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Thursday, 27 November 2003
Page: 18274

Senator LUNDY (7:00 PM) —I rise on behalf of the Labor Party in support of the measures contained in the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003 and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003. Evidence that has accumulated over the last few decades clearly shows that human activities are adversely impacting on the earth's environment. It is not, however, only the land that we live on that is under threat. Recently the ozone layer that protects us from overexposure to damaging ultraviolet radiation from the sun, in particular UVB light, which is linked to high rates of skin cancer, has thinned significantly as a result of the release of chemicals artificially created by humans, namely chlorofluorocarbons or CFCs. CFCs, along with other compounds that contain chlorine and bromine, have significantly accelerated the depletion of ozone in the earth's stratosphere.

CFCs are used in a variety of industrial, commercial and household applications as coolants for commercial and home refrigeration units, as aerosol propellants, as electronic cleaning solvents and as blowing agents. When they were developed in the 1930s, the thought that these chemicals might have dire consequences for an ozone layer far above us was beyond the realms of imagination. It was not until 1973 that chlorine was found to be a catalytic agent in ozone destruction and it was not until 1984 that conclusive evidence of the resulting stratospheric ozone loss was presented.

When CFCs' devastating effects on the ozone layer were realised, the international community took immediate steps to halt ozone depletion by developing the Montreal protocol, which called for a worldwide ban on the release of ozone-destroying chemicals into the atmosphere. The fact that the Montreal protocol was agreed to by almost every country on earth meant that it was very effective in achieving the goal of significantly reducing the rates of release of ozone destroying chemicals.

Despite the rapid phase-out of CFCs, however, ozone levels are expected to remain lower than the pre-depletion levels for several decades due to the extended lifetimes of CFCs and the potential additional impacts of bromochloromethane and hydrochlorofluoro-carbons. In an effort to combat this problem, a number of changes to the original Montreal protocol, referred to as the Beijing amendments, were subsequently introduced. These amendments called for new controls on the trade in and manufacture of bromochloromethane and hydrochlorofluorocarbons. Bromochloromethane is primarily used as an industrial solvent and fire extinguisher while hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HCFCs, which were developed to replace the more damaging banned CFCs, are primarily used as refrigerator coolants.

The bills being debated here today will implement into domestic Australian law these Beijing amendments. The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, which is the first bill being debated here, continues to promote the generally bipartisan approach which has been taken on this subject. The existing legislation, which was introduced by Labor in 1989, has been successful in reducing Australia's consumption of ozone depleting substances by over 80 per cent since that time. The main purpose of this bill is to amend the Ozone Protection Act 1989 and to implement the most recent amendment to the Montreal protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, to ensure the ongoing protection of the ozone layer.

The recommended amendments to this bill will call for the establishment of a national regulatory scheme for the management of both ozone depleting substances and the synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacements. Although these gases are not, strictly speaking, a direct risk to the ozone layer, there is still cause for concern, as they are potent greenhouse gases. These gases have a much greater impact than carbon dioxide on a weight for weight basis and, although they make up only a very small part of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions at this time, using them as substitutes for banned ozone depleting substances means that emission levels are on the rise.

The explanatory memorandum to this bill asserts that the introduced amendments will deliver on commitments to manage synthetic greenhouse gas emissions, as detailed in measure 7.2 of the National Greenhouse Strategy. The two additional bills that we have here, the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003, and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003, extend the current payments applying to the manufacture and import of prescribed ozone-depleting substances to certain synthetic greenhouse gases and also allow for an increase in payments.

These bills are extending the system in the existing legislation for licensing the import, export and manufacture of ozone-depleting compounds to also include synthetic greenhouse gas replacement substances. These bills will simplify the current regulatory arrangements for end-use control of ozone-depleting substances and their synthetic greenhouse gas alternatives through the implementation of a national framework to replace existing state and territory legislation. This will allow the government to enact regulations to target preventable emissions and adapt these controls over time to keep pace with changes in technologies and practices.

Reforms to the current financial arrangements for the ozone protection program to establish the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Account will also be made. These reforms will accommodate the additional regulatory responsibilities assumed by the government under this bill and increase transparency by consolidating all financial arrangements into one account. These new arrangements will fund administration of programs to reduce the environmental impact of ozone-depleting substances and their synthetic greenhouse gas replacements on a cost recovery basis.

The Australian Fluorocarbon Council have voiced their support for this legislation, saying that these bills offer a sensible and comprehensive approach to the matter. The AFC said that the bills recognise that a least cost approach is the best way forward and that reducing emissions will position our economy for the future. The Australian Institute of Refrigeration, Air Conditioning and Heating have also recognised the value of these bills, as they provide Australia with a world leading program for the control and management of ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases.

There were some concerns raised regarding the limits of these amendments—in particular, the issue of the continued use of HCFCs. The Greenchill Technology Association argued very strongly their belief that the bills should go further in their effort to increase the use of natural refrigerants instead of HCFCs. They said that, while trying to manage and control HCFC emissions was a worthy objective, emissions would continue to increase if HCFCs continued to be used and that the main thrust of the legislation should be to effectively reduce emissions by using natural refrigerants instead. Labor believes that the concerns raised by Greenchill and by others are best addressed through the development of policy on natural refrigerants rather than through seeking to amend the bills before the Senate this evening. The Labor Party is prepared to argue the case for the advancement of natural refrigeration and to give them due policy consideration. That consideration, however, does not belong as part of these amendments.

