in service of the
A Class Action on Climate
An Open letter to the Minister for the Environment
The Honourable Sussan Ley
Minister for the Environment
I do hope you and the citizens of Farrer are managing as well as most to adapt to the changes Covid 19 has thrust upon us all and that the farming community in particular is looking forward in hope to the future.
Having now been a member of parliament for 18 years you are exhibiting more resilience as a politician than most!
I suspect you do not remember our first meeting in the early 2000’s. I do, because I was impressed by your open candidness, which I have frequently quoted. You said: “almost all parliamentarians enter the house with high ideals and with a burning desire to make the world a better place, but after only one term, returning to power at the next election becomes the sole agenda”.
The coalition has been in power for most of your 18 years in the parliament. During those years, the Coalition has appointed some extraordinary people in the environment portfolio. Extraordinary, not because of far reaching and imaginative policies for the protection of the environment, and a sustainable world for future generations, but because of gross negligence. I frequently corresponded with Greg Hunt while he held the Environment portfolio. To this day I still have no real idea why he was so obdurate on climate policy given his knowledge and intelligence. He opposed and ultimately brought down a version of the very scheme he had earlier promoted, namely making polluters pay for their pollution – a carbon tax. Sure, he had to answer to the monarch of climate deniers, Tony Abbott, but holding this position he should have felt obligated to enact that which he knew would deliver a genuine and much needed break through. I can only assume that power and ambition were more important than right policy. The less said about Melissa Price the better, I cannot think of a single initiative taken on her watch which furthered environmental responsibility and sustainability. On the other hand, I can think of several decisions which furthered the interests of the mining industry at the expense of the environment.
The sorry tale of neglect, of favouring ‘science’ funded by the mining industry, of championing the cause of wealthy mining magnates, of kowtowing to George W Bush on climate and other policies, of allowing the voices of Cory Bernardi and Craig Kelly to represent the government and its policies, of allowing Rupert Murdoch not simply to report news but influence policy, and much more, is forensically outlined in Marion Wilkinson’s recently released - The Carbon Club.
Now, you sit in this somewhat weakened chair, responsibility for energy and climate change having been taken by Angus Taylor. Because of these years of irresponsibility and neglect, you and the government face a class action brought by a group of teenagers concerned that, at best, the government is not doing enough to protect their future lives in face of global warming, and at worst is enacting policies which combined with other activities in Australia and overseas knowingly sabotage that future. As the current Minister for the Environment and while not personally the target, you must respond. You cannot ignore the case they bring. With a clear conscience you must be able to say you are doing all in your power to safeguard their future. This is your solemn obligation as a parliamentarian. Given past performance by your side of politics and given favour that continues to be shown to the fossil fuel industry, you have an uphill journey ahead of you to be able to do this
How you and the government respond to this class action will be far more than symbolic. Will you simply be dismissive, patronisingly telling the youngsters that their future will be made more secure if they simply go back to the classroom, a tack the Prime Minister has previously taken – to his shame. Will you try to argue that one more coal mine will not make any difference, after all Australia is responsible for a tiny fraction of global emissions? Will you be more concerned to placate the climate deniers in the right wing of your party than care for the future of the nation’s young? Will you go along with Angus Taylor’s well-known capacity to fudge figures and say Australia is already doing all it should and more than most?
You know better than I that the National Farmers Association has joined with many other groups throughout the nation to insist that Australia reach carbon neutrality by 2050. My understanding of the science tells me that the target, as bold as it sounds, is not strong enough. But let us assume it is a politically achievable path, opening or expanding another coal mine is not going to achieve it.
In your maiden speech to parliament in 2002 you spoke of the need to balance good farming practice with environmental responsibility and of your perception, at the time, that rural Australia was bearing more than its fair share of the burden. Most farmers are environmentalists at heart, desiring to leave their properties in a more sustainable state, because of the farming practice they have adopted. The farmers that I know are the first to admit that some past practices need to change in light of better agronomy and a changing climate. But all to often pitting the rural community against the city is a false dichotomy.
The debacle in the NSW parliament this last week, instigated by John Barilaro of the National Party, falsely pits the rural community against the city. In their opposition to the “Koala policy” the Nationals are being thoroughly deceitful. They are not supporting rural Australia but supporting those who no longer wish to be farmers but want to cash in by selling their properties to developers.
I realise you Liberals disdain many of the actions taken by your National Party colleagues, but the truth is that in order to stay in power you have accommodated their position on climate.
I and thousands of others will be cheering on these youngsters and their class action. A stand taken because of a wasted decade by your side of politics. Why not be both gracious and courageous. Gracious in acknowledging the youngster have a fair argument to make and courageous in going to the next election with a policy to bring Australia’s economy to a carbon neutral position before 2050. In doing so we will rebuild Australian industry and competitiveness and provide a clear plan for the youngsters, post Covid 19.
Bishop George Browning PhD DLitt
 The Carbon Club Marian Wilkinson Allen & Unwin, $32.99