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Question Time: School Strike For Climate

My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Cormann. Your government has relentlessly attacked students striking for climate action. The Prime Minister said kids should go to school. The Deputy Prime Minister denounced anything that would disrupt schools. Even you, Minister Cormann, said that during school time kids should be in school. But because your government's inaction on the climate crisis has made natural disasters more frequent and intense, the bushfires disrupted the education of tens of thousands of students this summer. On just one day in November, my home state of New South Wales saw more than 600 schools shut down. Will you acknowledge that your criminal inaction on climate emergency is the real disruption to students?

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia—Minister for Finance and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:19): I thank Senator Faruqi for that question. Let me confirm for Senator Faruqi that the government, and every single Liberal and National senator, are firmly of the view that children should attend school during school time—firmly of that view. That has been our view, it remains our view and it will be our view in the future. Let me also say that our government is absolutely committed to effective action on climate change. What we are not proposing to do is to harm Australian families, to harm young people in Australia and their future prospects, by forcing them to accept sacrifices which will make the global environment worse off. Shifting their jobs and economic activity from Australia to other parts of the world by imposing burdens that will actually lead to higher pollution levels in other parts of the world is not in the best interests of the Australian people and it's not in the best interests of schoolchildren around Australia, who rely on us to have opportunities in the future. So we will continue to do the right thing by pursuing a policy agenda that is environmentally effective and economically responsible.

We know that that is not your view. We know that you have a more extreme view and that you are quite happy to harm the future opportunities of Australian families in order to make yourself feel better domestically, even though emissions globally would be higher as a result of your actions. That is not something that we will ever do.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a supplementary question.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:21): When the Prime Minister said that the worst thing he could impose on any child was needless anxiety, he ignored students' fears about their future under a climate-denying government. Their fears were realised as the fires forced students from their classrooms and their homes. Will you now admit that students' climate anxiety is real, and won't go away until there is strong action on the climate emergency?

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia—Minister for Finance and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:21): Let me just say that I think the Australian Greens have a lot to answer for when it comes to unnecessary anxieties among young people. What we are committed to do is to do the right thing by the environment in a way that is economically responsible and in a way that is responsible in consideration of the future opportunities that young people across Australia are going to rely on.

We will continue to take effective action on climate change. Our emissions reduction target, on a per capita basis, is amongst the highest in the world. We are proposing to reduce emissions by 50 per cent on a per capita basis. And by two-thirds we are proposing to reduce emissions on an emissions intensity unit per GDP basis. It is one of the most ambitious targets all around the world. But of course, the Greens are sitting there shaking their heads. We'll just have to agree to disagree. We will continue to go to the Australian people and say: 'We are committed to effective action on climate change. We are committed to an environmental policy agenda that is environmentally effective but economically responsible.' You want to do it the other way— (Time expired)

The PRESIDENT: Senator Faruqi, a final supplementary question.

Senator FARUQI (New South Wales) (14:22): The Liberals and Nationals have spent more time criticising brave children working for a better future than they have fixing their disastrous pro-coal climate policies that have us hurtling towards three degrees of warming. Will you now apologise to the climate strike students, who are doing more than your government to fight the climate crisis?

Senator CORMANN (Western Australia—Minister for Finance and Vice-President of the Executive Council) (14:23): I don't quite know how not attending school helps to reduce emissions, I've got to tell you! Let me also tell you something else: like Senator Sheldon, I was very much of the view that the Labor-Green carbon tax was actually making things worse and was not something that should be supported. Now, of course, we know that there is an opportunity for a bipartisan energy policy and a bipartisan climate policy in the future, because we are looking forward to working with the Otis Group in the Labor Party to ensure that there is a sensible economic policy for Australia where we have environmentally effective and economically responsible policies moving forward. It is great to see that those people in the Labor Party who wanted to harm Australian families through the Labor-Greens carbon tax are losing influence, and that Senator Farrell is taking charge.

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