Australia: Greens’ climate emergency law proposal rejected

On 2 December 2020, the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020, which had been proposed by the Australian Greens on 2 March 2020, was rejected by the Australian Parliament with 63 members voting against, 58 voting for.

The Bill outlined the obligations of public service agencies to recognise and act in accordance with a declaration of a climate emergency, and would have established a Multi-Party Climate Emergency Committee to report to Cabinet in relation to the climate emergency declaration.


Video uploaded to Facebook on 2 December 2020.



Mr Bandt moved — That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Melbourne from moving the following motion immediately — That the House:

(1) declares an environment and climate emergency;
(2) recognises that:
(a) as signatories to the Paris Agreement, Australia must ensure a safe and stable climate system, which requires limiting global temperature rises to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius;
(b) the Bureau of Meteorology has advised this Parliament that under current targets, the world is on track for a temperature rise of 3.4 degrees, and that means up to 4.4 degrees of warming in Australia, making much of the country uninhabitable within our children’s lifetimes; and
(c) today, New Zealand will move to declare a climate emergency, joining other countries including England, France, Germany, Spain, Sweden, Canada and Japan; and
(3) acknowledges that no aspect of Australia’s economy, society and environment will be left untouched by a breakdown of the climate system and that the Government and the Parliament must take urgent action before 2030.
Debate ensued.

The time allowed by standing order 1 for debate on the motion having expired — Question — That the motion for the suspension of standing orders be disagreed to — put. The House divided (the Speaker, Mr A. D. H. Smith, in the Chair) —

Ayes (63) – those who rejected the Bill
Mr Alexander
Dr Allen
Mrs K. L. Andrews
Mr K. J. Andrews
Ms Bell
Mr Broadbent
Mr D. J. Chester
Mr Christensen
Mr Conaghan
Mr Connelly
Mr Coulton
Mr Drum*
Mr Dutton
Mr Entsch
Mr Falinski
Mr Fletcher
Ms Flint
Mr Frydenberg
Mr Gee
Dr Gillespie
Ms Hammond
Mr Hastie
Mr Hawke
Mr Hunt
Mr Joyce
Mr Katter
Mr C. Kelly
Mr Laming
Ms Ley
Mr Littleproud
Ms Liu
Mr McCormack
Mrs McIntosh
Dr Martin
Mr Morton
Mr Ted O’Brien
Mr L. S. O’Brien
Mr O’Dowd
Mr Pasin
Mr Pearce
Mr Pitt
Mr Porter
Ms Price
Mr Ramsey*
Mr Robert
Mr Sharma
Mr Simmonds
Mr Stevens
Mr Sukkar
Mr Taylor
Mr Tehan
Mr Thompson
Mr Tudge
Mr van Manen
Mr Vasta
Mr Wallace
Dr Webster
Mrs Wicks
Mr R. J. Wilson
Mr T. R. Wilson
Mr Wyatt
Mr Young
Mr Zimmerman

Noes (58) – those who supported the Bill
Dr Aly
Mr Bandt
Ms Bird
Mr Bowen
Mr Burke
Ms Burney
Mr Burns
Mr M. C. Butler
Ms T. M. Butler
Mr Byrne
Dr Chalmers
Ms L. M. Chesters
Mr Clare
Ms Claydon
Ms Coker
Ms Collins
Mr Conroy
Mr Dick
Mr Dreyfus
Mrs Elliot
Mr Fitzgibbon
Dr Freelander*
Mr Giles
Mr Gosling
Dr Haines
Mr Hill
Mr Husic
Mr Jones
Ms Kearney
Mr Khalil
Ms C. F. King
Ms M. M. H. King
Dr Leigh
Ms McBride
Mr Marles
Dr Mulino
Ms Murphy
Mr O’Connor
Ms O’Neil
Ms Owens
Mrs Phillips
Ms Plibersek
Ms Rishworth
Ms Rowland
Ms Ryan
Ms Sharkie
Mr Shorten
Mr D. P. B. Smith
Mr Snowdon
Ms Stanley*
Ms Steggall
Ms Swanson
Ms Templeman
Mr Thistlethwaite
Ms Vamvakinou
Mr Watts
Mr Wilkie
Mr Zappia

* Tellers

Mr Buchholz
Mr Hogan
Mr Coleman
Mr Howarth
Mrs Archer
Mr Morrison
Mr Irons
Mr Wood
Mr Leeser
Mrs Marino
Ms Landry
Mr Evans
Mr Goodenough
Mr Albanese
Mr Keogh
Mr Georganas
Mr B. K. Mitchell
Ms Wells
Ms Thwaites
Mr R. G. Mitchell
Mr J. H. Wilson
Ms Payne
Mr Perrett
Mr Neumann
Mr Gorman
Mr Hayes

And so it was resolved in the affirmative.”

