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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20081


Mr KATTER (7:19 PM) —I strongly endorse the remarks of the member for Dawson. That is the same line I have taken in the northern media—I do not know whether we get as much coverage as I would like. But yes, Australian motor cars are so deficient in their manufacturing that they cannot take an ethanol blend. There are three problems in relation to ethanol that could be argued: first, there is the hydroscopic problem—it absorbs water; second, it is permeable and will pass through a membrane that petrol will not pass through; and, third, it contains oxygen, which of course is the reason we want to use it. You cannot have your cake and eat it too! But if oxygen is permeating throughout the petrol, when the explosion occurs all of the hydrocarbons can access that oxygen. In a normal motor it is only the surface area of the petrol that can access the oxygen and you get an imperfect burn, which is the problem that prompted remarks on health made by the honourable member for Dawson.

Having said that, I cannot help but comment that the current government has not implemented ethanol use; the current government has abolished it. If I could see an exercise in hypocrisy it would be the National Party standing up and saying that they secured assistance. The honourable member sitting at the table here has on many occasions referred—I am sure my saying this will embarrass him—to the hypocrisy of the people representing the National Party. They come in here and say that they represent rural Australia. They said that they secured a subsidy in the recent elections which is a great help to the ethanol industry. The ethanol industry had, until the last budget, a 38c a litre advantage over petrol. After the budget, its advantage was to be phased out completely over the next seven or eight years. So instead of the assertion made by this political party that they helped, in actual fact they sat at the cabinet table that abolished all assistance.

We have seen the hypocrisy of the people on my right-hand side in continuously attacking this and moving an amendment to this bill which they should be absolutely ashamed of. They were the people who thought ethanol was so good that they did not levy an excise and who added a bounty to ethanol. They were the people who did that—good on them; terrific stuff; a new industry for Australia. Manildra was in fact created by the people sitting on my right-hand side, not those on my left-hand side. Understand that the industry is being abolished by the current government. But, having said that, I again endorse the remarks, on another level, by the previous speaker.

The first story we heard came from the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Mr Truss. Of all the people who should not have carried this message, he definitely should not have carried this message. He issued a press statement saying that there were problems with mixing and it would have to go back to the oil companies to be mixed and this would create great difficulties. I attended a seminar on ethanol. The lecturer at the seminar said, `Mixing ethanol with petrol is very complicated—very, very complicated indeed!' and he poured one beaker into another and it was mixed. Everybody knows how it is done. Even someone with the smallest amount of scientific knowledge knows that it diffuses immediately throughout the petrol. One of the problems is that it is so permeable it diffuses. Everyone at the seminar roared with laughter, because they already knew that.

This minister in the government is so lacking in intellectual understanding of what he is talking about and so irresponsible as to make a statement damaging this industry. Where did he get that information from? I suspect he got it from the same place that the RACQ, the Australian Automobile Association and all the other people who continuously put these furphies out are getting their information from—and we all know where that is.

The next thing that the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry said, in a personal attack on me for advocating ethanol, was that I was a fool and that, in actual fact, it would only result in ethanol coming in from Brazil. So I immediately went to press and said: `Of course the ethanol is going to come in from Brazil. There is a 38c a litre advantage for ethanol over petrol. As sure as the sun rises, ethanol is going to come in from Brazil.' We have always said that we need an environmental rebate. If we are going down the environmental road, there should be some sort of reward for the risk takers—whether they be the farmers, the processors, the sugar mills or the people in the wheat industry. Of course, that would have the effect—incidentally, not intentionally—of keeping the Brazilian ethanol out.

Surprise, surprise, the Brazilian ethanol came in a few months ago. Of course, when we asked for a rebate for the people of the wheat and sugar industries, we got completely ignored. But, when `Mr Manildra' asks for it for his personal advantage, we suddenly get action from the government. It is a pity the minister—who was saying to me that Brazilian ethanol would come in—did not get off his backside and do something about stopping Brazilian ethanol from coming in. If he had acted when we had asked him to act, the government would not be in the deeply embarrassing situation that they are in at the present moment. The minister sitting at the table was one of the people who advised the government on the dairy industry. If his advice, and the advice of the honourable member for Page, Mr Causley, had been taken, we would not have had the problem that arose in the dairy industry—most certainly not the political problem for the government; we may have even been able to forestall it.

