The rejection of Independent MP Zali Steggall's climate action legislation by a Government-dominated parliamentary committee shows how far out of touch the Government is with most Australians' views on climate action.
Polling routinely shows the majority of Australians support climate action: for example, a recent Essential Report shows support ranging from 62% to 81% in support of a range of propositions including preventing new coal mining, zero-carbon targets and developing green industry.
The House Committee on Environment and Energy handed down its advisory report on the two Bills in June, following an enquiry. Our submission to this enquiry was one of 2040, again demonstrating the level of interest in the community.
Unfortunately the majority did not recommend that the two Bills pass or be put to Parliament.
The two Labor members provided a dissenting report, in which they expressed disagreement with the legislation, but noted that they had provided alternative recommendations to Ted O’Brien, the Chair of the Committee, which were not accepted by the Coalition members. These included “sensible further steps like a full assessment of the costs of climate impacts across sectors and that the Bills be allowed to be debated in Parliament”.
Labor members abstained from a seventh alternative recommendation which called for the Bills under consideration to be passed, doing so on the basis that the Bills shouldn’t be prejudged together but rather should be debated in Parliament and subject to the usual scrutiny by individual members and party processes.
The coalition's approach to the Bills is deeply regrettable.
Meanwhile, Labor's failure to support a Bill which may actually make a meaningful mitigation and adaptation impact makes a mockery of its claim to support real action on climate change. It is presumably attributable to Labor’s internal divisions and concern over Queensland and regional seats in the next election.
Liberals Bridget Archer and Trent Zimmerman wrote a separate report concurring with the majority that the Bill should not be passed. Their objection was that the “fundamental limitation of this [the Bill’s] approach is that it builds in the potential for conflict between governments elected with mandates and accountability to voters for particular approaches to climate change and an unelected Commission which operates separately from these considerations”. Plainly the existence of advisory bodies with statutory roles for advising the minister in relation to emissions reduction policies, targets, research etc in no way operates to remove the government from accountability to parliament or voters. Nothing in the Bill does so, again suggesting a desire to be seen as supporting climate action without doing so in reality.
Zali Steggall’s dissenting report is worth reading and cites our submission in three key areas:
- P96 - 'Not just a complementary policy, the NSW Council [for] Civil Liberties thought that this kind of national framework law was also vital to coordinate action: A comprehensive framework law is an essential tool to coordinate and advance climate action with respect to both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and climate resilience… A good climate law contains statutory targets, assigns clear duties and responsibilities and provides clarity about the long-term direction of travel.'
- P102 - 'Following the IPCC report, international consensus has quickly grown around the need to meet net zero by 2050. The NSW Council [for] Civil Liberties discussed the trend in its submission: There are now legislated emissions targets of net-zero emissions by 2050 in New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, France and Hungary, among other states. Canada has recently introduced a net zero by 2050 Bill to its Federal Parliament. Australia is increasingly lagging behind other developed states in this regard.'
- P113 - Refuting Zimmerman and Archer’s argument: 'As did the NSW Council [for] Civil Liberties which said: The Bill does not dictate any climate policy to the government. As framework legislation, it recognises that the executive may require flexibility and choice in formulating and implementing climate policy. Yet, the Bill represents the elected Parliament’s intention to only permit the development of reasonable, science-based climate policy and decision-making.'
Why the NSWCCL focus on climate?
The NSWCCL was founded in 1963 with the aim of protecting the civil liberties and human rights of those in NSW and across Australia. Until 2019, we were not involved in climate activism at all, as this seemed a largely distinct question of science, ecology, engineering and economics.
Yet, in 2019, our Annual General Meeting recognised that climate change poses an increasing risk to the enjoyment of human rights and civil liberties of Australians. We have consistently strived to hold draconian, ill-informed or negligent lawmakers to account. In our view, Australia’s lawmakers are exhibiting a gross negligence in failing to confront the substantial and increasing risks posed by anthropogenic climate change.
Moreover, climate change is a vital human rights and civil liberties issue. In a general sense, a healthy and functional climate is an essential prerequisite to the enjoyment of all human rights and civil liberties. Climate change is already having profound effects on human life – from increased incidence of extreme weather events to sea level rises – which endanger human rights today. A Joint Declaration of UN Human Rights Treaty bodies recently stated that “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. Failure to act on climate change violates key human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory.
- Read our submission
- Read our statement: NSWCCL welcomes introduction of Climate Change Bill 2020