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Monday, 19 March 2012
Page: 3292


Mr HUNT (Flinders) (17:12): It gives me great pleasure to support the disallowance motion moved by the member for Lyne. I do so for three reasons. Firstly, because this motion moved by the member for Lyne is about avoiding perverse effects. There has been much discussion about perverse effects but there are some very basic facts for those who care about emissions and the level of greenhouse emissions arising from Australia's economic activity to consider here. Secondly, there is deep, strong, credible and widespread support for the disallowance of this motion from those who care about our overall emissions level and those who care about the sustainable operation of an industry that has widespread support around Australia. Thirdly, this motion is also about electricity prices and ensuring that we do our best to reduce the average electricity price paid around Australia. For all of those reasons, the coalition and I in particular strongly support the continued use of woody biomass, where it is in waste form, as part of the Renewable Energy Target and as a source of credits for renewable energy credits.

Let me begin with the issue of perverse effects. Much has been made in this debate of the letter to the member for Lyne from the 49 recognised forestry scientists and leading forest practitioners. I want to quote one element. I note that the signatories represent universities from around the country, including Murdoch University, the University of Melbourne and many others, including many of the highest quality institutions in the country. It is not a group which would be assumed naturally to support one side or the other of parliament. It is a group to which enormous weight must be given. In my judgement, the key phrase in the letter, relating to the perverse effects of not using wood waste from the harvesting of native forests, is: 'When not used for biomass fuel, processing residues are often distributed on landscapes or buried and burnt near mills where, like harvest residues left on the landscape, they decompose to greenhouse gases without any greenhouse gas mitigation benefit. This misses the opportunity to provide energy for society, increasing our dependence on alternative energy sources, including fossil fuels, or more expensive renewable energy sources.' Within that one paragraph are two critical facts: firstly, much of this woody biomass or wood waste—I use the term 'wood waste' deliberately—is allowed to decompose by being turned into landfill, which in turn decomposes, not just to methane, but to other gases with high greenhouse potential. The net effect of not allowing the current practice to continue is that global emissions and Australia's emissions will go up, because a waste product is allowed to decompose instead of being utilised—and we have not even got to the economics of it. There is no offset, no mitigation and no avoidance of emissions; it adds to emissions. This, by the way, is one of the reasons that the use of woody biomass is fundamental to renewable energy programs right across Europe.

It is also clear, both from practice and from the work of the 49 foresters, that if it is not sent to landfill this waste wood would be burnt as a by-product, being treated and disposed of, to no electrical or societal benefit. Again, there would be a high level of emissions but no benefit from avoided emissions from other activities. In that respect, we see here a clearly perverse effect in relation to Australia's overall emissions and global overall emissions. That is not my evidence; that is the evidence of 49 independent scientists from around the country, including some of the most pre-eminent forest and carbon scientists in Australia, if not the Southern Hemisphere.

It has been the position of both sides of parliament until now that using wood waste was a desired outcome, because it avoids the problem of landfill and therefore avoids the perverse effect of emissions being generated with no positive benefit. But let us look at support, firstly, for industry. The 1,200 members of the Institute of Foresters of Australia, the IFA, an organisation committed to sustainable forest management, support the use of native forest residues for energy regeneration. These are residues; they are waste. They are things that would otherwise give off emissions if they were not used properly. Secondly, as has been noted, 49 eminent Australian forest scientists have provided their weight in supporting the continued use of native forest residues through the renewable energy target, which was a bipartisan position until July of last year. Thirdly, the members of the government's own committee that supported Seeing the Forest Through the Trees, the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Agriculture, Resources, Fisheries and Forestry, all agreed. Those committee members were the member for Lyons, who was the chair, the member for Bass, the member for Corangamite and the member for McEwen. They all supported the continued use of native forest waste or residue as a component for generating renewable energy credits under the renewable energy target. Those four government members of the committee concluded, on the same day this change of regulation was introduced by the government, that the regulation was not justified. If there could be a greater humiliation for the government than there has been on this policy issue, it is hard to imagine. The government's own members, who were specifically tasked to inquire in detail did not believe it. They did not believe their minister. They did not believe all those who would push this view. It is a simple test for those members: do you stand for your beliefs and findings and will you vote against the decision of the government to ban the very thing that you said was desirable?

Multiple environment groups around the world have supported the use of biomass waste and woody biomass residue. The World Wildlife Fund in concert with the European Biomass Association has called for 15 per cent of energy generation in OECD countries to be generated from the use of biomass by 2020. This is not a modest figure; this makes what occurs in Australia seem almost irrelevant. It goes further. When you look right across the European landscape, you see something even larger. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated in its Fourth Assessment Report in 2007:

In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest carbon stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fibre or energy from the forest—

and I underline energy—

will generate the largest sustained mitigation benefit.

To complete the package, the Clean Energy Council in Australia has said:

[It] believes the exclusion of native forest biomass as an eligible renewable energy resource under the RET is an example of the lack of understanding and support needed to harness the full potential of bioenergy resources in Australia.

Wherever you go in Europe you will see biomass used—for example, Belgium's target for 2020 is 13 per cent; biomass contributes one-third of that. The EU 'counts on heat and power from biomass to play a critical role in meeting its "202020" targets'. That is, 20 per cent by 2020. So there we go. That is the view around the world, whether it is in science, in industry, or in the ALP in this country. Up until a few short months ago, and even now, its four leading members in this space all supported the continued practice of using waste rather than burning waste or pushing it into landfill where it will produce methane with a greenhouse warming potential of over 20 times that of CO2. If you head to Europe and the IPCC you will see that the support for this practice could not be stronger.

When it is clear that there is a perverse effect and that there is overwhelming support, the last reason is a very simple one. It is about lower electricity prices. What this motion is really about at its heart of hearts is that it was designed, firstly, to do its best to help destroy an industry—and there are many members on both sides of this chamber who understand that. But even more so it says, 'We know that there are forms of renewable energy which are too high a cost to be justified if wood residue is able to go in there; therefore, we want to drive up the average cost of electricity to try to get to those highest cost forms of renewable energy.'

I have supported, believed in, committed to and engaged in helping to push through—I even negotiated with the current minister, and I thank him for that—the 20 per cent renewable energy target. There are those who are critical of it; I am guilty as sin of supporting it. But it was not about finding the highest cost for renewable energy; it was about finding the lowest cost for renewable energy. If we are moving into that space, we need to do it on the lowest cost basis. I think every member of this House knows this motion of the government's which has sought to be disallowed by the work of the member for Lyne is going to drive up electricity prices rather than drive them down. For that they should be condemned. For all of those reasons, it gives me great pleasure to support with every fibre of my being the disallowance motion of the member for Lyne.