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It’s pronounced ‘climate targét’

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the state of the environment.
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When parliament returns next week, Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party will sit on the government benches for the first time.

It’s a significant test for what has changed since the election. Albanese has already made clear that the agenda will be focused on legislating his climate targets. If he fails, it will be a blow to his credibility.

Today, columnist for The Saturday Paper Paul Bongiorno on the state of the environment.

Guest: Columnist for The Saturday Paper, Paul Bongiorno.

Read Transcript

[Theme music starts]

##RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*.

When parliament returns next week, Anthony Albanese’s Labor Party will sit on the government benches for the first time.

It’s a significant test for what has changed since the election. Albanese has already made clear that the agenda will be focused on legislating his climate targets.

If he fails, it will be a significant blow to his credibility.

Today, columnist for *The Saturday Paper* Paul Bongiorno on the state of the environment - literally and politically.

It’s Friday July 22. 

[Theme music ends]

##RUBY:

Paul, this week the government released the State of the Environment report. And this report, it's a big deal in what it contains: the news that it has about the state of our nation's parks and oceans and animal habitat. But there's also something interesting about the timing of the release. Let's start with what it actually said, though. Can you tell me about it?

##Archival tape -- Press Club MC

“Please welcome Tanya Plibersek.” 

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek

“Well, thank you so much, Jane…”

##PAUL:

Well, that's right, Ruby. On Tuesday, the new Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek released the report at the National Press Club.

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek

“We deserve to know that Australia has lost more mammal species to extinction than any other continent-... Places literally burned into endangerment-... Australia cleared over 7.7 million hectares of threatened species habitat across the country. That's an area bigger than Tasmania…”

##PAUL:

She was scathing on the condition Australia's environment was left in by the last government. And the report provided her plenty of ammunition for that.

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek

“Since the last report, marine heatwaves have caused mass coral bleaching-...As a result of erosion, deforestation, intensive agriculture and climate change, Australia's soil is now generally in poor condition and it's getting worse… Abandoned fishing gear has been killing marine animals on an industrial scale-...”

##PAUL:

Plibersek promised to overhaul environmental laws to better protect ecosystems.

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek 

“Our government will set a goal of protecting 30% of our land and 30% of our oceans by 2030-... We will spend $1.2 billion to restore and repair the Great Barrier Reef. We'll spend about a quarter of $1,000,000,000 on threatened species-... We'll explore the creation of new national parks and marine protected areas, including by pursuing the East Antarctic Marine Park…”

##PAUL:

These reports are released every five years and this one for the first time shows climate change. While it's not only a factor. It is undeniably a major one.

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek

“Global warming multiplies environmental pressures everywhere. It heats our oceans. It deepens droughts, it intensifies disease, it destroys habitats, and it worsens extreme weather events which tilt the balance of ecosystems beyond recognition…”

##PAUL:

The scientific panel responsible for the latest health check on the nation's habitats conclusively showed that climate change is no longer a future threat, but a present and frightening reality.

##Archival tape -- Tanya Plibersek 

“Australia's environment is bad and getting worse, as this report shows, and much of the destruction outlined in the State of the Environment report will take years to turn around. Nevertheless, I am optimistic about the steps that we can take over the next three years…”

##PAUL:

Now, when I say the report was released, Ruby, on Tuesday, I should say belatedly released. This is the 2021 report. But it was so dire, the previous government refused to release it.

##RUBY:

Right. So they've had it since last year, but they just didn't want to tell us?

##PAUL:

Yeah, that's right. Then Environment Minister Susan Ley was given it in December, and few doubt Scott Morrison told her to sit on it because of the looming election. 

The last thing the Coalition government needed was a damning indictment of its dereliction of environmental management in the past five years of its rule. 

Ley is now deputy opposition leader, but she was nowhere to be seen on the day of the release. National media outlets were told she was travelling and unavailable. 

##Archival tape -- Karen Andrews

“Well the advice that has come through from Susan Ley who was the former environment minister is that at all times she complied with the requirements for releasing documents…”

##PAUL:

Her colleague Karen Andrews told ABC TV that Ley had acted within the law by choosing not to release the document before the election. 

