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Monday, 26 May 2003
Page: 14969

Mr MURPHY (9:20 PM) —Mr Speaker, you will doubtlessly recall that I have been following the development of new Australian energy technologies for some time. I recently learned that a private company is working with a power station owner on a new commercial solar thermal electricity-generating plant to be attached to its existing fossil-fuelled power station. When complete in 2004, it will be the lowest cost solar power station in the world. This plant uses new technology, originally developed by Australian scientists, which should allow it to meet Commonwealth mandated renewable energy target requirements, well below the cost of wind electricity.

According to a CSIRO Division of Energy Technology's report, Energy and transport sector outlook to 2020, published in September 2002, 52 per cent of Australia's total carbon dioxide emissions are from fossil fuel power stations. Obviously, any development that can reduce fossil fuel consumption by electricity generators will have a considerable effect on Australia's greenhouse gas emissions. That is why this new solar research is so important. The new technology is an initial commercial development response to MRET and to state emissions guidelines. The business model uses renewable energy certificates to offset higher costs in the first plants. The company is confident that, if MRET is developed further, with larger targets, we will see several large baseload solar plants built in Australia during this decade, using 100 per cent Australian technology.

I report this in light of the Victorian government's call to substantially increase MRET from its present level of two per cent and the Australian Business Council for Sustainable Energy recommendation that the MRET be increased to 10 per cent by the year 2020. I believe that 10 per cent by 2020 is too low, and encourage the government to increase the MRET requirement by one per cent per annum so that by 2020 nearly 20 per cent of our electricity will be produced from renewable energy sources. This increasing target would require the construction of about one new 350-megawatt solar power station each year and would allow for the gradual replacement of Australia's ageing fossil fuel power stations and a very substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

In March this year, the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association warned that Australia would find itself with severe oil and gas shortages in the next decade. In response, the federal Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Mr Ian Macfarlane, dismissed claims that the government's energy policy is inadequate. Responding to calls for more exploration for oil, the minister replied:

How we address that is the issue, and how we address it is with a well structured, factual, statistically based argument that I can then engage other members of the government on.

As the minister should know, the facts are quite simple: Australia's oil reserves are declining rapidly and, unless we are very lucky, no amount of exploration will make up for the worldwide oil shortages that are predicted to begin within the next few years. Workers at Murdoch University produced a study in 1999 that warned that Australia faces shortages in supplies of diesel fuel as early as 2005.

Where are the contingency plans for this likely development of diesel and other petroleum fuel shortages? As far as I am aware, there are none and, considering the attitude of the federal resources minister, there will be no action until we are plunged into a crisis. Does the minister expect Australia's oil supplies to last forever? We need to move toward a transport sector based upon renewable electricity and zero net pollution fuels. The government claims that Australia cannot afford to fund the development of new, more efficient energy technologies. However, the government recently found the funds for many other things, including a war in Iraq that cost, on the government's own figures, $750 million. The government also found a net subsidy for road transport fuel of more than $2.2 billion per annum. In conclusion, it is not that Australia cannot afford to support the development of new energy technologies; it is just that Australia cannot afford these new technologies and this government at the same time.