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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21983

Dr STONE (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage) (7:48 PM) —After hearing that last contribution to the debate, let me just say quickly before the member leaves the chamber that ozone produced from power stations and tailpipe emissions is a local air quality issue; it does not deplete the ozone layer in any way, which is what this debate and this legislation is all about.

In conclusion to this debate I want to thank all of those who participated. The bills before the House—the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003 and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003—will ensure that Australia remains an international leader on action to protect the earth's ozone layer and climate. For the first time, Australia will have a truly national regulatory scheme for the management of ozone-depleting substances and the synthetic greenhouse gases used as their replacements. This national approach will deliver environmental gains more efficiently and will realise benefits to industry in terms of increased certainty and consistency.

Australia is a world leader in ozone protection, dramatically curbing its consumption of ozone-depleting substances in accordance with, and in some instances in advance of, its obligations under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. However, in phasing out ozone-depleting substances, Australia, like most other countries, has increasingly turned to hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons, which are potent greenhouse gases. Hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons are thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide, our most common greenhouse gas on a tonne-for-tonne basis. While still delivering a better environmental outcome, their increasing use as a replacement for ozone-depleting substances makes their responsible management important to Austria's achievement of its ozone protection and climate change objectives. These bills address this issue by extending Australia's ozone protection program by adding supply controls to the synthetic greenhouse gas replacements of ozone-depleting substances. It is a shame the member for Kennedy is not here so that he can understand this.

These bills also help industry to improve Australia's management of both sets of gases by enabling the establishment of a consistent national approach to end-use regulation. Finally, these bills ensure Australia remains at the forefront of global ozone protection, by implementing the Beijing amendment to the Montreal protocol. The Beijing amendment adds a new ozone-depleting substance to the list of controlled substances and bans the trade of hydrochlorofluorocarbons with countries that have not agreed to phase out these gases.

I would like to refer to some of the contributions that were made during the debate. The member for Wills expressed concern that our government could take a less than optimal approach to the granting of critical exemptions to the phase-out of methyl bromide. Australia has to date met or exceeded its obligations under the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, including the obligation to phase out non-quarantine uses of methyl bromide from 1 January 2005. The protocol includes provision for a system of critical-use exemptions from the 2005 methyl bromide phase-out.

Critical-use exemptions are intended to give industry sectors a finite breathing period within which to identify and transition to technically and economically feasible alternatives to methyl bromide. The exception process is not about giving those who use methyl bromide—predominantly farmers—a free ride. In order to qualify for an exemption they have to meet the Montreal protocol's extremely rigorous criteria. These include demonstrating that there are no technically and economically feasible alternatives to methyl bromide available to them and that they have been active in testing and exploring possible alternatives. The meeting of the parties to the protocol will decide whether to grant exemptions to applicants later this year, including those applicants from Australia. In doing so, the international community, rather than the Australian government, will decide whether applicants meet the stringent criteria for critical-use exemptions. This approach should continue to drive the search for an adoption of technically and economically feasible alternatives to all non-quarantine uses of methyl bromide.

The member for Wills and the member for Cunningham both indicated a personal and party interest in further promoting the use and uptake of natural refrigerants. The John Howard government's approach to the refrigeration and airconditioning industry, as detailed in the bills, is based on minimising the environmental damage caused by ozone-depleting substances and their synthetic greenhouse gas alternatives while maintaining industry's capacity to choose the most technically feasible approach. In this regard natural refrigerants should have an advantage as they are not covered by this proposed legislation. These bills also extend a special account to fund projects that phase out ozone-depleting substances and reduce emissions of synthetic greenhouse gases.

It is unfortunate that the member for Cunningham opposes these bills, because they are in fact designed to fund industry innovation, including projects that could trial or promote the uptake of natural refrigerants. The member for Cunningham also expressed his concern that the industry board for refrigeration and airconditioning would be administered by the National Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Council. In 2001, this council—NRAC—received a grant of up to $3.28 million from the Australian government's Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program to support a project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the development of voluntary national training and certification programs for technicians and contractors. The project aims to foster better management of synthetic greenhouse gas refrigerants by encouraging refrigeration and airconditioning technicians and contractors to meet, demonstrate their high level of competency and be accredited by NRAC in recognition of their high degree of professional standards and environmental credentials.

