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Zali Steggall’s climate breaker

Feb 17, 2020 • 13m 02s

How a British model to end climate dysfunction is being introduced in parliament and could work here.

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Zali Steggall’s climate breaker

164 • Feb 17, 2020

Zali Steggall’s climate breaker

[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

From Schwartz Media, I'm Ruby Jones. This is 7am.

In Britain, a special advisory body has taken the politics out of climate change. As a result, a conservative parliament has endorsed a net zero emissions goal.

In Australia, a new bill proposes we set up the same system here. Today, Paddy Manning on whether Zali Steggall's approach could end the climate wars.

[Theme music ends]

RUBY:

Paddy, over the past decade, debate in Australia on climate change policy has become increasingly bitter and we haven’t seen much progress. But how has the rest of the world been responding?

PADDY:

Well, the country that's the most interesting counterpoint for Australia is the UK, where the government for a decade, despite a very robust political environment in which they've debated Brexit, obviously, for the last three years, all consuming, highly partisan...

RUBY:

Paddy Manning is contributing politics editor with The Monthly.

PADDY:

Nevertheless, they have managed to sustain a bipartisan consensus in the UK for more than a decade on aggressive action to stop climate change.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:

“Now we must apply the same resolve and urgency to the climate crisis that faces us. We cannot afford to fail. If we fail now, we will pay a heavy price.”

PADDY:

And they’ve done that through what's called the Climate Change Act, which was passed in 2008 under the Labor Prime Minister, Gordon Brown.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:

“The Ayes to the right, 463. The Nos to the left, 3.

The ayes have it.”

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #2:

“The first ever climate change act, that’s the Britain we’ve been building together. That’s the change we choose.”

PADDY:

And has survived since, you know, the Tories got in in 2010, has now survived for 12 years. So despite all of the, in the middle of last year, the rancor of the Brexit debate, the parliament almost unanimously passed an agreement that they would ratchet up their ambition and target net zero emissions by 2050.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

“Well I believe that we have a moral duty to leave this world in a better condition than what we inherited, and that’s why today we’re announcing that we will be ending our contribution to climate change by 2050 and legislating for a net zero emissions target.”

PADDY:

And that's remarkable.

RUBY:

What does the Act actually do? How does it work?

PADDY:

What it does, Ruby, is it sets up a long range goal and then it sets up a five yearly carbon budget, which is set across the economy by a climate change commission, which is a group of independent experts who report back to the government and through the government to the parliament on how each industry will achieve the necessary emissions cuts to make sure that the UK remains on track.

So it's not enough to simply say we will have net zero emissions by 2050 and then not propose a credible pathway to get there. And the UK Climate Change Act solves that problem.

RUBY:

And so this kind of bi-partisan approach that the UK has adopted, is that happening anywhere else?

PADDY:

Yes. There's ten countries around the world now that have got a UK style climate change act, including comparable nations like New Zealand and Canada and Germany who have all followed the UK in introducing just this overarching framework of legislating emissions cuts and then making sure that there's a credible pathway to get there by having these rolling five year carbon budgets.

RUBY:

Okay. And so there's a push to have the same thing here?

PADDY:

Yes. So Zali Stegall, the member for Waringah, flagged last year that this would be her major focus in her term in parliament.

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

“Waringah, we have a new beginning for our environment. I will be a climate leader for you.”

PADDY:

After beating Tony Abbott in the May 2019 federal election, she has got perhaps only one term in parliament. So she's conscious that this might be her one chance and she wants to make the major focus of her term in parliament this legislation.

I went up to say Zali in her Waringah office.

Archival Tape -- Paddy Manning:

“Okay, I’m going to pop this on now, Zali…Do you have the ghost of Tony around you all the time? 25 years he was in this building.

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

[Laughing]
“No. I don’t know how much time he spent in the building…”

PADDY:

She told me in fact that she has done surveys of her local constituents and they have reaffirmed that climate action is a top priority for the voters of Warringah.

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

““What are you doing about climate change?” We do always have to say we haven’t been able to fix it in the hundred days since I've been elected. But the key is trying to put forth a solution.”

PADDY:

And so she's going ahead, pressing ahead with this climate change, national framework for adaptation and action bill, which she plans to introduce towards the end of March.

RUBY:

And can you tell me a bit more about the bill?

PADDY:

Yep. So the bill is almost a direct copy of the UK framework. And what it proposes is a UK style legislated long range emissions reduction target and then the same rolling five year carbon budgets, sector by sector in the economy, to make sure that there is a credible pathway to achieve that long range goal.

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

“We at the moment, have just this overwhelming focus on just the energy plan. But it needs to be across all sectors, because it needs to be focused on adaptation as well as action.”

PADDY:

And those budgets would be set by an independent expert body called the Climate Change Commission. And the Climate Change Commission would then report back to the parliament annually on how each industry was going in meeting its carbon budget, whether there needed to be any update to the targets.

So this is an overarching framework to make sure that Australia gets on a path to emissions reduction and stays there.

RUBY:

We’ll be back in a moment.