##Archival tape -- Karen Andrews

“What I would say about the speech by minister Plibersek today is that I was staggered that the first fifteen minutes, quite frankly, was really just her paying out on the former government, which I thought was just a little bit poor form for a National Press Club speech…”

##PAUL:

You know, this might be true, but it hardly makes a credible explanation for withholding it.

##RUBY:

Hmm. And this report, it sort of set the scene, didn't it, for the week ahead, because next week is the first sitting week for the parliament since the election, and it's going to be the first time that we'll see Albanese's Labor Party on the Government Benches.

##PAUL:

Well, yes, indeed. The full impact of the change of government eight weeks ago will be clear on Tuesday when the new Parliament sits for the first time and it'll be an acid test for the Albanese Government, one it has largely set for itself in terms of raising standards and making a contentious emissions reduction bill its first paramount legislation. And despite claiming it doesn't need the Parliament to commit to its 43% reduction goal by 2030, it's invested too much time and energy to brook an easy defeat. In fact, I would say if it can't steer the bill through the parliament, it will suffer a stunning blow to its credibility.

##RUBY:

Right. So the Albanese Government is essentially making this legislation its first parliamentary test then. So what are the chances then for the bill? Will it just go through? Is this an easy win?

##PAUL:

Well, it'll go through the Lower house where the government has a slim majority, but in the upper house it's no sure thing. The Coalition has made itself basically irrelevant in this argument. Peter Dutton has unilaterally declared they won't be supporting Labor's target 

##PAUL:

So this leads to what will certainly be tense negotiations between Labor and a cross-bench made up of 12 Greens and three of the six independents. And Ruby, it's far from clear how that will break.

##RUBY:

We'll be back in a moment.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

##RUBY:

Paul, we’re talking about Labor's hope of legislating its climate targets next week and in the Senate it has to negotiate with the cross-bench if it wants to get those targets through and that's going to involve talking with the Greens. So how is that looking?

##PAUL:

Well, the Greens are still working this out themselves. The new 16 member Greens party room 12 senators and four MPs. Well, they held a retreat at Mount Tamborine in Queensland this week, but no final position was arrived at, though they have authorised Adam Bandt and the leadership to begin negotiations. 

And Ruby, like all party rooms, there was a range of views from the hardline to the pragmatic. I have to say Adam Bandt is leveraging his party's balance of power position for all it's worth. He's indicated support for the 43 percent target, but only if the government is prepared to show more ambition on ratcheting it up. And key to that seems to be the demand for no new coal and gas projects.

##Archival tape -- Adam Bandt

“If the government leaves that open and says that they will allow new coal and gas projects to be continued to be opened, then we don't see how they're serious about climate action and we don't see how it's consistent with even their weak targets…”

##PAUL:

And more coal and gas flies in the face of the scientific consensus on the need to dramatically reduce global emissions within the next decade.

##Archival tape -- Adam Bandt

“Part of the Greens job is to try and push them and say if we are in a climate emergency, which we are and the government has just agreed to this week in an emergency you don't make the problem worse. You don't put the fire out while you're pouring petrol on it…”

##PAUL:

Last Sunday, Bandt was calling for the abolition of the diesel fuel rebate for coal miners like Gina Rinehart and Clive Palmer and for the billions then to be put to subsidise more renewables.

##Archival tape -- Adam Bandt

“They're the issues that we want to put on the table. We'll put them on the table in a good faith way, but there has to be an end to the approach of ‘It's my way or the highway’ otherwise it's going to be a very long three years…”

##PAUL:

He accuses Prime Minister Anthony Albanese of adopting a my way or the highway approach.

##RUBY:

Hmm. And is that fair, do you think, Paul, is that what Albanese is saying? Is the approach here hardline?

##PAUL:

Well, Albanese has offered a pretty hard line on this. All through the campaign he was at pains to say he wasn't going to have the Greens set his policy. But maybe it's worth noting that Climate Change Minister Chris Bowen has now adopted a more conciliatory approach.

##Archival tape -- Chris Bowen
 
“We're proceeding, as we said, we would proceed, which is to seek to legislate and I've said that we would talk to the cross-bench about sensible suggestions they have, which are in keeping with our mandate…”

##PAUL:

On Monday, he said he understood the Greens had to go through their party processes, but he was looking forward to a detailed conversation with Bandt.

