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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 20092


Mrs GASH (8:10 PM) —Before I speak on the Fuel Quality Standards Amendment Bill 2003, I would like to congratulate the member for Dawson on her most articulate and precise speech on ethanol. I think it was absolutely tremendous. Much has been said about the benefits of ethanol, and I have certainly not been a wallflower in making my feelings about this issue known. Let us recognise that behind all this brouhaha is a Labor Party campaign. The member for Bruce is running the line that the government is keeping information from consumers on the safety of ethanol in fuel. However, the reality is that such statements are just a cover for their campaign of misinformation and half truths on ethanol—and that is putting it graciously.

Labor have done their best to kill off the blended fuel industry in Australia. If Labor really want to repair that situation, restore national confidence in this industry and give back to the workers in my electorate of Gilmore the assurance that their jobs are secure, then let us have the Leader of the Opposition, the member for Werriwa and the member for Batman come into the House here and now to apologise for misleading the Australian people on the value of ethanol as a renewable fuel additive. If the Labor Party want to persist in refusing to recognise the environmental benefits of ethanol and continue to work against jobs in Gilmore, then perhaps they should listen to some outsiders. Radio presenter Philip Clark has had the good sense to present an objective analysis of this issue. On 10 September Mr Clark interviewed Dr Bill Wells, an adviser to the United States government on ethanol. Having heard the claim that two million cars manufactured before 1986 would be damaged by 10 per cent ethanol, he said:

It's not even possible ... I don't believe there's an automobile driving on the highway today in Australia that would be harmed by 10% ethanol blends. Somewhere between 27% and 30% of all petrol in the US contains some level of ethanol. In the big polluted cities—Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Chicago, it's just moving into Detroit and Connecticut—100%, year round of the petrol contains ethanol. It's non-polluting. In around 1985 or 1986 ... when they took the lead out, the auto companies said, OK, we now have cars that can burn on unleaded fuel and they're being conservative about the other ones.

Indeed, Dr Wells is so confident about it he said:

If I had ... a pre-1986 car, I would seek out ethanol. It will clean out your engine, particularly the older cars, it makes them run more efficiently, the higher octane level, the enleanment is really, really good for these rich burning engines and the proof is it's been running for 10 years in Sydney.

Last week when I addressed this issue in the Main Committee I was also somewhat conservative in my own assessment. (Quorum formed) It is a pity that the Labor Party cannot take it as well as give it and that they have to call this intervention to stop time in my speech. However, I will continue loudly and long on this issue. There is no doubt that ethanol cannot be used, as I said—and I was wrong to say—in pre-1986 cars, when the manufacturers are saying that they can use it with the right preparations. It is no wonder that, with all the conflicting reports, like the consumer I was somewhat confused. Dr Wells went on to say:

There are around 2.7 billion gallons, which is something like 11 billion litres of ethanol going to be blended as E10 or E8 or E6 in the United States this year.

He calculates:

Americans will drive 670 billion miles on ethanol this year. If there was a problem ... believe me, we would know it.

Dr Wells points out that Brazil have 22 per cent ethanol in their petrol and some cars run on 90 per cent. So why are we arguing like this?

Philip Clark in his commentary on the subject puts it down to `hysteria' and `ignorance'. I think he is right. Hysteria describes Labor's approach to dealing with a serious issue. They cause a scare campaign and destroy the reputation of fine Australians and their companies all in the name of getting at the government. It is called point scoring. Given the level of ignorance that prevails in the Labor Party on ethanol, as evidenced by some of the debate we have heard on this bill, it is not surprising to see them resorting to an hysterical fear campaign. That is what they are good at. They have no policies. That takes creative ideas and hard work, and they are not up to that. Instead, they scare the people—because what would they know?

We also need to ask about the oil companies' support for using ethanol. Do they have an interest in backing Labor's campaign? As far as the international oil companies are concerned, this is certainly not the case. Dr Wells states that Sir John Brown of BP is an `extreme environmentalist and he buys more ethanol in a month than the United States and Australia could use in two years'. To their credit, BP in Queensland have produced a brochure entitled `What colour is your petrol? Ours is green.' It states:

It's time for more motorists to take advantage of the benefits of ... Australian-sourced renewable fuel. Ethanol is one of the best ways we have to fight air pollution from vehicles. That's because ethanol contains 35% oxygen. And when you increase the level of oxygen in petrol you get more complete combustion, which reduces harmful tailpipe emissions such as carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons ... When the ethanol is burnt as a fuel, it releases carbon dioxide which plants reabsorb and use to make more oxygen. And so the cycle goes ...

Why are our oil companies in other states not supporting ethanol? I repeat the question: are they in support of Labor in its scare campaign? In the United States Mobil put out literature entitled `Why ethanol is good for your car'. They promote ethanol as `Engine enhancing; Clean and safe; American made'. They say that ethanol helps keep fuel injection systems clean, so they perform better. Problems with fuel injection plugging are the result of dirty fuel, not ethanol. The research has been done. The American Institute of Chemical Engineers compared ethanol fuel to straight gasoline, and in a published report the institute said that ethanol was `very similar in driving characteristics to straight gasoline, except that pre-ignition and dieseling run on are noticeably reduced and acceleration can be improved' with ethanol.

