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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 7678


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (11:50 AM) —The Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 will amend the Offshore Petroleum Act 2006 to establish a system of offshore titles similar to the offshore petroleum titles that already exist under the principal act. The bill will authorise the transportation by pipeline of greenhouse gas substances and their injection and storage in deep geological formations under the seabed. The bill will also make changes to the existing regime of petroleum titles that are needed in order to accommodate the new kinds of activities being authorised by the act. Petroleum and greenhouse gas operations will, in many respects, be similar. The resources of the seabed and subsoils that the two categories of title holders will seek to exploit have much in common. Each form of activity will have the potential to impact on the other, both beneficially and detrimentally. The bill therefore provides for the regulatory decisions made in respect of each form of activity to take into account the potential impacts on the other. This is something that is absolutely necessary in fighting climate change.

I welcome the support that the member for Herbert just made in his contribution. Clearly, he believes in climate change. Notwithstanding his contribution, there is a clear demarcation between the Labor side of politics and the benches of the climate change sceptics who sit opposite us. It was one of the defining issues of difference in the 2007 election campaign. We all know who the Australian people trusted with these and the other important challenges that we face.

We do not know how the new jockey of the Liberal Party horse will be on these new, important reforms. We know what he leaked from cabinet last year when in government. Media reports show that senior figures have said, ‘The young, mad Right have gone with Turnbull.’ The question that we have here today is: will the young, mad Right, so decisive in the election of the member for Wentworth and who are lock, stock and barrel members of the climate change sceptics club, be the ones writing the opposition’s new policy in relation to this area? This is an area that is too important for us to get wrong. It is too important to have those who want to bury their heads in the sand and take the ostrich mentality in relation to climate change making any contribution to what we need to do to make sure that we look after our planet.

I want to talk a little bit about the effects of climate change on the beautiful electorate of Dobell. The electorate of Dobell—clearly the most beautiful electorate in all of Australia—while blessed with many natural beauties, is one that has a very fragile environment that is susceptible to climate change. Rising sea levels, the predicted increase in experiences of east coast lows—bringing more extreme storm events—increased bushfire activity and water shortages have the potential to cause major problems for my electorate. Dobell extends along the coast from just north of the Terrigal Lagoon through to Norah Head. Areas such as the Wamberal beachfronts and North Entrance have been identified as particularly vulnerable to rising sea levels and greater storm activity. Both suburbs have recently experienced severe beach erosion that has eroded the yards of private properties and destroyed fences, decking et cetera as backyards of houses have fallen away into the beaches. As sea levels rise and storm events and surges become more severe and potentially more frequent, it would be not unexpected to lose a number of homes within these areas.

At Norah Head, coastal erosion has forced the local council to issue orders to residents to dismantle structures from backyards of properties to reduce pressure on the seaward slope and assist in the prevention of major land slippage. Heavy rain plus wave energy impact on the toe of this slope has placed a number of homes in the unenviable position of currently having no backyard—plus the potential of the homes being lost to the sea. This is a real threat that is happening right now because of the changes in our environment and climate change. Wyong Shire Council and the state government have both committed extensive amounts of money to try to minimise the rate of erosion of this slope at Norah Head. The reality is that these works might not prevent the loss of these properties if a severe storm were to impact on this part of the Dobell coastline again, as storms have done so frequently in the past.

This is a popular recreation area for locals and tourists alike. Ocean baths provide safe swimming, and the area is popular with recreational fisher men and women. The Norah Head Lighthouse and the annual whale migrations attract many tourists to the area—understandably so. On the June long weekend of 2007 a storm associated with an east coast low caused some local severe flooding around Tuggerah Lake and Wamberal Lagoon. Over a thousand people were forced to leave their homes, and much of the area was without power for up to a week. Sewerage and stormwater facilities were unable to cope when severe flooding occurred. I would like to put on the record thanks to David Harris, the state member for Wyong, for his tireless work in relation to this and the work that he did with the local community. Just recently, Mr Harris and I conducted a ‘Thank your local hero’ barbecue at Chittaway Bay, where we were able to thank the ordinary citizens who had been out there helping their neighbours get out of the flood that occurred in June 2007. Since then we have had three more major storm events. They did not cause flooding as extensive as on that June long weekend; nonetheless there was serious flooding in the area.

