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Tuesday, 14 February 2017
Page: 819


Senator WHISH-WILSON (Tasmania) (16:42): The most common question that I have heard when speaking to people in recent weeks is: why? Why would the Treasurer of this country stand up in question time holding a piece of coal and laugh about it, jeering the Labor Party—the opposition—saying, 'This is coal; it cannot hurt you.' Why are we even having this debate today in this place? Why, when this country suffered record heatwaves and extreme weather events that are literally off the charts? The Antarctic ice shelf is in collapse, why? That is the question, the most important question when nearly the entire world and most of our society in Australia accept that the big challenges of our time are tackling inequality and climate change. Why is the political class in this country the only people who do not get it?

Senator Ian Macdonald: You people have been telling lies about it.

Senator WHISH-WILSON: I know why you do not get it, Senator Macdonald. You are thick as two short planks and you have been here too long. That is why you do not get it. Let me tell you, you do not represent the average Australian. Why? I will tell you why. It is politics pure and simple. One of my favourite Australian authors, David Gregory Roberts, in his book Shantaram, said:

The only thing more ruthless and cynical than the business of big politics—

And we are in the business of big politics.

is the politics of big business.

And that is what this is about: the politics of big business—the donors to the Liberal Party, the coal industry.

In case you missed it, the head of Glencore Australia today piped up making comments about our energy mix. This is big coal, big dirty fossil fuel companies reaching their hands into policy. That is why the Prime Minister has gone weak at the knees. That is why he has done a complete backflip on this. That is why we are having to fight a rearguard action to protect future generations. That is why the carbon price was ruthlessly and cynically ripped up by your government, Senator Macdonald, through you, Acting Deputy President Marshall: because of politics, because of what is good for the Liberal Party. That is what this is all about. This is not about what is good for the Australian people or for future generations of Australians or the thousands of bats that died of heat stroke in the recent heatwave—those awful riveting images that we have all seen. Those animals cannot run for parliament, sign petitions or go to protests. They need us to do something about this. This is not just an anthropocentric problem; this is much bigger than that, and we should never forget that.

Senator Milne was going to leave an amazing legacy when she left this place, to be part of a leadership team that implemented the most important action against climate change of any country in the world. The day the carbon price got voted down, and there was ring-a-ring-a-roses and the Liberal Party were all giving themselves pats on the back, I saw how upset she was and followed her outside the chamber. It was a very emotional time for me, because I could see she was very upset. Her last work in parliament had just been torn up thanks to Tony Abbott's ruthless and cynical approach to getting votes. But she did say to me: 'Peter, I think we've already won. It's too late to turn back the tide of renewable energy. Too many people want it. It's too successful. I think we've already won.' What you are seeing from this weak Prime Minister and the self-interested Liberal Party is a rearguard action, but it is failing because the Australian people—in fact, the world—are turning their back on dirty energy and are trying to take action on climate change, and we have to play catch-up in this place. We have to put in place new policies that accelerate that and actually make a meaningful contribution to emissions reduction.