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Wednesday, 23 October 2002
Page: 5717


Senator BOLKUS (2:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill. Can he confirm that the European parliament has passed legislation preventing EU members and companies from trading in carbon credits with countries—like Australia—that have not ratified the Kyoto protocol? What has the government got to say to Australian business, which will now be cut out of what is expected to be a lucrative market in carbon credits because of this government's refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I understand that Senator Bolkus is a little ahead of himself in that draft legislation to establish an EU carbon trading scheme was recently the subject of a first reading in the European parliament. Nevertheless, there are two issues involved here. The first is how Australia can contribute to a better global greenhouse outcome and the second is whether the Kyoto protocol is the best mechanism to achieve that goal. Basically, Australia can contribute to a better outcome through its domestic policies. This government, as Senator Bolkus knows, has a whole suite of domestic policies to achieve the outcome of a better carbon profile in this country. We have put a large sum of public money towards it and we have passed legislation in this place to encourage renewable energy, with little help from those such as the Greens in this place. We have spent a lot of money on solar power, on small hydro schemes—and one can go on. That is contributing to a better outcome from Australia, and a better outcome from Australia in a very minor way can contribute to a better global outcome. I say `in a minor way' because we are such small contributors to the global greenhouse picture—only about one per cent.

The next question is: can the Kyoto protocol in its current form help achieve that better global outcome? Our argument, of course, is that it is not going to achieve that until the United States is brought within the loop, because the US is creating about 30 per cent of the world's carbon. Therefore you have a choice: you either proceed with Kyoto without the United States and lock the United States out—and that will lead inevitably to an unsatisfactory outcome in terms of global carbon—or you seek to continue to encourage the United States to come on board towards achieving a protocol that can actually accomplish better real benefits.

As for politics, yes, you can play the politics on this issue if you like, but what the government is more concerned about is actually achieving a better greenhouse outcome, and the government's policies have been directed towards that better outcome and already they are showing some modest successes towards that goal. This government will concentrate on reducing greenhouse gases per capita and per quantum of production in Australia and by doing so will be making a very significant contribution in the right direction.


Senator BOLKUS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister had a good time answering his own questions but he refused to answer the question that I asked him, which was: what message does the government have for businesses cut out of a lucrative market? Is the minister aware that the Prime Minister said recently, `If we become convinced in the months ahead that it's in Australia's interests to sign the protocol, we'll sign it'? Doesn't the looming decision of the European parliament make it crystal clear where Australia's interests lie? Will the government now cut through the gumf, reverse its position and ratify the Kyoto protocol?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —The government does support the goals of the Kyoto protocol and that is why we signed the protocol. We are committed to the target that Australia was given in Kyoto, a difficult target but an achievable target, and we are making significant progress towards it. By doing that we will be actually contributing to a better outcome, rather than just playing the politics. So if we can bring the United States back on board and if we can resolve the issue of leakage to developing countries, then I hope the time will come when we are able to ratify and we have a total global program in which each country shares an equal burden of the cost and of the weight towards achieving the outcome that we are all seeking.