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Wednesday, 27 November 1985
Page: 2379


Senator MASON(4.59) —In looking through this annual report of the Department of Resources and Energy for 1984-85, I was particularly struck by two aspects of our energy resources and the attitudes of the Government and the Department to them, as indicated by the report. The first one is a quite lamentable lack of interest shown by any Federal government in recent years, or, indeed, at any time, in renewable energy resources. Figure 2 in the report indicates total energy demand by fuel type for the periods 1973-74-that is, a decade or so ago-for 1983-84-which is quite recent-and for 1993-94-which is, of course, a decade into the future. It shows, to my great surprise, that in 1973-74 demand for renewable energy was equivalent to 7.5 per cent of total energy demand; by last year that had been reduced to 6.3 per cent; and the Department forecasts that by 1993-94 demand for renewable energy resources will have dwindled to only 5.9 per cent of total energy demand.

This is in contrast to a situation in virtually every other country in the world, where the use of renewable energy is, of course, being encouraged, often at very great expense to the country concerned. One only has to look at Japan, where the major corporations and the Government are spending millions on millions of dollars on research, particularly into the new forms of solar cells, the new generation of cells, unlike the earlier silicon cells which are much cheaper and much more adaptable to mass production of electricity. Although that is happening elsewhere in the world, our Government appears to have set its face against it, and I think that is very regrettable.

The obvious reason for this decline in the use of renewable energy is, of course, that research and development funds for these energy types are also dwindling, so that the only energy resources which will eventually be left to this country-the renewable resources; they are the only ones which will remain to us in time-are being deliberately retarded by this Federal Government, as the Fraser Government did before it. The only difference is that this Labor Government is worse in this regard and is doing less than the Fraser Government did. It seems to the Australian Democrats that it is only reasonable and sensible for us to give as much encouragement as we can to the development of these resources in order to preserve our increasingly diminishing and increasingly expensive finite resources, especially of the fossil fuels. When most of the work is being done overseas and when we do not have to do the research but merely go overseas and ask to have access to it, it seems even more culpable that we are in this position.

The Department has noted a continuing move away from petroleum products to other fuels, obviously because of our increasing awareness of our dependence on an important finite resource. That brings me to the second point which particularly disturbed me about this report. I cannot understand why the Government has permitted and is permitting increasing exports of Australia's fast-dimishing oil resources. This report reveals that 18.5 per cent of oil from the Bass Strait field is now being exported. There has been a steady increase in oil exports, even though it is public knowledge, and has been for many years, that our resources of oil in this country are very limited and that we face a situation in the very near future in which the percentage of our fuel available from our own resources will decline significantly. Indeed, the report notes that the Department expects a decline in Australia's petroleum self-sufficiency from 79 per cent in 1983-84 to 42 per cent in 1993-94 in the absence of further oil discoveries. Recent experience has been that the very large fields that we might have hoped for in this country are not forthcoming. It is madness on our part to believe that they will be forthcoming, and that this resource, which ought to be held in this country as a strategic reserve apart from anything else, is now being exported increasingly and with the connivance of a Labor Government whose members, when in opposition, got up in this place time and again and spoke about the need for renewable resources and the maintenance of our own finite oil resources. The fact that we have increased our exports of this diminishing resource to about 31 million barrels last year presents an ironic contrast.

However, this report is not, at first glance, entirely bad. The Government's energy conservation programs appear to be worthwhile initiatives and ones which should be supported and applauded. The national energy management program, the national industrial energy management scheme, and the Commonwealth energy management program appear to be very useful. The Department is obviously beginning to realise the massive importance to Australia and, indeed, to the world, of energy conservation. That, at least, is a step forward. If that could just be made the basis of all policy decisions in the Department, the future would be much brighter for energy use in this country.