said before, there is less than meets the eye in the specific actions the government has taken since the election. There are real questions, for example, about the effectiveness and accountability of the safeguard mechanism. Will it really require the nation’s 200 or so biggest polluters to change their carbon-heavy habits, or will it enable them to use suspect carbon credits to try to account their way to zero? The challenge of climate change is not an accounting exercise. It requires fundamental and rapid changes in the way we act, as individuals, as families, as communities, as companies and as leaders in this place. The same goes for the nature repair market legislation, which runs the risk of not being a genuine market, nor being particularly helpful for nature. It is barely a month since International Energy Agency reiterated its assessment that we must stop the exploitation and development of new oil and gas resources if we are to have a hope of achieving net zero by 2050. And what have we seen since then? The government pushed its sea-dumping legislation through the House, with its cute but misleading subtitle ‘Using new technologies to fight climate change’. The technology it depends on—carbon capture and storage—is not new, and, despite the investment of billions of taxpayer dollars here and across the world, it has never lived up to the overheated claims of its proponents.
Let’s be blunt: the sea-dumping legislation does not fight climate change. It’s an excuse for supporting and underwriting the massive expansion of dirty gas developments in the Northern Territory and off the coast of northern Australia. The plans to extract gas from the Beetaloo basin would increase Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 22 per cent. How does that sit with the challenge of meeting even the government’s less-than-adequate 43 per cent target by 2030? Not very well. Then there are the Santos plans to exploit the undersea Barossa field, which would yield gas with a very high CO2 content. Neither Barossa nor Beetaloo would be viable unless the so-called sustainable development precinct, a name which represents gaslighting in the extreme, at Middle Arm in Darwin goes ahead. Middle Arm’s relationship to sustainability is distant at best. In reality, it would be a gas and petrochemical hub.
A recent report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis found: The promises of thriving businesses, job opportunities and substantial infrastructure investment are unlikely to be realized— because the projected revenue and profits would be insufficient to cover its social and physical infrastructure needs. In addition, there are significant health concerns for the people of Darwin, with health professionals concerned about exposure to nitrogen and sulphur oxides, particulate matter and ozone as a result of gas processing, leading to the heightened risk of lung and heart disease—and so it goes on. Intentions are one thing; actions are another. If the federal government is serious about climate change, it should withdraw federal funding for this project. Our children’s health, safety and prosperity is at stake.