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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 7292

Mr HUNT (11:39 AM) —In rising to support the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment Bill 2009, I want to put the bill into context. It is a part of the process of ensuring that we move Australia and, more importantly still, the world’s energy generation sources to a low or zero carbon emissions base. That is the goal, that is the objective, that is the responsibility, and that is what will occur. The only debate is around the time frame, but that outcome will occur over the course of the next half century—be in no doubt. The task is to do it in a way which is most effective with regard to environmental outcomes, and most efficient with regard to the costs imposed on our society and on other societies. The task is also to do it in a way which means that no one generation or no one country or society bears a disproportionate load. That is the context.

In addressing this bill, I want to proceed in four steps: firstly, to look at the great global challenge; secondly, to address the challenge we face and our response as we move towards a clean energy sector; thirdly, to deal with some of the impediments; and, fourthly, to deal with this particular bill’s contribution.

The global challenge is simple to understand. At this moment, at this point of history, what we see is 40 billion tonnes of CO2 or equivalent gases being put into the atmosphere every year. That figure is on the increase as China and India grow and add 800 new coal or gas fired power stations over the next five years. That is the grand historic moment which we face at present. The goal and objective, which we have sought for over two centuries, of seeing the eradication of poverty and the development of developing societies is part of that process. It is the grand historic paradox: as people come out of poverty, they consume more electricity and energy and, as they do this, they create CO2 emissions. That is, sadly, the great paradox of history, which brings us to this tragedy of the commons. And that is the issue which has been part of the great work of my life—coming back from a thesis in 1990 on the different approaches to reducing carbon emissions, whether it was a carbon tax or an emissions trading scheme. That has been part of the work of my life, and I have been happy to place my political career on hold along the way in order to make the case publicly.

Having said that, with this great challenge of 40 billion tonnes of CO2, with this great challenge of 800 new coal and gas fired power stations, with Australia’s responsibility at present being about 1.4 per cent—or 560 million tonnes—of CO2 per annum out of a total of 40 billion tonnes, we then say, ‘How do we address this problem?’ We know that energy generation for stationary energy produces approximately half of global emissions and approximately half of Australian emissions. We also know that deforestation—primarily driven out of the great rainforests of the world—accounts for a wedge of 8 billion tonnes, or approximately 20 per cent of global emissions.

When you look at the great historic passage over the next 50 years, we proceed in three stages. First, we can halve deforestation. We can take that 8 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum, reduce it to 4 billion tonnes, and reduce global emissions by 10 per cent through a global rainforest recovery program. That is achievable, it is desirable, and it has collateral environmental and biodiversity benefits of an enormous scale. That can be achieved over the next five years. The United States, to their credit, has picked up the proposal of a global rainforest recovery program, which we had in government, for which Malcolm Turnbull, Alexander Downer and I announced a $200 million program, and which we pursued. We did it after discussions with Tim Flannery—and I pay credit to Tim Flannery for coming to us with that program, which was announced in early 2007.

Having said that, the second great stage is the cleaning up of our global energy sources, and the third great stage is the cleaning up of our transportation fuels. These are all opportunities which we can pursue over the coming half century. The staging is not absolute, there will be overlaps, we can do the immediate work with the Rainforest Recovery Program, this bill deals with part 2, the clarification, cleaning up and improvement of our energy sources, the transition to a clean energy economy.

That then brings me to part 2, this notion of the clean energy economy, and there are really three elements to this concept alone. Firstly, there is the adoption of renewable energy, secondly, there is the transition to gas as a major fossil fuel base and, thirdly, there is the cleanup of coal fired power. Carbon capture and storage—which is underpinned by this bill, which amends work which we did whilst in government—is fundamental to the process of cleaning up our coal and our gas fired reserves. I say this because we can see that with a full carbon capture and storage program combined with drying and gasification, instead of about 1.2 or 1.3 kilograms of CO2 per kilowatt hour of energy, or 1.2 or 1.3 tons of CO2 or equivalent gases for each megawatt hour of energy generated from brown coal we can achieve about 0.1 or 0.2 tonnes per megawatt hour or, in other words, we can have an 80 to 90 per cent reduction in emissions. That is profound, that is a profound change.

Similarly, if we do that with gas we are looking again at 0.1 or 0.2 tonnes per megawatt hour. Again, we are looking at a sea-change in emissions. That is the great change for Australia along with the process of biosequestration of soil carbons, of bio-char, of mallee and mulga revegetation—which Garnaut himself talks about as having a potential for 800 million tonnes of additional capture per annum against Australia’s current 560 million tonnes—in other words, the potential for Australia to be a net carbon sink.

We must clean up our energy because if we can do that in Australia we can take that technology to China and India, because it does not matter if we close down Australia if we do not deal with these great sources of China and India, which are multiplying in their emissions as they go through this historic development path, then we will not solve the global problem; there is no question about that. It is, for me, part of my life’s work to help address this issue. So that is I why I believe in the importance of carbon capture and storage.

