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Speech: Climate crisis & colonialism

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Leader of the Government in the Senate representing the Prime Minister (Senator Birmingham) to a question without notice asked by Senator Faruqi today relating to climate change.

The climate crisis looms large in the landscape of global inequality. Those who have contributed least to the warming of the planet, amongst the poorest communities on earth, will experience the worst of the climate catastrophe. Today 15 Pacific islander leaders published an open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia. They describe their homelands and cultures as facing 'certain devastation' from climate change. They call on Australia to honour its international climate commitments and take urgent action to combat the climate crisis. Also today, former president of Kiribati Anote Tong has written to The Sydney Morning Herald. He says:

Without radical climate action … deadly disasters will become more frequent and more severe …

Kiribati will become uninhabitable, and there will be a 'wider global apocalyptic disaster'. He calls for serious action on climate, including moratoriums on coal and gas.

Amongst their calls are for new and additional funds for the Australian foreign aid budget to finance climate change mitigation and adaptation. Climate justice must be central to Australia's foreign aid program. The Global North, including Australia, is responsible for the overwhelming majority of excess carbon emissions causing the climate crisis. The relentless pursuit of profit and power by wealthy colonial countries and multinational corporations has put the world on track for a global temperature rise of at least 3.4 degrees Celsius by the end of the century.

The climate crisis and global poverty are the results of colonialism, structural inequalities and grossly unfair trade and debt systems. These systems can't be fixed. These systems have to be torn down. That also means totally reconfiguring the way we think about international aid in this country. The provision of international aid should not be approached as a way of geopolitical positioning or exerting our self-interest, nor can it be thought of as kindness or charity on the part of wealthy nations. That wealth was stolen through exploitation, slavery and genocide, and wealth continues to be stolen. The provision of aid must be about justice and about repaying what is owed for the crimes of the past and the present. The story of the industrialisation of the global north is one of violence, exploitation and extraction. This wealth was built with the resources and labour of the colonised peoples. Australia has a bloody British colonial history and continues to perpetuate its own colonial projects. Last year it was estimated that Australia siphoned off more money in oil revenue from Timor-Leste than it provided in aid and more than Timor-Leste spends on health in a year.

Our Pacific neighbours are paying a heavy price for Australia's absolute refusal to tackle the climate crisis. Communities face rising sea levels, the annual destruction caused by tropical storms, the loss of arable land and drinking water and the enormous social and economic challenges of displacement due to the climate crisis. The injustices of slavery, colonialism and imperialism do not just lie in the past. They are ongoing and fundamentally affect communities' capacity to survive this impending disaster. Unaddressed, the imbalance of wealth and resources across communities will result in a climate apartheid, as the poor bear the brunt and the rich can afford to evade the worst. Given Australia's role in producing vast amounts of climate changing pollution, we have a particular responsibility to compensate and work with affected communities to avoid a total climate meltdown.

Australia must look at its history and the way we tell our histories. When we listen to our Pacific neighbours, we need to hear them. We have a heavy responsibility to take strong climate action to help communities manage and survive the climate crisis. We must increase our aid budget and cancel the burden of debt. We must turn the focus of aid from Australia's narrowly defined national interest to climate reparations, resilience and justice and to undo imperialism and colonialism. Our neighbours are asking us to show courage and leadership, and we must.


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