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Monday, 2 April 2001
Page: 26153

Ms HALL (4:03 PM) —I find it most heartening to hear members on the other side of this parliament, members of the government, making a commitment to renewable energy. Unfortunately, the record of this government's commitment and actions in relation to renewable energy has been disappointing, and the ethanol industry in Australia has been the victim of this lack of commitment. In the Howard government's first budget in 1996, it axed the three-year $25 million ethanol bounty scheme—a scheme that was designed to allow and to increase research into the ethanol industry. There was still $21 million of that bounty scheme unclaimed. The axing of this scheme really shows you the commitment of the government to the ethanol industry in Australia. I read what the minister was quoted as saying in the Canberra Times today:

Mr Truss said the ethanol blend fuel had wide-ranging advantages including reducing greenhouse-gas emissions by 1.1 million tonnes over five years, cutting dependency on fossil fuels and helping rural communities.

I ask: if this is what the ethanol industry can do for Australia, why has it taken the government so long to make any sort of commitment to the industry? The actions of this government have in fact endangered the Australian ethanol industry. The Fuel Ethanol Association of Australia wanted to set up a network of ethanol plants throughout Australia; that would have created about 322 jobs at each of these plants and would have put $39 million into Australia's regional economies. The Howard government has put at risk this industry—an industry of the future, because without renewable energy we, as a country, will be left behind. As the member for Paterson said, one day when you sink that oil well there will be nothing there.

The competitive costs associated with the ethanol industry are 80c per litre now, but in 1997 they were 70c and they were expected to go down to 50c. The procrastination of this government has led to an increase in the cost of production and has set the industry back a number of years. There are substantial opportunities for the ethanol industry to expand in Australia with waste biomass from agriculture, especially from sugar cane, and we have heard a little bit already about the Manildra plant that is operating in Australia. The environmental benefits are enormous. There are countries already using ethanol, such as Brazil, which is using 16 to 17 billion litres a year, and the US, which is using 7 billion litres.

The government abolished the bounty scheme and replaced it with grants that come to about $10 million. The Howard government abolished the scheme that invested $25 million in the development of the Australian ethanol industry and replaced it with a paltry $10 million worth of grants from the Australian Greenhouse Office. This is a deficit of $15 million. If reducing the investment in the Australian ethanol industry by $15 million is supposed to be a commitment, I would hate to see what the Howard government would do to an industry it had no commitment to. (Time expired)

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for the debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.