Second Reading

Resumed from 19 March.

HON ALISON XAMON (North Metropolitan) [10.06 am]: I rise to speak in favour of the Climate Change and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Bill 2020. I have spoken many times in the past—in fact, even this week— about how critical it is that we address climate change, and address it in this decade. In order to have a chance of keeping global warming under two degrees, we absolutely have no choice other than to cut greenhouse emissions by nearly 50 per cent, at a minimum, by 2030. Just this week, even more reports have come out that once again advise us of the environmental, financial and social crisis that we face. This week, the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements—the Black Summer royal commission—found that Australia is on track for a four to five-degree increase in mean annual temperature. Even if we get to negative emissions by 2050, we are still looking at decades of a warmer climate and the corresponding increase in natural disasters. Deloitte Access Economics has predicted the loss of 800 000 jobs and $3 trillion from the economy over the next 50 years if we continue to fail to address climate change. Conversely, we could grow our economy by 2.6 per cent and gain 250 000 jobs if we get on and finally do something about it. I am glad that I am here as the lead speaker on this bill to be able to finally talk about something that could address this.

Over and again, we have seen that we are past the point at which addressing climate change will be a drag on the economy. Indeed, the Retail Employees Superannuation Trust recently settled out of court with Mark McVeigh, a young man who sued it for failing to manage climate risks. This could and should have a huge impact on the Australian economy as that super fund currently has $2.9 trillion invested in Australian companies. That settlement will have an effect on the investment strategies of super funds. As nice as a legal precedent would have been, this is a huge step towards at least forcing money away from climate-wrecking activities. This year’s “Climate of the Nation” report showed that the vast majority of Australians are deeply concerned by the lack of action on climate change and that the number of concerned Australians and the level of concern continues to grow. Those are just some of the most recent reports. They follow decades and decades of reports. Honestly, how many more reports do we need before we see firm action? We have left it so late that we are already starting to experience the impacts of climate change. What we do now is critical and urgent, especially as WA has the capacity, and currently has the policy settings, to wipe out the efforts being made by the rest of the country. This is exactly the kind of bill that we need to effectively tackle climate change.

Climate change is not just some remote threat in the far-off future. We are already feeling the effects of a warming world. We are in the midst of a climate emergency. The climate crisis is putting at risk our planet and everything that we care about. At the start of this year, we witnessed a catastrophic bushfire in Australia. Across the country, fires burnt 18.6 million hectares of bushland, destroyed over 2 700 homes and killed at least 34 people. Maybe some members do not care about that, but I most certainly do. An estimated three billion animals were displaced or killed. The scale and severity of these bushfires was directly linked to global temperatures rising due to carbon emissions. Australians understand the link between climate change and worsening bushfires. Eighty-two per cent of Australians are now concerned that climate change will result in more bushfires. That figure will only go up. Last year, 76 per cent of people were concerned. Our local fire services are already under immense pressure during WA’s fire seasons. A future rise in global temperatures will make future fire seasons even more overwhelming than the last one. WA absolutely needs a clear framework to transform its energy system to cut down emissions and ensure that successive governments focus on creating a healthier future. WA needs a climate change act.

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated what we can achieve when we join together and act quickly in times of crises, and act on the public health advice. We need to tackle the climate crisis with the same determination and seriousness that we treated the COVID-19 crisis. Western Australia needs a coordinated response to the climate emergency. That involves the whole of government as well as non-government organisations, businesses and the community. The bill before us today will pave the way for such a coordinated response. It provides provisions for establishing statewide targets and strategies for emissions reduction, and renewable energy adoption. It binds WA decision-makers to treat climate change as a paramount concern.

State governments are well placed to be national leaders in Australia’s response to climate change. As members know, electricity and transport are both under state jurisdiction. In 2018, those sectors together accounted for more than 50 per cent of emissions. It is time for the government to pass this much-needed legislation that the Greens have introduced into this house. Only then will we be able to start reducing emissions in a serious and systematic way.

I will put to bed some of the tired excuses that are put forward when we debate the issues of climate change. In particular, I would like to address the fallacy that the federal carbon pollution reduction scheme was somehow going to achieve anything of significance.

Hon Darren West interjected.

Hon ALISON XAMON: The member can be quiet and listen!

The 2009 federal CPRS is a good example of the sorts of unsatisfactory climate change reforms that Labor governments have tried introducing in the past. The CPRS was going to introduce measures that would have been ineffective at reducing emissions. It pursued an emissions reduction goal that was utterly negligible. The Rudd government was going to give billions of dollars in free permits to some of the biggest polluters, such as—unbelievably—the coal industry. The carbon pricing scheme would have locked in these subsidies for fossil fuel companies. The CPS would have cut the fuel excise; it would have muffled the price signal in the transport sector; it would have excluded several major emitting sectors from the scheme, such as agriculture and land use; and it would have given no incentive to industry to reduce emissions until well into this decade. At the time that it was proposed, it was not even the most cost-effective way to reduce emissions. A year later, the federal government, together with the Australian Greens, produced instead a far superior carbon pricing scheme that gave us the best chance we had ever had until that point to seriously reduce emissions. From the introduction of the carbon pricing scheme, until it was repealed, Australia was on track to reduce its emissions for the first and only time in our history. Since then, the federal government has been completely paralysed in the climate change space. We saw the spectacle when our Prime Minister brought into Parliament a chunk of coal, just to make it clear where his allegiances lie. In the absence of federal action, we need to act where we have the power to act, which is here and now in this chamber.

