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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 5474

Senator FARRELL (12:35 PM) —I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak on this most important piece of government legislation. The Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 and related bills deal with some of the more innovative aspects of what the current government is planning to do on the issue of energy. My own state, of course, has been a pioneer in lots of these areas. As Senator Bernardi would know, we lead the country in wind power. You may be smiling, Mr Acting Deputy President Parry, but what I am saying is true. We are innovators and leaders in South Australia in energy and, in particular, new forms of technology in the energy sector. One of those areas that you might be interested in is, of course, wind power. We have now developed about 45 per cent of Australia’s wind power resources, yet we have only nine per cent of Australia’s population.

Senator Bernardi —The smartest nine per cent!

Senator FARRELL —Yes. I do not often agree with things that Senator Bernardi says, but on this occasion I would have to concede that it is the smartest nine per cent in the country. Because we are smart in South Australia and because we have often had to do more with less, we have managed to develop new technologies that the other coal rich states have been able to ignore.

It is a great pleasure for me to be able to talk about the fact that this is one of those areas where the Rudd Labor government is moving to deal with issues that confront not just the state, not just the country but the world. We know that greenhouse gases continue to pose a very significant threat to the planet through climate change. I am privileged to be on the Senate Standing Committee on Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport, which is currently looking at the issue of the Coorong. We can see daily the effects of climate change on our community, the way it is affecting irrigators, the way it is affecting farmers and the way is affecting the lives of the people who live in my state. Because of the problems of greenhouse gases we have to develop realistic, practical responses to deal with the issues of climate change and carbon.

This bill seeks to develop the sorts of technologies that enable the government and industry to work together to capture and store carbon, because it is the capture and storage of the carbon that is going to be critical to this country making its contribution towards addressing the pressing issue of climate change. Some people may criticise the government for investing in research and development to make coal emit less carbon into the atmosphere. But those critics would be wrong, because this is something that we must now do. We have no choice. Climate change is here. It is upon us and we are seeing the effects daily, as anybody who lives along the Murray will tell you, and so we have to invest our resources. We have to put our money where our mouth is and we have to find real, practical solutions in the research and development so that we make coal emit less carbon.

Carbon storage is just one of the aspects of the Australian government’s response to the climate change issue. I am very privileged that the person responsible for the climate change portfolio is a fellow South Australian, Senator Wong. She has a whole range of programs to try and deal with this issue, and this is one. Some of the other ways in which we are proposing to deal with the issue of climate change is in the areas of solar power and wind energy. I have already spoken about wind energy and how we produce about 45 per cent of the wind energy that goes into the national grid.

Solar power is also one of the areas in which South Australia has been leading the country and, because South Australia has lots of fresh air and lots of light, we are in a position to take maximum advantage of the new technologies that we are developing in solar power. Already households receive significant government rebates to install solar panels, and the government has ensured that this money is spent in the best way in which to promote, create and develop the solar industry. I mentioned before that we are leaders in wind power. If you go to the Fleurieu Peninsula, on any day you will see the turbines wheeling away there, producing that power and pumping it into the grid.

Unfortunately, though, the reality of our present circumstances is that there is no immediate suitable substitute for coal, so while solar is good and wind power is good, some of the new technologies like geothermal have great promise. I was fortunate enough to meet with Beach Petroleum the other day. They have got perhaps one of the most innovative programs in geothermal energy, and I suppose it is fair to say that there are a couple of competing technologies in that area to harness the geothermal activity and turn that that into grid power. Unfortunately, at the moment when you combine all those other alternative forms of energy there is still no way of replacing the amount of energy that we get from coal and coal fired electricity.

I think geothermal does have the long-term prospect of providing that solution but some of the technology still has a little way to go. I am not sure how familiar people with the concept of geothermal: you pump water underground and you run it over what they call ‘hot rocks’. This is nature’s clean, green nuclear energy, because the heat that is provided by these rocks is nuclear related. It heats up the granite underground and you run the water through the rocks and you then run the water back to the surface. That water then runs turbines that produce electricity. One of the difficulties that some of the new technologies have in this area is that they cannot get the output to match the input: either too much water or too little water is coming through. I think that is going to be one of the areas where more research and more innovation is required. (Time expired)

Debate interrupted.