Wayne Swan - Winning the Battle Against the Climate Deniers










In times of crises, it’s usually the Labor Party the Australian people trust to protect the national interest. 

One thinks of John Curtin and Ben Chifley in World War Two, Gough Whitlam during the great modernisation of the 1970s, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating during the Asian century, and Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard during the Global Financial Crisis. 

Today the national interest must be protected from the twin problems of climate change and rising levels of inequality – both of which are being simultaneously fuelled and denied by the political right.

Delegates, sometimes it’s too easy to look back at our past with misty romanticism – yes we should be proud of our past achievements, but we have to be proud of the solutions we put forward for the future.

We have always taken climate change seriously.  Our Clean Energy Package of 2011 was world leading and now we do it again with a target of net zero emissions by 2050.

Delegates, we know that the hard right is on the march.  Why is this?

Too many people in our societies are fearful of the future.

They feel the game is rigged. 

That their hard work won’t provide the future they and their children deserve as they know that climate change is a looming problem.

Delegates, we haven’t yet won the climate change debate, but history and science is on our side.

Our great Leaders have always known that nothing is predetermined.  The new Swedish Social Democratic Prime Minister said it better than anyone when he remarked last year that history is full of examples of where it is possible to reverse political trends and to redefine agendas.

We can win this climate debate.

We need to show our generation has the answers to the great challenges. 

Delegates, we can reshape the future.

Our first answer must be a progressive climate policy.

The world needs a climate transition. 

That’s a fact. 

We can show how a fair transition can be achieved.

Last year speaking to the Queensland conference I said that one day climate politics would experience a horrific September 11 moment – a moment when the horror comes so close no one can look away and action becomes imperative, where the politically impossible becomes common place.

No one could have predicted last summer even though climate models have for years.

The truth is it won’t just be one event like September 11.  Our black summer fires are not an end, not the beginning of the end but just the end of the beginning of a massive economic, social and environmental dislocation facing the planet!

As we’ve seen, climate denial has become the right’s cause celebre.

Literally the hill they have chosen politically to die on.

Delegate this is to be the fight of our generation and we will beat them on that hill.

That’s why Labor’s recent commitment to zero net emissions by 2050 is so important, but again, only as a start to the hard political and policy work ahead.

We pursue it because the alternative is environmental extinction and economic implosion.  The costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of action.

Australian Labor has a historic opportunity to show how a fair transition can be achieved.  One that doesn’t leave working people fearful of the future, but confident they fit into a world that is decarbonising rapidly, and that their elected politicians are talking straight to them, and have solutions, not just slogans.

This requires nothing short of an industrial revolution. 

As Ross Garnaut has pointed out we have to rediscover our zest for innovation and re-industrialisation.  Fortunately, we are one of the few developed countries with access to the most bountiful store of renewable resources on the planet.

We can successfully achieve a rapid transition.

Winning the battle for net zero emissions in 2050 is going to take pragmatic policy and ruthless organisation.

As Tony Maher has observed, those of us who accept the science of climate change, support blue-collar jobs, and are seeking a way forward to reduce emissions across the economy have had no help from the right or the extreme left.  Proposals that talk about shutting down the export coal industry instead of focussing on the hard and tough policy which includes reducing emissions across the whole of our economy are entirely counter-productive.

Over the next 20 years there will be a dramatic reduction in coal production delivered by the market, and we will see coal-fired power generation provide less and less of our electricity.  But the notion put forward by some green groups that we could phase out coal fired power by 2030 is impossible and a recipe for blackouts and the further erosion of public support for strong economy-wide action on emissions reduction.

In short we have to do what the Germans have done – we need to offer a roadmap for our domestic coal powered industry which manages its decline.  There must be a strong dialogue between government, industry, and the unions, and operate on the principle that “no one gets left behind”.  We have to work closely with coal-dependent regions and put in a plan so that everyone gets a good future.

Economy-wide we have to recognise a path to zero emissions is expensive but not impossible.  Australia has more rich renewable energy resources per person than any other country on earth which creates an opportunity for renewable energy to be produced more cheaply in Australia than any other country.  This will vastly expand opportunities for Australian mining to supply inputs to processes and products which are used in low-emissions energy, as well as boosting manufacturing industry more broadly.

Do delegates, where is the debate?

Morrison is a “predatory centrist” on climate.  He styles himself as a centrist between the extremes of climate emergencies and denialism, but he has no intention of driving meaningful emission reductions.

He just wants to use climate as a wedge against Labor with working people as he continues his trickle down agenda of tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulation of the powerful and wage suppression for workers.

Friends, last year we lost Graham Freudenberg, author of Gough’s It’s Time Speech - and a great historian.

He said to me the greatest speech he ever wrote was actually for Arthur Calwell denouncing participation in the Vietnam War, without denouncing the American Alliance.

It was about speaking the truth about the war, but keeping the Party together.

Labor’s stance was initially unpopular, but by 1969 it was vindicated. 

Delegates, like on Vietnam, on climate change, Labor is on the right side of history.

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