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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 455

Mr KATTER (12:53 PM) —I describe myself not as a sceptic but as an ‘anti’. When I say that, I do not say it lightly. I would like to think that every decision I make and position I espouse in this place is backed up by very extensive research—and I will go into that in a moment. I have tried to find a formula of words. If you were to cover your house with chicken wire and then say, ‘My house will now be warm in winter,’ or, ‘It will be cool in summer,’ how ridiculous that would be. Do you think chicken wire is going to make any difference to the heat of your house? Of course it is not. And that is 400 parts per million. You do not have to be a genius here to figure out that that is the equivalent of putting chicken wire over your house. I do not care if I am the only person in the place saying this—it would not be the first time—but I know who is going to be proved accurate in the long run.

The leading proponent of global warming—the leading scientist—in Great Britain let the cat out of the bag when his papers got into the public arena. He said that it was a shame that an Australian died because he was one of the few people who was working on proving the link between global warming and CO2. Even if you say that the world is warming—and the jury is probably out on that too—then you have to prove why. As I have said previously in this place, if a photon is being reflected from the surface of the earth, the idea that it is going to hit one of those 400 parts per million and bounce back to earth is fairly extraordinary. I have thrown a lot of stones in my time—literally, not metaphorically—and I have never noticed one of them coming back to me. If you throw them at a rock or a tree they will be deflected, but they will be deflected forward not backwards. On the odd occasion they might come back but that would be very rare indeed. There is a deflection but it goes in the same direction.

Obviously I am oversimplifying. When I come to this place I do not want to be saying things that are not fully and substantially researched. There is a problem that arises in the oceans—and I pay great tribute to Dr Katharina Fabricius, at the Institute of Marine Science, which is one of very few intellectual institutions in Australia that has maintained its integrity. I wish I could say the same thing about CSIRO. It has been a great tragedy for Australia that that organisation has impugned its intellectual integrity on a number of occasions now. The Institute of Marine Science, very much to its credit, has maintained—to quote one of the leading scientists in this field, Katharina Fabricius—that, if we put large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, it will be absorbed into the ocean proportionately. This tends to make the ocean acidic, which tends to create problems for calcium carbonate—that is, for bivalves, which are probably the lowest on the food chain in the oceans.

So there is a much more serious problem that can arise, a much more immediate problem. I am not saying that the problem is there at the present moment. They carried out tests on about 24 creatures of the sea, bubbled CO2 through the salt water and found that about 21 of them decreased their growth and three increased their growth. I thought: ‘Yes, they’ve proved their point scientifically. This is not like global warming; this is something that has very hard science behind it.’ A person such as me who is not a sceptic but an ‘anti’ can say, ‘Yes, I think we should take a bit of a pull on the reins here.’

Having said that, the coalition has come forward—and I praise the Leader of the Opposition for his phrase ‘direct action’. He said, ‘We’re into direct action; we’re going to do physical things that will answer this call.’ Wilson Tuckey has said that on many occasions in this place and has been eminently sensible in this area.

The honourable member for Leichhardt is here, and he will back me up when I say that in Northern Australia we are wonderfully endowed with water. We are wonderfully endowed with sunshine. We can provide renewable energy to you in spades. Having praised the Leader of the Opposition for his movement towards direct action rather than the macro approach being advocated by the government, I say that, in sharp contrast, it is the government that has gone into the specifics and has gone a long way to delivering. In this case the cheque has not been in the mail; we have got a lot of commitment but we have not seen the colour of the government’s money yet.

We praise the honourable Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Ferguson, for the wonderful work that he has done in advocating the connection of the Pilbara and Olympic Dam. But it is vitally important that in the richest mineral province on earth, the north-west mineral province, which has 500 million tonnes of iron ore, none of it has been touched at all, and we have not even looked for it—but we know there are 500 million tonnes out there.

It has four per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves—none of it touched; it is completely untapped. The biggest vanadium reserves in the world are at Julia Creek. It, of course, is famous because it is the biggest copper, silver, lead and zinc province on Earth, with some of the biggest mines on Earth, such as Mount Isa, operating in the area. Cannington was for a long time the most profitable mine in the stable of BHP, the biggest mining company in the world. It was the most profitable mine and—please, God—when they double production it will be again. So this is the richest mineral province on Earth. We have 24 phosphate deposits in the world; four of the 24 are in north-west Queensland. Only one of those has been touched.