##Archival tape -- Chris Bowen

“But we will work cooperatively with the cross-bench about how we do that and that's what we've been doing…”

##PAUL:

And there's an important point to note here. Bowen says the bill implements the Paris framework, which has a built in ratcheting mechanism. The bill obliges a government to accept the target advice of what will be a beefed up climate change authority. And as such, the legislation is, by design, a floor and not a ceiling. So I have to say that should address some of the Greens’ concerns. Certainly it's a more positive starting point.

##RUBY:

But not their major concern, Paul, which as you say, is the development of new coal and gas projects. But let's move on. What about the independents? Because they are a crucial part of the Senate as well. So do we know how they're going to be voting?

##PAUL:

Well, Chris Bowen has already had a number of conversations with the independents. Labor's very keen to show them respect, fully aware their success is an insurance policy for the next election. He's appealing to the new senators like David Pocock, but also Jacqui Lambie and her new sidekick. And in this schmoozing, Bowen has an ally in the leader of the House, Tony Burke. He's also had conversations with the independents and is ensuring standing orders will acknowledge their greater presence. Burke will organise the first fortnight of Parliament in a way that will enable the new independents to give their formal first speeches ahead of the emissions target debate. Otherwise, given there are 35 new members from all sides, they could have been waiting for months.

##RUBY:
Hmm. And you said, Paul, that the coalition had made themselves irrelevant, really, in terms of this climate legislation, because they're saying that they're not going to support Labor's targets. But can you tell me a bit more about how they're positioning themselves on this before we go into Parliament next week?

##PAUL:

Well, Peter Dutton has ruled out any changes to the Coalition's environment policy. 

##Archival tape -- Peter Dutton 

“Or I'm making it very clear to the Labor Party now that we aren't supporting the legislation, which is the position that we took to the Australian people…”

##PAUL:

It's as if he hasn't noticed that he lost the election in large part because of the climate change issue. He should just ask a few of the teal about that. The other point is that this week the shadow assistant minister for climate change no less, Holly Hughes. Well, she boldly said on national television that climate change is not an Australian Problem…

##Archival tape -- Hollie Hughes 

“Climate change is not Australia’s problem, it’s not a regional problem…” 

##PAUL:

She ran the specious argument that Australia can't do much about it because we only have 1.3% of the global emissions. It's breathtaking sophistry really. 

But I have to say there'll be a barney when the Coalition party room meets next week because not all Liberals agree with this position. And you have to also remember that the people that have a huge say in all of this and will continue to do that are the coal champions in the National Party.

##RUBY:

Hmm. Well, it's certain to be an interesting week in politics next week, Paul.

##PAUL:

Ruby. That could be something of an understatement. It's going to be a fascinating fortnight when the Parliament comes back and they battle out this crucial policy that's been largely ignored or underplayed for the past ten years.

##RUBY:

Paul, thank you so much for your time.

##PAUL:

Thank you, Ruby. Bye.

[ADVERTISEMENT]

[Theme music Starts]

##RUBY:

Also in the news today,

The Conservative Party in the UK has selected two candidates in the ballot to replace Boris Johnson as Britain’s Prime Minister. Rishi Sunak – the former Chancellor of the Exchequer – and Liz Truss – the Foreign Secretary – will campaign for the votes of rank-and-file Conservative Party members over the next six weeks, with the result to be announced in early September.

And the inquiry investigating former NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro’s appointment to a lucrative government role in New York has heard evidence that Barilaro pushed for the position to be established and for the appointments process to be based on ministerial selection.

Another staffer revealed that Barilaro said the role, which has a yearly salary of half a million dollars, was, quote, “the job for when I get the fuck out of this place”.

Barilaro has responded to the revelations, calling them “fictitious”.

*7am* is a daily show from *The Monthly* and *The Saturday Paper*. It’s produced by Elle Marsh, Kara Jensen-Mackinnon, Alex Tighe and Alex Gow.

Our technical producer is Atticus Bastow.

Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Scott Mitchell. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. 

Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio. 

And sadly we’re saying goodbye to one of our producers this week, Elle Marsh - thanks for everything you’ve done for the show, and all the best with what comes next.

I’m Ruby Jones, this is *7am*. See you next week.

[Theme music Ends]

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