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Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Page: 8179

Senator BARNETT (11:50 AM) —I stand to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2] and related bills. At this juncture I wish to comment on the process and to indicate that my position with respect to these bills has not changed since I shared that with the Senate on 11 August 2009. With respect to the bills before us, they are in exactly the same form as they were three months ago. We are standing here in this chamber debating a bill that we debated some three months ago and we are not aware of the amendments that are agreed or are proposed and will be agreed between the parties. We simply do not know. It may be days or it may be longer until we actually do know. So we are actually in a way speaking underwater and in the dark.

It is very troubling and difficult to be forced to try and make a sensible and meaningful contribution on such an important and impactful piece of legislation—in fact, one of the most impactful pieces of legislation ever to come before the Australian parliament—without knowing exactly what the government has in mind. What we know is that this bill before us is flawed—that is what we know. Even the government now recognises that in its public statements with respect to the bill in its current form. They know that it needs to be amended and fixed. The opposition have, consistent with public statements by Mr Turnbull and others, put forward through Ian Macfarlane six fundamental principles and put forward some amendments for consideration.

What we also know is that up until very recently agriculture had not been excluded. What we know from past research is that, based on the current bill, farming communities around Australia would have been disadvantaged big time by the government’s proposed legislation. That is what we know. Based on research undertaken by Frontier Economics some months ago, a typical dairy farmer would face an extra cost of $8,000 to $10,000 per year. We know that the rural communities throughout Australia would be adversely affected and disadvantaged by the bill before us. We understand that the government has agreed to exclude agriculture, but there is much that we do not know.

The other thing that we know from the research to date on the bill before us is that small and micro businesses—whether they have under 100 employees, under 20 employees or under five employees—will be adversely impacted. The compensation provisions to take their interests into account have to date not been adequate and comprehensive. We also know that families will be affected, whether it be through their power prices or through the costs of goods and services. Remember that the legislation is effectively a tax on goods and services. It is to reflect the damage done by CO2 emissions and the effects of those emissions on our environment.

But the ETS and the legislation before us is poorly framed. It is flawed. It is too important to rush. Sadly, the government is rushing this legislation for political purposes. That is one thing that we know and that is on the record. The Rudd Labor government are doing this for purely political purposes rather than trying to get it right for the sake of Australia and for the sake of the globe. We must get this legislation right. It is too important for us not to. The Frontier Economics report was made available publicly some three months ago and is out there for all to see.

What we support—and certainly what I support—is a properly framed and carefully put together emissions trading scheme along with other measures to ensure that the consequences of and damage to our environment from our CO2 emissions are taken into account. I am certainly happy to put that on the record. I note that when the Frontier Economics report was delivered, that proposal was said to be—not just by the authors but by others—greener, cheaper and smarter. That is perhaps enough on the process.

I would like to say that it is pleasing that this parliament a short time ago supported the amendments to the renewable energy legislation to provide strong support for the renewable energy sector. We have a target of 20 per cent of renewable energy by 2020. That is something that I strongly support as a Tasmanian senator. Tasmania is the renewable energy state. That is well known. I am proud of it. Over 95 per cent of our power is renewable energy, whether that be hydro or wind. We also know that Hydro Tasmania is in fact the largest generator of renewable energy in Australia.

In my neck of the woods—I live in north-east Tasmania—we have the Mussel Road Bay wind farm development, a $350 million wind farm development, ready to proceed. In fact, I am hoping that it will get under way in the very near future. It will deliver jobs, growth and development to north-east Tasmania and renewable energy to Tasmania and to the mainland via our Bass Strait cable. So there are some good things there in terms of renewable energy. That legislation has recently passed. That is part of the solution to the climate change issues before us.