The same people who are advising the minister and the Australian Automobile Association then came out with another story: that there is considerably less power in ethanol. Of course there is, because it is 30 per cent oxygen; it does not contain the hydrogen which provides the power. I do not know—does anyone do any research or have any scientific understanding before they shoot their mouths off? Of course it has less power. But the reason that it is being used is that it has oxygen in it—because it oxygenates the petrol. So when you allow for the oxygenation effect, there is a marginal loss of power—about two per cent or something like that. But that was not the contention put forward by certain people on the front bench here and by spokesmen for certain other interests.

The final story we have heard is that ethanol will wreck motors. I am going to read out a number of propositions. One of them is from the United States. Eight or nine months ago—I cannot remember the exact date—the United States Senate moved, in an overwhelming vote of 69 to 27, or something of that nature, across party lines, to introduce a 10 per cent ethanol blend by the year 2010. We can assume that the United States Senate has decided to wreck 40 million cars in the United States, or we can assume that the statements made by the Australian Automobile Association and the car manufacturers in Australia are a load of imbecilic rubbish—but there is no in between. The United States Senate moved to implement a 10 per cent ethanol blend, in a vote of, I think, 69 to 27; it was overwhelming. The 27 votes against were only on a minor point. It actual fact, it was almost a unanimous decision on the substantive motion.

Do you think that an august body like the United States Senate would move to implement a 10 per cent ethanol blend when, according to the leaked Australian report, that could put some 30 million cars off the road in the United States? Do they seriously think that the United States Senate would put 30 million cars off the road? So we are looking at another load of rubbish. It may come as a great surprise to the Australian Automobile Association, the oil companies and the motor manufacturers, who have been so stupid in their statements, to know that 22 per cent is the minimum level of ethanol used in petrol in Brazil. Brazil is a poor country. Do you think every motor car in Brazil has been modified to the tune of hundreds or thousands of dollars to suit the government of Brazil? Not likely.

Shortly I will refer to the European Union. We have a choice here. We can listen to the advice of the Australian government and people like CSIRO, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Australian Automobile Association and Australian manufacturers—we can believe all these people—that ethanol is bad, or we can listen to the government of the United States, a government of a country of 250 million or so people, and we can listen to the European Union—the government of Europe; the government of 650 million people—but there is no in between. You cannot believe the European Union and also believe the Australian government and its spokesmen and mouthpieces, the Australian Automobile Association and the manufacturers—you cannot believe both. You cannot believe the United States and also believe these very foolish people in Australia.

A report from the CSIRO said that ethanol was marginally negative for the environment. You do not have to be Albert Einstein, you do not have to be clever, you do not even have to have been to school to work out that, if you burn petrol, CO2 goes into the atmosphere. If you burn ethanol, CO2 also goes into the atmosphere. They are equal. If you burn the same amount of ethanol and petrol, you get the same amount of CO2—actually, you do not, because there is a lot of oxygen in ethanol. But we will not go sideways into that; we will just say that the same amount goes up. But there is one hell of a difference between the two, because with ethanol it comes back down again.

I had a screaming sense of personal frustration when explaining it to one of these people who has put out one of these reports—and I deeply regret to say that the officers involved have this attitude. I said: `Do you understand that there are 500,000 hectares of sugar cane being produced in Australia and that each one of those hectares pulls around 100 tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere every year? This means 50 million tonnes of CO2 is being pulled out of the atmosphere by this one industry every single year. The petrol industry does not do that—the petrol industry pulls not a single tonne of CO2 out of the atmosphere—yet you are saying that they both have the same effect on the atmosphere. Do you realise how incredibly stupid your statement is?'

In fairness to CSIRO, they have canned that report. It is very difficult to find. The federal department of the environment are not referring to it very often at the present moment either. I had a discussion with one of these people, and he said, `You've got to take into account things like ploughing.' I cannot speak for the wheat industry—and they tell me wheat is just as efficient as, if not more efficient than, sugar in producing ethanol—but the sugar industry most certainly cannot produce 10 per cent of Australia's ethanol requirements. It would be flat out producing three or four per cent. But, regarding the sugar industry, he said, `Every year you've got to plough, you've got to plant, you've got to cultivate. This takes a lot of oil, petrol and input.' I said to him: `We don't plough anymore in this industry. We don't cultivate. We only touch the ground once every five years. We put an eight-inch trash blanket over it every year. We don't need to cultivate anymore.' He said, `But what about the mill?' I said, `There are no inputs to a mill.' He said, `But you have power.' I said, `The power is generated by burning the bagasse,' which is the solid material that is left after you take the cane juice out. It was quite obvious to me that he had absolutely no working knowledge of this industry whatsoever. He was the person advising the Parliamentary Library, advising the department of agriculture, advising the department of the environment, and he had no working knowledge of this substantial central industry whatsoever.