I would like to highlight two pertinent reasons why policy must be immediately pursued and implemented—and, more importantly, adhered to. The first point is that this legislation is the product of a policy commitment made by the Commonwealth government back in 1995—the then Labor government. Let me reiterate this point: the commitment to contain greenhouse gas emissions and provide greenhouse gas dividends was made back in 1995. Since this time we have seen nothing but delay from the Howard government, with the result that millions of tonnes of preventable greenhouse gas emissions have been allowed to enter the atmosphere over the last decade. We cannot procrastinate any longer. Had the government put forward this legislation and introduced it in a more timely fashion, we would have saved much more in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

The second point of importance relates to methyl bromide. Methyl bromide is a powerful ozone-depleting substance and is an important fumigant. Under our obligations to the Montreal protocol, all uses of methyl bromide other than for quarantine and pre-shipment purposes are to be phased out in Australia by 1 January 2005. As a modification to this requirement, however, a formal decision was adopted in 1997 to allow for the granting of limited critical use exemptions in rare cases when several strict criteria were met. It now appears that the Howard government may support dubious exemptions which compromise the intent of this phase-out. This is an issue that the opposition is committed to monitoring to ensure that the Howard government does not take a laid-back approach to critical use exemptions and maintains stringent controls over the use of methyl bromide.

Although some concerns have been raised, in general these bills represent a marked improvement on the current arrangements for management of both ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases released from compounds used as their replacements. Australia has a sound record in the area of control of ozone-depleting substances. We have met targets and deadlines proposed in the Montreal protocol and the subsequent upgrades and amendments to these protocols. In most instances, we have been successful in not only meeting but exceeding those targets ahead of time.

Ozone depletion is an important problem, and the widespread adoption of international protocols has helped to limit the damage. Hopefully, the problem will be largely remedied in coming decades. Although most of the current indications are positive that this will be the case, there are still some areas for concern. The CSIRO, for example, has shown that, while most of the levels of the controlled ozone-depleting substances are decreasing in the atmosphere, CFC-22 levels are still increasing. While the rate of release of CFC-22—which was the most commonly used CFC and is the most abundant ozone-depleting substance in the atmosphere—has slowed greatly, it has not stopped, and this is a cause for concern.

A second area of concern, which is indirectly related to ozone depletion, is global warming due to greenhouse gas emissions. Although ozone depletion and greenhouse warming are two quite different issues, there is a growing worldwide consensus that their combined effects significantly affect climate change. Climate change is, without question, one of the most serious environmental issues facing the planet. Each day we see increased evidence of its impact: droughts, bushfires, floods, cyclones and increased susceptibility to tropical diseases flowing from many of those occurrences.

The Beijing amendments, which are now effectively before the Senate in the form of these bills, extend the range of control considerations to include not only ozone-depleting gases but also gases that, while they do not directly affect ozone depletion, do contribute to global warming and climate change. The two gases primarily responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions are methane and carbon dioxide. Increases in the level of these two gases in the atmosphere over the past 100 years or so accounts for around 90 per cent of total emissions generated by humans. Carbon dioxide, principally, and methane, as a secondary emitter, are the substances whose emissions must be controlled if global warming is to be effectively managed. Control of these greenhouse emitters relates directly to measures covered in the Kyoto protocol, and it is appalling that, in spite of successful negotiations to obtain concessions for a number of special issues that affect Australia, the Howard government has continually refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol on climate change.

The Beijing amendments being recommended today will impact on global warming in two main ways. Firstly, by extending the types of measures adopted for control of ozone-depleting substances to others that have global-warming potential—in particular, finding replacements for ozone-depleting refrigerants will bring them under controllable regulations. The second focal point is to centralise regulations into a single, consistent set of national rules. National regulations have obvious advantages in terms of certainty and efficiency, particularly for organisations that operate in several states or territories. While the opposition supports the points of these amendments in principle, we do have concerns regarding the government's commitment to honouring them. The Howard government's ongoing failure, for example, to ratify the Kyoto protocol highlights its scant regard for the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on global climate change.

Labor has grave concerns about putting this kind of responsibility into the hands of the Howard government, a government that has shown it will allow its prejudices to drive modifications in regulations and procedures as and when it suits them. However, we do recognise that we must take appropriate action now to deal with the effects human influences are having on global climate change and therefore support the amendments to the ozone protection bills to limit the effects of these problems for generations to come. While Labor supports these bills, it should not be seen as the solution to Australia's global warming problems. Although the original ozone protection bill introduced by Labor some years ago has gone a long way toward protecting the ozone layer, there is still much work to be done, particularly in limiting greenhouse gas emissions. I urge the Howard government to do the responsible thing and to ratify the Kyoto protocol to protect Australia's climate for all of our futures.