Speech to Parliament: OLSH Kensington's Climate Change Petition

Last week I was honoured to meet student leader representatives from Our Lady of the Sacred Heart College in Kensington.

It was a very articulate and passionate group of representatives who had sought a meeting with me to discuss the urgency of taking action on climate change and to deliver to me a petition, signed by no fewer than 700 constituents of Kingsford Smith, calling on the Commonwealth parliament to take greater action on climate change, to be serious about this issue and to ensure that Australia is making a transition to renewable energy.

The petition outlines the threat that climate change is having to the health, wellbeing and security of the people of the world, particularly some of our poorest and most vulnerable neighbours. It points out that Australia has the highest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of any nation in the world, yet we have some of the weakest emissions reduction targets under this government.

The petition calls on the Australian parliament, us as representatives, to do more to protect Australians from the threat of climate change and our neighbours through deeper cuts to emissions targets and greater commitment to renewable energy. I wish to congratulate the girls who came to see me and all who signed the petition.

It's incredibly sad that it's been left to young Australians, to students, to point out that the Abbott-Turnbull government is failing them when it comes to taking fair dinkum action to reduce Australia's carbon pollution and take action on climate change. These students expressed their frustration about the weak targets and the weak approach of the government on this issue. The weakness exhibited by the Prime Minister—who used to believe in climate change and used to believe in strong action on reducing carbon emissions; hell, he even voted for it in the parliament; he crossed the floor to vote for the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and subsequently abandoned it—means that it will be left to the next generation of younger Australians to clean up the mess that the Abbott-Turnbull government created due to their lack of action on climate change.

With the girls I had a very thoughtful and passionate discussion about the fact that in Australia our carbon pollution is on the rise again. After falling during the period of the Labor government when we put in place a price on carbon emissions, carbon pollution is actually increasing in Australia at the moment. There is a cost associated with that for individuals, families, communities and the Australian people. That cost comes in the form of increasing insurance premiums, in the form of repairing damaged infrastructure and in the cost of increasing health care. Passing on that cost to young people is irresponsible.

The Abbott-Turnbull government have actively taken steps to reduce the amount of renewable energy that we have here in Australia. They've done this by recently cutting the Renewable Energy Target and, with the announcement this week on the so-called new energy policy, they're pledging to phase out completely the Renewable Energy Target from 2020. They removed the price on carbon emissions in our economy—a mechanism that was working to put a price on the cost of carbon emissions and reduce them over time. We actually saw that carbon pollution in Australia was falling during the Labor government, and the funds that were raised from that were pumped into the development of clean energy through the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. They're trying to delay the closure of dirty coal-fired power stations that have come to the end of their natural life.

This government is ignoring the interests of young people when it comes to climate change, but we're also letting down our neighbours. We had a passionate discussion about the fact that, in the Pacific, climate change is a present danger and we're letting down countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands where communities are actively facing the threat of sea-level rise, where wells are becoming salinised, where crops are drying up and populations are looking to move off those islands.

To those who signed the petition, I tell you: I and my Labor colleagues understand your frustration. We accept that climate change is real. We accept that it's doing damage and we will take greater action to reduce pollution and increase renewables. We will commit to doing more. We will not abandon young Australians when it comes to this issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: The document will be forwarded to the Standing Committee on Petitions for its consideration. It will be accepted subject to confirmation by the committee that it conforms to the standing orders.

I seek leave to table this important petition.

The document read as follows—

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled in Parliament:

This petition of concerned people of the electorate of Kingsford-Smith, draws to the attention of the House the severe and urgent threat that climate change poses to the health, well-being and security of all people around the world, particularly our poorest and most vulnerable neighbours. We remind the House that Australia's greenhouse emissions are the highest per person among wealthy nations while our emissions reduction targets are among the weakest.

We therefore ask the House to do all in its power to protect communities in Australia and our region from the harmful impacts of climate change - such as more severe heat, extreme and unpredictable weather and rising seas - by:

committing to deeper and more urgent reductions of our greenhouse emissions;

developing a plan to ensure Australia achieves zero net greenhouse emissions well before 2050, and supporting families and communities affected by the transition towards renewable energy and more sustainable land use;

providing additional assistance to help our poorest neighbours adapt to the harmful impacts of climate change.

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