Hopefully, other Australian oil company representatives will start to respond to the initiative demonstrated by Mobil's global operations and BP here in Australia. It is easy for these companies to become slaves to the marketplace, responding to the hysteria that the Labor opposition is feeding the public. However, rural and regional Australians can be far more discerning. They understand better than most the longterm benefits of practical environmental management, not to mention the real and immediate benefits of employment so desperately needed in these areas.

When I was elected as the member for Gilmore in 1996, unemployment was 17 per cent. Thanks to the responsible economic management of this government, unemployment in Gilmore now stands at 6.5 per cent. But I am not satisfied with that; there is more work to be done. It is estimated that this industry will create up to $1.1 billion of new investment in regional areas. Where is Labor's alternative employment program for regional Australia? That is what it comes down to with this opposition. There is no plan and no policy.

Let us, for a moment, have a look at how this issue affects the people in my electorate of Gilmore. The New South Wales Environment Protection Authority regulations require Manildra to find a way to deal with the waste stream from their mill on the Shoalhaven River at Bomaderry. This waste includes starches and proteins. The most efficient solution to the problem was to build an ethanol plant, which also added value to what would have been just waste. If Manildra is unable to process effluent waste into ethanol, then the EPA may force them to close as there is no other infrastructure in place to deal with the waste. Let us not forget that it was the former Labor government that promoted the use of ethanol and encouraged Manildra to produce it by giving ethanol an 18 cent per litre bounty.

Manildra has been seeking to sell ethanol to the four major fuel companies since 1992. During that time they have not been able to sell even one litre. Ethanol storage is in short supply and if petrol companies do not start taking ethanol, it is likely that Manildra will need to halt production anyhow. Since the government's decision on the 10 per cent cap for ethanol in fuel, Manildra has again made representations to every fuel company, and on each occasion the answer has been `no' or `maybe in six to 12 months or so'. These oil companies still have their signs up saying, `No ethanol sold here.'

Closing Manildra's ethanol plant at Bomaderry on the Shoalhaven River would directly threaten over 200 local jobs with a much wider economic impact, beginning with the loss of a further 600 to 800 jobs indirectly. One of the major reasons why Manildra is located at Bomaderry is the neighbouring paper mill. It uses the starches to add quality to the paper; it stops ink running. Starch also adds stiffness to packaging and cardboard. Closure of Manildra also puts the paper mill at risk of closing.

But the destruction does not end there. Manildra supplies brewers' syrups across Australia. Imagine how many jobs are linked with the production, transport and selling of beer in Australia. Ethanol is the major carrier or delivery system for aerosol sprays as it evaporates quickly, leaving only the substance being sprayed. Ethanol is not only the delivery system for perfumes and deodorants, but it is also used with many aerosol medicines such as asthma sprays. Is Labor asking producers for these products to source their ethanol from overseas?

Manildra is a major supplier of glucose sweeteners to Cadburys, Nestle and Coca-Cola. The production of ethanol emits carbon dioxide as a by-product, which is used to put the bubbles in Coke. This CO2 replaces fossil carbon. Now why would you go back to mining a fossil fuel product when a safe, clean, environmentally friendly carbonating substance is being made from renewable vegetative waste? We must ask: where are the Greens on this? Senator Brown is strangely silent. How come they are not at the petrol stations asking for ethanol to help keep our air clean? How come they are not out there supporting a sustainable, renewable fuel source?

The effects of the Bomaderry plant closure would be even more far-reaching. The flour that comes from Gunnedah and the township of Manildra will have nowhere to go since it is not flour sold for bread making but for industrial processing. Such a result will negatively impact on the farmers, the harvesters and the flour millers out in those regional areas. Australia wide, there could be another 900 jobs put at risk.

The ethanol issue has been played out before in several developed countries. In each case where the oil companies totally owned and controlled the industry, the introduction of ethanol progressed smoothly and without question. However, in countries where the oil companies did not have total control of the industry, this same battle of the perception of ethanol has been fought. Basically, if the oil companies cannot own it they will fight its introduction for as long as possible in the hope that they will send the ethanol producers broke. When that happens, as has happened in other countries, the oil companies then buy up the infrastructure and suddenly ethanol is available in fuel with no problems. This is the battle we are watching in Australia today. (Quorum formed)

In presenting this bill, all the Australian government is asking the parliament to do is to give it the power to put in place a system of labelling that the states and territories have not done. The state member for Kiama, Matt Brown, is one Labor MP who says that he is happy to support ethanol—particularly if he gets his photo in the paper—but his support does not extend to convincing his own New South Wales government colleagues to do what it is their responsibility to do—that is, to introduce labelling which the federal government has now put before the House.

In concluding—as time is running out and I have had to miss out half my speech—let us go back to the ethanol plant at Bomaderry known as Manildra. I do not know whether the Leader of the Opposition or the member for Werriwa have actually ever been to see what is produced there or have had the opportunity to talk to the people who produce ethanol. As the federal member I extend an invitation to them to come and visit, speak to the workers and hear from people like Stuart Lucas, who has worked for Dick Honan at Manildra for the past 26 years. He has just bought a better home and has a mortgage to go with it. He certainly has no plans to retire or to be made redundant. He has a son, who has worked at the plant for 10 years. He also has a wife, two children and a mortgage. What will the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Werriwa tell them? How will they explain that scoring these political points costs jobs and ruins families—and for what? I say to them: come and visit. Come and talk to the workers whom your tactics will affect, the people whose jobs you are putting at risk. I am working for those jobs and for more jobs—more jobs in Gilmore and more jobs in rural and regional Australia.