NSW's climate budget blunder

NSW Treasurer Mike Baird has achieved something historic – not mentioning climate change once in any budget paper, nor in the 46 media releases accompanying them. Though he did come close on one occasion.

New South Wales Treasurer Mike Baird's budget speech two weeks ago was big on the government's achievements but, oddly enough, failed to mention the biggest achievement of all, one which I’m confident history will judge to be a landmark moment.

Not once do the two short words ‘climate change’ appear in the speech, or indeed in the entire set of budget papers. This was historic for a government anywhere in the advanced world.

So I have taken the liberty of rewriting the speech for Baird, to more accurately reflect his extraordinary achievement. Out of courtesy, I’ll stick with Baird’s first couple of sentences to Parliament. My bit starts after “… securely towards the future”.

Madam Speaker.

This budget sets NSW apart from governments across the world: it slows expense growth, accelerates spending on infrastructure, and reduces net debt – an extraordinary trifecta in the light of the challenges we have.

We have spent two years fixing the mess, but with this our third budget, we turn securely towards the future.

Further, Madam Speaker, I am pleased to inform the House that there is one other issue that sets NSW apart from governments across the world. And that is how we manage the policy challenges of climate change.

For I am proud to be able to report today that the NSW government is delivering a budget that does not mention the words ‘climate change’ anywhere.

Despite our 10 separate downloadable PDF budget papers, a dedicated NSW budget website, a YouTube clip of me plus 46 separate media releases from 21 ministers, the words ‘climate change’ do not appear. Not once.

Even in the 110 pages of the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s budget paper, all 2.68 megabytes worth, those two little words do not appear, even though that’s the paper reporting the plans of the Environment Protection Authority, the Environmental Trust, and the National Resources Commission.

In the last election campaign we promised fresh leadership for the people of NSW. On climate change, we have delivered that leadership.

This is a world-first for NSW.

I accept it was a challenge to report on the $1.6 billion budget for the state’s environment agencies without mentioning climate change.

We came close in the minister for the environment’s budget media release, but she and I agreed that when announcing increased funding to protect people and property from sea level rises, we would mention that this funding was not, in fact, to manage sea level rises but “sea level change”.

In removing all reference to climate change, the government is reflecting its priorities for the 7.3 million residents of this state.

Now some may say: ‘Treasurer, have you not forgotten the last Australian summer was the hottest on record? That Sydney had its hottest day in 115 years of records? That some of the state’s big rivers hit record flood heights? That just about every national science academy in the advanced world has called on governments to limit the threat of climate change? And that the World Bank has urged all governments to do more?’

I say to the House: this government is all about the here and now. You will find fulsome coverage in the budget documents of the services we believe a state government should provide. Roads, hospitals, schools, police on the beat, and encouraging investment in the mining industry. That’s what we deliver.

Madam Speaker, to conclude, while NSW can indeed now turn securely towards the future, this government believes climate change is one part of the future we can do without.    

I commend the Bills to the House.

Gavin Gilchrist heads energy efficiency advisors Big Switch Projects. 

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