A research paper entitled The ecological history of Tuggerah Lakes: what the newspapers said, by the CSIRO in October 1998, detailed a long history of flooding, with damage to roads and bridges and the occasional loss of life. Extensive flood mitigation has been carried out, but climate change makes some of the supposed benefits of much of this work problematic. Areas around Wamberal Lagoon and North Entrance have already been identified as areas at increased risk through rising sea levels, storm surges and changes to wave direction through height and intensity of those waves. These areas have been adversely affected in the past by extreme weather events. Much of the development along these particular areas was built prior to current coastal management strategies and, although local government authorities now carefully constrain the development that occurs along these beach areas, the market price of these properties remains very high. Obviously, people are going to lose as their backyards continue to be washed away into the ocean.

An environmental impact study for Gosford City Council in 2003 stated:

Coastal investigations show that the foreshores of the Terrigal/Wamberal embayment have experienced a gradual recession over at least the past fifty years, interspersed with more severe episodes of storm erosion. The identified shoreline recession is ongoing and is gradually exposing the foredune (and development thereon) to more frequent storm erosion events. This has been dramatically demonstrated during the storms in 1974 and again in 1978.

Then, many houses along the Wamberal foreshore fell into the sea. It is possible that a breakwater or similar structure at North Entrance may lessen the severity of storm surges on the vulnerable areas of North Entrance and allow for the opening of the channel from the lakes to the ocean during flood events, but a comprehensive study would need to be performed. I am happy to say that this was an election promise that the Rudd government made in relation to this area, and it was one that I campaigned very heavily on during the election, to see whether a seawall would assist in terms of the effects that climate change is having on the area. Another important promise that was made during the election was to commit $20 million to looking at how we can actively improve the run-off areas into Tuggerah Lake so that, when storms occur and when sea surges happen, we can assist in a better way and make sure that damage is ameliorated, that homes are not affected and that the health of the lake is at its best.

The demographics of Dobell make disaster planning very problematic. There is a large commuter population, with over 30,000 working people travelling to Sydney or Newcastle on a daily basis. There is a large elderly population there too, and this again presents problems in terms of how these issues are managed. The population of Dobell is concentrated in urban villages separated by various waterways. There is pressure to supply more land for housing developments to ease population increases of the Greater Sydney region. It is estimated that there will be an additional 75,000 people moving into the area in the next 20 years. This increase in population is one that we welcome on the Central Coast, but it also comes with the difficulty that we need to plan around a fragile environment that is very susceptible to climate change. Local industries such as tourism and hospitality would be negatively impacted on by greater frequency of extreme weather events caused by global warming, and popular tourist destinations such as Wamberal and The Entrance would be adversely affected by rising sea levels.

Dobell is also vulnerable to increases in bushfire frequency and intensity. In 1994 Central Coast residents were isolated for several days when fire closed rail and road transport links. Intermittent closures occur nearly every bushfire season. In the west, large tracts of wilderness area abut sparsely populated river valleys and are frequently subject to uncontrollable bushfires. Again, this is all evidence of the effect that climate change is having in my electorate and why we need to take concrete steps to address these sorts of issues. On the eastern side of the highway, urban villages are surrounded by bushland and, although there are well-designed bushfire plans, the sort of bushfire weather activity seen in other areas of Australia over the last few years could have a devastating impact upon the residents and environment of Dobell.

Climate change represents one of the greatest threats to the future prosperity and security of Australia and its region. It is critical for Australia to implement long-term measures to address the environmental and economic challenges of climate change and to engage constructively with global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The long-term prosperity and wellbeing of Australia depends on our sustaining our environment and tackling critical challenges such as addressing water shortages, protecting threatened species and reducing carbon emissions. Labor believe that establishing a long-term target for greenhouse gas emission reductions provides certainty for energy companies and helps industry make informed decisions about which technologies they should be investing in—allowing the economy and society to adjust in a reasonable time frame. We have already ratified the Kyoto protocol and join with 167 other countries in the effort to avoid dangerous climate change.

This side of the House believes a national emissions trading scheme will provide a long-term incentive to cut emissions further and act as a mechanism for trading, so that energy is allocated efficiently in the economy and greater private investment in clean energy technology is encouraged. The government believes that adequate funding of research into the science of climate change, emission reduction technologies and adaptation management is vital if Australia is to meet the challenges of climate change. We will fund research into renewable energy and support research, development and demonstration aimed at technologies to reduce emissions from fossil fuels, including cleaner coal and gas, and technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide to prevent its release into the atmosphere. We will work with state, territory and local governments to ensure that five-star energy efficiency provisions are mandatory for new homes. The government will promote more sustainable management of Australia’s vegetation cover and an end to broadscale clearing. The government is committed to cooperation between states, territories and landholders to achieve a net expansion of vegetation cover and reductions in emissions related to land use change.

