Jo Clay – Inaugural Speech to ACT Legislative Assembly

Australian Greens

Madam speaker, I seek leave to give my first speech.

I’d like to acknowledge the Ngunnawal people whose lands we meet on. I pay respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. I acknowledge them as the true custodians of this land and I will try and learn from our First Nations peoples and care for our land better.

Now that we’re in a climate emergency, what are we going to do about it?

I am seriously worried about climate change. I’ve known about it my whole life. Back when I was a kid, we called it the greenhouse effect. I thought that by the time I grew up, someone else would have fixed it. But no one has.

I grew up in a world of denialism. There were endless tedious debates about whether the climate was changing and whether it might be a result of human activity.

In the late nineties when I was at Uni, Australia signed the Kyoto protocol. Great, I thought. That’s settled it. We’ve accepted the problem. Now someone can fix it.

I was wrong.

We’ve since had two more decades of rising emissions. Two more decades of missed opportunities. It’s 2020 and I don’t need to tell you what that means. The predictions made by Ross Garnaut in his 2008 climate report have come true. Flood. Drought. Hail. Heat. Fire. Climate change is here and it’s a blazing disaster.

I don’t come from a line of prophets and doomsayers. I come from lawyers and artists.

My dad, Peter Clay, was a really good lawyer and a very kind man. He helped a lot of people by quietly getting on with the job.

My uncle on one side and my aunt on the other were artists. I can think of no greater joy than making something just because you want to.

So I went to Uni and I studied law and creative arts. I had a lot of fun and then I had a career. I worked on legislation and policy. It was a good way to make money but I came to doubt each role, no matter how rewarding it was.

What’s the point, I thought. This doesn’t deal with the real problem.

I’ve taken a lot of gap years in my life. My first was at seventeen and I worked in an English boarding school. I travelled about with a very good friend and I’ve been addicted to wandering ever since. I’ve lived in several countries and I’ve done a lot of snowboarding and diving and some fun silly stuff. I have lived two entirely perfect days, which is two more than most people get.

But I’m flying away from the problem, I thought as I tore off the lid on another airline meal and listened to the jet engines. And I’m making it worse.

I like to create things. I’ve made stories and books and films and mucked about with art. I won some awards and had a book published. But that nagging voice continued. I realised that everything I made was about apocalypse. There’s a reason our TV screens are full of end-of-the-world fiction. Ecological disaster and social collapse and armies of zombies mindlessly consuming the world. Our artists can’t imagine any other future. For many, it’s already here.

That’s the first half of my speech and the first half of my life. Now let’s get on to the hard bit. Why am I here in this Assembly? Because we’re in a climate emergency.

Change is no longer a choice. Change is already happening.

The EV didn’t ruin the weekend and the greenies didn’t cancel Christmas. The bushfires did that.

Green tape didn’t kill business. Smokepocalypse did.

The hippies aren’t coming for your steak. The cows died in the drought.

It’s 2020, the year of the mask, and now we’re living through another disaster. This one isn’t caused by climate change. Coronavirus has disrupted everything about how we work and play and make our money and spend our time. One point five million people have died around the world. Everyone’s affected. There is a lot of suffering. But there is also hope. For the first time in my life, global emissions have dropped.

Coronavirus hit the pause button. So what are we going to do?

I’ve learned a lot since accepting I’m part of the problem. I’ve learned far more working on solutions than I ever did running away from them. For a start, I learned the word ‘no’.

I’ve been in the environmental movement my whole life but that mostly involved signing petitions, writing emails, donating money and agreeing that everything was awful.

I stood up for real after having a baby. Like many new parents, I looked at my daughter and I looked out the window at the world she was inheriting, and I said no. I joined the protest movement.

Climate activism is a global phenomenon and Canberra’s no exception. We have 350, XR, Knitting Nanas, the Artivists, Stop Adani and more. I’ve helped out where I can. I’ve seen arresting art and actual arrests. Giant banners and bigger boycotts. Grannies that shut down banks by sitting quietly outside with their knitting.

And then there are the School Strikers. I’ve marched with my daughter alongside thousands of children. I’ve listened to them beg for their lives. Like any grown-up with a beating heart, I find this part of the movement incredibly painful. The kids put it best in their own words. Here are a few of their slogans.

Why go to school if you don’t listen to the educated?

If you act like children, we’ll act like adults.

I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea.

You’ll die of old age, we’ll die of climate change.

Our children will die of climate change. All we have to do to make this happen is nothing.

Why aren’t those kids in charge? I thought. I can’t wait to see it when they are.

But we don’t have time to wait and it’s not their job to fix this. It’s ours.

Despite my fears for the future, I’m a positive person at the core. As well as learning how to say no, I’ve learned how to say yes.

I began my post-graduate education with Pedal Power. I started out as a bureaucrat who liked bikes. After eight years I transformed into a lycra-clad street warrior. It was a joyous adventure. Cycling is the most delightful treatment for whatever ails you. Climate change, congestion, obesity, poor mental health. It doesn’t matter what your problem is, cycling’s your solution, for those fortunate enough to be able to ride.

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