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Tuesday, 4 November 2003
Page: 21948

Mrs CROSIO (5:13 PM) —I join both sides of the House in speaking on the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003, which I understand is a cognate debate which will take in the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Imports) Amendment Bill 2003 and the Ozone Protection (Licence Fees—Manufacture) Amendment Bill 2003. I particularly mention the names of the bills because, as I will state later, I see no reference in any of this legislation to what is a primary concern of mine—and that is the Kyoto protocol. I will say that the amendment bills before the House will have a long-term impact on the lives of people not just in my electorate or Australia but on the whole planet, and this is something we have to observe. While we on this side of the House certainly support the bills and their passage, I particularly am a little disturbed by the time that our government have taken to introduce this legislation. What have they been doing for the last seven years?

The law that this legislation will amend was originally introduced by the Hawke government in 1989. It was called then the Ozone Protection Bill 1989; today it is the Ozone Protection Act 1989. When I read that act before I prepared to speak on these bills today, I wondered where we would be as a nation if the initiative had not been taken by a Labor government to bring about that particular act. Would this government have acted today in that regard? I think not. I believe that this government does not give enough serious consideration to where we as a nation are going as far as environmental protection is concerned. As I understand this legislation, it will establish a national regulatory scheme for the management of ozone-depleting substances and synthetic greenhouse gases. It also implements the most recent amendment to the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer: the Beijing amendment. This amendment requires a ban on the trade in and manufacture of bromochloromethane and a ban on trade with countries not committed to phasing out the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons, or HFCs as they are referred to.

A number of industry and environmental groups support the bill, although the Greenchill Technology Association believes that `the government's approach is a necessary but not sufficient response to the problems caused by HFCs'. The legislation that the Labor Party introduced in 1989 has reduced the consumption of ozone-depleting substances by over 18 per cent during that 14-year period. This government, however, has never really believed in environmental issues taking a priority. The Montreal protocol effectively enables a restraint on trade in certain substances so as to achieve particular environmental goals; that is, the phasing out of substances that are found scientifically to cause a depletion of the ozone layer. Originally the Montreal protocol was signed by 24 parties in September 1987—and, of course, it came into force in 1989. Australia ratified the protocol through the 1989 act. The most recent estimates I could get hold of show that 184 states have now ratified the protocol and 54 have ratified the Beijing amendment.

The US is one of those states that have recently ratified the Beijing amendment. However—as most famously demonstrated in regard to the Kyoto protocol—the US is most reticent in regulating the usage of energy, particularly fossil fuels. The US's economic might has depended upon a never-ending thirst for those sources of energy. Conservative US administrations have never hidden their antipathy to active environmentalism. Since the birth of the modern environmental movement—some would say in the late seventies; I certainly recognise it in the early eighties—the three Republican administrations of the US have poured scorn upon the concerns of the global environmental movement. Only the Clinton administration paid lip service to improving the environment—unfortunately at its own peril due to the ferocious lobbying of a variety of industries, most notably the oil industry.

Some countries question why we in Australia are so concerned about the so-called ozone hole. I say to them: talk to any Australian who suffers from skin cancer about the effects of ultraviolet radiation on human beings. People are more educated today about the environment than they were even 20 years ago. I can remember, in my day, sunbathing on the beach; it was all about how brown you got and how quickly you did it. In the last 18 years I have not even dared consider taking my grandchildren to the beach unless they are well covered and wearing plenty of blockout. Climate change is becoming a serious problem not only for our nation but for the entire world. However this government, being as it is a true minion of the US, also refuses to ratify the Kyoto protocol. It has been quoted on numerous occasions as saying that if it were to ratify that protocol that would be bad for business. I ask: how can this Howard government support the continued pollution of our cities and our countryside?

The curious aspect for me is the answer to this question: why have governments been quite prepared to ratify the Montreal protocol whilst a number have refused to ratify the Kyoto protocol? There are a number of reasons for the difference. According to an article published in the Economist magazine on 19 April 2003, the Montreal protocol is successful because it contains an enforcement mechanism—whilst the Kyoto protocol does not. The two treaties relate to harm perpetrated by different substances. The Montreal protocol attempts to negate the harm caused to the ozone layer by chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, while the Kyoto protocol tries to prevent harm caused by gases such as carbon dioxide, which many eminent scientists now assert is changing our earth's climate.

Twenty-five years ago, the US banned non-essential uses of CFCs under their clean air act amendment. Subsequent legislation was introduced to phase out ozone-depleting substances completely. So the US became a leader in attempting to ban the use of CFCs. This culminated, after much negotiation, in the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer in 1985 and the Montreal protocol in 1987. The US regulatory regime has been strong in this regard. It has certainly been very strong in terms of the companies breaching the protocol's conditions; they have suffered harsh penalties. According to the Economist, the build-up of ozone-depleting chemicals in the atmosphere peaked in 1994 and is now falling. Hence, theoretically, we as a global community have been very successful in combating the CFC problem. Most of the credit should and must go to the strength of the Montreal protocol.

