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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 7669

Mr TUCKEY (11:04 AM) —As has been indicated to the House by our shadow minister, the opposition supports the Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 and related bills as necessary steps in a process which, I think, is probably many years away and should not be given any form of priority compared to other options for Australia to address greenhouse emissions and their perceived effect on the climate of this nation. I would like to repeat, nevertheless, that if we were to evacuate Australia in the future years there would be no effect on the climate of Australia by that action because our contribution—at 1.4 per cent—is so little that, unless there is complementary action by the so-called big emitters, the climate of Australia will be dictated by their actions. Every time I fly I am reminded—as you might be, Deputy Speaker Georganas, as you come from South Australia—that the air blowing over Australia moves at 150 to 200 kilometres an hour and does not stop on the borders.

Having put that position forward, I still believe that Australia has a responsibility to meet international obligations. Before my speech is done I will explain how I would do it without sending anybody broke and without reducing the contribution that coal-fired generation makes to this country without very expensive and risky carbon sequestration as proposed under this legislation. Furthermore, one might have a look at the legislative intent. One might even ask oneself how many trees this legislation cost and what emissions were associated with its presentation. It typifies an approach emanating from this government, which is to bring in some legislation and handball the responsibility to the private sector—to bring in an emissions trading scheme, rip $11 billion off the private sector and say, ‘Well, if you’ve got any money left, you’d better fix the problem.’ That is going to be a significant contributor to reducing greenhouse emissions in Australia because a lot of companies will pack up and go. They will emit no longer. Groups contemplating investment in Australia will say, ‘Why would I bother?’

Liz Bossley, a leading emissions trading expert—imported, I might add, by a finance dealing company, and we have seen how helpful they are to the world economy in recent times—was quoted in the Australian on 12 August as having made a couple of salient points. She said, ‘Of course we need an emissions trading scheme. We the finance sector are going to make a lot of money out of it. But you had better get on with it, because if you think you are going to wait for India, China and the US to come in with caps, they’re not going to do it.’ She also made the point that a $20-a-tonne entry rate is no incentive to those who want to stay to change their habits.

A committee of which I am a member received a joint submission from the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Australian Council of Social Service telling us that if the green paper proposals were implemented the average household’s electricity would increase by between $250 and $300 a year, and a lot of poor people would have to be subsidised. That is what the submission said, in black and white. If we give them the money back, will the kids turn the lights out? I do not think so. We must look at the effectiveness of these schemes.

The point I want to make is simply that initiatives must be practical in nature. Initiatives of past governments come to mind. I will name a Labor initiative first: the Snowy scheme. Sir Charles Court’s initiative is the only reason that Australia now profits so much from the production of liquefied natural gas on the North West Shelf. That area would still be undeveloped if the Charles Court government had not taken the initiative to buy more gas than Western Australians could use at the time and to build the pipeline infrastructure to get it to the market. There is a role for government in doing these things. However, it is a hell of a lot different from expending a great deal of Public Service time producing big books that are a substitute for action.

I am a regular attendee at CSIRO breakfast briefings. I do not think I have missed one. Geosequestration was talked about at one of those briefings. It was said that the science is not very difficult and that there are all sorts of options, but they have yet to get the energy cost below 20 per cent of the output of the relevant power station. We would have to burn 20 per cent more coal to get back to where we started. I would not make that a high priority issue for Australia, and I will explain why.

I wondered why all that energy was required, so I consulted the library. I tried to chase up a briefing given by the office of the opposition shadow spokesman when he was the minister about some aspects of these proposals. One approach is to pump in a heap of oxygen while the coal is being burnt to get lower emissions. There is no argument about that. But who makes the oxygen? I am a bit of a welder and I know that you buy oxygen in bottles, and it costs plenty. There is an energy cost in producing that oxygen.

I established from my research that carbon dioxide captured from power stations usually needs to be transported to the place where it will be stored. That could be under the ocean. That usually involves compressing the carbon dioxide to what is called a ‘super critical state’. That is at above a pressure of 73 atmospheres, which is 73 times more pressure than we feel at sea level from atmospheric pressure and above 31.1 degrees Celsius. Clearly, this process uses energy, as does the transportation. Of course, someone has to build a pipeline that can contain 73 atmospheres, because the only other thing that keeps the gas inside the pipe is the outside pressure. While it is in the ground, the only thing keeping it there is the density of the surrounding soil materials. That is one atmosphere versus 73.

My research went a little further. I read about a place called Lake Nyos in Cameroon. I quote:

CO2 is an asphyxiant …

It is not poisonous, but in concentrations you do not get enough oxygen and you die. The quote continues:

… at high concentrations and is denser than air so may not immediately disperse. In a well-publicised incident at Lake Nyos in Cameroon in 1986, a large volume of naturally occurring CO2 came up suddenly from the lake floor and, being heavier than air, accumulated in the surrounding region, resulting in about 1700 deaths.

There has been significant publicity recently about some people who bought land on top of an old tip. The methane is now bubbling up as a result of the decomposition of the refuse put in the tip and those people are now at some risk as a consequence. We are not talking about the natural pressure of decomposition; we are talking about 73 atmospheres.

