Australia has taken the “low road” on climate change and missed a crucial opportunity to address the issue, a former union boss and close friend of Bob Hawke says.
Former ACTU secretary Bill Kelty, who delivered the annual Hawke Lecture in Adelaide on Wednesday, said Hawke saw climate change as “unfinished business” before his death in May this year.
“This is the moral issue for our generation and you’ve got to take it seriously,” he said after the lecture.
“It’s too important to ignore and it’s too important to make cheap political divisions.
“New Zealand show that there’s a high road to doing it, and we show that there’s a low road to doing it.”
In his speech to a packed Town Hall, Mr Kelty reflected on his time with the “visionary” Hawke as well as the current state of Australian politics and the Labor Party.
He said it was a “tragedy” when Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull reached an agreement on climate change more than 10 years ago but the policy was later toppled.
“We had this little window of opportunity and we didn’t grab it, we didn’t grab it as a nation and it is so sad,” he said.
Mr Kelty added that the collapse caused Mr Rudd to lose stability, which led to a change in leadership.
Julia Gillard formed a minority government at the following election, before Labor was thrust into opposition for the next three terms.
“We have never won since,” he said.
“It is not to blame Kevin Rudd, it’s to understand that if the Labor Party believes in things do not go backwards.”
But, asked whether it was appropriate to link climate change to the current bushfire emergency in New South Wales, he called for a more sensitive approach.
“People are dying, people’s homes are being burnt,” he said.
“It’s not about a political pawn, it’s about doing something constructive for this country about climate change.”