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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21976


Mr WILKIE (7:16 PM) —Mr Deputy Speaker Mossfield, I thank you for coming into the chamber and looking after the chair so that I can have the opportunity to speak 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, but, before I do, I would like to comment on the member for McMillan's comments regarding brown coal and the Latrobe Valley.

I am on the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, and a number of years ago we did an inquiry into greenhouse gas emissions and their impact on the ozone layer. We went to the Latrobe Valley in Victoria to have a look at how the industry operated in relation to brown coal and power production. I commend the member for McMillan for his efforts. He does a fantastic job looking after the Latrobe Valley, and he has been a very worthwhile advocate for them. As he has just demonstrated, he is a very strong believer in the mining industry there and brown coal production.

When I was in the Latrobe Valley I was very impressed with the way in which the brown coal industry appreciates the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and is going about trying to develop technology to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions which it produces. Of course, brown coal is a problem because, when it is mined, it is moist. Obviously, in order to generate the power from the coal, you need to burn it. You cannot burn something that is wet, so they need to dry it before they can put it through the power stations. It is actually the drying process that produces the greenhouse gases.

Currently I think the industry there are having to plant something like one million hectares of trees every year just to try and compensate for the greenhouse gases that they are producing. They obviously appreciate the problem and are investing in the technology to try and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that they produce. But, sadly for the Latrobe Valley and many other brown coal producing industries, the government is not, I believe, putting enough money into research and development to assist them in the process of reducing those greenhouse gas emissions.

I am extremely proud that Australia is the leading supporter of international efforts to protect the ozone layer of the atmosphere, and I am especially proud that the original legislation in relation to dealing with this matter was introduced by Labor in 1989. Since this legislation was first introduced by Labor, Australia's consumption of ozone depleting substances has reduced by over 80 per cent, resulting in estimated savings to the Australian economy of some $6.4 billion in the future. The outcome of this bill will hopefully result in a national scheme to regulate the management of ozone depleting substances and of the synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacements. It is important for Australia to implement this bill. By doing so, Australia will retain its position as an international leader in relation to the move to preserve the ozone layer.

I am sure that most people are aware of what the damage to the ozone layer represents to the health and wellbeing of all Australians. The ozone layer, as we know, protects the earth from radiation. We cannot risk it being destroyed by emissions of ozone depleting substances. Australia's proximity to the biggest area of depletion and, of course, our penchant for spending most of our time outside do make us particularly vulnerable to increased health risks. There are many links, obviously, between the reduction of the ozone layer and increases in global warming, which has major impacts on our neighbours—particularly in the Pacific, where you have very low-lying islands. A significant rise in global temperatures would melt some of the icecaps and bring up the water levels, which, for them, would have a very significant impact because, obviously, their islands will disappear under water in the not-too-distant future if we do not do something to address global warming.

As I mentioned earlier, Australia's consumption of ozone depleting substances has been reduced by over 80 per cent since the enactment of legislation in 1989. This has been achieved through cooperation between government and industry. To achieve this reduction, Australian industry has embraced the use of a variety of ozone benign substances and technologies. These include synthetic greenhouse gases, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. Whilst these gases present no direct risk to the ozone layer, they are powerful greenhouse gases. As a result, their emissions have an impact on the climate many times greater than emissions of carbon dioxide on a tonne-for-tonne basis. As a nation we ratified the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985 and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer in 1987.

Just by way of background, ozone is produced by the reaction of ordinary oxygen with the sun's ultraviolet radiation in the upper atmosphere. Ozone is a protective layer in the upper atmosphere which shields the earth from the majority of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. We know that ozone is destroyed by certain chemicals, primarily halons and chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. These chemicals were found in such everyday things as aerosol sprays, dry-cleaning fluids, cooling systems such as refrigeration and airconditioning, some fire extinguishers and polystyrene. If you have had problems with the airconditioning system on your car, you will know that, when they came to try and service that system, if the old gases were involved they had to try and remove those completely from the airconditioning system and replace them with a gas that actually does not do any damage. That is expensive, but it is worth while.

