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Thursday, 27 November 2003
Page: 18282

Senator BROWN (7:28 PM) —I listened with appreciation to the last two speeches on 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. I am a bit more optimistic than Senator Allison about what is achievable—even in the current legislative climate. We proposed that this go to a committee over the Christmas break and that it be dealt with in February—which is not much of a delay—to allow the community organisations and businesses that are involved in this area to bring their expertise to bear on the legislation. That is a very healthy thing to do with any process as complicated as this one and any process where we are still looking for the answers to the problem—which is the damage that ozone-depleting substances have done to the atmosphere that protects all life on the planet, including we human beings—of how to stop that human impact.

What we do know is that the ozone-depleting substances, particularly chloro-fluorocarbons, CFCs, have been damaging the atmosphere and creating the so-called hole in the ozone layer over the last few decades. In particular these have come from artificial propellants and refrigerants which have brought new chemical complexes not known in the natural environment in anything like these quantities, if at all. Suddenly they have been put into the environment by mass production through inventions largely in the American and European industrial complexes. In the 1970s it was hypothesised that this could damage the upper atmosphere and, lo and behold, the forecast was right.

One of the great hopes of the global community working together comes through the Montreal protocol of more than a decade ago by which the world's manufacturers primarily got together and said, `We have got to do better than this, otherwise the damage is going to far outweigh the advantage of these new refrigerants and propellants.' So the Montreal protocol, which has since been amended a number of times, came into place. By global agreement it was seeing that the damage to the environment, including to our own potential to live on this planet, was so great and coming so fast it outweighed the advantages of having the latest chemicals propel our mosquito repellents or freeze our fridges when there were alternatives.

The Greens position—and it is backed up by sections of industry and by best practice in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere—is to go back to the natural refrigerants and propellants. With propellants the problem has been replaced, but we need to do the same with refrigerants now and go back to the pre chemical whiz-bang but environmentally damaging era of the last half century. This legislation does not adequately do that. This legislation is not designed to go to natural refrigerants; it is designed to allow the continued use of HCFCs which are damaging to the environment because they have an enormous impact on promoting global warming.

They are two separate things. One is past damage to the ozone hole created by HCFCs; but the problem now is that the new chemicals, which do not damage the ozone layer in the same way, enormously promote global warming. They do a much bigger job tonne for tonne—in fact in some cases they have an impact on global warming hundreds of times more significant than carbon dioxide, the biggest global warming gas and the one that we are all familiar with.

So the problem with the replacement hydrocarbons used in refrigeration is that they are a massive cause of global warming. That is the penalty involved. The human community is moving to fix up the problem of damaging the ozone layer, but we are far from fixing up global warming—and here we are allowing an alternative technology which promotes global warming. That is what this legislation does, unfortunately—and I will talk about it a little bit more.

Why should we be taking that option when there are natural refrigerants which do not damage the ozone layer and do not enhance global warming? That is the point of the amendments that the Greens have brought forward into this debate tonight, and that is the feedback, by the way, that we would have got from the business community—promoting natural refrigerants—had they been given an opportunity to come before a Senate committee. They ought to have been given that opportunity. I am astonished that only the Greens supported that opportunity being given through a Senate committee when it was voted down by all other components of the Senate yesterday.

The purpose of the bills before us is to implement the most recent amendments to the Montreal protocol—the 1999 Beijing amendment—and to regulate the synthetic greenhouse gases or HFCs which are replacing the ozone depleting gases already banned in refrigerant and airconditioning systems. You have got to note that both the greenhouse gas promoters and the ozone destroyers are environmentally damaging fluorocarbons. It is important to note that one destroys the ozone layer, as I have said, and the other exacerbates global warming. They are no-win options.

The alternative, however, is natural refrigerants, or better building design to avoid the need for airconditioning, which is a major user these days of these refrigerants. Natural refrigerants are naturally occurring substances. They include ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, nitrogen and water, and they have minimal environmental impacts. They have been widely adopted in Europe, China, India and, recently, by major Japanese manufacturers. In Australia the Fluorocarbon Council represents importers and users of fluorocarbons—because we do not manufacture these domestically—that is, the people involved in producing refrigeration and similar manufactured goods for which fluorocarbons are imported. These interests, through the Fluorocarbon Council, have largely captured government policy and resources to perpetuate the market for the global warming causing fluorocarbons.