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RUBY:

Paddy, we're talking about Zali Stegall’s proposal for an independent body to advise the parliaments on climate targets, much like the one that's already operating in the UK. How could a bill like that pass here?

PADDY:

A little bit like the same sex marriage debate, Zali is hoping that the government will allow a conscience vote.

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

“This is an issue that I feel strongly should not be partisan. There are certain issues that need to transcend that, and I believe that this is one of them. So, I will be pushing for that, for a conscience vote...”

PADDY:

So that those moderate members of the, particularly of the Liberal Party, who have signalled that they do support climate action, might be able to vote freely in favour of this framework.

And there are a number of members of the parliamentary friends of Climate Action from the Liberal Party. So there's around half a dozen, including Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein in Melbourne, who styles himself as a modern liberal and is one of the leading moderates in the Liberal Party.

Archival Tape -- Tim Wilson:

“I believe in environmental stewardship, and handing the next generation an environment that is as healthy as the one that I inherited.”

PADDY:

And Trent Zimmerman up in North Sydney.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Woman #1:

“Are you hearing from your electorate that people want more urgent action on climate change?”

Archival Tape -- Trent Zimmerman:

“That would be an understatement.”

PADDY:

You know, Zali Stegall’s neighbor, Jason Falinski in Mackellar, the you know seat right next to hers. There are quite a few, if you scratch beneath the surface, there are quite a few Liberal Party MPs who do want climate action.

Archival Tape -- Jason Falinski:

“This is an issue I feel very strongly about and I do think that Australia must play its role in the global effort to address climate change and the bushfires...

PADDY:

So there is new impetus, including on the conservative side of politics, for some kind of increased response to climate change.

RUBY:

And I mean, obviously, Zali Steggell is an independent. She's just one MP. And given how divisive climate politics has also been for the Liberal Party, what do you think the chances of something like this actually getting through are?

PADDY:

Look, you'd have to rate the chances of, you know, Zali getting any support from the Liberal Party or from the coalition government as being very low.

But Zali's gambit here is not that the Liberal Party has got a huge appetite for climate action, but that the public will force the government into action on climate change.

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Protester:

“I’m here today because we, us kids, need to lead on climate change, because the adults are failing.”

PADDY:

And given everything that's just happened over summer...

Archival Tape -- Unidentified Man #1:

“Our friends' houses were burnt to the ground 300 metres away from our house…”

PADDY:

...You would have to say it's not tenable for the government to just stonewall on this issue any longer. And there is a new level of concern. And it would be amazing if the government was simply to ignore it.

RUBY:

And is there a precedent for independents to be able to push their own bills through?

PADDY:

Well, yes. For example, the former member for Indi, Cathy McGowan, was able to introduce into the House of Representatives a bill for a National Integrity Commission, which then, even though it was a private member's bill, was picked up by the government. And although it will be amended and although there's a lot of water to go under the bridge, there is a precedent for a private member's bill to be picked up by the government, debated, and potentially passed. And that's what Zali Stegall is hoping might happen here.

RUBY:

Paddy, thank you so much for your time today.

PADDY:

Oh, no problem. Thank you.

Archival Tape -- Paddy Manning:

“Brilliant, thank you.”

Archival Tape -- Zali Stegall:

“Thank you, Paddy. When is this…?”

Archival Tape -- Paddy Manning:

“Well I’ll write this up for The Monthly today, which is not today, I won’t do it today, but I’ll do it this week.”

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[Theme music starts]

RUBY:

Also in the news:

China’s President Xi Jin Ping has published the text of a speech delivered to Communist party officials earlier this month in an attempt to deflect concerns the Chinese government did not act early enough to contain the coronavirus outbreak.
In the speech, President Xi claims he ordered party officials to do what they could to control the outbreak on January 7, two weeks before he warned about the virus publicly. The defensive speech has already been criticised for highlighting the fact that the Chinese government was aware of the risks of the virus before it spoke publicly about it.

And Nationals leader Michael McCormack has rejected reports over the weekend that he is preparing to hand the leadership of the party to his new deputy, David Littleproud.
McCormack, who fended off a leadership challenge from Barnaby Joyce earlier this month, said he intended to remain leader of the Nationals through to the next election.
McCormack also rejected calls from some Liberal MPs to adopt a net-zero emissions target by 2050.

This is 7am, I’m Ruby Jones. See you tomorrow.

[Theme music ends]

There is a successful model to de-politicise climate change. It works in Britain, and a private member’s bill says it could work here. Paddy Manning on independent MP Zali Steggall’s proposal to end the climate wars.

Guest: Paddy Manning, contributing editor (politics) at The Monthly.

Background reading:

Warringah warrior in The Monthly
The Saturday Paper
The Monthly

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7am is hosted by Ruby Jones. The show is produced by Ruby Schwartz, Atticus Bastow, Elle Marsh and Michelle Macklem. Brian Campeau mixes the show. Our editor is Osman Faruqi. Erik Jensen is our editor-in-chief. Our theme music is by Ned Beckley and Josh Hogan of Envelope Audio.

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164: Zali Steggall’s climate breaker