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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21816

Mr HATTON (8:13 PM) —We are dealing with three bills here tonight, so it is a cognate debate. We are dealing with the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, and my comments, arguments and debate will essentially go to this main bill. Attendant upon that bill are the regulatory matters dealing with licence fees, so we also have the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003 and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003. These two sets of measures fundamentally simply update the current situation. They allow for a new range of licence fees to take into account what the central part of the bill is concerned with—that is, in particular, the synthetic greenhouse gases that have been so effective in reducing the deleterious effect on the ozone layer of the previous gases that were used.

What has been available since those gases—the CFCs and so on—were phased out has had a particular effect. It has been argued in this debate, quite rightly, that there has been an 80 per cent effect in terms of the lowering of the deleterious effect on the ozone layer as a result of Labor's 1989 policy, which was that CFCs, or chlorofluorocarbons, should be written out of the additives that we had or the key components that we used, particularly for refrigeration.

This is a wonderful example of how you can get it right, in terms of dealing with manufactured goods. You can see a problem, clearly, in terms of deleterious or inappropriate effects in this instance: the effects of chlorofluorocarbons on the ozone layer. When Labor were in government in 1989 we said that we should write down our usage of chlorofluorocarbons and that there would be a direct, scientifically measurable effect from putting this policy into practice. We can say all these years later, in 2003, that the Labor government were right and the scientific advice they had was correct. We can say it was a good, right, proper and just measure, indicating that you can effectively regulate the industry. We can say there is a direct correlation—a simple cause and effect—between the depletion of the ozone layer and the use of chlorofluorocarbons in refrigeration, and in aerosol sprays, and if you reduce those properly you will see a measurable effect on the ozone layer.

We know from reports over the last two years, and particularly this year, that the increase in the rate of depletion of the ozone layer over Antarctica has been arrested. In fact, the indication is that we are on the way back, in terms of dealing with the depletion of the ozone layer. The measures that we have taken and the measures that have been taken in America and in Europe, have had a direct and measurable effect. In particular, because we are contiguous with Antarctica, what we have done on this continent has borne fruit. We could rightly say that, responsibly, in government we did what was necessary. But, if you cast your mind back, if you think of the voices within the manufacturing industry at the time, and the voices in the debate generally, there was a great deal of hemming and hawing—a great deal of: `We don't know whether this is really possible; there would be a major impact on Australia's employment.' It was seen as too hard to do and the cost pressures were seen as too great. I would think that, given the effluxion of time—and we are talking about more than 14 years—everyone in the industry would now argue that this was a relatively easy thing to do once you recognised the necessity for it and coupled that, and the scientific work that went with it, with a government willing to put in tough legislation to make those changes. You can achieve good environmental outcomes if you have those connections.

What does this bill deal with? It recognises that good policy can have good outcomes—and we have seen that over the last 14 years. But it also shows us that when you take a certain set of steps there can be, in the words of one particular past politician, `unintended consequences of your actions'. By substituting synthetic greenhouse gases—particularly hydrofluorocarbons and perflourocarbons—for the chlorofluorocarbons, the gases that initially caused problems with the ozone layer, we have fixed one problem and created another. This bill recognises that fact but does not do anything to fix it. It says we need to monitor this closely and that we need to bring in a regime, through the attendant bills, where we do the proper licensing and so on, and get people to actually think about what they are doing. But there is a continuing problem here. Those gases that were substituted are doing the job of protecting the ozone layer, and the campaign in the seventies and eighties to address this evident problem had its effect. But when they made the change, they did not predict—and it may have been possible to predict but, as far as I know, no-one did so at the time—that the synthetic gases would reduce ozone depletion but at the same time would increase the greenhouse effect massively. What is argued in the explanatory memorandum and the background papers is quite simple. It is argued that these gases present no direct risk to the ozone layer but are potent greenhouse gases, with their emissions having an impact on the climate hundreds to thousands of times greater than emissions of carbon dioxide on a tonne-for-tonne basis.

Reading that, you would think that here is a major and significant problem. The propensity of these two substitutes is to create a far greater problem than we have seen before. What you have to do then, of course, is take the next step and say, `What is the relative proportion of these gases in terms of our total use?' If you look at the background work that has been done on this you will see that they in fact make up only a very small part of our overall greenhouse gas emissions, and their use as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances is on the rise, so we have more of them. You would have to ask how significant a problem this is going to be if they fix one problem and help to create another one—and push that forward.

This bill really does not have much of an answer to that, except to say, `They're there, and we'll keep a bit of an eye on it, but we're not really sure.' If you look at the explanatory memorandum, it says that the bill will deliver on commitments to manage these synthetic greenhouse gas emissions—and that is detailed in measure 7.2 of the National Greenhouse Strategy. The second reading speech also asserts that the amendments implement the key recommendations of the government's review of the Commonwealth ozone protection legislation under the national competition policy, but they do not fix the problem. They say, `The one core thing they were meant to do in 1989 is done, but we have to leave the rest in abeyance.'

What has the response been to that? The response has been that, in part, the size of the usage is much smaller when compared to the rest of the uses we have and the greenhouse gas problems we have through diesel particulates or through petrol-driven cars. They are a much greater concern than what is created here. Therefore, when you look at that on balance, you would say that they may not be as significant a problem. However, if you are looking at fixing the problem finally, you could propose that, instead of using these substitutes, we should look at natural refrigerants. It has been argued fairly extensively that that is a better way to go.