Another positive arising from the Montreal protocol is that China is taking serious steps to implement it. According to the North American edition of the China Daily of 22 April 2003, more than 40 policies and regulations have been implemented to control the production, consumption, import and export of ozone-depleting substances. The article stated:

China will continue to help protect the ozone layer by developing and producing substitutes for ozone depleting substances used in manufacturing.

Elimination plans have been implemented in connection with CFCs, tobacco, air conditioners and detergent production; so I again ask all government members: why not the Kyoto protocol? The Kyoto protocol is a failure because the US, in contrast with their political leadership in the ratification of the Montreal protocol, refused to have a bar of it. If they signed, they would have to reduce emissions by 30 to 35 per cent within the next decade. The country of all those football mums with their four-wheel drives would not, in any way, want to regulate a reduction in the supply of oil. Gray Davis, the recently rejected Governor of California, found out in a very brutal way what happens to any politician in America who tampers with the cost of petrol. He increased the petrol tax by 150 per cent—a decision that certainly infuriated the gas-guzzling Californians. For a great number of people, the creature comforts of the present day are more important than the future.

We in the Labor Party do support the legislation before the House. One area of concern that we do have is the phasing out of the use of methyl bromide. All uses of methyl bromide, other than for quarantine and pre-shipment purposes, are to be phased out by 1 January 2005. Other parties to the protocol have tried to extend the period of phasing out with a growing list of exemptions. We on this side of the House expect the government to keep to the spirit of the legislation we are now debating.

I would like to refer again to the Kyoto protocol, which is where the environmental debate is at its most vigorous—due mainly, I believe, to the refusal of the neoconservatives to countenance the proposed changes to the way we care for our environment. I have recently read in the Australian Financial Review that Asians are being more proactive regarding the environment. According to an article by Mark Clifford on 24 October 2003, South-East Asia lost at least 23 million hectares of forest in the 1990s, due to a combination of logging and forest fires. All through the region, development has come at the expense of the long-term care of the environment. However, due to increasing levels of education and awareness, the populace at large have demanded that their respective governments heed their calls for greater environmental awareness. What are these countries doing? In the article, Mark Clifford says that China has launched a nationwide campaign to improve air and water quality—driven by a desire to showcase itself in 2008 as the host of the Olympics. The Chinese are replacing coal with natural gas, as can be testified by the Australian company which won the main supply contract. I commend them on it.

South Korea has replaced 20 per cent of its diesel-fuelled buses with buses that run on compressed natural gas. In a country like Australia, more incentives should be provided to make people use more environmentally friendly substances. Governments throughout Australia must show the way. The refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol is just a stubborn act of defiance by the Howard government. The real reason it refuses to do so is, I believe, because it lacks imagination. It has an inability to be creative in its public policy design. Here is a treaty that provides incentives for Australia to be more energy efficient by being involved in the trade in carbon emissions—which would involve buying and selling carbon credits—but this government just turns its back on it. Instead of trying to capitalise on new business opportunities, this government would rather just plod along, as far as our environment is concerned.

Australia could be left behind, and the Americans could be left behind as well. A number of industries throughout the world, particularly in Europe, are noting that they cannot stop progress and they cannot change public opinion, so they are making a business decision to embrace more environmentally friendly fuels. My colleague the member for Wills introduced into the House nearly six months ago a private member's bill—the Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003—which would embrace the ratification of the protocol and become serious about taking action to reduce the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.

The Montreal protocol has been embraced by all. Notably, the Americans pushed the agenda to rid the world of ozone-depleting substances, which is why virtually every nation on Earth is a signatory to the Montreal protocol. This government must surely understand how our environmental reputation has suffered worldwide. I suggest they try talking to our South Pacific neighbours about their concern for our lack of direction and commitment regarding the Kyoto protocol. We all understand that we cannot as a civilisation return to the caves, but we can take positive steps to protect today's environment. There can be no doubt about the high level of public support for environmental protection. We are an industrialised nation—I acknowledge that—but we need to consider carefully the choices that we face. We know that population growth over the next two decades will rapidly deplete our resources, and in industrialised countries how resources are used will become the deciding factor.

The challenge we face as a nation, but more importantly as the world, must be met today if we are going to protect the environment for future generations. It is my grandchildren and their children that I care about for tomorrow. What are we going to do as legislators in answering their concerns about the problems that we believe we could rectify today? This is one step, but it is not enough. Urgent consideration has to be given to the ramifications of Australia, along with the US and a few other countries, not signing the Kyoto protocol. We need to take more positive steps so that we can proudly hold up our heads and say that we do not just talk environment and do not just put the trash out, separating the cans and the bottles from the paper, but as legislators we also take positive steps in eliminating what have been scientifically recognised as some of the environment-affecting aspects for our country and our planet.

I again say to the government that these bills provide for certain amendments, which we hope are put into action. More importantly, we hope that more positive action will now be taken by the Howard government—I am sure with our support—to look to the other concerns that we now face as a nation and as a planet.