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Thursday, 16 October 2008
Page: 6269

Senator BOB BROWN (Leader of the Australian Greens) (5:31 PM) —I do not have a pecuniary interest in Woodside. I want to speak briefly to the Offshore Petroleum Amendment (Greenhouse Gas Storage) Bill 2008 and  related bills in the wake of the comments of my colleague Senator Christine Milne. The legislation needs amendment, because it is legislation to facilitate carbon storage—carbon being captured and transported to places under the seabed off Australia—without liability. There needs to be liability, and it ought not to be public liability. We are talking here about private enterprise moving to ameliorate the impact of the burning of fossil fuels in an age of climate change, with the public again being the guarantor.

The position of the Greens is that carbon capture and storage is a long way off. It is certainly not the immediate answer to the need to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions in this country. We should, as a priority in this place, be dealing with a bill to end the logging of native forests and woodlands in Australia, which would reduce greenhouse gases by 25 per cent straight off. But politics gets in the way of common sense when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. What we have is this legislation to facilitate some future storage of greenhouse gases under the ocean. The question arises: if you have a hole from which petroleum or gases have been removed so as to be burnt to produce energy for society, will we in the future see the capture of carbon, or indeed other greenhouse gases, from the burning of coal or fossil fuels onshore being transported back out through pipes and deposited in those same vacated holes under the seabed? If that is possible and it can be safely done, the next question that arises is: what about guaranteeing that, once plugged, the greenhouse gases deposited in that hole will stay there? If they are not guaranteed to stay there, the whole exercise becomes pointless. If, in the future, there is leakage, then ameliorating action will have to be taken.

We know that due to human, industrial and other actions over the last two to three centuries, we have increased enormously greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. They are increasing now at the greatest rate in history; it is accelerating. We are moving past the point of no return as far as the onrush of cataclysmic climate change is concerned. A further question arises: if the technology is found to store the carbon, who should be the guarantor for that? We maintain that the guarantee should come from the people, the entities, who are making the profits from burning fossil fuels and who put it under the ground. It is as simple as that. That is how it should be.

I want to make it very clear that the Greens do not believe this technology is available. We know it is not available. Everybody knows it is not available. We do not believe it is going to help us get to the very urgent challenge which scientists put to us: to be past the peak emissions of greenhouse gases and rapidly reducing them within the next two, three, four, five years. That is the critical thing. We should be more urgently dealing with legislation on an end to native forest logging and on energy efficiency for this country and with Senator Milne’s program on behalf of the Greens for retrofitting every house in Australia with energy saving devices like hot water services which could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of this country by 10 per cent in one go and create tens of thousands of jobs and businesses—not least in rural and regional Australia—right across this country, as well as add to export income.

Senator Fierravanti-Wells —We could bring back solar panels.

Senator BOB BROWN —Senator Fierravanti-Wells said that we could bring back solar panels. Senator, we should be producing them in this country. But the Howard government took the incentives away from the solar panel producing industries, and our excellent technology has been exported to Berlin and Beijing. I recently put a solar hot water service onto my house. It is Australian technology and manufactured in China. That is because the Howard government put hundreds of millions of dollars into the coal industry—wrong way—and took that support from the new solar panel producing industries that you talk about: the solar hot water services and other renewable energies.

I am afraid the same pattern of behaviour is happening under the current government. It undercuts the investment that should be going to ensuring that Australia becomes a powerhouse for new renewable energy, that it develops its own technology and becomes an exporter. Instead of that we have left it to cloudy Germany to be the exporter. I would add, and Senator Milne, if she were here, would be saying this: where are the feed-in laws that not only will make those solar panels you talk about good for households but will also produce money for them? If a person puts solar panels into their household, they produce electricity. When they are away on holidays, then they can feed it into the grid and, when they take it out of the grid, they should get three to four times more electricity than they paid for. That is how the German system works and that is why they have got the steal on the rest of the world.

One little anecdote on that is the pig farmer in Germany who thought he was not doing too well with pigs. In came feed-in laws, and he decided to cover his two hectare farm with solar panels. He now sits on the veranda watching the meter ticking over and makes money out of it. That is the way it should be going but Australia is way behind in that sort of thinking, and the Greens intend to continue to campaign to put us at the forefront.

But here we are dealing with what the big corporations want, legislation for facilitating their so-called carbon capture and storage somewhere down the line, perhaps decades down the line, not legislation to do the things we can do immediately to help small business in this country and to make an immediate impact on the reduction of carbon and other greenhouse gases pouring into the atmosphere due to lack of government action in this country.