I fully expect that in reply the minister will stand up and point to all the things the government has done, as though somehow that will meet the targets that we know need to be met to address climate change. So far, the state government has introduced only a trickle of piecemeal measures to address climate change. It has announced a number of initiatives this year that will mean more conservation and more renewable energy, but when it is all put together, unfortunately it does not add up to very much. The government’s most recent measures will remove only a few million tonnes of greenhouse gas from the atmosphere over the next 25 years. To give members some idea of the figures, WA emitted more than 91 million tonnes of greenhouse gas in 2018–19. Only a few million tonnes will be removed, as opposed to the 91 million tonnes that were emitted even just last year. To put the size of the job at hand into context, by 2030 we need to be on track to reduce emissions by 45 per cent of the 2018 levels, which means that we need to halve our current emissions in under 10 years. That will require urgent and legislated action.

The government is introducing measures that will give renewables and battery storage technology to a few thousand more homes, which is great, but we need to transition the whole electricity grid to renewables by 2030. The recent announcement of $6 million for photovoltaic systems on 500 social housing properties is, of course, welcomed, and wildly overdue after the original pilot project ran in 2012–13. Another 42 000 social housing dwellings need this and we are also 15 000 homes short of what is needed simply to address the current housing waitlist during a homelessness crisis.

There have been a series of measures to expand conservation and revegetation efforts, but although changes in land use can sequester some carbon, such efforts alone will not be enough to reduce emissions. In 2017, about 10 megatonnes of carbon was removed from the atmosphere because of a change in land use in WA, yet in the same year the total annual greenhouse gas emissions from Western Australia’s five LNG facilities accounted for 32 megatonnes of emissions. Members, it is always one step forward but two steps back. Even when we consider all of Labor’s efforts to reduce emissions to date, these efforts are effectively being completely wiped out by rising emissions from the LNG industry.

We acknowledge the $22 million to accelerate WA’s renewable hydrogen industry, but we are comparing that investment with $10 million just for the LNG Futures Facility project. The recent extension of the state agreement with Woodside has locked us into 50 years of emissions–intensive gas production. As an aside, the agreement failed to legislate an emissions reduction plan. We combine that with the ongoing hype about WA being an LNG hub for the next several decades while our major LNG export markets continue to set themselves legislated emissions targets.

WA emissions have continued to rise under this government’s watch. WA was the only state in Australia to have an increase in carbon emissions from 2000 to 2016, and it was a substantial increase of 27 per cent. Over the last few years, a few other states have joined us on the wrong path, but WA emissions are increasing at the fastest rate. We increased our emissions by over 18 per cent in the three financial years between 2015–16 and 2018–19 and our share of Australia’s emissions by 21.1 per cent. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that if our current rate of emissions continues, we could be 1.5 degrees Celsius warmer by as early as 2030 and start seeing sustained periods of over 1.5 degrees warmer from 2024. Members, this is a crisis. While most other states in Australia have been making solid commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, WA is lagging far, far behind. On 28 August last year, at a time when every other state had committed to a net zero emissions target, this government announced its greenhouse gas emissions policy. The policy outlines an aspiration for the state to meet net zero emissions by 2050. I aspire to one day be five feet tall but that does not mean that I will necessarily get there; there needs to be a bit of a plan behind these things. The policy also supports proponents of major new projects or project expansions that emit significant emissions to develop greenhouse gas and management plans.

In a recent open letter to the Premier, more than 30 scientists and academics said that an aspiration is not good enough and that the government should support the bill before us today. The letter stated —

... the climate crisis requires more than an aspiration. It requires urgent and coordinated action across all levels of government. It requires legislated targets and a detailed plan for how those targets will be met.

As my colleague Hon Tim Clifford has pointed out, WA Labor once had a renewable energy policy, but, disgracefully, this was scrapped just before the 2017 election. The government has not taken emissions reduction or renewable energy targets seriously. At a time when governments around the world should have been rising to meet the challenge of climate change, the WA government has failed to take decisive action. Over the more than three years that Labor has held government, instead of introducing a comprehensive climate change policy, it has reopened the state to fracking, it has undermined the Environmental Protection Authority’s greenhouse gas emissions guidelines, it has refused to make big polluters accountable for their emissions, it has continued to support LNG, the primary source of WA’s rising emissions—it is no longer a transition fuel—it has delayed the implementation of the 2019 National Construction Code that mandates better efficiency standards, it has invested in another 900 diesel-powered public buses when we could be transitioning the Transwa bus fleet to electric vehicles, it has locked in another 50 years of emissions-intensive gas production by extending a state agreement with Woodside, it has continued to accept political donations from big polluters and it has not incentivised the electrical vehicle uptake. That is the actual record.

