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Thursday, 12 December 2002
Page: 8049

Senator BROWN (12:19 AM) —I congratulate Senator Allison on that speech. It is a pity there were not more honourable senators here to hear that and understand why this legislation and the government's policy on renewable energy—which is absolutely pivotal to meeting the problem of global warming as well as to ensuring that Australia is at the forefront of, and not left as a laggard in, the development of environmental technology this century—are failing. I will traverse somewhat different territory, but as a Tasmanian I nevertheless have to agree with Senator Allison that the windfall that has gone to hydro—and, in particular, HydroTasmania—because this legislation was not properly drawn up at the time and our attention was drawn to the government two years ago, has pulled the rug from under the intention that this legislation should stimulate new renewable energy sources. The ability of HydroTasmania, through the simple change of their use of its hydro system, to take 30 per cent to 60 per cent of the advantage out of this system and leave the whole of the stimulus of the renewable energy options—solar power, wind power, hydrogen power, potentially, and so on— stripped of the incentive that the legislation was meant to give them through the certificate system sees a crying need for this legislation to be amended to close that loophole. They have indeed done that in places like the UK, where they foresaw that existing energy users could manipulate their system to take advantage of a renewable energy certificate system and at the outset ensure that the legislation did not leave such a loophole.

As Senator Allison has said, this legislation, which was meant to ensure that there would be an additional two per cent in renewables used in the Australian system by 2010, has therefore failed. Indeed, there is good evidence to show that the legislation will have zero effect. In other words, if it had not existed at all then the growth of the renewable energy options in Australia would be exactly the same as if the government did not exist. That is an indictment not just of this policy but of the former minister for the environment, Senator Hill, who brought this legislation in here. He helped pull the rug from under Australia's initial signature to the Kyoto agreement. He got the extraordinary result out of Kyoto where Australia was allowed to expand its global warming gases by eight per cent between 1992 and 2010 rather than reduce them, as so many other countries are obliged to. Then he brought this legislation in, touting it as cutting-edge legislation when in fact it has been a failure—and demonstrably a failure. I add to Senator Allison's asservation that it will do—and it has done—precious little, at least measured against the intention to stimulate new renewable sources of energy in Australia.

We know that already this nation is producing some 18 per cent more greenhouse gases than in 1990. In other words, under this government, since the signature was put on the Kyoto agreement, the country is running at more than double the extra that was allowed by 2010 in exudation of global warming gases, and it has become the worst per capita polluter in the world. The worst states in the world are Victoria and Western Australia. Victoria has its vast brown coalfield, which it intends to expand and exploit. And the Bracks government in Victoria in particular has a policy which is aimed straight at a massive increase of burning of fossil fuels—and brown coal at that, the worst fossil fuel of the lot except for shale. Aided and abetted by the federal government, the research dollar that should be going to renewable energy is being poured in to trying to make the dirtiest fossil fuels, like brown coal, somewhat cleaner.

I note that the Commonwealth Chief Scientist, Dr Robin Batterham, who is also the Chief Technologist with a massive coal/aluminium company called Rio Tinto, has said that you can equate renewable energy with reduction in pollution through new technologies, in things such as burning coal. That is a misconception. If that is what he put to the energy ministers in this country who gathered in Brisbane recently, then he was deceiving those ministers and leading them astray. The Chief Scientist needs urgently to come to grips with the entanglement he has engaged in between public relations—promoting the mining industry, not least the coal and aluminium industries, the great polluters, the great global warming creators—with science and renewable energy.

Renewable energy which brings on line energy for human consumption without increasing global warming gasses cannot be equated with burning fossil fuels at a less polluting rate. Burning fossil fuels to get zero production of global warming gasses is pie in the sky, Dr Batterham. If your advice to the Prime Minister or to other energy ministers around the country is that there is, in the foreseeable future, through carbon sequestration or other ways, a potential for burning coal with zero emissions, you are in cloud cuckoo land. Worse than that, you are diverting money from renewable energy to the old polluting industries to try to make them less dirty. This is a tragic direction for Australian government policy to be going. Over the last few years, what has happened in Australian policy is that money to renewables, which should be a great source of stimulus from the government, has gone instead to the coal and fossil fuel industries.

The one constant factor we can see in this is the Chief Scientist and his advice. Dr Batterham, who has been with Rio Tinto for 14 years and is their Chief Technologist and is also the Chief Scientist appointed by Prime Minister Howard, sits on the board that determines where funding from the government to the cooperative research centres in Australia goes. As Senator Allison has just reiterated, we have seen this week that, in the disbursement of money to those cooperative research centres, $68 million, the lot as far as mining and energy is concerned, has gone to four cooperative research centres, all of which can be seen to advantage Rio Tinto, the corporation for whom Dr Batterham is Chief Technologist. At the same time, the decision making panel on which he sits has decided to defund renewable energy. The Cooperative Research Centre for Renewable Energy, as Senator Allison said, just 12 months ago got a great tick from its independent review panel, which suggested that the money supply should keep up because of the potential of that renewable energy research agglomeration. Instead of that, they have been cut down. Answers are required here, and I would like to hear them during this committee session from the minister, who is listening to this.

