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Monday, 27 June 1994
Page: 1992

Senator MARGETTS —I direct my question to the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. I refer the minister to recent publicity concerning a push by industry groups to limit any commitments to greenhouse gas reductions due to Australia's high fossil fuel dependence and `Australia's particular economic reality'. Does the minister acknowledge that this fossil fuel dependence is itself a major problem that this country urgently needs to address, particularly given government resource economists' predictions that Australia will need to massively increase petroleum imports in the next decade? If so, what action is the minister taking to ensure that Australian industry is reducing its dependence on fossil fuels and moving to more energy efficient technologies?

Senator COOK —I am asked whether fossil fuel dependence is a major problem in itself for Australia and whether our reliance on coal, natural gas and petroleum constitutes a major problem. I would not term it that way. I would say that it is certainly an important issue in the greenhouse gas and greenhouse emissions debate but whether it constitutes a major problem for Australia is another matter.

  I would hold the view that Australia, as a net exporter of energy that, by high environmental emission control standards, has developed world leading technology in pollution control and the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions, is showing a way in which the total emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere by a developed industrialised society can be reduced. This important contribution that we are making has to be considered in the broad sweep.

  The other point I would make is that carbon dioxide is one of the major greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. But so are methane and nitrous oxide. One needs to have a strategy to cut emissions across the board in all gas categories, not just in the carbon dioxide category.

  The government is pursuing a greenhouse gas strategy. It has a national greenhouse gas response strategy. It is a response which balances effective measures and the need to control emissions with the need to protect Australia's vital economic and trade interests. The response forms the leading edge of a round table of non-government organisations chaired by Senator Faulkner and Mr Beddall, the Minister for Resources. It has brought out a need to continue to address suitable measures and to do so consistent with Australia's circumstances.

  Senator Margetts asked what my department is doing about this in view of the attitude of industry. My department is one of a series of government departments—the most important other ones being Senator Collins's department, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy; Senator Evans's department, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; the transport department; and the CSIRO, which comes within my broad portfolio area—that are involved in examining what we can do to curb the level of greenhouse gas emissions.

  Specifically, my department is involved in encouraging the spread and improvement of clean coal burning technology; the spread and improvement of greater energy efficiency; the encouragement of energy auditing by departments, authorities and business; and the growth and promotion of renewable energy sources. In this context, I might say that that tends to focus on solar applications of renewable energy. We also have an energy industries advisory group, which works with industries to spread good practice. The Bureau of Industry Economics has recently published a report on energy labelling and standards as a way of ensuring good practice in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Senator MARGETTS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I wonder whether the minister is aware that there is no such thing as `clean coal technology' when it comes to a total policy for reducing greenhouse emissions, especially considering that the latest proposals for coal-powered power stations in Australia do not come within world's best practice as far as reductions in CO(2) are concerned.

Senator COOK —I do know that when we talk about coal we cannot do so without having regard for the particular subsections of coal. Our black coal, the coal Australia exports, is highly energy efficient and burns with far lower levels of impurities than the dirty brown coals burnt in Europe and, classically, in Asia as well. Our coal burning technology has been perfected to reduce the level of emissions, to scrub the emissions that do occur and to reduce the greenhouse gas effect. The technology we are using has a big part to play in reducing the total level of greenhouse gas emissions, and that should be recognised and encouraged.

  My final comment is that this is a global issue in respect of which Australia has an important role to play in leading by example. But, given the size of our economy and population, we cannot solve this problem on our own. It requires international responses.