By failing to take action, the government is exacerbating the impacts and costs of climate change that we are already seeing and feeling here in WA. It is very real and it is very now. We are already seeing the impact of climate change with coastal erosion, droughts, decreased rainfall and water shortages. We are already seeing an increased intensity of cyclones and bushfires, and increasing temperature extremes.

In the WA government’s 2019–20 Annual Report on State Finances, no money was expressly allocated for directly impacting and mitigating the impacts of climate change. We are missing out on major development and job opportunities as well. The Conservation Council of Western Australia has collated research that shows that far more jobs are created in low-carbon industries than conventional or fossil fuel–based areas for each dollar invested. The government should not try to give me the jobs spin because if it does, it is just a load of rubbish.

We know that 85 per cent of Western Australians support stronger action on climate change. Setting hard legislated targets will not only signal that this Parliament takes its climate change responsibility seriously, but also create certainty for affected industries and companies that are looking to invest in renewable energy and clean technologies.

Last year, the EPA recognised that if the federal government will not take the steps needed, we in Western Australia must act. The EPA introduced the greenhouse gas emissions guidelines. I note that the government fell over itself to reassure the gas industry that it would never have to take any responsibility for the damage that it is doing to our climate and our future. It effectively forced the EPA to produce a watered-down version of these guidelines to have any hope that the government would accept recommendations from the EPA on greenhouse gases. The government missed yet another opportunity to properly address emissions with the introduction of the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill 2020 earlier this year. I spoke about that only this week. Although other jurisdictions have acknowledged the effect of emissions on climate change in their environmental protection laws, WA has not yet followed suit. In fact, there is not a single mention of climate change in the Environmental Protection Amendment Bill.

In 2017, Labor went to the state election promising to consider legislation that would support mandatory renewable energy targets. Good luck, because it is here, so it can do that now. It reaffirmed its support for the Paris Agreement and its commitment to keep the global temperature rise under one and a half degrees Celsius. Over three years have passed since then, but the government has done nothing serious about addressing climate change in that time. WA’s greenhouse gas emissions have done nothing but rise since then. Time is running out for governments around the world to take meaningful action to curtail the worst effects of climate change. As I said, we are already experiencing it. We are trying to do all we can to offset disaster.

The PRESIDENT: Order, members! I am finding it a little difficult to hear Hon Alison Xamon. Members may like to take their conversations outside.

Hon ALISON XAMON: Thank you, Madam President.

I note that earlier this year, tens of thousands of children involved in climate strikes recognised the urgency of our present moment in history. They are the people who will end up living with the true legacy of our failures. I think they showed an extraordinary level of gumption and initiative in demanding immediate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Frankly, I think they are putting the adults in governments around the world to shame.

WA’s emissions have soared more than 23 per cent above 2005 levels, largely due to increased LNG production. Emissions from WA LNG facilities currently make up 36 per cent of WA’s total annual emissions. If the proposed Woodside Burrup hub expansion is approved, opening up the Browse and Scarborough gas fields, emissions from WA’s current and proposed LNG facilities will account for 47 per cent of WA’s annual emissions and eight per cent of Australia’s total emissions. The WA LNG industry is directly and indirectly responsible for a total of 193.2 million tonnes of climate pollution every year, yet the LNG industry is still expanding under this government’s watch. What will this bill do in response to all that? The implementation of section 25 will mean that no new development or expansion or existing development will be allowed if it exceeded the emissions threshold. It is an important provision given the effects of LNG on WA and Australian emissions.

A climate change act for Western Australia is long overdue. The bill before us is a very good bill and it is worthy of serious consideration and support. It does not introduce half-measures but treats the climate change emergency with the seriousness that it deserves. I am not interested in hearing spin from this place about how great the carbon pollution reduction scheme was because it was not, which is why it was rejected. I am not interested in hearing about all the wonderful things that this government has done because while some of those initiatives are worthy, on their own they are wholly insufficient and do nothing to address the major causes of emissions.

Hon Darren West interjected.

Hon ALISON XAMON: I am sorry that in this chamber we have apologists for the gas industry. I am sorry that we have a government that simply refuses to take climate change seriously. We have to move beyond the spin if we are genuine about wanting to address this matter. If we are genuine about wanting to create jobs, this is the sort of future that we need to contemplate—one that tackles climate change and moves us to a renewable energy future. We do not have a choice; we have to deal with this. I commend Hon Tim Clifford for introducing this bill to the house, and I wholeheartedly support it.

Comments and speeches by various members

Debate adjourned, pursuant to standing orders.


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