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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21955


Mr MURPHY (5:46 PM) —In speaking to 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—Manu-facture) Amendment Bill 2003 this evening, whilst there are many substances that have a profound effect on the global atmosphere, I will focus on one group of these substances and the systems that use them—namely, airconditioning. My electorate of Lowe is largely urban. Many people have airconditioners or would like to have one, especially on those famous humid summer days in Sydney. But there are some serious problems in the airconditioning industry in Australia and these problems are causing significant long-term environmental damage, as we all know. Unfortunately, these bills do not reflect the current situation or offer a strategic remedy. The government continues to lead Australia away from the Kyoto protocol in order to fall in line yet again with the United States. Ignoring the problem of climate change is a wilful act of environmental vandalism of the worst variety.

Airconditioning units sold for homes and small offices generally contain refrigerant gases that are extremely potent global warming gases. Presently, most of the home airconditioning units installed in Australian homes contain a refrigerant gas that is also a substance that depletes the ozone layer. This year, the ozone hole over Antarctica during August, September and October was one of the biggest, deepest and longest ozone holes since scientists have been keeping records. During September 2003, there were also ozone holes over the Arctic, Hudson's Bay in Canada and Estonia. Ozone depletion is a global problem and it will continue to be a problem for many years after we stop using ozone depleting substances.

Australia is one of the world's largest markets for home airconditioners. More than 650,000 home airconditioning units were sold in Australia in 2002. These home airconditioners contain refrigerant gases that are very potent global warming gases. For example, the best known greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, has a global warming potential of one. The refrigerant gas found in a typical home airconditioner, known as refrigerant 22, has a global warming potential of 1,700 and an atmospheric lifetime of 100 years. The average home airconditioner contains more than two kilograms of gas. That equals another 3½ tonnes of global warming gases when the gas escapes to the atmosphere. It is almost guaranteed that the airconditioning unit will lose the refrigerant charge within the lifetime of the appliance.

There is still not an Australia-wide system that ensures properly qualified technicians are the only people who can legally install airconditioners. Many Australian airconditioners are not installed by properly qualified technicians. Backyard cowboy contractors applying poor work practices and makeshift tools are responsible for installing airconditioning that leaks refrigerant, uses too much electricity, performs poorly and is likely to lead to a claim on the warranty of the product.

Airconditioners use a considerable amount of electricity, which contributes even more global warming gases. This point was illustrated on the front page of last Saturday's Sydney Morning Herald, where the Premier of New South Wales confirmed that airconditioners and computers are leading to a 30 per cent increase in electricity use. It should be noted that the recent electricity system failure in the United States of America and Canada occurred at about 3 p.m. on one of the hottest days of the year—a day when airconditioners were working flat out. In simple terms, contemporary technology requires more electricity to make something cold than to create heat.

Not surprisingly, as global warming and climate change accelerate, more people will want to install airconditioners. It is our duty to ensure that Australians have safe, effective and efficient airconditioning. The 2003 ozone legislation does not go far enough, in my view, to create a better future. Most of us know that the climate change forecast for Australia is not good. Predictions of increases in temperature paint a fairly bleak picture.

The Australian Greenhouse Office should be encouraging Australian refrigerant and airconditioning technologies that are safe, more efficient and effective. So we need to create a situation where we no longer require imported gases that are ozone depleters and very potent greenhouse gases for Australia's airconditioning and refrigeration needs. When refrigeration gas is imported into Australia, it should be in proper shipping containers. At present imported airconditioners contain a charge of refrigerant gas. There are internationally accepted standards for containers used to transport refrigerants and we need to ensure these standards apply. In their present form, the ozone bills before the House tonight will encourage companies that import the most environmentally damaging airconditioning technology, while ruining the opportunities for Australian suppliers of airconditioning gases and technology. Just by using and encouraging Australian airconditioning and refrigeration technology, we in Australia can make a significant reduction in greenhouse gases. There is also the obvious benefit of creating jobs and wealth for Australians.