But what the government should be is really serious about responding to climate change and reducing greenhouse gases. To do that, it should be considering the nuclear option. It is in Australia’s best interests to build on our strengths. To do that, Australia needs to be engaged in a constructive debate on the nuclear option. The take-up of nuclear power around the world is already happening and is inevitable. There is no country of Australia’s economic size or larger without nuclear power. We would stand alone among the 25 top economies in excluding its use for base load power supply in an era of climate change concern. In fact, I have held the view that nuclear power should be an option for many years and have more recently—more than a month ago—raised this matter with my leader and indeed in the party room. There is no good reason for nuclear power not to be considered an option for Australia.

Federal Labor’s reasons for opposing the nuclear option have been politically driven, with a campaign before the 2007 election in a dozen marginal coalition seats under the guise of ‘not in my backyard’. That was part of the campaign that they ran, which shows double standards. On the one hand, they are saying that greenhouse gas emissions are a real problem and that we must address them via their CPRS and the emissions trading scheme, but, on the other hand, they are saying no to the nuclear option. That is duplicity and double standards at their worst.

According to the World Nuclear Association’s Nuclear Power in the Today report of March 2009, there are now some 436 commercial nuclear reactors operating in 30 countries providing about 15 per cent of the electricity as continuous and reliable base load power. They say 56 countries operate a total of about 250 research reactors and 220 reactors power ships and submarines. Further, 16 countries depend on nuclear power for at least a quarter of their electricity. France gets around three quarters of its power from nuclear energy, while Belgium, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovenia and the Ukraine get one third or more. Japan, Germany and Finland get more than a quarter of their power from nuclear energy, while the USA gets almost one fifth.

Even the federal Minister for Resources and Energy, Martin Ferguson, has said ‘nuclear power globally is part of the climate change solution’. Surely, then, nuclear power should be part of our armoury to combat that change. That is my view: it should be part of that armoury.

Senator Cormann —Absolutely!

Senator BARNETT —Thank you, Senator Cormann, for your support on that view. Most Australians want the government to do the best job to reduce the growth in greenhouse gas emissions, noting that Australia has amongst the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per person in the world. So how can we build on our strengths as a country and be part of the solution? Well, one of Australia’s great assets is uranium. Australia supplies 20 per cent of the world’s demand for nuclear power and has an estimated 40 per cent of the most easily accessible uranium. Surely it is hypocritical to, on the one hand, be exporting uranium for the purposes of nuclear power being developed in overseas countries—whether it be France, other European countries, Japan, the US or elsewhere—and yet, on the other hand, be doing nothing at home in Australia, where we have a federal minister saying nuclear power is part of the solution to combating climate change, using his words. And yet they are doing nothing about it in Australia. I say it is hypocritical. It is two-faced. It is duplicitous. And it is time for the government to come clean, stand up, show they are serious about these issues and make the change—bring on the debate about nuclear power. It is madness in the extreme that federal Labor have refused to consider nuclear as one of the weapons to combat greenhouse gas emissions.

A recent report showed that Australia’s population is expected to almost double to 35 million by 2049, while at the same time we are proposing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 80 per cent. How is that going to happen? Dr Ziggy Switkowski has said that there is no country of a similar size to ours that is not using the nuclear option to combat the climate change problem around the world. On page 4 of today’s Australian he says that Australia should build 50 nuclear power stations by the middle of the century, doubling the size of the sector he outlined to John Howard three years ago. That is his view. Three years ago he recommended 25 nuclear power stations. He says that, instead of the 25 civil reactors he called for in his report to the former coalition government, to produce one-third of the electricity supply by 2050 Australia should build 50 nuclear plants, generating up to 90 per cent of baseload power. He goes on to say in a report—and I understand in his address that will be released today:

It gives us clean energy. It gives us baseload electricity. It will be the lowest-cost option for Australia from the 2020s.

We know that in the past the cost option has been prohibitive, or has been limiting, in terms of nuclear power—and that is understandable. But now we are moving into a carbon constrained world. Surely it should be considered seriously as an option. In terms of developments and efficiencies: yes, there was a 15-year time frame to get a nuclear power plant up and running, but now that has been brought back to closer to 10 years. So the first nuclear power plant could be commissioned within a decade. That is in the report. That is a major report.