End-use issues under the proposed legislation will be addressed in the regulations and will be the subject of further consultation with industry. The government has flagged that it may use an industry board for the refrigeration, airconditioning and fire protection industries. In looking at the possible use of industry boards for supporting the end-use regulation, the Australian government will consider all possibilities, including NRAC. The government, however, is only interested in an approach incorporating an industry board where it can be demonstrated that the board has involvement from all of the relevant industry sectors and that the board is national in scope and minimises costs to tradespeople and companies, and where government can be confident that the board would be able to ensure high levels of compliance. In April, the Australian government sought public expressions of interest and received five responses. The AGO is currently talking with NRAC in conjunction with two other proponents about how an industry board could best be established. Once these bills are passed, the government will be in a position to make a final determination on whether an industry board is an appropriate mechanism, how a board could be implemented and the possible roles for industry associations, including the NRAC.

The member for Cunningham also indicated that the Greens would move an amendment in the Senate banning the import of small split-system airconditioners charged with synthetic greenhouse gases. These bills include measures to eliminate avoidable emissions of SGGs from airconditioners, including a ban on all venting and the provision to create end-use regulations to allow only qualified tradespeople to install and service split-system airconditioners. In developing these end-use regulations, consideration will be given to whether it is necessary to restrict the sale of small split-system airconditioners that have been precharged.

However, as the member for Wills noted, the Greens' proposal to ban the import of small split-system airconditioners does not include any detail as to how it should be implemented. The government have developed this legislation following full and adequate consultation with industry, and we believe that this amendment would not be appropriate for inclusion in this legislation. However, government officials have had preliminary discussions with industry and there is broad agreement that the process of developing end-use regulations is the appropriate mechanism to consider any further controls that may be needed, including possible limits on the sale of small split-system airconditioners.

The member for Cunningham also indicated that the Greens would move an amendment in the Senate phasing out synthetic greenhouse gases altogether. SGGs are necessary alternatives to ozone-depleting substances—not only do they not impact on the ozone layer but their overall use results in a reduced global warming impact. A phase-out would slow the current quick transition from ozone-depleting substances by creating uncertainty for industry. A total phase-out of SGGs not only is impractical but would also compromise the health of Australians by eliminating their use in life-saving applications such as asthma puffers and fire suppression systems. These bills also establish a fund to support emission minimisation programs for SGGs. As stated already, projects promoting the use of natural refrigerants will be considered.

The member for Wills, as well as the member for Prospect, stated that the government should ratify the Kyoto protocol. The member for Wills has trotted this out on many occasions in his position as shadow minister for the environment and heritage, and he does not ever seem to learn. I repeat again, as I have many times before in this place, that the government has decided not to ratify the Kyoto protocol at this time because it is not in Australia's interest to do so. The protocol will make only a modest contribution—about one per cent—to reducing the growth of global emissions. It does not provide a clear path towards commitments from developing countries, and the US has stated it will not ratify.

Australia is taking a leading and proactive role in addressing climate change through the government's commitment to meet the Kyoto target that it has accepted. Australia has invested almost $1 billion in domestic greenhouse measures that deliver Australia to within striking distance of its target, with a current gap of around two per cent. In fact, Australia has been a world leader in the very quick and proactive stance that this government has taken to try and reduce greenhouse gases from a country that has been peculiarly dependent on fossil fuels, given its mineral wealth and its history of technology development. Through the forward strategy on climate change, the government is developing a national climate change action plan that will bridge the gap to Australia's target and position this country for a strong, competitive economy with a lower greenhouse signature.

All of the amendments in these bills follow extensive consultation with industry and other stakeholders over the last four years and have received widespread support. Industry views them as providing necessary certainty and consistency in regard to its obligations to effectively manage ozone-depleting substances and their synthetic greenhouse gas replacements. In developing this approach, the government has ensured industry's ongoing competitiveness while protecting and sustaining the environment. Therefore, the government believes that these bills should be passed by this House without amendment. I strongly support these bills and commend them to the House.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Administrator recommending appropriation announced.