There are 14 mills in Queensland. If we move to ethanol then there will be 40 per cent more bagasse—the solid material that is left over—to be burnt to generate electricity. One in every two of those mills should be able to generate 100 megawatts of electricity all year round. I think the Queensland grid is about 5,000 or 6,000 megawatts. We are talking here of a quarter of the entire electricity requirement of Queensland being able to be delivered by a sustainable energy medium that takes as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as it puts in—and this is only a by-product of the production of ethanol. To me, it is incredible that this could be happening.

The issue of health is by far and away the most important issue in this debate, and the government are going to get burnt, and burnt badly, unless they move on ethanol. Unlike the governments of all the other countries which have acted to clean up their act regarding pollution coming out of petrol exhausts, this government, and successive governments, have not. The Americans and Europeans acted 15 and 20 years ago.

Dr Noel Child and Professor Michael Dawson of the University of Technology in Sydney were explaining it to me. They said that when lead was taken out of petrol something had to be put back in to improve the performance, because motor cars would now only do 500 kilometres, instead of 600 kilometres, on a tank of petrol. We had to put something back in to replace the lead, and there were two alternatives: there was ethanol on the one hand and there were aromatics on the other.

There is a huge difference between aromatics and ethanol. One is carcinogenic. It causes cancer. People will die if you use aromatics in the petrol tank. Ethanol is not carcinogenic, and people will not die if you use it in the petrol tank. This is a pretty significant difference. Other countries acted 15 to 20 years ago. I think the Americans put a one per cent cap on benzine 15 years ago. There is no cap on benzine in Australia at the present moment. I have not seen the latest Australian design rules, but they only came out two months ago. As of two months ago, I can say that for certain.

Another difference—and this explains where all these stories are coming from—is that the oil companies produce aromatics. They make a profit from aromatics. They make no profit from ethanol. So they had a choice between using aromatics, which would kill people, and using ethanol, which would not kill people. One they made a profit out of, the other they did not. This was an evil decision—and `evil' is the only word that I can use to describe to the House the nature of this decision.

On top of that there is a small particles issue, which in fact is more serious than the aromatics issue. I quote from the New Scientist magazine, which is the most eminent scientific magazine in the world. An article under the headline `Big City Killer' states:

If the cigarettes don't get you the traffic pollution will.

Up to a fifth of all lung cancer deaths in cities are caused by tiny particles of pollution—most of them from vehicle exhaust. That's the conclusion of the biggest study into city pollution to date, which tracked half a million Americans for 16 years. It suggests the impact is far greater than feared.

I cannot read out the whole article, but it is from the world's most prestigious scientific journal. That article refers to another article, from the Journal of the American Medical Association of 6 March 2002, called `Lung cancer, cardiopulmonary mortality, and long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution'. On page 1137 of that article is the lung cancer mortality rate. If you go from what is normal in country Australia to a Sydney type situation, you will see that the incidence of lung cancer doubles. It is very simple: here is the graph. People here are not acting and have actually become spokespeople for the oil companies. People are dying in this country.

Finally, on the sugar industry, I deeply regret that the Parliamentary Library has taken information from sources that are really very substandard. I was the minister in the Queensland government when Transfield came to us—definitely no foolish company—and we negotiated on the basis of $360 a tonne, which we had to do because it was $340 a tonne then for sugar, so we were not going to negotiate for anything less. The library reference says $200 a tonne. So either Transfield or the people providing that information are fools, and I must emphasise that it was the people providing that information to the Parliamentary Library. We had Fluor Daniel and Wright Killen of Texas oversee the figures for us, so I am certain they are correct.

It was 67c for feedstock—that is, $360 a tonne—and 15c for processing, which equals 82c. You only put a 10th of it in a litre, so that is 360c for your normal petrol charges, which are 40c a litre less government charges at the present moment at the bowser. That is 44c a litre, and that is handled by the environment rebate. (Time expired)