A Clean Energy Plan to help Australian consumers and Australian businesses work together to tackle climate change is something that this government is doing. The Clean Energy Plan, which Labor promised at the last election, will help ensure all Australians reap the benefits of the latest clean energy supplies and energy-saving technologies. Expanding the cost-effectiveness of clean energy will be critical to meeting federal Labor’s science based target to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050. The new elements of Labor’s Clean Energy Plan as announced are: a $500 million Renewable Energy Fund, to develop, commercialise and deploy renewable energy in Australia; a $240 million Clean Business Fund, to help businesses and industry deliver energy and water efficiency projects, with a focus on productivity and innovation; and a $150 million Energy Innovation Fund to keep our world-leading scientists and researchers in Australia, rather than losing them overseas. These announcements complement the other key element of Labor’s Clean Energy Plan—a $500 million Clean Coal Fund to fund the deployment of clean coal technologies.

Labor understands that acting now on climate change is not only good for the environment but good for the Australian economy. The previous government failed to provide support to Australian clean energy researchers, and that has resulted in our experts heading overseas to develop and commercialise their technology in other economies. Only this government will provide the support necessary to keep Australian technologies in Australia, along with the jobs and economic opportunities that flow from commercialisation.

Federal Labor will implement an emissions trading scheme and will make the investments today that are required to help the economy prepare for emissions trading. Under the previous government’s policies, emissions are set to increase by 27 per cent above 1990 levels by 2020; under the present government, emissions will go down. We have ratified the Kyoto protocol. We have set a renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020. We have $8,000 rebates for solar power, $1,000 rebates for solar hot-water systems, $500 rebates for greywater piping and rainwater tanks, $500 rebates for landlords to install insulation and $10,000 in low-interest green loans for solar systems and water- and energy-saving measures. We have invested $15 million in a Clean Energy Export Strategy. We have invested $20 million in a Clean Energy Innovation Centre. We have invested in a Green Car Innovation Fund to develop and build green cars in Australia.

Labor went to the last election with a commitment of $100 million for a five-year Community Coast Care Program—as part of our Caring for our Coasts Plan—to help local communities protect the Australian coastline and prepare for the impact of climate change. I thank the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts for his visit to Dobell, where he re-emphasised this commitment and met with Landcare groups in my community, who are doing such a good job to try and make sure that our coastline does not end up in the ocean.

Increasing storm activity and sea level rises from climate change are threatening coastlines, property, habitat and the financial viability of local councils. The previous Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council estimated that 700,000 coastal addresses are at risk from long-term sea level rise and large storm surges. These impacts are exacerbated by coastal development as a result of the sea change phenomenon, which is driving massive population growth. Under federal Labor’s plan, local communities will be better equipped to deal with extreme climate related events and storms. Community groups will be able to seek grants for action to guard against habitat loss, erosion, damage to dunes, waterway degradation and invasive weeds and pests. The government is providing national leadership on coastal management and bolstering support to local communities so that they too can take some practical action in relation to these issues. The Community Coast Care Program will provide grants of up to $50,000 for community groups, from unallocated funds in the Natural Heritage Trust, to undertake on-the-ground coastal restoration and preventive work.

In addition to the $100 million Community Coast Care Program, the Rudd government is committed to handover the Point Nepean and Malabar headlands to the New South Wales and Victorian governments for national park and public open space, provide a $200 million rescue package for the Great Barrier Reef and provide funding for rainwater tanks et cetera. Coastal icons will be among the first to experience the consequence of climate change if we do not act now. Our conservative projections of sea level rises would see Narrabeen Beach disappear by 2050; the Manly wharf made unusable; Cairns and its infrastructure under severe threat from storm surges; and Victoria’s 2,000 kilometres of coastline, including the Great Ocean Road, face frequent storm surges and saltwater incursions into wetlands. I have already gone into some detail about the effects that this would have on my electorate of Dobell.

Federal Labor will provide national leadership that breaks through the political barriers to deliver outcomes for coastal communities and coastal environments. The storage of a greenhouse gas substance in deep geological formations under the seabed is an important part of the broader plan to deal with climate change. I commend the bill to the House.