Working Life

Australia blasted on global stage for lack of action on climate and failing to protect workers


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By Martin Watters

Friday, 04 December 2015

THE first week of the Paris climate talks are almost over and far from covering itself in glory during negotiations, Australia seems to be covering itself in something else.

Australia has invoked criticism from global unions and civil society groups for writing out protections for workers and their communities from any international agreement on climate change.

The move is part of an inauspicious start for the Turnbull government contingent, which copped international criticism earlier in the week for its ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to meaningful climate change action – including sticking by its multi-billion dollar fossil fuel subsidies.

Last night in Paris, general secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation Sharan Burrow blasted efforts to remove a commitment to human and workers rights from the mandate for action in the summit’s conclusion, specifically wording to ensure a “just transition” to a low-carbon future.

Global unions such as the ITUC say the “just transition” concept is vital to ensure workers and their communities don’t bear the brunt of the radical reshaping of the economy needed for the world to stay under two degrees of warming.

Greg Hunt addresses NGOs, business and academics

Greg Hunt addresses NGOs, business and academics Photo: @AusCop21

In climate negotiations a few words can mean so much and Burrow criticised Norway’s proposal to eliminate the only paragraph supporting human rights and decent jobs. Norway received support from a group of countries including Australia who would downgrade the pledge to a “hollow reference in the preamble”, Burrow said,

“No matter how much progress is made on the other issues being discussed in Paris, climate action will flounder if governments think solutions can simply be imposed on people without fully engaging workers and communities in a common effort for industrial transformation and shaping a future where human rights and workers’ rights are respected.

“The outcome of this summit must be relevant to the real world, to real people, and not just satisfy the bureaucratic mind-set of government negotiators who seem to be out of touch with what is already happening and what still needs to be done in factories, farms, offices and other workplaces across the planet.”

Week One

The move capped an inauspicious week where Australia’s commitment to meaningful climate action was repeatedly called into question.

On day one Turnbull was forced to “duck and weave” through the talks when it was revealed Australia snubbed signing a statement of 40 other nations in removing subsidies for fossil fuels. Turnbull reportedly rejected the multinational call after rebelling back home from right-wing Liberal party backbenchers, National MPs and the mining lobby.

The communiqué was not even binding and merely a statement of intent to end inefficient fossil subsidies, such as the diesel fuel rebate which the Australian Conservation Foundation estimates will cost taxpayers $26 billion over the next four years.

The Paris embarrassment continued when Australia was absent from a special event highlighting support for pricing carbon. Under Tony Abbott’s leadership Australia became the first country in the world to scrap a carbon pricing system.


Hunt and Turnbull doorstop in Paris. Photo: @AusCop21

In an address to 150 world leaders this week, Turnbull did ratify Kyoto II and announce $1 billion to help developing countries, especially Pacific nations, to cope with climate change and cut emissions.

However aid groups joined Labor in denouncing the funding, given none of it was new money and would be taken from the existing foreign aid budget, which the Coalition has slashed by $11.3 billion in recent budgets.

Acting Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek told Fairfax that the pledge was “pretty rich considering that we have actually cut funding to countries like Kiribati, that are currently struggling with climate change adaptation and mitigation – in fact we’ve cut $2.5 million dollars from Kiribati.”

In announcing a doubling of the $100 million commitment to cleantech research – as part of a Bill Gates-led innovation project – Turnbull said:

“We firmly believe that it is innovation and technology which will enable us both to drive stronger economic growth and a cleaner environment. We are a highly social and innovative species and so the more we share innovative technologies, the better they will become.”


In an interview with New Matilda, Greens Senator Larissa Waters highlighted the fact the Coalition has cut the research and development budget by $237 million in 2013 alone, taking it to its lowest-level in 30 years, and now “they want praise for putting $100 million back, which is less than half of what they cut”.

Waters went on to point out that while Turnbull was spruiking his credentials in Paris, at home Foreign Minister Julie Bishop was confirming: “it was still government policy to cut the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, which are the bodies that are funding innovation and research and development into clean energy”, Waters said.

Yesterday Australia’s ambitions were called in to question by a collection of small island states who accused Australia of taking advantage of lax reporting rules to claim our greenhouse gas emissions are falling when they’re actually increasing.

Currently Australia is one of few countries able to count the fact that we’re slowing the rate of our deforestation in calculating our total emissions. This shady definition will allow Australia to increase emissions by 2020 to about 11 per cent above 2000 levels while still claiming to meet the target of a five per cent cut in that period.

Working Life is a forum to share ideas and opinions about work and life, both light-hearted and serious. The opinions presented on Working Life are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent policies or views of the ACTU.


Creative Commons License
We believe in the free flow of information, and content on Working Life is available to be republished online or in print under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


  1. RGG
    Friday, 4 December, 2015 at 5:58 pm · Reply

    Turnbull was representing Tony Abbott in Paris.

  2. josef
    Saturday, 5 December, 2015 at 7:58 pm · Reply

    The only embarrassment here is the absurd notion that humans can alter the climate.

    • nona harvey
      Monday, 7 December, 2015 at 12:55 am · Reply

      You surely aren’t denying that human induced emissions are contributing to climate change? You are the embarrassment

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