What do the Australian people think about this? Interestingly, I did not realise until the Age produced a report on 13 October 2009, on the front page, headed ‘Australians warming to nuclear power: Opponents now in minority, poll finds’. The article states:

An Age/Nielson poll found 49 per cent of Australians believed nuclear should be on the nation’s list of potential power options, while 43 per cent were opposed …

This is amazing, because we have not even started the debate! Federal Labor have said, ‘No, it is not an option’, so there has been no debate about the merits of nuclear power. And yet you have half the population saying it should be considered as a serious option. Hello! Wake up Labor! Bring on the debate about nuclear power and the merit of it in Australia. The article went on:

… the Rudd Government … restated its total opposition to—

using nuclear power—

to help Australia meet its future carbon reduction targets.

Ziggy Switkowski, who currently chairs the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, said at that time:

… Australia was the only developed nation that believed it could make deep cuts to carbon emissions without resorting to nuclear power. [We must] provide for the next generation of baseload electricity generation with clean energy. The only way to do that is with nuclear power.

Obviously, Mr Rudd and the Labor members and senators in this parliament think differently. But the Australian people are warming to it, with nearly half the population now saying yes, it should be considered seriously—and I am right with them. Let us bring on the debate so that we know the pros and the cons.

It is happening all around the world. Why not in Australia? There are some 450 new nuclear power plants planned or under construction globally, which will double the current number. The UK Labor government announced only last week that it would fast-track approvals for nuclear power plants at 10 sites, with the aim of a nuclear share of its total power demand increasing from 15 per cent to around 30 per cent by the end of the 2020s. Historically, nuclear power has been far more expensive—between 20 and 25 per cent more expensive—than coal. But of course that is now changing, and changing fast—as I just noted from Dr Switkowski’s comments. It is becoming close to equivalent in cost in the new carbon constrained world that we are heading into. One of the benefits of nuclear power is that it can produce a dependable baseload electricity supply—and, of course, the use of nuclear energy results in the generation of almost no greenhouse gas emissions after the plant construction is complete. So you can see it has huge benefits in that regard.

Of course, there is a public perception that uranium and nuclear power is dangerous and that its waste seeps into the community and causes cancer and other unintended consequences. That is a perception that has been held over many decades, but that is changing based on the facts and on what we know to be true. We have had major incidents such as the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, but, interestingly, I have noted more recently that the National Secretary of the Australian Workers Union, Paul Howes, supports nuclear energy as an option—good on him—as indeed do Bob Carr and other Labor luminaries. Paul Howes has said:

People are worried about nuclear waste, but they are only now beginning to consider the environmental costs of coal. There are new generation reactors being developed which will largely eliminate radioactive waste.

The Howard government made it clear that it had not ruled out a nuclear future and in 2006 commissioned Dr Switkowski to lead a task force to prepare a study into the future feasibility of nuclear power generation in Australia. The report concluded that:

The challenge to contain and reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be considerably eased by investment in nuclear plants. … The greenhouse gas emission reductions from nuclear power could reach 8 to 17 per cent of national emissions in 2050.

By providing 15 per cent of the world’s electricity, nuclear is already making an important contribution to constraining global greenhouse gas emissions. The International Atomic Energy Agency estimates that nuclear power annually avoids more than two billion tonnes of CO2 emissions that would otherwise have been produced through burning fossil fuels. There is no mistaking that nuclear power has enormous capacity to replace greenhouse-gas-emitting power generators.

Do we in this country want to retain and improve our standard of living and quality of life in this carbon constrained future that we face? If we do, nuclear should be considered as part of that future. So I say to the Rudd Labor government and, indeed, to the public: let us bring on the debate about nuclear power. Let us consider the merits of it. It should be considered as a serious option. The people—nearly half the population of Australia—say so in a recent poll. Nuclear should be considered as a serious option. Bring on the debate.