What Australia’s Prime Minister should do about climate change

In February 2020 I attended the National Climate Emergency Summit in Melbourne. It was INCREDIBLE to be in a room of people who accepted the science of climate change and were doing something about it.

One of the most powerful sessions was Peter Garrett’s list of what a national leader committed to a viable future by responding to the climate crisis could actually do. It was a clarion call for what we need, what we could do, what the future could look like, what the transition to a sustainable economy would look like. It’s not that hard. We can do it. We just need real leaders who can face the uncomfortable truth, deal with scientific facts and act with moral and ethical integrity.

You can read Peter’s full speech here, but below is the plan he proposed for an Australian Prime Minister which evoked goosebumps of possibility and hope to every cell in my body. I’m archiving this list here so that I can keep coming back to it to remind me of what we should be working towards, advocating and voting for:

“Here’s a scenario. He/she walls into the House of Representatives and moves that Parliament:

  • Accepts the best scientific advice that to hold temperature increases in check to around 1.5 degrees and avert an increasingly dangerous climate crisis we must act immediately to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Recognizes that Australia is particularly vulnerable to climate chaos, caused by consistently hot weather nationwide, as evidenced recently by the largest, most destructive bushfires in living memory;
  • Understands that any delay imposes incalculable costs and greatly increases the risks to national security and the stability of our immediate region equivalent to war in terms of impacts;
  • Acknowledges that real action has been left to the eleventh hour, and that the unjust burden of repairing this negligence will increasingly fall upon the young;
  • Recommends to the House a joint sitting of the Parliament to declare a climate emergency, and approve plans to enable the Commonwealth government, working in partnership with state and local governments, large and small business, unions, farmers and the community, to deal with the crisis immediately.

What follows?

  • A super department aligned to Treasury, similar to the Department of Post War Reconstruction headed up by Nugget Coombes in 1946, is formed with the specific task of implementing the transition.
  • A stand-alone ‘War’ Cabinet committee chaired weekly by the PM, charged with the responsibility of overseeing the new plan, ensuring Australia meets new ambitious emission reduction goals.
  • The Australian Defence Forces and the Army Reserve must be geared up to play a greater role, given climate chaos will put significant pressure on domestic infrastructure and emergency services, as well as the unpredictable ways it will reshape geopolitics in our region, including growing numbers of climate refugees.
  • The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) should be directed to ensure planning, investment and infrastructure decisions are aimed at smoothing the transition to zero emissions and managing climate chaos.
  • At a time of record low interest rates the government should issue long-term climate bonds to boost investment in new zero emission industries, and enact sensible tax reform measures targeted at unsustainable activities and free riders.
  • The economy should be stimulated by a massive public works scheme to build resilience to extreme climate, including the provision of large scale tree planting and vegetation management to draw down carbon already in the atmosphere, rehabilitating degraded waterways and landscapes, involving farmers and regional communities, with substantial participation by First Nation’s peoples.
  • A rapid transition out of coal, with an immediate moratorium on future coal, oil and gas developments, whilst increasing the target for renewables – the most successful measure for reducing emissions we’ve had so far – is essential.
  • A special transitions fund, with a minister responsible, for displaced workers to provide support, retraining opportunities and adjustment would be established.
  • Above all there should be a targeted price on carbon to enable a faster reduction in greenhouse pollution, with the revenue used to compensate those unduly affected, stimulate clean technologies and strengthen our physical and industrial infrastructure for the consequences of wild weather that’s coming. Before the Gillard government’s scheme was bought down by a climate denying former Prime Minister – and let the record show it was Tony Abbot who destroyed the scheme – it actually worked. Emissions came down for the first time in years, and the sky didn’t fall in.

This is where future growth will be. New jobs are already being created in so many areas. Grey water specialists, builders expert in fire protection, manufacturers of new battery technologies, developers of solar farms.

These new jobs already exist. More will come.

So there is a positive future which is also kind to the planet.

And with leadership of people who care about the Great Barrier Reef, care about the fate of the world and the future of their children it will be realized.

People from all quarters; school students, senior citizens, in sports clubs, homes, farms, factories and boardrooms.

All of us naming the climate crisis a real emergency, demanding our leaders respond, ensuring this great challenge can be met and a safe future won.

But as the mega fires of 2020 showed us, there is no time to waste.”

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