In recent times we have made significant inroads in Australia in reducing or eliminating the use of many of the things that are detrimental to the ozone layer. It has been recognised since the 1970s, when the scientific community began documenting the appearance and expansion of the hole in the ozone layer, that the thinning of the ozone layer is a global problem—a problem that needs a global solution. The hole initially appeared over the Antarctic and it grew to cover an area larger than Europe at certain times of the year. It was realised that, if the ozone layer was to be protected from further depletion, then the problem had to be addressed internationally by general agreement. The Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer 1985 was the first international agreement. The Ozone Protection Act 1989 was Australia's response to the Montreal protocol. There are also a number of pieces of state legislation that address the issue of reducing the output of ozone depleting chemicals.

The purpose of the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 is to amend the Ozone Protection Act 1989 to establish a national regulatory scheme for the management of both ozone depleting substances and the synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacement. This act also implements the most recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. Australia has implemented the Montreal protocol by imposing controls on methyl bromide and HCFCs—hydrochloro-fluorocarbons—as from 1 January 1996. A licence is now required for the manufacture, import or export of these substances. Not all ozone depleting chemicals—generally bromine and chlorine compounds—have the same effect on the ozone layer. Generally speaking, bromine is much worse as it breaks up ozone at around 50 times the rate that chlorine does. However, bromine only remains active in the stratosphere for a couple of years, whereas chlorine can remain active in the ozone layer for around 100 years. Methyl bromide is a highly toxic gas that is a broad spectrum fumigant. It is odourless, colourless and tasteless. Its uses include the control of pests and diseases in horticultural soils, stored grains, quarantine and many other types of fumigation.

Methyl bromide is currently scheduled to be phased out by 2010. It is an extremely powerful ozone depleting substance. All uses of methyl bromide are to be phased out by 2005. This is consistent with our obligations under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer—well, not all uses, as it is still going to be used by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service, a federal government agency, for fumigation purposes. Whilst this is not a perfect outcome, there does not appear to be an alternative at the moment. It was recognised at the time the protocol was adopted that there needed to be some exemptions to the phase-out, and the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service was one of those granted an exemption. Looking at the whole picture, there is not a readily available approach that can replace methyl bromide without major adjustments in pest management and potential economic losses. In real terms, I do not think that these exemptions will have a significant effect on the ozone layer.

The Beijing amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was registered with the United Nations in June 2001. The protocol was first signed in 1987. It has been amended a number of times as countries have agreed to increasingly firm restrictions on the production and trade of those substances. The Beijing amendment adds bromochloromethane to the list of products controlled by the protocol. Bromochloromethane was once widely used as a fire and explosives suppressant. The amendment also extends restrictions on trade in ozone depleting substances with countries not party to the protocol. The purpose of the restriction is to encourage countries not party to the protocol to sign up.

Methyl bromide is the most powerful ozone depleting substance still to be phased out by developed country parties in accordance with the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. In Australia methyl bromide is primarily used as a fumigant to kill pests, weeds and soil pathogens in soil before horticultural crops are planted. It is also used for quarantine and preshipment treatment of commodities leaving and entering Australia, to ensure they are free from unwanted pests. Methyl bromide's use for quarantine and preshipment applications is, as mentioned previously, currently exempt from the international phase-out unlike horticultural uses, which are to be phased out by 1 January 2005.

Already there have been unacceptable delays by this government in introducing this legislation. These delays have resulted in millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere over the last decade. This could have been prevented had the government acted sooner. This bill certainly goes towards helping Australia meet its Kyoto target and it will reduce some 17 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. Protection of the ozone layer is in the best interests of Australia for many reasons, including the reduction of damage to Australian agriculture and fisheries, the reduction of damage to natural ecosystems and also the protection of global biodiversity and the economies of Australia's trading partners.

In conclusion, the ozone layer protects the earth from ultraviolent radiation. To ensure that the ozone layer is not further depleted, we must implement mechanisms to minimise the use of chemicals and other substances that we know deplete the ozone layer. We currently approach this in two ways: firstly, by the implementation of domestic policies to minimise our own emissions of ozone depleting substances and, secondly, by encouraging other countries to also minimise their emissions by taking part in protocol forums. I believe that in Western Australia we are doing our bit by expanding the use of natural gas and LPG, which are also fuels that minimise or reduce the amount of ozone depleting gases produced. I obviously welcome the signing-up of countries such as China to purchase more and more of our gas from the North West Shelf in Western Australia, and I would urge them to buy more in the future and thus do a little bit more to help reduce the impacts of global warming and ozone depleting substances. I commend the bill to the House.