Question Time: Climate Change, Tuesday December 6, 2023

The PRESIDENT: With the consent of the chamber, I intend to go back to Senator Babet. Senator Babet, I apologise—you were not on my list, and I understand Senator Van substituted you for his questions, so, my apologies. In future, if you think you are on the list just stand and draw it to my attention, because it seemed everyone knew except me.

Senator BABET (Victoria—United Australia Party Whip) (14:45): No issue there at all. My question is for the minister representing the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, Minister Wong. Your government recently lodged a defence in the Federal Court for a claim brought by some Australians from the Torres Strait that the government had breached its duty of care to protect them from that bogeyman, climate change. In your government’s defence lodged with the court, government lawyers stated that Australia contributes only a very small proportion of global emissions and that it was not reasonably foreseeable that anyone would suffer loss or damage regardless of any action or inaction taken by Australia on climate change. Minister, do you agree with the government’s defence that Australia cannot change the climate?

Senator WONG (14:46): What I believe is that climate change is affecting us and that climate change is real. I don’t disagree with your joke about it as a bogeyman, and I think that scientists have observed patterns of climate that demonstrate that we do have a serious problem. I also believe that no one country can solve it on its own. That has always been my position. That’s why Australia has always argued, certainly in the governments in which I have been involved, we for an international agreement which covered all major emitters and in which all countries participated, because no single country can solve it on its own.

So yes, Australia cannot solve climate change by ourselves but, equally, that should not be a reason for us to do nothing. If you don’t accept the science, and I understand you don’t—I think you are wrong, but I understand you don’t—we should do something if only for economic imperatives. We know 84 per cent of the global economy is moving to a ‘net zero emissions by 2050’ position. If we want our children and grandchildren to be able to thrive in a world where there is a premium for low-carbon goods and services and for clean energy then surely we want our country being able to export and produce those goods and services.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a first supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:47): Minister, Net Zero Australia recently found that moving to net zero would cost us around $7 trillion to $9 trillion—a large amount of money. If we can’t impact the climate of the globe, why are you supporting a policy that’s going to cost the average Aussie around $270,000? Why support this policy? It’s madness?

Senator WONG (14:48): I’m not sure what the modelling is to which you refer. What is important to emphasise is that, as I recall, both parties of government have committed to net zero by 2050—at least, that’s what those opposite did at some point. Secondly, this is about our economic prosperity as well as the need to do something about climate. I go back to the point I am making: if you accept that the world is moving to placing a premium on clean energy and on low carbon goods and services then, as one of the most emissions-intensive economies in the world, it is sensible economic policy for us to be able to do better in that world. That is what we are intending to do. We are intending to make sure that we can use the enormous clean energy resources we have for the benefit of all Australians.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Babet, a second supplementary?

Senator BABET (14:49): Minister, in your government’s defence on the climate case it said that every 7,000 gigatons of emissions would increase the temperature of the globe by only 0.63 degrees Celsius. On your numbers, even if Australia were to emit zero emissions from now to 2050, the temperature of the globe would change by just 0.000000768 degrees Celsius. Why are we imposing $270,000 on every Australian for, in effect, no impact on climate change? What about China? They are much bigger emitters than we are.

Senator WONG (14:49): I’ll go back to my primary answer first. Climate change can only be addressed and dealt with by all countries of the world responding. You ask: what about China? Of course the new installed capacity of China, as well as in many other countries, is a concern. It is a concern. That is why we need an international agreement of which we are part. That is why Paris, Glasgow and the UN Conference of the Parties to drive action by all countries is needed. That’s the first point.

The second point is, again, the economic imperative. We have done well as a country, and it has been a good thing that we have been able to utilise the fossil fuel resources that we have. But at some point we have to be able to make our way in the world, prosper in the world and export to the world clean energy and goods and services which are low carbon, because the world will pay high prices for them over the decades to come. So there is an economic imperative as well as a climate change imperative.