The member for Werriwa raised what is happening with enhanced oil recovery around the world, he was actually quite informed and I compliment him on what he had to say in relation to that. We know that in North Dakota there is an Australian firm engaged in some of the critical work here, the precursor work towards a major enhanced oil recovery program using carbon capture and storage. We know that the North West Shelf, through the work of Chevron with Gorgon, potentially with the Pluto project, is going to be a site of one of the world’s greatest carbon capture and storage programs. We know in Algeria, we know with the Sleipner field in Norway that carbon capture and storage is underway. The technological components are not that difficult, they are however expensive and so that is the challenge that we have.

Having dealt with the second element of the clean up of energy, I want to deal with the issue in relation to some of the impediments. Recently, we have seen three setbacks. First, we have seen the abolition of the Solar Rebate Program in Australia cutting dead an $8,000 rebate on the same day, no notice, no warning, the loss of jobs, the loss of opportunity, the loss of the capacity for mums, dads and seniors to immediately access solar power.

Mr Hale —Seventy thousand more than you guys.

Mr HUNT —That is sadly gone. I will take your question, give us a question, mate.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—Order! can I ask the members to keep order. It is becoming very rowdy in this place. There are ample opportunities to have your say in this House on behalf of your constituents. I will ask the members on my right to quieten down a bit and the members on the left to continue as they were.

Mr HUNT —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I confess I invited the interjection. I am only disappointed it was as unimpressive as it was. Let me answer the question, because I invited it. The solar rebate was introduced by us and it was increased to $8,000. The Prime Minister of the day said that it would be an uncapped system. We wanted it to be successful. The then opposition promised that they would maintain it. Once it achieved exactly what we set out for it to do, to expand the capacity of ordinary Australians to access solar energy, it was axed overnight in the 2008 budget by the minister for the environment the Hon. Peter Garrett, in breach of his own election promise and the Prime Minister’s election promise.

It then happened a second time. The means testing was put in place in 2008; in 2009 - 2½ weeks ago - the program was axed immediately. Four weeks after the Budget Papers promised that it would be continued, it was axed. Three days ago we saw that the remote renewable power generation program, or the remote solar program, was axed retrospectively. The distributors received an email at 8.33 am saying that as of 8.30 that morning this program had been axed. The ability of people in Indigenous communities, the ability of people in the member for Solomon’s home territory of the Northern Territory, to access solar power in remote communities was destroyed overnight. It was destroyed at the same moment. That is profound; it is unquestionable. I have three solar groups in my office today who have been devastated as a result of this decision and I have had approaches from communities throughout Australia who have been profoundly disappointed at the loss of this benefit.

Having said that, we also see that the renewable energy target which would provide some means of responding to this has not even been brought before the House of Representatives for debate even though the replacement was due on 1 July. Today, the last day of sitting for the financial year, a year after that legislation was due, finally that bill is listed. We would have to sit until 2 am tonight until it could be brought on. No debate, no barriers—we had offered to pass this legislation. We had offered to bring it forward. At any time over the last year it could have been listed and we would have found a way to pass it.

Mr Adams —Mr Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr S Georganas)—Is the member for Flinders willing to give way?

Mr HUNT —Let it rip.

Mr Adams —I ask the honourable shadow minister whether he would accede that we have increased the targets in renewable energy in excess of what his government did for 12 years.

Mr HUNT —The problem is that you have not increased the target. You have talked about it. The problem is that two years ago the other side talked about a 20 per cent target and we are now 18 months in, at death’s door. They did not introduce the legislation a year ago; they did not introduce the legislation six months ago; they did not introduce the legislation during the Budget sitting; they did not introduce the legislation three weeks ago—last Wednesday it came in. We were willing to debate, to work, to push, to find a way through. We committed to passing this legislation if there was real discussion, but what do we see - it is not listed until the final day of sitting in the financial year and that is a year late and even then it comes on at 2 am in the middle of the night. We do want a 20 per cent target; we do want to work with you on that; we do want to see the legislation passed. Unfortunately it is very hard to pass legislation which is not actually debated in the Parliament of Australia. So those are the impediments to a clean energy future.

Finally—and this brings me to the fourth element—this bill, this day, this moment is a positive thing and I congratulate the government. It builds upon that which we have done in terms of creating an enabling environment for carbon capture and storage. It is a significant step forward, and when people from either side of this chamber take that significant step we should all have the good grace to acknowledge it.

I think it is a good bill. I do not walk away from that. It builds on work which had previously been done, but it falls within the broader great global challenge—and I return to my beginning of 40 billion tonnes of CO2 and half of that coming from fossil fuel sources—the creation of stationary energy. As we bring the developing world out of poverty there is a grand, historic objective with a terrible paradox. My response is that we will work towards a global clean energy compact. This bill is an important part of Australia’s contribution.

There are impediments—seemingly little things—but with real human consequences and poor environmental outcomes such as the abolition of the solar rebate program and the solar remote program and the delays to the renewable energy legislation. But we will solve all of those, and we will work towards a clean energy future. That is why I am delighted to support the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Legislation Amendment Bill 2009 and the cognate bill.