24 February 2020

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Whitlam) (18:59): It's my great pleasure to speak on the Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2019-2020 and the Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2019-2020. I want to respond to some of the things that occurred immediately prior to me coming to the despatch box. I think it's incumbent upon all Right-thinking people in this place to call out some of the behaviour that we've seen in this debate here today.

I think most people in this parliament find it absolutely abhorrent that one of us can come into this place and use it as a place to amplify absolute ignorance, and yet time and time again we see the member for Hughes doing exactly that. I don't find it extraordinary that, from time to time, democracy provides to us in this place a representative who sometimes has views that are outside those within the mainstream. What I do find extraordinary is that he finds comfort within those who form the government parties.

If we are to accept the central argument of the member for Hughes and those who provide him comfort and who suck up, we are somehow required to believe that there is some grand conspiracy that is held by every single mainstream scientist in this country and in every other country around the world. Somehow there is some grand conspiracy that is hoodwinking centrist politicians, educators and policymakers. Somehow this thing that we all know to be true—that our climate is changing around us as a result of human activity—is a massive conspiracy, and people like the member for Hughes are the only people who are willing to stand up and rail against. If it is such a massive conspiracy, if we are all wrong, why is it that every mainstream conservative government around the world has accepted the fact that climate change is real and that we have to do something about it? Every mainstream conservative government around the world except perhaps for this one!

I'm not surprised, given the fact that the Prime Minister thought that it was appropriate to bring a lump of coal into parliament—as somehow agitating a political point. I'm not surprised, given everything that has been in the tenor of Australian political debate around this most divisive issue, that the member for Hughes finds some comfort within the Liberal Party and within the coalition parties around these wacky ideas. But I am surprised that there haven't been more members it his own party—in fact, the majority of members of his own party—who stand up against it.

I know that there are good people on the other side who accept the science and are willing to stand up. I see in the chamber the member for Bennelong, who gave an excellent speech a week or so ago in this place. I hope I do not quote him incorrectly. He made the observation that the bushfires were not the result of climate change but 'they were climate change'—a comment that I had to agree with. I remember the member for North Sydney making the observation that it is our responsibility as a country to reach the objective of zero net emissions by 2050. It is not an extraordinary observation, I have to say, given that every premier—whether they be Liberal, whether they be Labor, whether they be LNP—have made the not-so-extraordinary commitment to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

We haven't pulled this figure from out of the air. We have said that if we are going to sign an international agreement called the Paris Agreement, which has the objective of ensuring that as a globe we do not exceed temperature rises of two per cent on preindustrial levels, then we have to change the way we are living and we have to make some changes to the way we are organising our economy. If we are to meet that objective by 2050, then we have to meet the objective of zero net emissions by 2050.

This is a simple proposition which was recognised by every single government, including our own, that signed up to the Paris treaty. It was a fact that was recognised by every single one of those state premiers—Liberal, Labor, LNP, conservative, not so conservative—who signed up to that target. It was on the basis that, if we are going to reach the objective of seeing our global temperatures not exceed two degrees of warming by 2050, then we've got a job of work to do.

A sensible person who signs an agreement says, 'We could do all the work in the last five years, or we could make some gradual changes between now and then.' But, in the absurd madness that this place has become, where simple propositions become the stuff of a political football—where a simple scientific fact, a simple economic fact, cannot stand at face value but becomes weaponised in the absurd political debate that has occupied this place since 2010—somehow we cannot accept that basic fact. It's alright if you stand in Macquarie Street, Liberal or Labor, and say, 'We will reach zero net emissions by 2050.' It's alright if you stand in Spring Street and say, 'Zero net emissions by 2050,' but somehow if you stand here in Canberra and say the same thing then that is a grand heresy; that is something that is absolutely reckless.

I beg you: is that where we've come to? Is that where this place has come to?—that we cannot accept a basic scientific fact, a basic economic fact and say, 'What have we got to do to put our shoulder to the wheel and reach that objective?' Frankly, whenever I leave this place, whether it's the end of this term or in several more terms—that's in the hands of my electors—I will not be able to look those people in the face and I will not be able to look my own kids in the face and say, 'I did not do everything within my power as a legislator to ensure that we put our country on the right path.' The most reckless thing that we can do, the worst thing we can do, using this place as a platform to amplify utter ignorance, is to send the message: 'No change; nothing is necessary.' That's not leadership. That's not what we're sent to this place to do. That is an absolute abrogation of our responsibility as politicians, as legislators, as members of this august institution.

We have an obligation to shine the light, to give an example to the people we represent and to guide them to the future. Imagine if we were to take ourselves back 30 years, prior to the invention of the personal computer, and we were to enter a class where a group of young women were learning to type. I use this example because I sat in such a class, as the only bloke in a class full of young women learning how to type. Knowing what we know today, if we were to say to that group of young women, 'The path to a great future, to a secure future, for you is that you move your typing speed from 20 words a minute to 120 words a minute,' would that be leadership to that group of women, to that group of students? If we knew for a fact that in a few years time these things called personal computers were going to be invented, and the whole idea of stenography and typing pools would be abolished, and we stood in front of that class and said, 'Class, the way to a bright future for you is to up your typing speed', that would be absolute recklessness. That would be an abrogation of our responsibility to that group. We'd say to them, 'The way to a bright future is not learning how to type a letter but learning how to write one.' It is exactly the same thing that we as legislators are doing. If we are saying to the people that we represent, 'You need do nothing more than we are doing today. Change nothing, because the world is going to be the same,' then we are abrogating our responsibility to the future; we are abrogating our responsibility to our children.

When I see people like the member for Hughes coming into this place time and time again and using this important institution, our great parliament, as a forum to magnify and amplify his ignorance and his bizarre conspiracy theories that somehow the fine public servants who serve all sides of parliament, the people who work for the Bureau of Meteorology, the people who work throughout the rest of our Public Service and every other scientist who advises government, are somehow involved in some bizarre conspiracy—it is an absolute insult, and it is incumbent upon each and every one of us to call it out as lunacy. He is not one of us. I call him out today. I know there are plenty of good people on that side of the House who know for a fact that what I am saying is true. If we are going to take this debate forward, if we are going to take this country forward, we have got to be able to overcome that sort of madness. I call on every member of this place to do your part to ensure that we give absolutely no comfort to people who peddle that sort of ignorance.