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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21820


Mr HUNT (8:33 PM) —I am delighted to rise to speak in this cognate debate on the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003 and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003. I do so knowing that earlier today I rose and spoke about the death, the passing, of Gareth Hardin, who wrote `The tragedy of the commons' in 1968 and published that in the journal Science. As I mentioned earlier today, that was one of the seminal environmental treatises of the 20th century. When I spoke of it earlier today, I spoke of it in the context of a localised example of a tragedy of the commons: the soiling of Gunnamatta beach, the staining of the oceans and the waste of water which occurred off my own electorate. This legislation addresses the alternative. It addresses a global example of the tragedy of the commons. Hardin's thesis was simple. Hardin's thesis was that, in a world full of rational actors, there is a certain amount that each of us could do and each of us could contribute to the environment. If there is a group of herdsmen who surround a commons and if each grazes one cow, that commons can accommodate them. If, as a rational actor, an individual herdsman grazes an additional cow, that is to his or her benefit. But if all do the same, they exhaust that resource. That is essentially what is meant by the commons: that intuitive commonsense for an individual amounts to collective failure when allowed without looking at it from an overview.

That is what this legislation and the whole notion of modern environmentalism focuses on. It focuses on one word, one concept: externalities. Externalities are those things which are by-products of an individual's or a group's actions and which are not borne by that individual or that group. When the actions of a series of groups become the actions of states, which become the actions of nations and which become the actions of continents and there is no single collective responsibility, then we have systemic failure. That was what Hardin recognised in 1968, that is what Rachel Carson recognised half a decade earlier with a treatise called `Silent Spring', and that is what came to pass with the gradual erosion and depletion of the ozone layer. That ozone layer is part of our protective shield. It shields us from the sun's rays, it allows our crops to grow and it protects many parts of the way in which the natural planet functions. Our actions taken collectively, not with collective malice but with collective indifference, were leading inexorably to not just depletion but collapse of the earth's protective ozone layer. In that context, these bill being debated cognately are part of the global response, not just the Australian response, to dealing with the problem of depleted ozone. Fundamentally, at their best these bills are about making an investment not for us but for our children and for their children so that the legacy we bequeath is not a worse world but an improvement in the quality of life without the trade-off of destroying the very incubator in which they live.

Essentially, the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 amends the Ozone Protection Act 1989. It introduces new controls for substances that have detrimental impacts on the atmosphere. They are, firstly, ozone depleting substances—those which through collective use and the effluxion of time destroy the ozone layer—and, secondly, synthetic greenhouse gases which are used as alternatives to ozone depleting substances. One of the great dangers we have is the very simple notion of robbing Peter to pay Paul if we try to solve one problem by creating a problem in another area, albeit inadvertently. These controls are introduced for the purposes of implementing Australia's obligations to minimise the consumption and emission of ozone under the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer, the Montreal Protocol on Substances That Deplete the Ozone Layer and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I want to address these concerns in three phases: firstly, to understand a little of the background to these bills; secondly, to understand their importance; and, thirdly, to examine some of the core provisions which they enshrine. Looking at the background, what we see is that ozone depletion is a global problem, but it also provides perhaps the pre-eminent example of international cooperation to tackle an international problem. It is a significant problem, not just globally but in particular for Australia, because of the specific damage to that portion of the ozone layer which overreaches Australia. The causes of this significant ozone loss over Australia, particularly over southern Australia and the polar regions, have been the growing levels of ozone depleting substances in the upper atmosphere, known as the stratosphere.

The 1989 Montreal protocol has provided the framework for Australia's response to ozone depletion, and it has provided the framework for an international response. The previous steady rate of increase in the global atmospheric concentration of ozone depleting substances has slowed significantly in recent years. Scientists attribute this to adherence to the bans in the Montreal protocol. It is a successful example of an international agreement acting in the collective interest. In that context, global measures are seen to be having an effect. Critically, as a result of the decision to introduce this, there has been a great growth in alternative technology. It is a classic example of sustainability driving innovation. We forget sometimes when we look at the status quo of the world that we are incredibly innovative. When we resist the alternatives and stay with the old ways, we are often taking a more inefficient path. As a result of the Montreal protocol and the obligations we imposed upon ourselves, there are now many alternatives to ozone depleting substances.

What has happened in Australia is that we have phased out chlorofluorocarbons for general use. Only very small amounts are now used for essential purposes. Halons and methyl chloroform have also been phased out. In addition to that, in the phase-out process other compounds—hydro-chloro-fluorocarbons—were substituted for CFC use. Importantly, these have a much lower ozone depleting potential than CFCs, although there is still damage and we must work to provide alternatives and to eliminate these substances. What is interesting is the overview. Emissions are being held at 1989 levels. Not only is the phase-out target of 2020 on track; Australia is ahead of its obligation in its targets for its 2020 goals.

One of the things I talked about earlier today was the notion of a national sustainability initiative—a broad based initiative which covered the four spheres of water, land and biodiversity, human settlements and energy, and the atmosphere. What we see here is one example of setting a generational goal, setting a regime in place to achieve it and establishing a protocol and a policy program by which we set out to pursue physical changes in the way in which we live. That is a process that I believe we need to take part in as a nation, to set across all of those core sectors so that we have goals for ozone depletion, for a reduction in land clearing and for establishing in Australia total wooded biomass—or the total volume of wood that is alive and growing in our fields. It is so that we have goals for the flow of water and for the absolute cessation of all ocean outfalls by the year 2025. The target of 2020 for the elimination of CFCs and other ozone depleting substances from the Australian landscape is one which I believe is a single example of what should be a national, broad based approach to the creation of a national sustainability initiative.

These bills have two primary purposes: firstly, to ensure that Australia has a truly national regulatory scheme for the management of ozone depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacement and, secondly, to ensure that Australia—both for reasons of self-interest and good citizenship—remains an international leader on action to preserve the earth's ozone layer. Their two purposes are, firstly, to ensure that we have an adequate, real, hard, practical regulatory scheme and, secondly, to show that we are playing our part, doing our bit and holding up our responsibilities. In that context, what we find when looking at the importance of the bills is that they set out to address the issue of ozone depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases.

I also want to mention, very simply, some of the core provisions of the bill. Item 4 amends paragraph 3(a) of the act to replace the reference to the `convention and the protocol' with the `Vienna Convention and the Montreal Protocol' so as to clarify our international agreements. Perhaps most significantly, item 6 amends the bill to incorporate two objectives into the act: it institutes controls on the manufacture, import, export and use of substitute greenhouse gases to give effect to Australia's obligations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change; and it promotes, argues for and establishes the framework for responsible use and management of all ozone-depleting substances controlled under the act so as to minimise their impact on the atmosphere. There are a lot of elements but, essentially, it puts in place a harder, more advanced regime than that which already exists for ozone-depleting substances and substitute greenhouse gas substances.

I want to step back for a moment and return to Garrett Hardin. Looking back at the work he completed almost 35 years ago, we see that his thesis was spot-on. It recognised that our actions, which may be taken inadvertently and collectively, could lead to a negative and, in some cases, potentially catastrophic effect either at the local level or at the global level. These bills are an acknowledgment of Garrett Hardin's work, which recognised that we can take steps and transform the way we do business, and we can take steps and have an impact on our global environment. We are already seeing a dramatic change in the way in which we deal with ozone. There is more to be done, whether it is in our greenhouse gas emissions, in our water use or in our land clearance. These are things which my generation has a responsibility to take up, and we are doing that. We do it with a passion, with a commitment and with fervour. I am delighted to commend these bills to the House, and I wish them safe passage.