Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) Bill 2020 and Climate Change (National Framework for Adaptation and Mitigation) (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2020

Nathalie’s Opening Statement

Thank you Mr Chair and other members of the committee for the invitation to speak today. While I was invited here to represent Wingecarribee Net Zero Emissions (WinZero for short), I also come before you to share my personal perspective as a parent of two young children, living in regional NSW – it’s here that I’d like to start, or rather, on the fourth of January, 2020. Because that night plays a huge role in why Iam so supportive of these Bills.

That night, I sat with my husband on the floor of our bedroom ready to evacuate. Our 3 month old, Sam, and 3 year-old Oscar lay on a mattress beside us – we were all huddled into the one room with the air purifier on high while our house was enveloped in lung-burning smoke, and ash and embers were beginning to float down. 

The worst bushfires we’ve ever seen were tearing up through the Morton National Park, and hitting the villages to the South of us, only weeks after the Green Wattle Creek Fire had levelled villages and taken lives to the North of us. I have never been so scared for my family. And I can’t even bear to think how those who were in an even more precarious and tragic position would have felt.

By that time, Sam had been stuck inside avoiding the heat and smoke most of his very young life, and little did we know that much of the first year of his life would continue in the same way – inside, away from his community and extended family, thanks to the arrival of COVID as the bushfires were finally extinguished. 

This is not the life I want for my children. And more to the point – this doesn’t have to be their normal. Our children deserve to enjoy nature as we all did. They deserve to be able to look forward to Summer, not have to hide inside from it; they deserve to have a chance at living a normal life, and unless we keep temperature increases to 2 degrees or less, they won’t get this chance. They also deserve to know that the people we elect to represent them will act in their interests – and act to ensure that the many risks posed by climate change are taken seriously and responded to based on the best evidence available, not what is politically convenient.

I don’t use those words lightly. 

I use them to stress that policy discussions are not abstract affairs. They may take place in rooms like these, but they have consequences and effects that reach far beyond these walls. This is one policy discussion that has taken far too long, and is already having a devastating effect: on my family, in my community, and on thousands of others like us. Enough is enough. 

Across the Southern Highlands, the impact of last year’s bushfires was severe – and continues to be felt today. Over 5000 businesses – most of them small; 150 working farms; 60 homes and infrastructure were impacted – and most tragically of all, two young father’s lives were lost.

It was in the shadow of these events that WinZero was formed – in February after the Wingecarribee Shire Council joined almost 100 other local councils across Australia in declaring a climate emergency. We are a coalition of 12 community groups across the political spectrum that together represent thousands of people from across the Southern Highlands of NSW. 

Our goal is to support the Council and the local community to achieve net zero emissions as quickly as possible, and in so doing ensure our region thrives as a result of this inevitable economic transition. For while regional Australia has immense potential to prosper from decarbonisation, it also stands to lose – and is already suffering – from the lack of adequate policy on climate, and an organised, planned transition for our people and communities. 

WinZero supports these Bills in full. Simply put, their adoption is common sense. And – given the rapid shift to adopt net-zero targets in most of Australia’s trading partners – the fact that they don’t already enjoy bipartisan support shows us how far we are from where we need to be. While WinZero feels we should be far more ambitious, we accept that this legislation is an important step, and would finally put Australia in step with other countries and businesses around the world who have set targets that are aligned with science. And we would hope that an independent advisory commission would not only hold government to account, but would mean an end to over a decade of policy uncertainty and playing politics with our futures.

Report after report, whether from the Grattan Institute, The Blueprint Institute, Beyond Zero Emissions shows us just how much we stand to gain – for Australia and for regional communities – if we just lift our ambition. There are so many opportunities there for the taking. Excitingly, Moss Vale in the Southern Highlands will soon be home to a new Electric Bus manufacturing plant. This is thanks to private backing, Council support and the town’s convenient position halfway between Sydney and Canberra – It’s projected to bring 2000, much needed jobs to our shire. Just how many more stories like this would we hear about if we had an endgame in mind and policy certainty? 

Regions like ours could attract more investment, and more of the good, low-carbon jobs of the future that are booming around the world. Regenerative agriculture and shoring up our food security, eco-tourism, localised energy innovation – these opportunities are at our fingertips, and they could reinvigorate our communities, give our young people a reason to stay in the regions, and of course, ensure that our kids can enjoy the beautiful natural surrounds that are such a big part of why my family and I live where we do.

But to seize these opportunities we need a plan. And the first step to having a plan is legislation that supports it and keeps it on track. 

So in closing, I thank you Mr Chair and the rest of the committee for your time – and I urge you to support these Bills – for the future of our beautiful regions, and the future for our families.

Nathalie Swainston