→ Source:



Second reading of the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020

In the first and second reading of the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020 in the Australian Parliament on 2 March 2020, Adam Bandt, Melbourne—Leader of the Australian Greens, said:

“Environmental collapse is here. Stopping a breakdown of the earth’s delicate climate system is no longer about simply protecting future generations or saving impoverished communities farming on floodplains half a world away. Australia’s last few months of megafires, drought, floods, hailstorms, heatwaves, toxic smoke covering cities and dust clouds swallowing up entire regional towns has shown us that global heating is now a direct and present threat to every aspect of our lives that we cherish and hold dear. We are in a climate emergency.

The last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the air was at least 2.6 million years ago, before humans existed. Yet on this very day, the world is still producing more heattrapping gases than we have ever produced before. Australia’s pollution from coal, oil and gas at home and abroad has never been higher. If we keep polluting at our current rate, we could be at 1,000 parts per million by the end of the century. Last time that happened, dinosaur roamed the earth.

Scientists say that all our countries’ pledges under the Paris Agreement still have us on track for 3.4 degrees of global warming—up to 3.4 degrees of global warming, when we are meant to be constraining it to well below two. What this means, if we get this hot, is that humans can’t live in the equatorial zone; northern Australia’s oppressive humidity and frequent flooding only allows humans to live there for part of the year; mosquito-borne disease will head southward; one in six Australian species will be extinct; and vast tracts of the ocean will be dead zones with algal blooms sucking away all oxygen, like we’ve seen in the Menindee River.

That is what awaits us between three to four degrees and that is the path the Prime Minister has us on at the moment. Unless we rapidly change course away from coal, oil and gas, then life as we have always known it will no longer exist. It is not scaremongering; it is hard physics. And we have just had a taste of it over the last summer.

We should refuse a future where children need to wear gas masks because their cities are full of smoke. We should not, as the Prime Minister asked us, just have to get used to and adapt to fires so massive that they create their own powerful storm tornados that can flip an eight-tonne truck and kill its passengers. We should honour the memory of Samuel McPaul, the volunteer firefighter this happened to, not by pretending that everything will be okay or that the government has it under control but by stopping this climate emergency in its tracks.

People are angry and are anxious and are desperately looking for leadership. This bill will enable this parliament to show that leadership.

This legislation declares that we commit to secure a prosperous, jobs-rich future for ourselves and our children. This bill is an explicit acknowledgement of how much danger we are in. As US climate campaigner Margaret Klein Salamon wrote: ‘Humans evaluate danger and risk by noticing how other people respond. When we see people in our community acting as though nothing is wrong, it is a cue to us and everyone else that everything is normal, but when we see people in our communities responding to an event as though it’s an emergency we start to view the event as an emergency too. Telling the truth about climate and treating the climate crisis like the emergency it is is highly contagious.’ That is especially the case for our political leaders.

That is why 92 local councils have declared a climate emergency, from Mildura to Lismore to Launceston, and more keep signing up.

But this bill will be more than a declaration. All Public Service agencies will be responsible for acting in accordance with the declaration when developing, implementing, providing and evaluating policies. Agencies will be required to report on their compliance each reporting period. The bill will also establish a climate emergency war cabinet to guide the country through the rapid societywide and economywide response to the climate crisis.

When the Allies won World War II, it wasn’t just because the US and other governments put their resources into it; the war was won because the government, industry and communities worked together to meet an unprecedented threat. In 1942 America, a spark plug factory produced machine guns, a merry-go-round factory made gun mounts, a pinball machine plant made armour-piercing shells and a toy company started making compasses.

Now, at this stage, we don’t need to militarise, but we need to decarbonise.

This bill enables the mobilisation of government resources to keep our citizens safe from danger. We have the technologies, the skills, the capital and the resources that we need.

Nothing will stop scientists and engineers from solving these problems. We will get there eventually, but the problem is we don’t have until eventually. We need to act superfast. If we only reach net zero by 2050 or 2060 or 2070, we will still confront disaster, and that is why the government and the whole of society must recognise we are in an emergency and take action at emergency speed, devoting all the resources we need to stop a threat that, if we don’t do this, will become overwhelming.

So I commend this bill to the House and in my remaining time I invite the seconder for this motion and this bill to speak.”


The Speaker: “Is the motion seconded?”


Ms Zali Steggall, Member for Warringah: “I second the motion for the second reading of the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020. There is no doubt we are in the midst of a climate emergency. For six months Australia has been devastated by the worst bushfires in our nation’s history. Communities have been wiped out; businesses irreparably impacted; cities blanketed by smog, forcing many indoors; our courageous volunteer services stretched to the limit; and our beautiful wildlife and landscape decimated. I’ll never forget the images of Australian families being evacuated by the Royal Australian Navy or the first images of singed wildlife searching for water, all on the backdrop of blood-red skies and ashes eerily falling like snow.

