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Wednesday, 23 March 2011
Page: 1603

Senator TROETH (3:06 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research (Senator Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Troeth today relating to the cement industry and the proposed carbon tax.

Senator Carr is on record—I believe in today’s press—as saying that the debate on industries and climate change should be based on facts not on fear. He also mentioned in today’s answer that it is a fallacy to believe that Australia is ahead of the rest of the world in releasing greenhouse gases. I point out to him that particularly since 1990 the cement industry in Australia has achieved a 23 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions through, firstly, investments in best technology, secondly, the use of alternative fuels and raw materials and, thirdly, the use of supplementary materials. Yet there is a genuine fear on the part of the nine plants which are operating mostly in regional Australia, with an annual turnover of $2.14-plus billion, that they will be shutting down as a result of the government’s carbon tax policy and that we will have to import cement.

If Senator Carr and the government have been so good at explaining the carbon tax and reassuring these industries that they have a bright future, why are they so afraid? If we import cement from Asian countries such as Japan, China, Thailand, Taiwan, Philippines and Indonesia the likely result will be higher emissions than if we continue to use Australian produced cement. In the first place, Australia, as I have said, is an efficient producer of cement, emitting fewer tonnes than average of CO2 per tonne of cement. Secondly, as I would have thought any reasonable person would agree, importing cement will result in emissions from shipping.

A cement plant, by nature, is highly emissions intensive. When you consider that cement is manufactured by heating a precise mixture of limestone, clay and sand, which results in the production of cement clinker, which emerges from the kiln, is cooled and then finely ground to produce cement, of course this process results in emissions. Why do we want to import cement when we can produce it here with fewer emissions than imported cement causes and also, most importantly, produce it with a largely regional labour force in regional Australia, a long way from our capital cities? Regional Australia depends on that labour force to remain economically active. As I said, the job losses will occur from existing plants in regional areas.

I have been to the cement plant in Waurn Ponds in Victoria and they genuinely fear job losses as a result of this legislation. They also operate in Western Australia at Kwinana, at Angaston and Birkenhead in South Australia, at Railton in Tasmania, at Kandos, Maldon and Berrima in New South Wales and at Rockhampton and Gladstone in Queensland. We want a viable, efficient industry in this country of ours. We certainly do not want any proposed tax which will stop our highly emission efficient domestic industries maintaining their full production. It would be a very poor environment policy if global greenhouse gas emissions went up by importing more cement into Australia at the expense of the Australian cement industry.

If a carbon pricing mechanism is to deliver any kind of certainty, other than certain death, it must deal with leakage, provide a long-term price signal and provide support for technological development. Nothing that I have heard of the government’s proposed carbon tax is going to fulfil any of these requirements. If Senator Carr wants facts, what I provided in the questions I asked today and the information in this speech are facts; what the government is spreading is fear.