Independent federal MP Zali Steggall looks set to resume her bid to hold the Morrison government to account on climate change, setting a November date for the tabling of legislation that proposes to set a national policy framework based on a bipartisan target of net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Climate Change Bill, which Steggall had planned to present to parliament as a Private Member’s Bill on March 23, was put on indefinite hold at the beginning of that month when the scale of the Covid-19 pandemic started to become clear.
But the Independent member for Warringah in NSW said on Thursday that it was time to renew the push for a “sensible and bipartisan” policy approach to climate action in Australia, as the nation started to emerge from a Coronavirus-induced recession.
In a presentation kicking off day two of the Smart Energy Council’s 2020 virtual Smart Energy Conference and Exhibition, Steggall said she would table the legislation in November, the same month that the COP26 UN climate talks – postponed due to Covid-19 – were due to be held in Glasgow.
“I will be presenting it in November, which ironically, or appropriately, is when we should have been in Glasgow for COP 26, updating our commitments under the Paris agreement,” Stegall told the webinar.
“The Climate Change Bill is, I would argue, a really sensible piece of legislation, because what it will do is lock in our long-term goal of getting to net-zero by 2050.
“Government ministers are still routinely talking about only aiming at net-zero in the second half of the Century. Now we know that will not keep us under 2°C or anywhere near the Paris goals.”
Stegall noted, again, that the Bill, which is being co-sponsored by fellow independents Rebekah Sharkie, Helen Haines and Andrew Wilkie, is largely based on the UK Climate Change Act – a highly successful bipartisan policy that stands in stark contrast to Australia’s ongoing “climate wars.”
“When you look at the UK, they were able to do this in a bipartisan way and … even through all the disruption of Brexit, stay focused on the long-term goal of keeping the UK safe and secure and future-proofed in this way.
“Just last week, the UK business minister Alok Sharma, said the recovery was a chance for all of us to build back better; to put green jobs and green growth at the heart of the economy. So the UK is very focused on that goal and I urge the Australian government to do the same.”
Like the UK Act, the Climate Bill would focus on maximising investment in clean technologies and developing industries and assisting regional areas to adapt and transition away from fossil fuel-based jobs to cleaner jobs, Steggall said.
“It locks in a net-zero goal and it locks in … five-year emission reduction budgets so that we can get there, so we can take away our emission reduction from the cycle of politics and partisan politics where the two major parties go at each other … And we take it outside of the all too frequent cycle of political elections and actually lock it in as sound policy.”
The new date for the proposed legislation comes as the federal opposition ramps up pressure on the Morrison government to get behind an economic recovery that embraces clean energy and to abandon its push for a ‘gas-led’ recovery.
“I said before, our nation’s long-term future lies in renewable energy sources,” Labor leader Anthony Albanese said at an event in Coffs Harbour on Wednesday.
“In coming decades, we must position our nation to be a major player in the clean energy industries that continue to grow in importance over time. Indeed, if we get the policies right, we can transform our nation into a renewable energy superpower.”
Steggall, too, skewered the Morrison government’s post-Covid focus on gas. “So we have to be very clear, when the government talks about a gas-led recovery, they are not prioritising jobs by doing that,” she said.
Steggall and Co’s Bill would also call for the establishment of an independent Climate Change Commission – along the lines of the Labor Gillard government’s Climate Change Authority, which was gutted by successive Coalition governments and stacked with ex-Coalitioin MPs.
“It is clear [from the pandemic] that independent expert advice is to the benefit of all Australians. So the [Climate Change Commission] is a really important feature that we absolutely need to put in,” she said.
Finally, however, Steggall stressed the key role that voters would have to play to get the Climate Bill through a notoriously unreceptive parliament.
“Politicians, and especially backbenchers, talk a big game at elections and they make promises about believing in climate change and wanting things to happen. But I have seen, personally, in Canberra, sitting there on that crossbench, they simply do not exercise their vote. They follow the party line.
“A moderate progressive that says they will do things and then votes the same way as a Craig Kelly … is useless,” she said. “So I really urge everyone to engage with this. You have to engage with and put pressure on your MPs to represent your views and really do something about it.”