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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7288

Mr HAYES (11:19 AM) —I listened intently to my colleague’s speech. I have to say that I am getting used to hearing the rhetoric about what we should be doing and when we should be doing it but never, ever making a start. If the Howard government had got re-elected, boy, would they have had a fantastic 13th year! They had these opportunities, so it is no longer just a point of rhetoric. The member for O’Connor was right: there are alternatives that must be considered. The truth of the matter is that going forward in the overall energy debate for this country is going to require a suite of technologies; it will not be any particular one. As legislators, we need to ensure that we have a regulative environment that encourages the commercialisation of each of those technologies that will play a part in the future energy needs of this nation. Having said that, I say that the simple reality is that 80 per cent of Australia’s electrical power is now generated from coal. Therefore it does require a serious response if we are to be serious in addressing climate change.

I sat through a series of reports about climate change that came down at the dying end of the Howard government. One of the reports we looked at was about carbon capture and storage, or geosequestration as it is called. I also recall a dissenting report that came from various members opposite whose dissenting position was based on the fact that they saw no discernible evidence that humankind had made any adverse impact on the environment, climate change et cetera. They wanted evidence on that, based on some reliable information they had on what was occurring not on earth but on Mars, Venus and Pluto—if the latter is still part of the solar system. It was that ridiculous. Regrettably, the person concerned, the member for Tangney, only yesterday wanted to interject to the Prime Minister and again reiterate that, in his opinion, there is no evidence to support climate change as being anything other than a natural phenomenon. Whilst we have people like that opposite, who were in the former government, it is no wonder that in their 12 years of government nothing happened to address climate change.

The establishment of carbon capture and storage as a response to power generation in this country and the fact that we are still carbon dependent is absolutely critical. I know others will argue that this is a technology that is still very new. I know the Greens will argue that by going down this route all we are going to do is further legitimise coal-fired power generation. I say to those opposite: we do need to make that start; this is not new technology—absolutely not. It is just that we are going to change the way we deal with the emissions from, in this case, coal-fired power stations. We can do this by using a network of pipelines to transmit the residue of the liquidised carbon to, I think, a bit over three kilometres offshore and then store it either in geological structures or, alternatively, using depleted oil and gas reservoirs, as they are doing in Bass Strait.

If people are going to argue, ‘Is that the sole answer?’ I still stand by my initial comment: it is not going to be the sole thing that is going to deal with our future energy requirements, but it is certainly one essential technology that will contribute to this country in doing two things if firstly, being able to have competitively priced coal for export and, secondly, ensuring that those energy dependent industries that we are establishing or wish to establish in this country for the future have the energy they need to develop their enterprises and employ those Australians who are working for the further betterment of this country. So whilst this is part of a suite of technology, it is a crucial element for pressing ahead.

Coal currently provides 80 per cent of Australia’s power generation capacity, and on a world scale it is 40 per cent. The member for O’Connor referred to the commissioning of new nuclear power stations, which is occurring in China. The reality is nuclear power currently contributes 16 per cent of world power generation. We understand all that, but the fact is coal-fired power generation is still seen as the effective, viable, affordable form of power generation into the future. Therefore if we are going to have a part in that cycle, if we are going to benefit from exporting coal to the world, if we are going to want to attract those industries and make them competitive by using coal-fired power, we then have a responsibility to ensure that we do everything that we can to ensure that the industry functions as cleanly as possible and that amelioration of carbon is given priority in future construction within that industry.

So while coal’s share of future power generation in Australia will decline—and there is no doubt that it will decline in favour of renewable energy and less greenhouse-intensive fossil fuels, such as natural gas—that is one of the areas in which we are very fortunate. From statistics I read only recently, on current usage we have in excess of 135 years’ supply of natural gas, and that is provided we do not find another supply of natural gas in the meantime. Natural gas will probably be the feed stock as we move closer towards a hydrogen economy into the future. Having that degree of natural wealth is going to be important for this country.

Years back when I had some involvement in the oil industry, working up and down the North West Shelf and into the Timor Sea and those areas, I saw the looks of exasperation on the faces of managers of companies, such as Santos and others, when they drilled and hit natural gas. That is not what they were looking for. They were looking for oil. We have so much in terms of a plugged gas supply at the moment until we discover more and reliable markets. Again that will come as part of the suite of technologies that will move to replace or reduce our dependence on coal-fired power.

The International Energy Agency, which monitors and looks at these forecasts, is indicating that the demand for energy will grow but it still forecasts that coal-fired power will be the essential form of power generation into the future. As a matter of fact, according to the International Energy Agency’s statistics, coal will provide around 44 per cent of world electricity needs by 2030. By the way, that is an increase on the current share. If that is going to increase we need to be a part of the solutions based around clean coal technologies, because our livelihood is steeped in the fact that we are the world’s largest exporter of coal. In the period 2005-06, we netted $240 billion from our exported coal. We are the world’s largest exporter.

Not all that long ago I went up to visit one of my sons working in Queensland, up at Blackwater, and I actually saw the extent of their operation up there, and that is why we do need to commit resources into ensuring that our infrastructure enables us to meet world demand. And that was only on one site. A lot of this country’s wealth generation is based on coal. The industry directly employs about 30,000 people and indirectly employs millions because various areas of industry out there are operating in this country because we have competitive, affordable access to energy, and the aluminium industry would be just one. All these things are very significant.