To tap that wonderful resource we need energy. We need cheap power. I have to say this in harsh judgment upon the government. Please, Mr Government of Australia—and Mr Opposition of Australia, because the other side has been just as bad when they have been in government—understand that all you sell to the rest of the world is coal, aluminium and, to a lesser extent, iron ore. Coal and aluminium comprise over 30 per cent of what you sell to the rest of the world. All of Australia’s production put together does not amount to coal and aluminium. And what is aluminium? Aluminium is congealed electricity. Where does electricity come from? Electricity comes from coal. And if you say that electricity should not come from coal, God help you, because you will not have an aluminium industry.

Let me be very specific. I was minister for mines and energy in Queensland—and, if I say so myself, a very successful one. In fact, my department won the science prize for Australia for our solar energy in the Torres Straits. It was overturned by an incoming socialist government, I might add, but we will leave that out of the way!

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. DGH Adams)—The honourable member should address the bill before the parliament.

Mr KATTER —Yes, and in addressing the bill you must understand that if you increase the price of electricity you shut down the aluminium industry. The price of coal is $38 a megawatt. The price of nuclear generated power is $60 a megawatt. If you want to go to renewables you are talking about $100-plus. So forget about our aluminium industry. Also forget about your mineral-processing industry; a very large proportion of our copper, silver, lead and zinc is processed in Australia, and it will be completely non-competitive. In fairness to the government I have to say they have acknowledged that and excluded these industries, but there are grave dangers that that policy can be switched back. I have watched the work of Mr Rudd over many, many years, both in Queensland and now down here. He is very sensible. The bigger picture has been his history, and we hope it remains so. But who knows what happens in a change of leadership or a change of government? All I can say is that if the government or the opposition back off on that principle then God help Australia, because 30 to 40 per cent of our income depends upon cheap electricity, and that equals coal.

Having said all of those things, we give the government very great praise for their national energy grid concept. The first project there is to take power from the national grid out to the great mineral province of north-west Queensland, the richest mineral province on Earth by a fair margin. We have a very old power station. It is 50 years old and has tiny units. It is very outdated. It has to operate on gas which has to be brought from Surat, 2,000 kilometres away. It is enormously expensive, and we cannot keep operating like that, so we are very appreciative of the actions of the federal government in stating that they are going to move into this national energy grid. The honourable member for O’Connor, Mr Tuckey, has advocated that national grid on many occasions, and I think it only fair that he pay some tribute to the current government for the grid which he failed to get out of his government.

Let me move now to the transmission line that will take the power. The north Australia clean energy corridor is proposed by Minister Ferguson, the Treasurer, Minister Burke and Minister Albanese, and I must emphasise that the government needs to act if it is to claim credit for it. To date they have talked, and that is excellent—we thank them most sincerely—but there has to be action from the government on this clean energy corridor. When I say, ‘It is not a transmission line now; it is a clean energy corridor,’ it is because a wonderful company called PhytoFuel has come to the magnificent conclusion, God bless them, that there are six million hectares of dirty prickly acacia tree infestation that has wiped out our native flora and fauna. They are going to take those prickly trees and burn them. They are going to create electricity out of the steam they generate from burning them and they are going to replace them with biofuel trees. What a wonderful project for Australia to give future generations of Australians.

They need a little bit of help at this stage. They will deliver to you 100 megawatts of permanent energy from their projects in north-west Queensland, but they have to get some assistance at this stage. The PhytoFuel project is from Julia Creek to Hughenden, all along the transmission line from Townsville to Mount Isa. At Hughenden, the Kennedy wind farm is from the same people who built the biggest wind farm in Australia, at Ravenshoe. Once again, the member for Leichhardt, like myself, has been up there many times, admiring the wonderful—and lyrical and poetic; it is a great tourist attraction apart from any other consideration—wind farm they built. They built the biggest wind farm in Australia; now they are going to build one of the biggest in the world at Hughenden. God bless them. They have about 15 or 18 months to finish their full assessment work. What wonderful Australians. The government has to help and support these people.

Finally, most important of all is the solar-biofuels project at Pentland. During the daytime, the power station will run on solar units. For the other 15 or 16 hours a day, those same units will be run by sugarcane fibre—the residue after we take the sugar out and convert it into ethanol—a wonderful reducer of CO2. Sugarcane ethanol is the par excellence reducer of CO2 in the world, but we burn the sugarcane fibre to get rid of it. At the present moment we do not burn it to generate electricity. In fact only a quarter of our bagasse—what we call sugarcane fibre residue—is burned to produce electricity. All our sugar mills are net exporters of electricity but they should be very big net exporters and they can be.