The AMA has declared a climate emergency. The royal medical colleges have also done so. The Reserve Bank have recognised the threat; they are now factoring a worsening climate into their modelling and decision-making when it comes to managing our economy. Our financial regulators, APRA and ASIC, have guidelines on companies to report to shareholders on climate risks as it affects their businesses. Our Public Service and Defence Force chiefs have also been meeting for some time, planning for climate worst-case scenarios, some of which we are starting to see. All agree that Australia is especially vulnerable to climate change impacts and that this is having and will have an increasingly devastating impact on Australia’s economy, our health system, our national security and our food system.

The Australian public also agree. In October last year I presented to the parliament a historic petition of 404,538 signatures. These are signatures of ordinary Australians who call on their parliament to take urgent action on climate change. I urge my fellow MPs in this place to contemplate on that. Each of those names is an individual with a story, with a voice, with a network and with a vote. To confirm this sentiment to the parliament, several times the crossbench and the opposition have attempted to move motions to declare a climate emergency. However, so far the government has prevented any official declaration of emergency or any debate or discussion.

All three councils in Warringah have declared a climate emergency. They are but a few of over 90 who have now declared the same across Australia, representing a third of the country’s population. At state level, the South Australian legislative assembly also declared a climate emergency. This bill will go to the heart of these requests by declaring a climate emergency and putting the climate emergency at the centre of policy decisions and decisions of this government made by the Public Service and this government.

Now, after a summer that devastated much of the country and left the rest blanketed in smoke, my fellow crossbencher presents a bill consistent with the voice of at least those 400,000 that signed the petition and the over 81 per cent in Australia who when surveyed indicate climate change action is one of their most pressing concerns. Yet the government does not seem to have heard these many voices and is intent on ignoring the science. Whilst the government has clearly accepted the science on the urgency of the coronavirus threat, we seem to be in a parallel universe when it comes to the impacts of climate change. In October 2018 the IPPCC warned that we need to take stronger action to restrict the warming to below 1.5 degrees. This government must accept the science of the urgency of the climate emergency.

As the 46th Parliament, we have a duty to the Australian people to go beyond partisan allegiance. It’s time for us all to be accountable. Let’s listen to the people and take meaningful action on climate change. I stand with the member for Melbourne and thank him for presenting this bill on behalf of Warringah and many other Australians. I commend the bill to the House.”

What is a bill?
A bill is a proposal for a law or a change to an existing law. A bill becomes law (an Act) when agreed to in identical form by both houses of Parliament and assented to by the Governor-General.

The Greens’ leader Adam Bandt was one of the first politicians to sign the Climate Emergency Declaration petition when it was launched in May 2016. In February 2017, Bandt opened his parliamentary office in Canberra to receive a box of 18,000 petition signatures, brought to him by kayak-travelling Steve Posselt, calling for the federal government to declare a climate emergency.




Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020

Presented to Parliament by Mr Adam Bandt, Melbourne—Leader of the Australian Greens, on 2 March 2020.

The Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia
House of Representatives, 2019-2020



1………… Short title
2………… Commencement
3………… Definitions
4………… The Climate Emergency Declaration
5………… Obligations of all public service agencies
6………… Multi-Party Climate Emergency Committee
7………… Concurrent operation of other laws
8………… Rules


A Bill for an Act to recognise and declare a climate change emergency, and for related purposes

The Parliament of Australia enacts:

1  Short title

This Act is the Climate Emergency Declaration Act 2020.


2  Commencement

(1)  Each provision of this Act specified in column 1 of the table commences, or is taken to have commenced, in accordance with column 2 of the table. Any other statement in column 2 has effect according to its terms.


Commencement information
Column 1 Column 2 Column 3
Provisions Commencement Date/Details
1.  The whole of this Act The day after this Act receives the Royal Assent.


Note: This table relates only to the provisions of this Act as originally enacted. It will not be amended to deal with any later amendments of this Act.

(2)  Any information in column 3 of the table is not part of this Act. Information may be inserted in this column, or information in it may be edited, in any published version of this Act.


3  Definitions

In this Act:

agent includes a contractor.

annual report, in relation to a public service care agency, means an annual report relating to the activities of the agency that is required by a provision of the Public Service Act 1999, or by a provision of another Act that establishes the agency.

Climate Emergency Declaration: see section 5.

public service agency means an Agency within the meaning of the Public Service Act 1999.

reporting period, in relation to a public service agency, means a period of 12 months to which an annual report of the agency relates.

rules means rules made under section 9.


4  The Climate Emergency Declaration

(1)  This Act declares an environment and climate emergency.

