Closing Remarks: Climate Integrity Summit | Dr Richard Denniss

by Richard Denniss


The Australia Institute will do everything it can to keep fossil fuel expansion, fossil fuel subsidies, dodgy offsets and much more on the agenda ahead of the next federal election.

Dr Richard Denniss’ Closing Remarks to the Climate Integrity Summit 2024. 

What an amazing day and look around, you’re nearly all still here and let’s hope that that stays that way. Look what an amazing bunch of presentations that we’ve had today.

We’ve heard from world experts, we’ve heard from different communities, we’ve heard from Indigenous leaders, and what we’ve heard all day long is that we do know what’s causing climate change, and we do know what we need to do to fix it.

It’s time that we as a society moved on from, as Polly described this morning, the policy whack-a-mole, where we just keep arguing about which things we may or may not try to do. While the main culprits just continue, literally unabated.

Australia, as has been said a number of times today, the world’s third largest fossil fuel exporter. Plucky little country, determined to do better. If we try hard enough, if we subsidise hard enough, maybe we can knock off Russia for number two.

Again, it doesn’t happen by accident. It doesn’t happen by accident and integrity requires us to be honest with ourselves and direct with other people about the inevitable consequences of the actions that we undertake.

Dr Richard Denniss delivers his closing remarks at the Australia Institute's 2024 Climate Integrity Summit

Our moral choices

So I don’t want to keep you for too much longer, but I do need to wrap some things up today in a bow because what we’ve heard today is how many people see what we need to do, but we’ve also heard that we’re not on track to do enough, to do something as simple as keep countries like Kiribati and Tuvalu and indeed the Tiwi Islands here in Australia above water. This is not a very high bar to aim for, but in Australia at the moment, to be clear, that is not the trend we’re on.

Now here at the Australia Institute we like to think that our job is to make the radical seem reasonable. Ideas have to come from somewhere. Some of you may know that we spent the last five years banging our head into a wall with nobody listening, saying we need to fix the stage three tax cuts. Well, you know what?

After Labor announced they were going to fix the stage three tax cuts, the Liberals voted with them.

Literally, there was no division in parliament. When the Parliament amended the stage three tax cuts, shifted $85 billion from the top 10% of income earners to the rest.

What’s that got to do with this? Well, change is not only possible, it’s inevitable. There will be change. We’re literally just haggling over what direction that change will be in and how fast it will be.

The one thing that will not be maintained in the next 10 years or the next 20 years, the one thing that will not be maintained is the status quo.

People, I hate to break it to you, whether they work in a coal mine or not, people are going to lose their jobs in the coming decades. The industry, the technology that’s done more harm, more harm to Australian workers than anything else, far more than renewables ever will – it’s one of these little bad boys. Anyone here got a mobile phone? Remember all the people that used to work in the photo development labs? You killed them. You killed their jobs off.

Dr Richard Denniss delivers his closing remarks at the Australia Institute's 2024 Climate Integrity Summit

Remember street directories? Remember ringing people to book hotels? Millions of Australians lost their jobs. Millions of Australians, because technology changes all the time, but apparently we’re not allowed to change the technology that makes energy because someone might lose their job.

This is ridiculous. This is not economics, it’s not politics as usual. This is a unique determination of democracies to say no to technological change, not if it will cost someone a job. Have you ever heard that before? Have workers ever heard that before? Have unions ever heard that before? It’s a fraud. It’s an absolute joke, but it’s not very funny because the consequences of delaying this inevitable technological shift, the consequences of delaying that shift are not just lost money, and not just lost jobs, but lost countries.

These are the moral choices that we have to make. These are the consequences of the choices that we must make. These are the consequences that having integrity when we look into climate change matter.

Keeping the pressure on

Now, I don’t want to end on a dreary note. I’m an optimist at heart. I’m not fueled by hope. I’m fueled by white hot rage and, oh no, no hope’s the opium of the masses. I do not feel hopeless. Hopeless is powerlessness. It’s worse than that. I don’t feel powerless, and that’s why I don’t feel hopeless. But hope is not my strategy. Hard work is my strategy. Energy and enthusiasm, ideas and working with other people is the only way we’re going to get changed.

Now, you heard Polly say this morning – and what an incredible speech that was, how about a round of applause for Polly? You heard her this morning list the things that, just in the last 12 months since our last Climate Integrity Summit, have already changed. We’ve got a Senate inquiry into greenwashing, you heard what ASIC is doing on greenwashing today. That is a big step in the right direction.

The government’s Nature Repair Market Bill. If you thought carbon offsets were bad, take a look at platypus offsets. Take a look. Well, no, they’re gone. They’re dead. The government actually pulled the nature repair market. They amended it, so…you’ve never seen amendments like it, the most insulting amendment that the government agreed to was that they changed the Nature Repair Market to remove the word market from the title of the bill.

Now, this is because of pressure. This is because of scrutiny. This is good. This is proof that pressure and scrutiny and democratic engagement can work. And the government’s own Climate Active program, the one that’s been certifying fossil fuel companies carbon neutral. Not kidding, a government program, Climate Active, has been certifying fossil fuel companies as carbon neutral. They’ve announced they’re likely to actually abandon that terminology, all in the last 12 months

Not nearly enough. Not nearly enough. We’re still opening new coal. We’re still opening new gas. But if we’ve driven that amount of change in the last 12 months, I want you to fast forward the next 12 months, cus this is where Richard gets excited. Because in 12 months time, you know what we’re going to be doing, having an election.

You know what I hate? Four year terms.

No, I know. People get excited and think, oh, we need to give people good time to do good policy. Well, you’ve heard today – well, A) who wishes Scott Morrison had an extra two years?

So remember that the next time it feels clever when someone says, wouldn’t it be good if we had five year terms so that we could do evidence-based policy with a bureaucracy that is as complicit in this as anyone else?

So good on you with your fantasies about long-term policy development. These people need pressure. These people need scrutiny. These people need looking at. All of them. Always. That’s how democracy works.

We don’t just get to leave it to the experts to five years to figure things out because everything we’ve talked about today has been known for decades.

So I love a good election and we’re going to have one in a year’s time, and the Australia Institute will do everything it can, everything it can to keep those issues that you’ve heard about today – fossil fuel expansion, fossil fuel subsidies, dodgy offsets, all sorts of things that frankly, most people weren’t talking about not that long ago, and a lot of groups still aren’t even talking about – we’ll do everything we can to keep them on the agenda.

But really if they’re going to be on the agenda, it’s going to be because people like you leave rooms like this and insist, insist on some integrity in the Australian debate about climate change.

Thank you very much.

Between the Lines Newsletter

The biggest stories and the best analysis from the team at the Australia Institute, delivered to your inbox every fortnight.

You might also like

Highlights from the Climate Integrity Summit 2024

2023 has shown us a planet on the brink of collapse. Cyclones, heatwaves, catastrophic floods, fires and landslides have killed people, destroyed ecosystems and decimated communities. And yet Australia is still yet to repair all the homes lost in the Black Summer bushfires of 2020 or the devastating Lismore floods of 2017 and 2022. No

Reaching the Summit | Between the Lines

The Wrap with Ebony Bennett The Australia Institute has had a massive March, full of incredible and exciting events. Over the course of the month, we have hosted prominent thinkers from across the world such as Yanis Varoufakis and His Excellency Anote Tong in celebration of our 30th anniversary, organised speaking tours in major cities,