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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1235

Senator MILNE (11:03 AM) —I appreciate the minister’s response. I understand that she is quite sincere in what she is saying, but the reality is that it is not about where it is placed in the bill; it is about whether it is a discretionary or a mandatory commitment to assess greenhouse gas emissions. My view is that if the government is serious about a strategic approach to climate change then consideration of greenhouse gas emissions would be mandatory, not discretionary.

I have to say that Senator Carr misled the chamber a few moments ago when he said that greenhouse gas emissions would be assessed in environmental impact assessments—they are not. I can tell you right now that the Commonwealth jointly agreed to an assessment process for the Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania. Prior to doing so there was legislation—which went through the Senate supported by Labor in opposition at the time—to say that the emissions from the logging and burning of forests would be excluded from the environmental impact assessment of a pulp mill. So you exclude the area where you are going to have the most emissions, the logging and burning of forests, and then say, ‘We’ll have the environmental impact assessment just done on the actual facility.’

Then, when we get to the environmental impact assessment process, as Senator Allison just said, it is about threatened species on the actual site. It is not in relation to the feedstock, the forests, when it comes to this pulp mill. There is no greenhouse gas trigger. If there were, then even the facility itself would trigger a greenhouse gas assessment not to mention the feedstock of the forests. Senator Carr used to speak for the Labor Party on matters relating to the EPBC legislation and so I cannot understand how he would have misled the chamber in this way. But, nevertheless, if he wants to come in here and tell the chamber that the greenhouse gas emissions from the total pulp mill process, from the logging in the forests through to the delivery of the pulp to the wharves and elsewhere, is included, then I would be very pleased. We will go back, do the greenhouse gas assessment of that pulp mill project, and show how it is going to blow out Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions as nothing has before. This would lead to an appropriate assessment of the huge volumes of carbon that are going to be released into the atmosphere by the logging of old-growth forests and the release of soil carbon from those forests.

I would really prefer the rhetoric of what people might like to do and the reality of what is happening be actually acknowledged in the chamber. I look forward to the government bringing in a greenhouse gas trigger. In the estimates hearings when I asked Senator Wong where the trigger is and what level it is going to be set at, she completely refused to answer the questions and evaded the questions one after another. I asked several times because in opposition Labor’s trigger was 500,000 tonnes. We wanted to bring it down to 100,000 tonnes; nevertheless Labor’s policy was 500,000 tonnes. Now that policy commitment has evaporated. The minister for climate change utterly refused in the estimates process to commit to 500,000 tonnes or to when this greenhouse gas trigger at whatever level was going to be introduced. There is no commitment to an introduction into the EPBC Act of a greenhouse gas trigger. Contrary to what has just been said, greenhouse will not be taken into account in environmental impact assessments. What is even worse is that, with many of these infrastructure projects coming up from the states, there is no adequate, if there is one at all, full environmental and social impact assessment let alone an economic impact assessment of these projects.

That is specifically why we are on our feet now saying that it should be in this bill as a mandatory decision and not something that is at the discretion of either local, state and federal government representatives on Infrastructure Australia or ministerials. That is why I am asking. It is not about placement in the bill; it is about the difference between discretion and mandatory consideration of greenhouse gas emissions. I do not know if Senator McLucas has anything to add, but that is clearly the point of difference. It is a significant point of difference in a climate where we need to have deep cuts and soon.

I fear what is going to happen here is that this amendment will be defeated, we will go ahead with this bill, Infrastructure Australia will come forward with a whole lot of new road projects that will increase transport emissions and 10 years down the track people will be wringing their hands, saying, ‘We’ve got all these cars in cities and we don’t know what to do about it. How are we going to reduce our emissions?’ We have the opportunity now to put that upfront and make sure that infrastructure planning for energy and transport takes into account an assessment of the actual volumes of greenhouse gas emissions that are going to be generated by the projects.