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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 10584

Ms KING (10:34 AM) —The future role of renewable energy is an important issue not just for Australia but also for my electorate. You would have heard during this debate that Labor supports an increase of the mandatory renewable energy targets from two per cent to five per cent by 2010. This would mean that, under a Labor government, by 2010 Australian energy providers would purchase five per cent of their fuel from a source that is renewable. Labor is committed to strengthening the MRET scheme—unlike the government, which appears set, under the draft Parer review, to walk away from it. For too long we have focused solely on nonrenewable energy sources. We have failed to invest strongly in technology that develops new renewable energy sources. In fact, on Tuesday we saw in the government's CRC announcement that it is abandoning the CRC for renewable energy.

The government has no credibility on the issue of renewable energy. The government shut down the energy R&D corporation, the Australian Greenhouse Office has exhausted its funds for supporting renewable R&D programs and the Photovoltaic Rebate Program was underspent this year and runs out in 18 months. If this government were serious about encouraging renewable energy, it would invest in R&D, not disinvest in it.

We have also not invested sufficiently to provide incentives to industries to develop a cheaper and more efficient use of nonrenewable energy resources. We must act now to encourage the development of alternative energy sources that are renewable, clean and have as little impact on our environment as possible. Labor is committed to increasing MRET and hence a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast, the Howard government's history on this issue is poor. For example, at the recent Earth Summit in Johannesburg, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage sat back as country after country backed the Kyoto protocol and promised to ratify it. First it was China, then India, Thailand and Canada that led the way. However, the minister continues to stand with the United States in opposing the ratification of the Kyoto protocol and seeks to fight actively against emission reductions.

Only a couple of weeks ago the minister for the environment stated in a speech to Australia's peak business organisation, the Business Council of Australia, that our environment was vulnerable to climate change, and yet he still will not bow to pressure for his government to ratify the Kyoto protocol. The United Kingdom has done what many progressive governments in the international community have achieved, and that is to set sustainable targets on renewable energy. The Blair government has set a target of 10 per cent by 2010 and 20 per cent by 2020. This is an outstanding target. I should remind the House of the history of the British manufacturing industry, its pollution and its overwhelming use of non-renewable energy such as coal. If Britain can improve, so can we.

It is therefore justifiable that less than a month ago the UK environment minister, the Hon. Michael Meacher, criticised the Howard government for its inaction. He argued that the Howard government's inaction over the ratification of the Kyoto protocol was designed to `curry favour' with the US. In the Financial Review last month, Ms Lenore Taylor quoted the UK minister as saying:

“Australia has been very close to the US and I doubt they would have taken the view they have if it hadn't been for the US.”

The UK minister is saying exactly what the Labor Party has been saying about the Howard government throughout this year. Its failure to ratify Kyoto is yet another example of the Howard government's inaction over greenhouse emissions and renewable energy.

I would like to turn to the importance of the review of mandatory renewable energy targets. There are some important issues within my electorate that the review needs to take into consideration—when it eventually starts—before handing down its findings. These include the impact of MRETs on native forests as well as the impact on energy pricing. In the recent Victorian state election, the now Premier and the Labor team committed their second term to rescinding the lack of leadership by the Kennett government on the use of our natural resources. With a commitment to end old-growth logging in the Wombat State Forest, I was also pleased to hear of the progressive approach the Bracks government took on native forest residue as a renewable energy source. Their commitment was to ban the use of native forest residues for electricity generation. The ramifications of recognising native forest residue as a renewable fuel source under this act are in the early days of investigation. I remain concerned that this bill continues to signal to the industry that this use is available and does not do enough to encourage the use of other possibly less damaging renewable fuel sources.

I note in the report Review of the science relevant to the sustainable use of native and plantation forest harvesting residues for energy production in Tasmania, published by the CSIRO in May this year, that the jury is still somewhat out on the ramifications of the use of native forest waste as a renewable energy source. In the report, the CSIRO state:

Harvesting of fuelwood is a new activity in Tasmania's wet eucalypt forest, and as a consequence there are uncertainties associated with the economic supply of fuel, the nature and intensity of harvest on particular coupes and the impacts of removal on environmental values.

I am concerned about the consequences that the use of native forest waste will have on our forests, both in terms of its contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and its effect on the biodiversity of our native forests. Due to the infancy of the CSIRO's investigations, I am not adequately assured that it will not have a detrimental impact on forests in my electorate. I must admit that I support the ban proposed by the Bracks Labor government in relation to my forest, the Wombat State Forest. For too many years this natural resource has been used and abused. I have a recent list of endangered species in the Wombat State Forest from the World Wide Fund for Nature. They include the powerful owl, swift parrot, orange-bellied parrot, plains wanderer, eastern barred bandicoot, superb parrot, Australian grayling, regent honeyeater and the spot tailed quoll. The MRET review needs to take into consideration all effects that the removal of native forest waste would have on the biodiversity of these species. The MRET review needs to assess any implications that this would have on net greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity and the level of biomass extraction under the RFA agreements and the plantation industry.

At the same time we need to concentrate on building incentives to encourage other sources of renewable energy. Take, for example, the recent announcement made by the state member for Ripon, Mr Joe Helper MLA, as part of the Bracks government initiatives on renewable energy. The member for Ripon recently took part in a `turning the turf' ceremony to mark the beginning of construction of the Chalicum Hills wind farm at Buangor. The Chalicum Hills wind farm will involve the construction of 35 wind energy generators that will be the first to be supplied under an agreement between Pacific Hydro and Danish wind generator manufacturer NEG Micon. Wind power is an increasingly significant source of power. The wind farm initiative in the member for Ripon's electorate will generate enough electricity for more than 25,000 Victorian homes. This development will provide a major boost to the regional economy from construction through to operations, maintenance and its potential for tourism. The local community have offered strong support for this development.

We need to support advances in the field of renewable energy. We must also support industries that are taking steps to provide cleaner energy from non-renewable resources. That is why I support the steps being taken by the CSIRO in finding cleaner and more efficient ways in the preparation of coal for the domestic and overseas markets. Most coal is cleaned, and some of the mineral matter, or ash, is removed to make it more valuable. This small step offers significant financial benefits by improving handling and transport, reducing pollution from coal-fired power stations and improving the quality of our coals.

I am pleased to stand here and say that Labor is committed to increasing the mandatory renewable energy target by two to five per cent by 2010. It is a target that is both sustainable and progressive. It is a target that, under a Labor government, we would be committed to reaching. The MRET review needs to take into consideration what direction Australia needs to take to satisfy its energy needs. It needs to look at ways to strengthen the MRET program and it needs to make sure that, as a policy instrument, it is doing what is in the best interests of the future of our environment. I would urge the review to seriously examine the effect that the inclusion of native forest residue will have not just in forests in areas such as Tasmania but also in forests such as those in my electorate, particularly the Wombat State Forest, which has been overlogged and not managed in the best interests of the local forestry industry or other members of the local community.