The quote continues. It says that model studies of CO2 storage in reservoirs in the North Sea suggest that in the absence of well failure or tectonic movement—that is, if those two things do not happen—it is pretty safe. But some people went drilling in Indonesia recently and now, because of some mistake, thousands of hectares of land are covered with red hot mud. It will be okay—provided that you do not have well failure and tectonic movement. If all the gas from the Hunter Valley had been buried under Newcastle, presumably it would have all come back when they had the earthquake. I do not want to say any more about that, other than to point out that this is difficult and highly energy intensive. Whilst there may be a reason for research—for the purpose of making our coal more acceptable as an export product—we in Australia should take an entirely different view.

I have grave doubts that the best response for Australia can occur, because the government minister is working assiduously to deny that resource to Australia. The Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Mr Garrett, wants to put a World Heritage order over the West Kimberley. There is 6,000 kilometres of coastline in the Kimberley—because it is very fjord-like—but the minister and the previous state government in WA could not find 100 hectares along that coastline where the INPEX people could put in an LNG plant which would add significantly to our GDP and the revenues of Western Australia. So INPEX are considering putting a pipeline undersea to Darwin, where they are going to get a better deal. But what level of emissions would be produced in the manufacture of some 1,000 kilometres of steel pipe? It would take up a year’s production at one of the major steel factories in Japan. Why would you do that? It is all because ‘the Crocodile Hunter’ thinks it is nice for him to go and look at some isolated points of interest—nice waterfalls and things of that nature.

According to the World Energy Council and the CSIRO, within that 6,000 kilometres of coastline and those inlets there is the potential to generate six times the power we get from Australia’s installed generating capacity of all sorts. From that resource we could produce six times the power generated by our existing capacity—and it would be 100 per cent emission free. How does that compare with other renewables? It would be perpetual—as long as the moon keeps going around the earth—and as predictable as the moon. That is a very fundamental issue when you have to back up wind generation or, to a lesser degree, solar generation with coal-fired stations. Because of the lack of responsiveness of wind and solar, the operator of the coal-fired station will say: ‘The total demand in my network is X. I’ll maintain steam pressure to deliver X because I can’t trust those wind generators. I don’t know when they’ll pause in their job for a minute.’ So we are burning the same amount of coal—people measure the amount of electricity that flows into the system, but that is meaningless. All renewable energy requires a backup. But if that operator were delivering to a network that was also being supplied by a substantial amount of tidal energy, he could take his fishing box to work with him—if I can use a silly example—to work out the contribution of his power station at any time in the preceding 100 years because tides are that predictable.

The World Energy Council have been around since 1923. They are part of Oxford University. They have published a table of potential tidal sites. I might add that the British government are now staring down the greenies over the Severn Estuary because it could produce 20 per cent of their power. That table identified just two inlets in the Kimberleys. On their calculations, those sites—just two sites—could add 120 per cent of WA’s presently installed generating capacity. A group of us, with the member for Kalgoorlie, flew over that area last week and had a look at what we can do.

There is new generating technology that is much improved on what the French have been doing for 40 years. With an average-sized Australian power station—about 240 megawatts—this technology provides the opportunity to put in new generating capacity which would inhibit the movement of fish and other marine species only to the extent that a revolving door at a hotel would impede a human being’s process. That technology is available and it has a tick from the David Suzuki Foundation. It is highly suitable for the Kimberleys. Furthermore, there is now an HVDC transmission system in Africa that delivers power over 1,700 kilometres away from where it is generated—and I have advice from Asea Brown Boveri Australia, ABB, one of the greatest electrical transmission companies in the world, that 2,000 kilometres would be okay.

So with HVDC transmission you can transmit power from the tidal regions of the Kimberleys to Perth. You could transmit power from Perth to Port Augusta—or, more particularly, Roxby Downs—as a starting point and interconnect to the eastern states network. That is 2,000 kilometres, and that would be fine. There are very low line losses with high-voltage DC. Furthermore, it is bipolar—as now operates in Bass Strait. There is an HVDC line in Bass Strait. They feed brown coal power, which the member for Werriwa talked about—the cheapest electricity in Australia—into Tasmania as baseload power and, when the demand starts to pick up, they return hydro power, which they have been conserving, back into Victoria and the network. That brown coal power could be the backup—right up into the Kimberleys. What is more, you could electrify the Pilbara rail system—and how much would you save in emissions doing that?

The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, who is at the table and whom I think has an interest in people’s employment, might bother to go to my website,, and have a look at the proposal. He will see that right at the end of the proposal I have costed it, on the best available advice. Putting a 30 per cent contingency figure on it, it is $10 billion. Ten billion dollars was laid on the table in this place in one day to save the Murray, although it has not done much to achieve it.

Government would be the logical body to spend that $10 billion. Who built all the original carbon-spewing powerhouses? Government. Who built the Snowy Mountains scheme? Government. Instead of bringing loads of paper into this place and trying to devise a scheme that taxes people into leaving the country, why not spend 10 billion bucks and solve the problem? You do not have to geosequester to meet your international commitments. You say to the world, ‘We are progressing towards a fifty-fifty contribution, that being 50 per cent tidal’—and remember there is six times the capacity up there—‘and 50 per cent coal.’ You need the two. You make them partners. You take over no-one’s job, you do not tax them into submission and you meet your international requirement in a very real way—no funny business, no pumping into the ground over there something that is leaking out over here. Why don’t we get onto that? We talk about bipartisanship. Well, I have not kept this a secret for the next election. The PowerPoint presentation is on my website for people to see, and every member of the coalition has it in printed form. The energy up there is huge. It has been recognised by international bodies, but the Australian government do not want to know it is there and the minister wants to shut it down and let Geneva decide what should be done about it. (Time expired)