How did the government come to make the decision that all of the money for mineral and energy cooperative research should go to the mining industry? How did the government make the decision that none of the money would go to renewable energy? Why is it that the government a month ago gave a further $35 million to what is called the Rio Tinto Foundation? Just today we have learned through question time in the parliament in a supplementary answer that the money is said to come out of some $160 million, which was government incentive to the establishment of the Gladstone Comalco smelter in your home state of Queensland, Madam Acting Deputy President McLucas.

The question is: who made the decision that, out of the $167 million incentive given by this government on a plate to the Comalco smelter in Queensland—and I think Queenslanders could think of a lot of other ways of spending $167 million—$35 million should go to the Rio Tinto Foundation? They will investigate—amongst other things, but primarily—carbon sequestration, which is so far the fanciful idea that gas coming out of thermal power stations fuelled by coal can be put back into the ground so that in some way the carbon will be retained in the ground. Who made that decision? What influence did Dr Batterham, who is a spokesperson for Rio Tinto, have in seeing that that money went to studies to advantage that company, at the same time that the body on which he sits decided to defund renewable energy—which one can see as a competitor for the money going into trying to make burning coal less threatening for global warming?

Let me make it clear that there is a direct conflict of interest occurring here and, if Dr Batterham cannot see it and the Prime Minister cannot see it, any fair-minded independent other person can see it. There is horror out there in scientific circles about what has happened this week. Here we have the government bringing in this bill late at night to fix up in very minor ways the one piece of legislation on renewable energy it has ever brought into this parliament—and one which is patently failing. At the same time, that same government is failing to fund a sunrise industry which is hugely important not just to our nation but to the world's wellbeing.

Let this be clearly stated: without renewable energy, human life and social order on this planet are facing total meltdown—not just global warming but chaotic destruction in the coming decades, by mid- or late century. People might say, `Here is an environmentalist, getting over-anxious,' but I remind the Senate that just seven years ago 1,200 scientists, including over 100 Nobel prize winners, warned governments around the planet of just that: if we do not change course many species of life on this planet, including our own—and we are only one of 30 million species on this planet—could be in dire trouble as far as our existence is concerned. But `head in the sand' is the hallmark of the Howard government on this matter. In fact there is a certain vindictiveness towards those who want to say to the government, `Get your head out of the sand and get back to the forefront in leading environmental excellence in the world!' Instead of that, we are left tonight with the imminent ratification of the Kyoto treaty by Russia and Canada, and we are one of only two countries in the developed world—the rich world—whose governments are resolutely refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol.

New Zealand decided to sign this week, but not Mr Howard and not President Bush. Russia is following suit—and Senator Allison reminds me that Canada is too. Why doesn't President Bush sign? Because the oil companies have him in their pockets. One alone, Exxon, put some $6 million into his recent election campaign. Why doesn't Mr Howard sign? Because the coal and aluminium industries here have a relationship with Mr Howard which does not bear scrutiny. That relationship, through the Chief Scientist, is going to come under scrutiny. The Greens will make sure of that because the connection between the government and the coal industry and the aluminium industry— and the funding that is being disbursed from this government to those other entities—is, on the face of it, a matter of enormous concern for this country. Of concern is not just corporate welfare or largesse to the corporations—some of whom at least return that through donations to the government—but the pulling of the rug from under the scientific research that is essential if this planet is going to have a secure future.

Let me read the latest report, dated yesterday, from Lester Brown—no relative—of the Earth Policy Institute in the United States. The report is headed Global temperature near record for 2002 takes toll in deadly heatwave, withered harvests and melting ice. This top world scientific body says:

Temperature data for the first 11 months of 2002 indicate that this year will likely be the second warmest on record, exceeded only by 1998. These data from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies indicate that the temperature for the first 11 months has averaged 14.65 degrees Celsius (58.37 degrees Fahrenheit), down slightly from the record high of 14.69 in 1998, but well above the average temperature of 14 degrees Celsius that prevailed from 1951 to 1980.

Studying these annual temperature data, one gets the unmistakable feeling that temperature is rising and that the rise is gaining momentum. A year ago, we noted that the 15 warmest years since recordkeeping began in 1867 had occurred since 1980. Barring a dramatic drop in temperature for December, we can now say that the three warmest years on record—

in the last one and a half centuries—

have come in the last five years.

In addition to the longer-term annual temperature trend, recent monthly data also indicate an accelerating rise. In contrast to local temperatures, which fluctuate widely from season to season, the global average temperature is remarkably stable throughout the year because the seasonal contrasts of the northern and southern hemispheres offset each other. The temperature for January of this year of 14.72 degrees Celsius was the highest on record for January. The 14.91 degrees for March made it the warmest March on record. And in seven of the next eight months—April through November—the temperature was either the second or the third warmest. October was the fourth warmest.

Since 1980, decadal average temperatures have risen well above the 14 degrees Celsius average for the span from 1951 to 1980, which is defined as the norm. During the 1980s, the global temperature averaged 14.26 degrees. In the 1990s it was 14.38 degrees. During the first three years of this decade (2000-2002), it has been 14.52 degrees.

Rising temperature does not come as a surprise to atmospheric scientists who analyze the climate effects of rising atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas. Each year since detailed recordkeeping began in 1959, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has climbed to a new high, making it one of the most predictable of all global environmental trends.

The report goes on to talk about massive melting of ice in Greenland, on Mount Kilimanjaro, in Alaska and elsewhere, and the sea rises consequent to that. And here we have a government which has its head in the sand and says, `Let's leave that to the next generation to deal with.' That is immoral.