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Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Page: 7747

Mr WINDSOR (4:50 PM) —I spoke before question time on the Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 and congratulated the Minister for Resources and Energy on the way in which a parliamentary committee has been used to examine the legislation and make recommendations, and some of those recommendations have been accepted by the minister and the government and put in the legislation. I also mentioned the role of agriculture in relation to climate change, global warming and greenhouse gas emissions and my support for doing something about emissions into the atmosphere, particularly the greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and, to a minor degree, others. I also made the point that there are many opportunities in relation to this issue. I think we are tending to concentrate far too much in this place on the negatives. But there are some positives out there. I highlighted earlier the use of carbon capture in a greenhouse in a small town called Guyra in my electorate where from the heating processes within the greenhouse, the glasshouse—a very large one, about 50 acres—carbon dioxide is captured and reinjected into that environment, which actually has a positive and dramatic impact on plant growth. I was in Canada a few years ago looking at an ethanol plant that was being commissioned at the time. This plant had a carbon capture arrangement as part of the process. They viewed the carbon dioxide they were capturing from that plant as an asset to market. As I said earlier, particularly as the price of petroleum and other energy sources tends to move upwards, it will create opportunities for those with initiative and enable new technologies to move forward.

There has been a lot of talk during the climate change debate in this parliament by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, the Minister for Climate Change and Water, the Prime Minister and others, and within the press, about the Murray-Darling system, which is under some degree of stress. Some of these people are suggesting that the crisis is caused by drought and climate change. Recently we had Professor Garnaut making recommendations on emissions targets and putting out reduction options of either five per cent or 10 per cent by 2020. The commentary on that sort of target seems to suggest that that will not save the Murray-Darling. The government should look at and quantify the climate change component of run-off loss within the Murray-Darling system. How much less water is flowing into the Murray-Darling system or is being assumed for the future will not flow into the Murray-Darling system because of climate change? I am not a climate change sceptic, but I think we have to get some consistency into the definitions and statistics. If climate change is having an impact on the Murray-Darling, and the reduction target that Professor Garnaut is recommending of either five per cent or 10 per cent will not be sufficient to ameliorate the climate change component of run-off loss, what is the difference? What is that figure? How many gigalitres of water is not flowing into the Murray-Darling catchment because of climate change?

I think the Prime Minister and others have to come to grips with that figure, because you cannot raise the issue of the Lower Lakes and the Coorong or Cubbie Station or Toorale and blame climate change if you cannot quantify the figure for the difference. This is a very different debate from the overallocation issue that many others are talking about, but the two debates are being blurred. I ask the minister at the table, the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, whether he would ask the Prime Minister, Senator Wong, Mr Garrett and others to quantify that number. How many gigalitres are being lost to the system from climate change? The reason I want to find out that figure—and their logic is flawed if there is not a number; everybody cannot run around saying that it is all happening because of climate change if they cannot tell us what it is that is happening—is that there is an unnatural climate-change-driven change in run-off. The Minister for Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Local Government should look at funding an analysis into that issue. If a crisis is occurring in the Murray-Darling and we do not do enough about it through our emissions targets—as Professor Garnaut has recommended and which, it seems, the government might take up for other political reasons—we will do irreparable damage to the Murray-Darling system.

If China, India and others do not enter the climate change debate and do something about their emissions, it strengthens the argument, but if those are the options I believe we should look very closely at bringing water into that system. Some people will say: ‘Here we go again, diverting water.’ Only last week this parliament, this government, signed off on a diversion of water out of the Murray-Darling system into the Melbourne system. So forget this argument that you cannot divert water from one catchment to another; it is occurring as we speak. I believe we should look closely at not only the costs and the obvious benefits of saving a food-bowl system but also the costs and benefits of potentially bringing water into that system out of Queensland, where we are also told that in some areas because of climate change there will be more water. Maybe there are some issues there of transference between the component of the overallocation process and the climate change component of inflow loss.

There may well be, as technology advances, some means of transferring water from the east coast—whether that be in Queensland or in New South Wales—or there may well be some long-term means of desalinating water and pumping it inland. We are told the impacts of climate change, the polar meltdown et cetera, will in fact create more water on the coast. So I think it is important that we start to get some numbers around these issues, and it is important we do that before we spend billions of dollars buying back bits of paper, as occurred with the Toorale sale the other day, that will not in any real context have an effect on the crisis in the Murray because we have not reduced our emissions to an extent that the climate change component of the reduction in inflows is impacted upon. I think that is an important issue that the Minister for Climate Change and Water and others should have a look at.

The other issue that I think is very relevant—and I know it is close to your heart, too, Mr Deputy Speaker Scott—is that of coalmining on very rich agricultural land, particularly alluvial flood plains. In my electorate the Liverpool Plains has some of the best cropping country in the world, and your electorate, Mr Deputy Speaker, has possibly the second- or third-best cropping country in the world. The issues are the same. With the advent of the high price of coal, exploration licences are being granted for major companies to look at coal deposits on these highly valuable agricultural lands. BHP is carrying out some exploration on the Liverpool Plains as we speak. There was a rally in Gunnedah yesterday that I attended—and that was the reason I was not in the chamber—that addressed this issue. There was also a meeting of the coal companies, which I addressed, on this issue.

There has been a call for about two years now for an independent study into the potential impacts of longwall and open-cut mining not only on those alluvial flood plains but, particularly in relation to the Liverpool Plains, on the underpinning groundwater systems that extend for 250 to 300 kilometres in that system. We do not know—and the coal companies do not know but should know before they do anything—the impacts of slashing a groundwater artery that has got hydraulic pressures driving it not only through the other interconnected systems but also into the Murray-Darling system.

I call again on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong, to look seriously at this issue. If you are really concerned about the Lower Lakes and the Coorong, if you are really concerned about climate change, global warming and the potential impacts of coalmining in these areas and if you are really concerned about the food argument that keeps being put up that we need to produce more food, we really need some more knowledge. Whether it is in the Darling Downs, the Liverpool Plains or other areas, you cannot allow these areas to be risked without full knowledge of the impacts.

It is my view and, I think, the view of many others, particularly the farmers on the Liverpool Plains, that the state government has a flawed planning process in relation to the granting of mining licences. Part 3A of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act gives far too much discretion to the minister. The minister only has to take into account a whole range of other impacts and then, in a sense, can ignore them. I would ask you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and others in the parliament to take those words on board and request that the government at least partly fund an independent study into those potential impacts on our groundwater system and the Murray-Darling system generally.