It is no wonder we are confused about airconditioning. There has been a lot of misleading information provided to the public, the media, the government, departments and members of parliament about the environmental benefits of certain airconditioning systems. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has finally stepped in to put the airconditioning industry on notice about misleading claims found in promotional material. The ACCC has instituted proceedings in the Federal Court in Sydney against Sanyo Airconditioners Manufacturing Singapore Pty Ltd, trading as Sanyo Airconditioning Australia, alleging misleading and deceptive conduct in claiming environmental benefits for its airconditioning units. One of the ACCC claims is that Sanyo Airconditioning:

... misled consumers and businesses by not clearly indicating several of the units featured in Sanyo's promotional materials use hydrochlorofluorocarbon R-22 as a refrigerant, which is a powerful greenhouse gas and an ozone depleting substance.

The ACCC is seeking court orders against Sanyo Airconditioners Manufacturing Singapore Pty Ltd, including declarations, injunctions, orders relating to the disclosure of specific information, orders relating to the implementation of a trade practices compliance program and costs. We can assume all companies selling airconditioners in Australia will change their promotional material to ensure they are not making any similar misleading claims—on that one we live in hope. When Australians are presented with proper and accurate information about airconditioners and refrigerants, we will be able to make the right choices. The 2003 ozone legislation needs a lot of work before it will create the legal framework that will ensure Australians have access to safe, effective, efficient and, hopefully, Australian made airconditioner systems now and into the future.

In a lot of ways, these bills are, in light of recent evidence about changes in our climate, too little and too late. Climatologists working at the Bureau of Meteorology at Monash University, together with CSIRO scientists, have recently found an explanation for the 20 per cent decline in rainfall in the southern regions of Australia that has been observed over the last seven years. They have shown that ozone depletion over Antarctica, caused by ozone destroying chemicals, combined with global warming, caused by carbon dioxide pollution, is causing the rain-bearing cold fronts that normally water the southern states to move further south and away from the land. Rainfall in the southern states is usually delivered by cold fronts that swirl up from Antarctica. It now appears that the atmospheric circulation of the entire Southern Hemisphere that delivers this rain is changing, to our great disadvantage. The water storages of Melbourne and Adelaide are below 50 per cent capacity and Perth's water storage is less than a quarter full. Unless significant rain occurs over the next 18 months, the citizens of these cities will face a most serious water crisis. Thirty years ago, we could count on reliable rain in autumn and early winter as cold fronts brought storms to Melbourne, Perth and Adelaide. Thanks to climate change caused by atmospheric pollution, this is no longer the case.

Kevin Hennessy, a senior research scientist from the CSIRO, recently reported on the ABC science show Catalyst that these cold fronts have moved further south, resulting in reduced rainfall in the southern capitals. The report stated that climate models show the most probable cause of these changes to be global warming, which even this government admits is caused by carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels, combined with a cooling of the air over Antarctica caused by ozone loss. The combined effect of these two processes is to create a bigger temperature difference between the equator and the pole that in turn intensifies the wind speeds over the Southern Ocean. The Antarctic Vortex, a natural tornado of cold high-speed winds that swirl around the Antarctic continent, is one of the engines that drive the Southern Hemisphere climate. There is no doubt about that. It now appears that this vortex is spinning faster and drawing the climate bands further south and pulling the rain-bearing cold fronts away from southern Australia. The result is one of the worst droughts on record and a prediction that reduced rainfall and a drier climate will be with us for at least another 50 years. This change in our weather is well documented and we now have a plausible explanation for its origin that is supported not only by CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology scientists but also by the US Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. In light of these findings, is it not high time that this government responded with measures to radically reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as well as ozone depleting chemicals? This reduction in emissions must include the potent greenhouse gases—hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons—now being used as a replacement for the ozone destroying chlorofluorocarbons.

Alternative refrigeration technologies do exist. Some, such as the solid-state Peltier effect devices used in battery powered beer coolers, have been available for many years. Others, ones that do not employ the Joule-Thompson cycle used in conventional refrig-erators that employ greenhouse enhancing or ozone destroying chemicals, are under development. Government initiatives to encourage or force the move to these new technologies are urgently required, in my view. Refrigeration systems that employ greenhouse enhancing or ozone destroying chemicals have to be phased out as quickly as possible. We all know that the government complains that measures to reduce the level of carbon dioxide emissions would be expensive and disruptive and that it would rather encourage the consumption of fossil fuels by numerous subsidies. I ask: `For how much longer will the government ignore the evidence that failing to act is becoming even more expensive and disruptive?' It is tragic that Australia—the country with the government most opposed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions—appears likely to be the country that will suffer the greatest immediate damage from the effects of global warming.