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Monday, 17 August 2009
Page: 8025


Mr COULTON (6:37 PM) —In reference to the previous speaker, I suspect that the people of Dawson are also waiting with bated breath to see how the emissions trading scheme legislation goes in a couple of months time and where their representatives are going to vote on that and the negative impact that it is going to have on regional Australia. I feel a little uncomfortable in here debating the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Amendment Bill 2009 and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Amendment Bill 2009 while at the same time negotiations on amendments are taking place outside this room, so I will keep my comments to general terms because as of yet we have not seen the final shape of what agreement or otherwise may be made before we vote on the legislation.

Under this scheme high energy users will be disadvantaged and energy will become very expensive, and I am hoping that, in discussions that are taking place on this legislation, they are looking at the effect on high electricity and high energy users. Aluminium is the standout industry that will be severely disadvantaged. In my electorate I have a town called Kandos and it is well known for cement. The people of Kandos will proudly tell you that the pylons of the Sydney Harbour Bridge are made of cement from Kandos. Cement is a high energy use and a high emitting industry, and one of the concerns I have if cement is not adequately taken into account is that that plant will close. In this place we speak about adjustments to employment and slight negative downturns or to things in quite clinical terms, but for the people of Kandos, if that plant closes, it is the major employer in town. It is not like Australia is going to be using any less cement; it is not like we are not going to be building roads, buildings or anything else that we use cement for. It just means that we have exported the jobs from Kandos to a country somewhere else that does not have restrictive legislation and higher charges. Just out of interest, Madam Deputy Speaker, in the proposed redistribution of electoral boundaries in New South Wales the Electoral Commission is putting the town of Kandos into the seat of Hunter. I think it would be very important for the member for Hunter, if he is intending to represent that area, to indicate to the people of Kandos whether he supports legislation that could lead to the closure of their plant.

I do not want to be entirely negative in this. My electorate has great potential for alternative energy. Indeed, the western part of my electorate has been identified as being as good as anywhere in Australia for solar energy production. I know there are a couple of proposals in their early stages where communities are looking at putting a solar power station adjacent to the town, hopefully to become self-sufficient in electricity generation and even have a little surplus to put back into the grid. The town of Moree is even looking at solar powered desalination to clean up the water that goes through the mineral baths. They would use a combination of solar powered desalination and algae to clean up the water to enable it to be reused and not go into the Mehi River in its current form.

As we are rushing headlong into a lot of this legislation, I believe there is great potential in something we have barely scratched the surface of. One of the things that I think is extremely exciting is algae. As I speak, there are three prototype plants going into the three largest power stations in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. The beauty of algae is that they are great sequesters of carbon. If you feed the emissions from a power station through algae and water, the algae thrive on the carbon dioxide, which despite being described in this place as a pollutant is actually the major building block of life. Algae grow at a rate of 20 per cent a day, doubling their mass every five days, so 20 per cent can be harvested every day and put through a centrifuge to get algae oil, which is essentially fish oil—that is what fish live on—which can then be further processed into biodiesel and can go into all sorts of power generation or motor vehicle fuel. What is left, the biomass, is a very high protein stockfeed. It could be used in human food consumption or even, if it is co-located with a power station, put back into the power station to provide fuel.

We should be careful that we do not tax our industries to such an extent that they do not have the ability to invest in and look at a lot of these alternatives. Some months ago I travelled to Townsville and went to James Cook University and met with Professor Rocky de Nys, who started working with algae and looking at algae as a fish food. The more algae is studied, the more the potential it has for biofuel production has been realised. As a country, as we look at our responsibility to feed the world—we feed not only the 20 million people who live in Australia but also 70 million people around the world—and as we have to balance up agricultural production, biofuel production and renewable energy, algae is going to have a major part to play in our future.

Although I think we need to be encouraging renewable energy, we need to recognise that we have only taken baby steps so far. The potential in a range of things is enormous, but we are only just at the beginning of this journey. I will support this bill, for what we know about it. I think this is highly irregular and I would like to place on record that I believe—and I know that these decisions are made by people who have been here longer than I—it is highly irregular to be debating a bill when the amendments and agreements between the two major sides of the House are still under negotiation. With that caveat I support this bill.