I am sure that since refrigeration was first discovered and since Australia first established a significant meat trade with Britain—at the end of the 1800s, from 1875 or so onwards—the value of refrigeration has been experienced and appreciated by people at both ends of the trading spectrum. Certainly those people in Australia who had the benefit of refrigeration in the 1940s and 1950s appreciated it. There was not too much of it around in Bankstown on a household basis. I can still remember my grandmother, coming from the country as she did, using extremely old methods of refrigeration until finally she bought an American Kelvinator and introduced the wonderful world of modern refrigeration to her house in Bankstown. If you think about it, it has been just over 50 years that we have had a completely different way of preserving our food and having the benefit of that in what is a very modern context compared to what went before it.

If you look at the broader question of change here, I am sure that if you talk to most of the manufacturers now and you put the question to them: `Would you use chlorofluorocarbons again, knowing what you know about their ozone depleting character and nature?' most of them would say: `No. Given that we've got these substitutes—the hydrofluorocarbons and the perfluorocarbons—we're happy to go along and use those.' If you put the attendant question to them: `What about substituting those with natural refrigerants?' currently they would say: `We haven't seen all that much research around in terms of doing that. We'd like to do the right thing by the environment, but where's the evidence that these things will do their job?'

There is a correlative problem that is probably greater than what it was some years ago. If I think about the number of refrigerators that I have—I have added it up—I have about seven that I am responsible for. It used to be only one. If I think about my own house, I have one in the garage. Luckily I have that, because the one we bought four years ago broke down a couple of weeks ago. Because Fisher and Paykel are now running out of New Zealand, they do not supply parts except through Queensland via New Zealand. The computer boards they have have to be remanufactured. We have been waiting about four weeks now—if you do not go through a Fisher and Paykel bloke—to get the fridge back. Luckily we still have the old Kelvinator. A number of years ago when my wife wanted to change this, Jack Fitzpatrick, who was the president of the Central Bankstown branch of the ALP and who also ran JJs Electrics and Sporting Goods store, said, `Why don't you just use the old one? It'll go for another 30 years.' He was actually quite right. That used chlorofluorocarbons but it still runs. We know that modern refrigerators, like modern cooking appliances, have built-in obsolescence.

Even when you move from chlorofluorocarbons to the modern equivalents—the hydrocarbons or the perfluorocarbons—you have a problem in that you have to throw these things out on a far more regular basis. Not only is there then the question of what is emitted when you are using them; there is also the problem, if you are going to throw the appliance out—hopefully we will not have to do that; hopefully this board will work—of the impact of that on the environment. That is something that 20 years ago we did not have to take into account so readily. We know that obsolescence is a problem in the computer industry, but the problem is increasing because most of our manufacturing in the whitegoods area is based on a simple proposition. What you get in the marketplace is based on price rather than on price, cost efficiency, quality and so on. While most whitegoods are based on price, they have a very short-term running cycle.

Economies have changed over that 50-year period since we have had extensive refrigeration in Australia and, therefore, the impacts have changed as well. Those things which can cause deleterious effects can do so in unexpected ways. Very few people would have expected that they would have to replace their whitegoods on such a regular basis. I know, Madam Deputy Speaker Gambaro, that you and the minister at the table, the member for Curtin, and all of those people, male or female, who have had to deal with these domestic problems understand fully that the world has changed and that we have this increased obsolescence. As legislators we need to be aware of that, and the bill that we have before us now deals with only part of the problem.

It is an indication as well that, when you are dealing with changes in technology, you are also dealing with unexpected or unintended consequences. You can hope and expect that natural refrigerants might be used. My grandmother used one—it was called a block of ice. We know that, prior to ice becoming significantly available, ice-runs went through the streets, such as those in Greenacre. In fact, my grandfather had an ice-run in Bankstown in competition with the Foxes. Ice was quite available and was a natural refrigerant.

It was better, I suppose, for the environment than the kerosene based fridges that were used at the time but no-one has yet come up with something that is significantly easy to use in terms of natural refrigerants. Those who argue that it is simple to solve these problems can readily say, `Why don't you use the natural methods?' Companies would do so if those problems were easily solved. What the legislation indicates is this: at any particular point in time, whether it is 1989 or 2003, a government acting in the best interests of its people will use the current state of scientific knowledge to attack a problem. That is what we did in 1989. That is when the projection was that if you decreased chlorofluorocarbon use we would be able to fix the problem with the ozone layer. All the scientific evidence that we have indicates that that is in fact coming true, that the probability is that we will be able to solve that one. Now we have a correlative problem in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.

As the member for Bonython, who will be speaking later in this debate, has pointed out time and time again, the larger problem we have with greenhouse gases is the fact that our energy uses are so dependent on petrol or diesel products and we do not use the great natural advantage that we have got—natural gas. Its impact on greenhouse gases, if it were more broadly adopted, would be far less than what we have got from petrol-driven engines and the effect throughout industry of using diesel. Australia does not have a policy which would force people, by dint of circumstance but also by dint of government action, to really look closely at their energy use and the effect that energy use has on greenhouse gases.

Labor forced that to happen in 1989 with our legislation on ozone protection. But where the synthetic fuels have created a greenhouse problem we do not have any kind of government grasp of this significant problem and of the fact that we have major overuse of not just these gases but also petrol and diesel. By substituting natural gas, we could therefore dramatically cut our use of those greenhouse gases, deliver to the people of Australia a better product at a cheaper price and revolutionise the way that we deal with the problems we have now in terms of the Kyoto protocol by pushing in that way. What we have seen, as no doubt the member for Bonython and my colleagues will attest, is no government commitment whatsoever to grasping this problem by understanding it or putting in place a set of protocols that could actually deal with it. This legislation, in passing form, attempts: (1) to recognise the strength of what Labor did (2) to press forward with the solutions that we provided, but (3) to not really have a new program put into place to deal with the unintended consequences of those synthetic greenhouse gases that have caused this significant problem. (Time expired)