Senator Statement - We can solve the extinction and climate crises

Australians love the great outdoors, from our beaches to our forests, rivers and wide open plains. We have some of the most unique flora and fauna on the planet. In Australia, nearly 50 percent of our birds, 87 percent of our mammals, and 93 percent of our flowering plants are unique to us. But much of it is under threat. 

Climate breakdown, land clearing, and invasive species are wreaking havoc on our natural environment. We're ranked fourth in the world for plant and animal extinctions. As well as holding the terrible record of being the only developed country listed as a deforestation hot spot. We have 517 animals, 1,373 plants and 85 distinct ecological communities listed as nationally threatened or extinct, and these numbers are trending in the wrong direction. 

Globally the UN tells us there are a million species under threat of extinction.

Their recent report warned that, 

“Nature is declining globally at rates unprecedented in human history – and the rate of species extinctions is accelerating.” 

The Chair of this UN body, Sir Robert Watson, says it’s not too late. 

“Through ‘transformative change’, nature can still be conserved, restored and used sustainably... By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganization across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

Sir David Attenborough put it slightly more succinctly when he recently said,

"We cannot be radical enough with dealing with these issues.”

But here in Australia we have a government riddled with climate deniers, intent on winding back climate action and blocking any meaningful reforms to; 

  • how we produce and consume energy, 
  • how we farm, 
  • how we get from place to place. 

All while they continue hiding and playing down our emissions data, which show our emissions are rising, not falling, as Minister Taylor would have you believe. They've allowed broad-scale land clearing to continue, destroying habitat. And they continue to leave our threatened species floundering. Delaying additions to the threatened species list, and cutting funding from an environment department already struggling to meet its obligations.

This is not the kind of ‘transformative change’ we need if we are to create a future we can recognise. The problems we face aren't just about losing species. What happens to the planet affects all of us. 

Many Australians care deeply about this and are taking action in their lives and homes to do better. From recycling, to water tanks, solar panels, battery storage, planting trees, and more, people are taking small actions to improve their environment. 

It’s not just individuals, businesses and community groups are grappling how to be responsible citizens in an age of climate breakdown. 

Just this week Andrew Mackenzie, Chief Executive of BHP, the world's largest mining company, endorsed a carbon price. But he knows this won’t go far enough. That’s why he’s committing hundreds of millions to curbing BHPs direct emissions. And the emissions generated from the use of their resources so the company can achieve net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century. 

When talking about how to deal with the climate crisis he said, 

“An ‘all of the above’ solution barely gets us there. All emitters, resource companies, customers, consumers must play their part together with governments to meet the climate challenge.”

And he’s right. If we are to solve the climate emergency we must take swift and meaningful action. 

We here, in this place, must act. Because some problems require political solutions. 

The climate and extinction crises we are currently facing require political solutions. We know they can be solved, but only if we have the political will to do so. 

If we are to halt and reverse the damage we're doing to our natural environment, we must take urgent steps. 

Our environment laws need updating. Currently, they don’t even account for climate change. For all the talk of Adani's approvals, drilling in the Bight, and widespread land clearing in Queensland and New South Wales, there is no mechanism in Australian law to consider their climate impacts.

That's why we need a climate trigger. 

Our environment laws have not kept up with environmental reality. Climate change is at the centre of the threats our environment faces today. 

While a price on carbon looks unlikely in the near future, we need something that will limit damage to the climate. A climate trigger would give us a mechanism to assess major developments, and approve or reject them based on their emissions. But reducing our carbon pollution won't be enough to save species already under threat. 

With our list of threatened species continuing to grow, it's well past time their recovery plans were fully funded. That's why we must, as a bare minimum, commit to the $200 million a year environment groups say is necessary to fund our threatened species recovery plans. 

We must stem the tide of extinction.

We are often criticised at this end of the Chamber for being ‘unrealistic,’ but we are not unrealistic. We continue to Hope. 

As Rebecca Solnit says,

“Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal. To hope is to give yourself to the future - and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable.”

As the mother of a 12 year old daughter, as an Aunt, a sister, a friend, I cannot sit by while we allow the future to be eroded by a lack of political action. Across the country Australians want the people here, in this place, to take meaningful action for their future. For the future of all of us. 

We can solve the extinction and climate crises. 

With enough of us working toward it, we can build the kind of future we want, NOT the kind of future we are on course for. 

As that great naturalist, David Attenborough said, 

“I feel an obligation. The only way you can get up in the morning is to believe that, actually, we can do something about it. And I suppose I think we can.”