The ozone legislation we have here is being used to cement this situation because it promotes rather than replaces the ozone-depleting HCFCs with greenhouse gas exacerbating HFCs rather than with natural refrigerants. The legislation promotes a transition to the global warming gas option but not to natural refrigerants. That is what the Greens amendments will aim to do: to go to the better natural refrigerant option. The legislation sets funding mechanisms and, potentially, industry boards, but they represent only the fluorocarbon side of the industry. They leave out the natural refrigerant component of the industry, and I ask Senator Allison to understand that when it comes up in the amendments.

There is a plethora of industry organisations in the field. The natural refrigerant organisations include: the Natural Refrigerants Transition Board, which was launched in February this year; and Greenchill of New South Wales. On the other side is the much more established fluorocarbon lobby, which is advantaged by this bill. It includes the Fluorocarbon Council and also the National Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Council, NRAC. NRAC was established in 2001 with a grant from the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program—that is, Commonwealth money—to minimise HFC emissions. Because natural refrigerants are not regulated by the Commonwealth and there is no environmental requirement to limit their emissions, they are not represented directly on NRAC, this National Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Council, where they should be.

There is also a lobby group called Refrigerant Reclaim Australia, which was established by the Fluorocarbon Council in 1993 to implement a scheme to reclaim, recycle and destroy fluorocarbons in Australia. In 2001 the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program—Commonwealth money—gave $3.5 million to set up NRAC and supposedly to save 3.6 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2008-12. NRAC has apparently failed to meet its targets and I will be interested to hear from the minister how well it is doing in achieving its targets, including attracting industry support. I will also be asking the minister about its financial situation. The Fluorocarbon Council gave NRAC $50,000 in the last financial year. I will be asking whether NRAC has met its targets under the Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program and what the role of the Fluorocarbon Council is with it. I will be asking who the members of the advisory board are and whether there are representatives of the natural refrigerant industry, environment groups and consumer associations on that advisory committee.

The new legislation turns the Ozone Protection Reserve—that is a fund—into the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Account. Its purposes are to cover administrative costs and to fund programs to phase out ozone-depleting substances and emissions minimisation programs for ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases—that is, it does not fund programs to promote natural refrigerants or to reduce the need for airconditioning. They are the twin aims that this legislation should be giving priority to.

The new legislation foreshadows the establishment of a national industry board through regulations to administer the new licensing system for fluorocarbon refrigerants. The Greenhouse Office called for expressions of interest from existing industry bodies but has rejected all but NRAC—and I will be asking about that. As I have said, we want to see the massive increase in airconditioning reversed by better building design and proper allocation of costs. It is estimated that in Melbourne this year 100,000 new airconditioning units will be put in place. That is not only a great impost on peak load electricity—which is the ostensible argument for Basslink, which will cause major problems for Tasmania's environment, including the potential for wood-burning furnaces—but also has the problem of putting into place, in a country which is not using natural refrigerants except in small quantities, refrigeration systems which are potentially damaging the atmosphere by enhancing global warming.

As I have been saying, we also want to promote the transition from fluorocarbons to natural refrigerants and to make it an explicit objective of that new industry board. Our amendments would incorporate the transition to those objectives and would ban the import of small domestic airconditioners—split system airconditioners—and, if I am not wrong, heat pumps, precharged with fluorocarbons. We are saying: let us not have fluorocarbons being imported into the country in ready-made, precharged air conditioners, in their thousands. That is not regulated; they come without the overview that exists in other countries. That should be done here in this country; we should be in total control of these fluorocarbons within our country.

We have a number of amendments, as I have said. We will be pushing for that national industry board with oversight of this industry to include representatives from refrigeration and airconditioning contractors and their association—the Institute of Refrigeration and Airconditioning Service Engineers, Airconditioning and Mechanical Contractors Association—NRAC, TAFE institutes, national environmental organisations and consumer organisations. All of them, and all of us, have a big interest in this matter because it impacts on the sort of world that we are bequeathing to the next generation.

I have other matters I will be raising during the committee stage but I will leave that until the amendments come up. I hope that the government will seriously consider the amendments we have put forward, and in particular the need to boost the natural refrigerants industry in Australia—as it has been boosted by very strong phase-out proposals in Northern Hemisphere countries like Germany. We can do it in Australia. We can emulate that and that is what the Greens amendments to this important legislation would do if they were adopted.