(2)  This Act recognises that:

(a)  the recent report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5°C, indicates that we are facing a climate emergency, and as a result, meaningful action on climate change is urgent, at home and internationally; and

(b)  this IPCC report has found that the world is not on track to limit global warming to less than 1.5°C; and

(c)  local and federal governments across the world have declared a climate emergency; and

(d)  extreme weather events have devastated and will continue to devestate large parts of Australia and radically impact food production, water availability, public health, infrastructure, the community and the financial system; and

(e)  urgent action consistent with the internationally accepted science is required to address climate change.


5  Obligations of all public service agencies

(1)  Each public service agency is to take all practicable measures to ensure that its employees and agents have an awareness and understanding of the Climate Emergency Declaration.

(2)  Each public service agency’s policies, so far as they may significantly affect climate change, are to be developed having due regard to the Climate Emergency Declaration.

(3)  Each public service agency is to take all practicable measures to ensure that it, and its employees and agents, take action to reflect the principles of the Climate Emergency Declaration in developing, implementing, providing or evaluating policies relating to climate change or that may have climate change impacts.

(4)  Each public service agency is to consult the community and relevant bodies when developing or evaluating policies relating to climate change or policies that may have climate change impacts.

(5)  Each public service agency must prepare a report on its compliance with this section in each reporting period. The report must be included in the agency’s annual report for the reporting period.

(6)  Subsection (5) applies, in relation to a particular public service agency, to:

(a)  the first full reporting period of the agency that starts on or after the commencement of this Act; and

(b)  all subsequent reporting periods of the agency.


6  Multi-Party Climate Emergency Committee

(1)  The Multi-Party Climate Emergency Committee is established.

(2)  The Committee consists of the following members:

(a)  the Prime Minister;

(b)  the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives;

(c)  the leader of the recognised political party known as the Australian Greens;

(d)  each Minister responsible for any of the following:

(i)  environment policy;

(ii)  climate change policy;

(iii)  agriculture policy;

(iv)  water resources policy;

(v)  fisheries policy;

(vi)  forestry policy;

(e)  up to 5 members of either House of the Parliament who do not form part of the Government or the Opposition, to be appointed by the Prime Minister.

(3)  The Committee’s functions include consulting, negotiating, leading and reporting to Cabinet on the implementation of the Climate Emergency Declaration and a whole of society response to the climate change challenge.

(4)  A member of the Committee ceases to hold office:

(a)  when the House of Representatives expires by effluxion of time or is dissolved; or

(b)  if the member ceases to be a member of the House of the Parliament by which the member was appointed.

(5)  The Committee may determine the procedures to be followed at or in relation to meetings of the Committee, including matters relating to:

(a)  the convening of meetings of the Committee;

(b)  the number of members of the Committee who are to constitute a quorum;

(c)  the selection of a member of the Committee to preside at meetings of the Committee ; and

(d)  the manner in which questions arising at a meeting of the Committee are to be decided.


7  Concurrent operation of other laws

This Act is not intended to apply to the exclusion of any law of a State or Territory that is capable of operating concurrently with this Act.


8  Rules

(1)  The Minister may, by legislative instrument, make rules prescribing matters:

(a)  required or permitted by this Act to be prescribed by the rules; or

(b)  necessary or convenient to be prescribed for carrying out or giving effect to this Act.

(2)  To avoid doubt, the rules may not do the following:

(a)  create an offence or civil penalty;

(b)  provide powers of:

(i)  arrest or detention; or

(ii)  entry, search or seizure;

(c)  impose a tax;

(d)  set an amount to be appropriated from the Consolidated Revenue Fund under an appropriation in this Act;

(e)  directly amend the text of this Act.


The Australian Government’s Federal Register of Legislation

House of Representatives Official Hansard on Monday 2 March 2020 (PDF, 277 pages)


February 2017: Adam Bandt receives a box with the first collection of handwritten signatures – 18,000 alltogether – to the petition calling on the Australian Parliament to declare a climate emergency and act accordingly.



→ The Sustainable Hour – 16 December 2020:
Podcast interview with Adam Bandt
In the interview, Bandt explains how close the Climate Emergency Bill was to be voted through – and also that he intends to make a new proposal in 2021.

→ Mirage News – 2 December 2020:
Climate emergency declaration put to both houses: Liberals oppose, Labor split
“The Liberals and Labor have combined forces to block a Climate Emergency declaration in Australia, on the day our closest neighbours have declared a climate emergency at their Labour Prime Minister’s request.”

→ Sydney Morning Herald – 15 October 2019:
‘Grand symbolic gesture’: Attempt to declare a climate emergency fails in Parliament
“Federal Parliament has voted down an attempt to declare a “climate emergency”, with the Morrison government blocking a “grand symbolic gesture” from the Greens, Labor and the crossbench.”