On 31 May 2022, South Australia became the first Australian state to declare a Climate Emergency, although the Australian Capital Territory did set a precedent for a sub-national region to do so back in 2019. The SA declaration was passed by both Houses of Parliament. The Liberal opposition proposed amendments, which were rejected, with the original motion then passing unanimously in the Lower House. The Liberal opposition voted against the motion in the Upper House but it passed with Labor and cross bench support.
The motion stated:
That this house —
(a) notes the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report confirms that greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, and current plans to address climate change are not ambitious enough to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial level — a threshold scientists believe is necessary to avoid more catastrophic impacts;
(b) notes that around the world, climate change impacts are already causing loss of life and destroying vital ecosystems;
(c) declares that we are facing a climate emergency; and
(d) commits to restoring a safe climate by transforming the economy to zero net emissions.
In September 2019, Mark Parnell MLC (Greens) moved a Climate Emergency Declaration (CED) motion in the Upper House. At that time, the ACT had already done so in May 2019, and around 45 local councils around Australia had too. The SA upper house CED motion passed with support from Labor and most of the cross bench, but was opposed by the Liberals. It was not debated in the Lower House at that time.
Soon after new legislation was passed in SA such that formal on-paper citizen petitions with over 10,000 signatures would be ‘taken seriously’ due to the effort require to achieve that – would be tabled in parliament, entered in Hansard, and be guaranteed a ministerial response (either in support of or rejecting the petition). Accordingly 3 ‘ordinary citizens’ started such a petition, and a wide range of grassroots helpers (individuals and members of climate groups) put many hours into collecting signatures. You can see the petition text here.
Helpers could download the petition sheet online and print it themselves, or collect printed sheets from a centrally located petition box at the Conservation SA premises. Signed sheets were returned either through a slot in the petition box or sent to a PO Box set up specifically for that purpose.
By Jan 2020 the team had already collected around 6,000 signatures, so we sounded out Labor MP Susan Close (opposition party at the time) about tabling the petition when we reached 10,000 signatures. She jumped at the chance to do that and indicated willingness to also propose a CED motion alongside tabling it. But then Covid struck and made signature collection really hard, so it ended up taking until mid-2021 to reach 10,000 signatures.
In August 2021, Susan Close tabled our petition and proposed a CED motion, with a large show of support from people on parliament house steps on the day she did that. Her motion was eventually allowed to be put on the debate agenda, but ultimately there was not sufficient time for it to be debated before the state election.
The 2022 state election saw Labor back in power, so the CED motion was put on the agenda again as a first order of business. In speaking to the motion Susan Close, now Deputy Premier, positioned the motion as being in response to clear community demand for urgent climate action. She also announced two initial climate policies for putting words into action: a green hydrogen project and removal of an EV tax.
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