It is also very significant to note, when talking about finding new technology for coal fired power, to realise we have about 350 years supply of premium grade black coal on current usage, including our exports. We have 800 years supply of brown coal. Maybe that is not a most favoured realisation for those in the Greens, but as a commodity coal is something that we are well endowed with. This means that we should be the world’s leader in developing clean coal technology, and that is essentially what we are trying to do by, firstly, developing carbon capture storage and, secondly, giving weight to the less greenhouse gas polluting fossil based industries such as natural gas.

This technology—and it is not new; it is not new theory—involves reinjecting carbon into either depleted oil and gas reservoirs or, alternatively, into the depleted Esso field in Bass Strait or the Pluto field on the North West Shelf, where the proposal is to inject carbon about 1.5 metres into the substructure, into geological formations. The Greens actually posed the question in one of the inquiries: we are going to store a pollutant and does that break down. The answer is probably no, it does not break down. Those reservoirs under there, particularly the oil reservoirs and gas reservoirs, are full of carbon, and they have been there now for millions of years. That is what we have been tapping. I think using that depleted reservoir in Bass Strait to store future supplies of liquefied carbon will be very successful.

This does require leadership and I am glad the shadow minister is here because I am sure he will want to talk a little bit about the CPRS, and I will invite him to do that because his colleagues in the other place are not going to do it. They have avoided a vote on CPRS; they have avoided actually making a stand—

Mr Briggs —You know more than America does—you know more than Obama does!

Mr HAYES —I take the interjection from the member for Mayo. We are determined to make a difference. As the member for Mayo would appreciate, the government that he advised over a period of time—

Mr Briggs —Four years.

Mr HAYES —Four years, thank you. They thought many things were absolutely paramount to this country, but they did not take them to an election. And they had Work Choices. Where did they stand on these issues? Where did they stand on the position of low-polluting coal power generation? Where did they stand on those environmental things? They had words—and we heard the former shadow minister speak a little earlier—but no commitment.

It is all very well to say, ‘We were going to do that.’ They are a bunch of ‘gunnas’—they were ‘gunna’ do that eventually! They were going to do that in their 13th year! That 13th year would have been a hell of a party. Can you imagine the pop of champagne corks going off everywhere! They had 12 years to muse on these things. They had 12 years of trying to get set in their minds what they were going to do when they got to their 13th year. I am sorry, guys—you missed the party.

But it is not all bad news for you; you are still here as bona fide representatives of your electorates in the federal parliament of Australia. You can still play your role in speaking about the future for this country. You can still have a voice—except that your Senate members do not want it. They said: ‘Let’s not exercise our voice. Let’s vote to not have a vote.’ That is democracy at its greatest! I know that the legislation before us is probably not the best legislation to have the argument on, because it only makes minor technical changes to the bill, but I invite the members opposite to think about this: it actually goes to the heart of what this government is determined to do something about—reducing our emissions. This government is determined to make a start, a critical start, in environmental protection.

These are not things that should be taken for granted. They require action. The time for simply musing, talking and debating is rapidly departing. We see the statistics. We see what the world attitude is. We see what the position of the Americans is. They had eight years of a Bush administration, which did not want to deal with this issue at all. Since the Obama administration has come in they have put a line in the sand and said, ‘We are going to do it.’ I certainly wonder what the Liberals would have done in their 13th year, when they would have had to react to Obama. They could not have taken instructions from George Bush anymore—or could they? That really would have been the tail wagging the dog.

It is now our turn to get in on behalf of Australians and make the difference. The CPRS is critical. It is critical that we put a price on carbon. The opposition had a policy for putting a price on carbon which was never implemented. We are now implementing it. They cannot argue this on the basis of: ‘We refuse to argue it. As a matter of fact, we refuse to talk about it in public and we will definitely not vote on it.’

The issue of affordable power is essential in this country. We are an island which is a long way from our trading partners. One of the things that we use to attract industry is our affordable power. Industry wants to be able to use that, and coal will have an essential place in the mix. I shuddered when, not that long ago, in the lead-up to the last election, Senator Brown wanted a mandate to shut down coal exports within three years. Like you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not aspire for my kids or my grandkids to have earthen floors and thatched roofs or to reduce our standard of living, which has been underpinned by cheap power in this country. If we are to maintain our position in relation to cheap power we need to ensure that we have the appropriate technologies available which allow us to maintain cheap power production on a more environmentally friendly basis. Therefore, carbon capture and storage provides a critical element in the forward planning and the forward development of the electrical power generation industry, the coal fired power generation industry, in this country.

It is critical. We all know that there are costs associated with that. There is no point putting our heads in the sand and saying: ‘This won’t cost anything. It’ll just happen.’ We understand the position that has been put by the member for O’Connor, but we need to be serious about being a player on the world stage. Bear in mind that, whilst the opposition takes the view ‘Let’s wait for the Americans’, we are the world’s No.1 exporter of coal. That is our basic bread and butter. We should not sit back and wait for someone else to tell us what to do. Things have changed. It is now time for decisive leadership. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—I would just like to inform the members, if they were wondering about what the photographer was doing here, that all we know is that we had a note from the Serjeant’s office saying that he had been cleared to be up here to take photographs.