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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 176

Senator MARGETTS (12.20 p.m.) —I have just now been listening to a very good example of the NIML principle. People well know what the `not in my backyard' principle is. It is espoused by those people who do not really mind what goes on as long as it is not actually affecting them. When it comes to climatic change, whether it is now or in the future, very few people can claim it is not in their backyard. That is what the `not in my lifetime', or NIML, principle is about. What we hear from Senator Chapman is a very good example of that: let somebody else pay in the future because it may not be in my lifetime.

   In relation to the Bounty (Fuel Ethanol) Bill, as we have frequently stated in the past, the Greens (WA) see a fundamental problem with the ongoing commitment to the private motor car as the major means of personal transport. It is not and never will be equitable. It results in a massive resource use and is a major contributor to energy use, pollution and particularly airborne emissions. The dependency on oil creates additional problems, economically and environmentally. The presumption of car ownership is built into our cities in a way that greatly increases the cost of urban infrastructure, while having very negative effects on equity and other social factors. We stress the need for a real and direct move to address these issues and reduce the dependency on private motor vehicles, particularly those run mainly on carbon based fuel.

  Use of fuel ethanol and gasohol cannot advance these aims on its own. Nevertheless, we support this bill since, as an additive, this fuel provides a better option for increasing octane ratings, making it a potential alternative for leaded petrol. I call on Senator Ian Macdonald to note that this proposal relates to ethanol as an additive rather than as an alternative fuel on its own. Lead emissions are a problem, and cars are the major source of such emissions. While we would like to see legislation designed to reduce the levels of lead in petrol with a definite phase-out date, we recognise that it is important to create alternatives; and this is one such alternative.

  Senator Macdonald spoke mostly of the cost and probable need for continued subsidy. We initially also thought that the three-year period may not be long enough. We are assured by industry that new processes are being developed that will drastically reduce costs and that this bounty is in large part what it needs to carry it over the development period. In short, industry is happy with the three-year period. Note that, while sugar has been used and proposed as the basis for an alternative stand-alone, fuel alcohol industry, the current development area is in the use of waste starches from the food industry. The proposal at the moment is for ethanol as an additive to replace lead, which is used to increase octane.

  The Greens also support the amendments put by the Australian Democrats. These are primarily designed to avoid the problem that has arisen. This bounty is intended to support the development of a fuel ethanol industry. So far, one company has shown the commitment and courage to actually take this challenge on and start producing fuel ethanol. It is strongly committed to improving its processes and to developing the industry. Yet, under the current wording, that company would be penalised. It would be the only one penalised. Although this company has just started production, all its current production would be considered ineligible as `new production'. This is simply not fair and penalises the very people who should be congratulated if the intent of the bill is recognised.

  Other amendments are designed to make sure that those entering the industry are legitimate developers. They would exclude those who do not have a commitment to process improvement, including improving environmental consequences of production. We support these also.

  One additional issue is not addressed in the amendments, and I would like to draw the attention of honourable senators to it. Under clause 28 there is a guarantee of an appropriation. This is fine. Under subclause 29(1), provision is made for the comptroller to recognise valid claims in excess of the appropriated funds in clause 28. This is also fine since, otherwise, the valid claims of some would not be honoured. Unfortunately, subclause 29(2) then says that, where the money is not appropriated, no additional bounty can be paid.

  This means that, unless the government makes a commitment to appropriate required funds, either some valid claims will not be honoured or funds will be allocated on the basis of partial payments. It says in the explanatory memorandum that this varies from most schemes. It does indeed. Here we have a situation where a bounty is given to stimulate an industry and then set up in such a way that the industry will expect a certain bounty and may receive less or nothing. For a government that cites the need for `investor confidence' as a reason to deny claims to the environment and social justice, it seems strange that it could happily create such uncertainty. Perhaps there is such a bias against the environment that the government thinks any industry with a whiff of greenness should be penalised. Let me reassure honourable senators that supporting the private motor car is not terribly green, and it is probably okay to treat fuel alcohol like other industries getting bounties.

  To conclude, we will support the bill and the amendments but would like to see eliminated the strange arrangement where a bounty is not really to be paid as stated or where it is not to be paid equally. We would like to see a commitment by the government to the principle that the level of bounty set will be the level paid and all valid claims shall be honoured. This could be done by eliminating subclause 29(2) but, at a minimum, it should be through an undertaking that, in the case of shortfall, additional appropriations will be put up and supported by government.