Erin Watt
Thursday, 5 December 2019

Our planet is burning and we still have no plan

I grew up on a sheep farm, in Central West NSW, 40kms out of a town called Cowra. We lived in a beautiful, peaceful part of the world. Our closest neighbour was my grandmother a couple of kilometres up the road. Beautiful, lush nature was right at my back door. A tight knit community supported each other and provided food for the nation and the world. 

Then then the millennium drought hit. The beautiful green rolling hills turned to dust. Food for stock became scarce. The rain slowed and then stopped. It seemed as if it was never coming back. Day after day my dad would write a zero on the rain calendar. The community was crumbling, schools getting smaller, people moving away. 

I couldn’t understand how someone wasn’t doing something to fix this. Why someone didn’t have a plan. Wasn’t that the job of Government? 

I began to learn about climate change, and that these long droughts and uncertainty were becoming part of life. I also learnt that climate change was getting worse due to human activity and inactivity. I couldn’t comprehend that we knew what the problems were, and knew some of the solutions, yet nothing was being done. 

I was infuriated that the adults were throwing away my future. Then I saw Kevin Rudd and the ALP stand for real action on climate change. It was the first moment I felt heard and felt like people were going to take real action for our future. 

Since then we’ve experienced a decade of climate wars and inaction. We’ve lost prime ministers, elections, jobs and lives. In that decade the world has propelled forward to a low carbon future, and we’ve been left behind. 

Here we stand, facing another three years of inaction, and facing another drought that doesn’t seem likely to end. It breaks my heart that the politicians the people I grew up with put their faith in have not taken real action to prepare regional areas for future droughts. That regional economies are disappearing. To know more kids are feeling that pain in their hearts as they watch their communities fall apart. 

People in regional areas are constantly forgotten by our party. A deep culture war has been created, and is entrenched day after day. But they want the same things that we do. Dignity in their work, pride in their homes and produce, security for their families and a living wage. They want someone to stand up for their interests and their future. 

Working people left us during the 2019 federal election. And we must own up to what that means. Like Americans in 2016, too many people couldn’t see themselves in our economic future. We didn’t bring people with us. The changes are already happening. People can feel it happening now, they are scared for their futures and their kids. Cost of living is rapidly outpacing wages, and too many people are already working multiple jobs to just get by.

Young people are crying out for a party of government with a real vision for the future. One that is caring for the world that will exist for decades after current politicians leave us. As a millennial I’m sick and tired of hearing that we are a lazy generation, who needs to make different choices. We are working countless hours of unpaid overtime, having our wages stolen, exponentially unaffordable rent for poor quality housing, HECs debts, with stagnant wages, while being concerned that the future looks worse. Of course we are angry that more than a decade after Kevin Rudd declared climate change the moral challenge of our generation, the Labor Party appears in the media to be debating the value of taking action on climate change. 

We are rapidly running out of time to take action on climate. Australia needs us to be visionary. Over the years the things unions and Labor have fought for have been eroded. Penalty rates, the 8 hour work day, universal healthcare, accessible education, social mobility. It’s time for Governments to stand up and take the lead to rebuild society and our economy. 

In a decade I want to see an Australia with full employment, where people have one secure job that pays enough to be comfortable, to plan and invest in their future, to raise families and plan for retirement. Where clean air and clean water are a human right. Where we have transitioned not only to a renewable powered future, but a zero-emissions economy and left no one behind along the way. Where we value caring jobs for what they are, and where men and women are truly equal. 

To do this we need to build an Australian Green New Deal. We need governments to lead a transition in our economies based on environmental protection and social justice.  We need a public jobs guarantee, where we plan for the jobs of the future and provide people publicly funded education and training to get there. These jobs won’t just be in energy transition, but in future-proofing our country such as retrofitting our buildings and homes, in providing care for our community in early childhood education and aged care, in building the infrastructure and transport to connect our country, and designing the technologies of the future. 

We are the only party who can ensure the next decade of transition is done on these terms, and build a better future. We are the party that built Medicare, our education system. We lead the big reforms of the NDIS and NBN. It’s time to step up and tackle the next big challenge. 

About Erin Watt:

Erin Watt is the National Secretary of the Labor Environment Action Network. Erin is a National Political Coordinator for United Workers Union. She runs national strategy around member engagement in politics, and coordinates NSW/ACT politics.