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Wednesday, 28 November 2012
Page: 10071


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:27): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (Senator Ludwig) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to climate change.

What a shemozzle of an answer I got from a minister who had no idea what I was talking about—absolutely zilch idea. He was not across his portfolio. He did not even seem to understand the report I was talking about was the report to the United Nations climate talks in Doha overnight in relation to the terrifying scientific evidence being presented as a result of warming permafrost, the deterioration of organic matter and billions of tonnes of methane going to atmosphere—and of course recognising that we are approaching an irreversible tipping point. That should be terrifying everybody in this chamber. We should be recognising Australia is nowhere near where it needs to be in terms of its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Having said that, Australia agreed last year in Durban at the climate talks that we would recognise that the global warming potential of methane is greater than people thought previously. Previously it was 21 times that of carbon dioxide. In Durban it was agreed that it actually has 25 times the global warming potential of CO2. Countries like Australia agreed to adjust their national accounts accordingly. As a result, Australia had to increase the amount of methane going to atmosphere in our national accounts because of that increase in global warming potential. The issue is that the government, having decided to recognise that, decided not to require that methane emitters like coal seam gas actually pay the additional liability until 2017.

Why not? This is a new subsidy to coal seam gas—a new subsidy to the fossil fuel industry to say, 'Yes, we acknowledge our national accounts have to recognise our increased liability because of the increased global warming potential of methane, but we're not going to require coal seam gas to pay until 2017.' So the question is: what is the total volume of methane emissions from coal seam gas in Australia? What is it now; what is the forecast level from the approved projects; what is, therefore, the dollar value of the liability that is being deferred to the coal seam gas companies till 2017; who is going to pay accordingly; and what is this level of subsidy that the government has now decided to give to coal seam gas?

But that made me realise that there is this question: is it true that one of the reasons why the government has implemented no field studies to do on-the-ground measurement of the amount of methane pouring out of coal seam gas around Australia is that the government is trying to shield the coal seam gas industry from the cost of the fugitive emissions and the analysis that will show that all its claims about being cleaner than coal are probably wrong? That is the key element to this question, and the minister was a disgrace in not being able to even put his mind vaguely to any of the questions he was asked. I think it is about time the Australian community got an explanation from the government as to how it is that they are using American data generated by the petroleum and gas industry in the US. They are just trying to translate that to Australian conditions when the scientists will tell you that that cannot, and will not, give you anything like an accurate answer. Then we have the University of Queensland doing studies showing massive amounts of fugitive emissions coming from coal seam gas operations. We have Minister Ferguson attacking the university, saying it is not peer reviewed, when the nonsense coming out of the gas and petroleum industry in the US is hardly peer reviewed in the context of Australia.

So we need to know the extent of the fossil fuel subsidy that the government has just decided to give the coal seam gas industry in Australia out to 2017, the volume of methane emissions, the impact on our national accounts and when we are going to get field studies in place and funded. The technology now exists to measure fugitive emissions from coal seam gas accurately. The fact that it is not happening leads me to believe that the government is in so much of a rush for gas that it is completely failing to take into account how fast global warming is coming upon us in terms of increased numbers. We are now on track for three to four degrees at least. It is an unlivable planet we are talking about, yet this parliament is obsessed with the AWU. We have a climate emergency on our hands.

Question agreed to.