Today the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will publish a distressing finding. Global temperatures are set to pass the critical 1.5 degrees threshold by the early 2030s, an entire decade earlier than expected. Two hundred and thirty experts reviewed 14,000 scientific papers in the last three years to give us this sobering statistic. As an academic, as a medical scientist, I know the work that goes into reports like these. This is empirical science and it’s alarming.
The IPCC report will also find that human induced climate change was a major cause of the Black Summer bushfires that tore through my electorate, and many other electorates in this nation, 18 months ago. Just this week we’ve seen horrifying visions of wildfires engulfing towns across Greece, Turkey and Italy. California continues to burn, just like Canada did last month. It’s hard for my communities to look at that footage. The emergency sirens are still ringing in our ears, and—it hurts me to say this—it’s almost certain that those sirens will be ringing in our ears again. Temperatures in North East Victoria have already shot up one degree. They will go up another 2.4 degrees by 2050. That means double the number of extreme heat days and a 44 per cent increase in extreme fire danger days. The climate change crisis is well and truly here.
The United Nations ranks Australia last out of nearly 200 countries when it comes to actions to reduce emissions. That’s right: dead, motherless last. We’ve had our strongest diplomatic allies, like the UK and the US, begging Australia to step up and join them in their ambition. The EU carbon tariff is happening, whether the trade minister likes it or not, and the US will be next. And still the government bury their head in the tar sands. The International Energy Agency wants us to halt immediately any new coal, oil and gas projects. Instead, the government pump $50 million in taxpayer subsidies to frack the Beetaloo Basin, and they do that without any consent from the traditional owners. Our precious Great Barrier Reef is dying too. When UNESCO moved to label it as ‘in danger’ last month, the environment minister jumped on a jumbo jet to lobby oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to block the decision. I was shocked to see ministers of this government call that a win. As the head of the UNESCO marine program said, ‘It doesn’t matter what we’re calling it on paper, the facts are the facts; the science is the science.’
COP26 in Glasgow is only months away. Our Prime Minister must seize the moment in Glasgow to turn this nation’s appalling record on climate around. This is a moment for courage, for leadership, but the only place we’ve seen real proposals for action on climate in this parliament is right here on the crossbench. There is hope if the moment is seized—proposals like the member for Warringah’s net zero 2050 bill, which I was proud to second, or proposals like the local power plant, which I introduced, which charts an ambitious path for renewables in regional Australia. But, while the crossbench comes with solutions, this government presents excuses—and young people are wearing the costs of this reckless inaction, and my heart goes out to them.
Young people right now are spending some of the best years of their lives restricted by COVID. They’re staring down the barrel of recession and endless debt, and now we’re handing over a world to them which is quite literally burning. The mental health toll of this is immense. In the past, climate debates were fought on clear fault lines— scientists versus sceptics, industrialists versus ecologists, young versus old. Well, you’d be hard pressed to find these divisions in Indi; we have one of the highest median ages in Australia, yet our older folk are in lock step with our youth on climate. Farmers and businesses stand with our youth. Young people like Charlie Paterson, Lachie Sands, Cheyane Vaughan and Jessica Patterson—school captains and vice-captains from Benalla— marched in Benalla, side-by-side with people of all ages. Declan Rafferty, from Yea, is leading an Indi youth advisory panel to advise me on issues like climate change. I will fight for young people like these any day of the week, any hour of the day. I promised to do it in my first speech; I promised to do it every day I am here. I am resolute, and I know other people in Indi stand beside me too. I will keep fighting for courage and hope and leadership.