This project at Pentland with solar during the day and biofuels during the night will produce 500 megawatts of electricity and the million of us that live in North Queensland use about 1,000 megawatts, so half the northern grid or all of the north-west Queensland mineral province grid will be carried by this one proposal and that is not including the wind farm or the PhytoFuels project. Further north—and again member for Leichhardt will back me up here—on the Gilbert river we can double that project.

The honourable member for Leichhardt and I share the great Mitchell River which has as much water in it as the whole of the Murray-Darling put together and it has rolling flat plains almost all the way from Mareeba to Kowanyama. It is a magnificent area for agricultural production. People say, ‘What about the trees?’ Not many trees grow where you only get rainfall for three months of the year. We get a hell of a lot rainfall in that three months, but it is only for that period of time. But we have ample resources there. We can produce a project three times the size on the Mitchell River that we can produce at Pentland off the Burdekin River, which I might add is the third-biggest river in Australia. There is the Murray-Darling, the Mitchell is next and the Burdekin is the third-biggest river in Australia and Pentland is off the Burdekin.

That is 2,000 megawatts of clean electricity forever. In 100 years time the Burdekin will still be running, a little bit of water from it will be diverted, it will be spread out and it will be growing sugarcane—200 years time, if you like—and it will not cost much more than it costs now, because it is a waste product that currently we would burn to get rid of. We put CO2 up into the atmosphere of no value to the Australian people or to the planet. If the rest of the sugar mills in Australia converted over, that would be another 2,000 megawatts of electricity, so what you have done is to reduce your 40,000 megawatts of electricity consumption in Australia by 4,000 megawatts. One-tenth of Australia’s entire electricity supply will be coming from renewables that are not putting CO2 into the atmosphere. In actual fact they will reduce the amount of CO2 already in the atmosphere through sugar, which is a huge absorber of CO2, at 73 tonnes per hectare.

I have not canvassed ethanol and it is a great regret that my country cannot produce a government that could mandate ethanol. What a sad, sad fact of life. I had never been overseas but I broke my duck to do a quick trip to Brazil and the United States ethanol belt. I filled my car up at 84c a litre in Minnesota in the United States. The price here at that time was 134c a litre. I filled up in Sao Paulo in Brazil at 74c a litre. Why are we paying 134c a litre? It is because we do not have a government that has the guts to stand up to the big corporations—that is why. That is the only reason why this country has not moved down a pathway that would probably save 1,000 lives a year—because petrol is carcinogenic whereas ethanol is the most clean and pure form of alcohol. In fact, believe it or not, both Brazil and America moved to ethanol not originally to help sugarcane farmers or their corn farmers, but to clean up the pollution in their major cities. That was the reason they did it. It was originally legislated in places like California, where they had a dreadful problem with pollution and people were dying everywhere of lung cancer.

I had the great privilege and honour of serving as the Minister for Mines and Energy in the Queensland government. I had effectively four major power stations producing about 1,000 megawatts—I am oversimplifying, but I will just say it that way—and I was in a situation where I had to build a fifth. I was most reluctant. It was going to cost us $1,000 million. We had the cheapest electricity in the world at that stage and I did not want to be remembered as the minister that produced a regime that was not the cheapest in the world, so I cast around for ways to avoid having to build a power station. We went to all the authorities in Australia and the solution was simply solar hot water systems. There was argument on this, but I had no doubt in my mind that I could postpone having to build another power station for nine years if we instituted proper solar hot water systems.

I refer to the work of Professor Szokolay, the leading world authority in this area, which says that 40 per cent of domestic consumption of electricity goes to the heating of water. Solar hot water systems would have enabled us to avoid having to build that power station. And there was no cost imposition. The reduction in electricity costs for the homeowner—we were not going to pay for those hot water systems; the homeowner was going to pay—would offset the price. Ethanol will reduce dramatically the carbon footprint of Australia. Finally, there is the carbon in soil—and I praise both the government and the opposition for getting onto this. Australian soils contain only one-fifth of the carbon that they should contain, and we pay great tribute to the universities that have done this work, but there is no doubt in my mind that this is true. All I can say is that in the banana industry— (Time expired)