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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 557

Senator MASON —My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Resources and Energy, follows the reply he gave to a question asked by Senator Coleman yesterday in the Senate. I quote from page 478 of yesterday's Hansard, in which the Minister states:

My attention has been drawn to a letter that was published in the Australian on 20 August, signed by Jenny MacLeod, the New South Wales President of the Australian Democrats, in which it is claimed, inter alia, that for an extra 5 per cent to 10 per cent-presumably on the cost of an existing roof tile-a substance can be sprayed onto roof tiles which will supply the electricity needs of a household.

The Minister went on to make gratuitous comments such as this:

. . . we are, of course, accustomed to such intellectual froth and bubble from the Australian Democrats. It might be suitable for a Democrats afternoon tea party; it is quite inapplicable, however, to those who are seriously involved in the business of government.

Do those who, like the Minister, are seriously involved in the business of government read the letters they are commenting on before they comment on them in this place? I remind the Minister that the letter in the Australian stated:

The silicon can be sprayed on to a substrate (glass, metal or even a roofing tile) and the cost is only 5-10 per cent of the substrate.

. . . .

It is anticipated that within four years new Japanese homes will be covered in glass tiles sprayed with amorphous silicon and all electricity needs for the home will be supplied by the roof! Heating will be effected by natural gas.

Can the Minister give us his reasons for misleading the Senate in his reply and using the privilege of this place to malign a person who has no right of reply to him in this place? Will the Minister indicate whether he is not guilty of the culpable intellectual sloth he himself mentions in failing in this capacity.

Senator WALSH —I did read the letter.

Senator Mason —Why did you misquote it?

Senator WALSH —I did not not misquote it. I initiated an inquiry to the Department to seek the facts, as distinct from the froth and bubble that appeared in Ms MacLeod's letter and which has been regurgitated this afternoon by Senator Mason. The letter stated:

The silicon can be sprayed on to a substrate (glass, metal or even a roofing tile)-

that is technically incorrect-

and the cost is only 5-10 per cent of the substrate.

If the substrate is a roofing tile, the advice I am given is that, far from adding 5 to 10 per cent to the cost of the roofing tile, to apply this material in some other more difficult way-not to spray it on-would increase its cost two to four times. That is an increase of between 200 and 400 per cent, not an increase of 5 to 10 per cent as Ms MacLeod asserted and as Senator Mason has repeated. The letter does say that it is anticipated that within four years new Japanese homes will be sprayed with it, et cetera, and it does say that heating needs will be supplied by that. It certainly does not tell us by whom it is anticipated that Japanese homes will be equipped with such tiles within four years. I can only assume, in the absence of any other information, that it is anticipated by the wishful thinkers and dabblers in self-delusory nonsense who are so heavily concentrated in the Australian Democrats. The matter of heating by gas was not addressed yesterday in my reply, nor was it relevant to the reply I gave. The points I made were that even though it is technically feasible to produce electricity-

Senator Chipp —What about the lies you told people about uranium mining in the last election campaign? Absolute lies, you told them.

The PRESIDENT —Order! I ask Senator Chipp to withdraw those remarks.

Senator Chipp —I withdraw the word 'lies' and substitute the words 'deliberate misleading untruths'.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator cannot use the words 'deliberate misleading untruths'. They are unparliamentary. I ask him to withdraw.

Senator Chipp —In deference to you Mr President, I will withdraw the word ' deliberate'.

Senator Georges —What about in deference to the rest of us? I suggest it ought to be in deference to the rest of us as well, Mr President. The honourable senator should not qualify his withdrawal in that way.

The PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator has withdrawn.

Senator Chipp —Tell us about uranium mining now-what you said during the last election.

Senator WALSH —If the honourable senator wants to ask a question about uranium mining I will talk about it, but the question was about solar energy. In the reply I gave yesterday I pointed out that even though it is technically feasible to produce electricity in the way suggested by Ms MacLeod, it would inevitably be at a substantially higher cost. I added that unless there were an inverter, even during hours of daylight, it would be impossible to supply many common household electrical appliances. Unless there were also storage batteries one would have to go to bed with the chooks because the sun does not shine at night.

The PRESIDENT —Order! This is all very interesting but I suggest it is a matter that should be debated in the adjournment debate rather than at Question Time.

Senator WALSH —I am about to finish my answer, Mr President. Not even the new magical roof tiles which so appeal to the cargo cultists in the Australian Democrats can produce electricity when there is no daylight and no sun shining. Therefore, unless one wants to go to bed with the chooks one would have to have storage batteries to supply electricity, irrespective of the source of power for household heating.

Senator MASON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the Minister include among those whom he regards as putting froth, bubble and nonsense the large Sanyo corporation in Japan, which is putting $50m into this research? Does he deny that scientists there say that the research and its products are probably far more applicable to Australia than Japan? What is he doing, posturing here as the Minister for Resources and Energy, when he has not done his homework on this subject?

Senator WALSH —The Sanyo corporation was the source of the estimate that a roof tile, so equipped, would cost two to four times as much as a roof tile not so equipped, not the 5 to 10 per cent that Ms Macleod had claimed. There are good reasons why the Sanyo corporation might apply a good deal of money to research funding into solar photovoltaic electricity. In a limited area there is a potential for, and indeed an existing use for, solar photovoltaic electricity. It is being used in Australia. However, it is not conceivable, certainly in the medium term, that such electricity would be cost competitive with the sort of electricity normally put into a grid in Japan, Australia or, I suspect, anywhere else in the world.