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ACT Independent Senator David Pocock has blasted the main committee report from a government-dominated senate inquiry for failing to recognise overwhelming support for a bill he introduced that would legislate a duty of care to protect children and future generations from the harms of climate change.

Despite only one of the 403 submissions to the inquiry outright opposing a legislated duty of care and over 14,500 people signing a petition supporting the bill, the main committee report recommended that it not be passed.

In a dissenting report also tabled today, Senator Pocock said denying a duty of care to young people and future generations shows Labor and the Coalition are out of touch and unwilling to listen.

“This bill has strong support from experts, the public, and especially young people, and I think it’s time for the government to listen and act,” Senator Pocock said.

“Parliamentarians, including a dozen government members and senators, have openly expressed support for a duty of care on climate.

“The choices we make now will shape the world for future generations. If we don’t start thinking about how our actions harm the people and places we love, children will suffer more with health issues, mental health problems, and even trouble finding safe homes and clean water.

“The short-sighted decision making of politicians has landed us in a multitude of crises - climate, biodiversity, housing, cost-of-living - that highlight the urgent need to embrace and implement longer term thinking and decision making.

“By ignoring all of the evidence and the overwhelming calls for this bill to be passed, the government has turned its back on young people. 

Senator Pocock said that without a legislated duty of care, governments will remain focussed on short-term political motivators, and fear of upsetting vested interests rather than the best interests of young people and future generations.

He noted the strong support from Australia's medical fraternity in particular, including the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and Doctors for the Environment who highlighted the disproportionately large impact climate change has on children. The mental health impacts were also underscored in submissions including from 

Headspace and the Black Dog Institute who told the committee that ‘there is evidence of an emerging intergenerational divide, as young people report feeling frustrated, not listened to, and betrayed by older generations when talking with them about climate change’.

Senator Pocock also highlighted the contributions made by many young people to the inquiry who described their deep frustration over successive governments’ failure to consider their health and wellbeing, and their fear about what the future held as a result.

“Failing to pass this bill would be a massive missed opportunity to put children’s welfare front and centre in decision making about their future.

“This bill would fill a gaping hole in our legislative framework that the Minister for the Environment v Sharma case so clearly shone a spotlight on.”

While deeply disappointed by the main committee recommendation Senator Pocock said he would continue efforts to build support for the bill before putting it to a vote and also thanked everyone who participated in and supported the inquiry, including crossbench colleagues Dr Monique Ryan MP, Dr Helen Haines MP, Dr Sophie Scamps MP, Ms Kate Chaney MP, Ms Allegra Spender MP, Ms Kylea Tink MP, Ms Dai Le, Mr Andrew Wilkie and Ms Zali Steggall MP.

“If the government and the opposition want to fight the next election on climate and energy then a duty of care has to be part of the conversation. 

A copy of the full dissenting report can be found here.

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