The Australian Greens enter the 47th parliament with their biggest ever parliamentary caucus: 12 Senators and four members of the House of Representatives (HoR). Arguably, the 16 Greens MPs alongside the seven teal independents and long-standing independent Andrew Wilkie represent a mood for climate action after decades of climate denialism.
However, Labor launched a ferocious campaign in the weeks leading up to the first sitting day of parliament to pressure the Greens to capitulate to its inadequate 43% carbon emissions cut by 2030 contained in the Climate Change Bill 2022.
The Greens made clear they wanted stronger climate action, arguing that Labor’s climate target was inadequate and its support for new coal, gas and oil projects was counter-intuitive. Rebuffing Labor’s pathetic attempt to cast them as climate villains, the Greens offered to negotiate changes.
The Greens eventually decided to support Labor’s bill, subject to getting agreement for several key amendments including: making the 43% cut by 2030 a “floor” not a “ceiling” which can be ratcheted up over time, ensuring a future Coalition government cannot reverse the target; making it harder for Export Finance Australia, Infrastructure Australia and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund to fund new coal and gas; strengthening the Climate Change Authority which has to review and advise on climate targets and policy; and agreeing to consider Greens proposals to support coal and gas workers and their communities.
Labor then teamed up with the Liberals to vote against Greens’ amendments to raise the target to 75% by 2030, to reach net zero by 2035 and to stop new coal and gas mines.
The bill easily passed the HoR on August 4. Tasmanian Liberal MP Bridget Archer, crossed the floor to support it while the climate-denying MPs were isolated. Liberal leader Peter Dutton then promised a new climate plan, which will include nuclear energy.
The new Green MPs have made a number of symbolic breaks with the past.
Djab Wurrung Gunnai Gunditjmara woman, Senator Lidia Thorpe, referred to the “colonising” Queen Elizabeth in her oath of allegiance. Greens Senator David Shoebridge and Independent Senator David Pocock attempted to have Auslan interpreters present during their first speeches, but Labor and the Coalition prevented this.
But they have also used their first speeches to outline their progressive views or, as Greens leader Adam Bandt told the Press Club, to be the “social democratic alternative”.
Shoebridge used his first speech to blast the Labor and Liberal parties’ allegiance to billionaires arguing that every billionaire needed to instead be seen as “a policy failure” that “needed to be taxed”. He also called for “ecocide” to be made a new crime.
When new Greens MP for Griffith Max Chandler-Mather asked a question about social housing, Nationals MP Pat Conaghan objected because he was not wearing a tie. Chandler-Mather said the “tie thing was pretty funny”, but he was more “frustrated” the PM avoided answering the question.
Rupert Murdoch’s Courier Mail accurately summed up Chandler-Mather’ first speech as a “full-throated attack” on the political establishment.
He began by paying tribute to generations of First Nations warriors, organisers and leaders who have fought against colonisation. He then accused MPs who claim to support First Nations people but refuse to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody of “hypocrisy”.
He railed at the influence mining magnates have over MPs, saying: “It is abundantly clear to me that billionaires and big corporations run parliament.”
He said it is a disgrace that 3 million people live in poverty, while Australia’s richest 200 have more than half a trillion dollars of stolen wealth.
One of the “worst things” about politics, he said, is “the way it works to make some of the greatest injustices and outrages seem perfectly normal … Like a sedative it dulls the senses and it relies on a certain logic … best exemplified [by] … climate change”.
“The consequences of two degrees or more of global warming are so devastating it’s actually quite hard to explain.” The recent devastating bushfires, floods, heatwaves, droughts and storms are “really are only a small preview” of what’s to come if stronger action on the climate is not taken.
“The idea that the moderate position on climate change is ‘Use public money to expand coal and gas mining and drive global warming beyond two degrees’ only makes sense when you consider that the power holders in parliament are coal and gas corporations, not everyday people.
“It's like standing in front of a burning house and declaring that the moderate position is ‘We only put the fire out in one room while we send someone out back with a can of petrol to pour fuel on the fire’...
“The political system is so completely disconnected from the lives of everyday people. In fact, spending only a week in this place has been a stark lesson in how so much of the pomp, ceremony and rules of this place work to deepen and reinforce that disconnection.”
[Read Chandler-Mather’s inaugural speech here. Get to the Sydney emergency climate rally on Sunday August 7.]