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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 73


Senator JOHNSTON (7:41 PM) —The opposition opposes the Australian Greens amendment. Whilst I say that, I think to some greater or lesser extent we are all singing from the same song sheet with this very commendable, unique and revolutionary legislation that does, as Senator Milne has quite rightly pointed out, seek to establish a bit of a benchmark internationally for geosequestration of greenhouse gases. The reason we oppose this amendment is that we in the opposition have a greater emphasis on the commercial viability, and what we have seen in the last 15 to 20 years in Australia is the privatisation and the use of business models in the operation of utilities delivering electricity into all of our capital cities around Australia.

I do correct Senator Milne to the extent that it is not about postcombustion or precombustion capture; it is about geosequestration—that is, the product of, particularly, a brown coal power station being captured, in the nature of capturing the smoke or capturing the carbon pre combustion, changing it into a substance that can be moved and then injected sub surface into a repository that will hold that product, as it has held oil and gas for a very long time. What we are saying is that, if there is integrity in a geophysical formal that has held oil and gas for literally thousands, if not millions, of years, we can prove up a repository that can hold this product similarly.

I do not profess to say that this framework is perfect. It is new. It is different. It seeks to do a whole lot of things that have not been done before. I want to commend the Minister for Resources and Energy, Mr Ferguson, for his determination to get on with the job here—and he has, I think, done a very good job in difficult circumstances. It is extremely complex. It is always complex when you weigh up the priorities of different tenure holders. In this instance, we have licensees and lessees of petroleum and gas licences or permits and we have the potential applicants to sequester coming from coal fired power stations or from other sources. It may well be that people who are in the future producing carbon dioxide in one form or another will want to sequester.

The commercial reality here—and our amendments go to this—is that you cannot expect to have a system with integrity and that is viable if you cannot get insurance in the short term because of the long-term liability; if you cannot manage the risk. The fact is that the target and beneficiaries of this legislation are utility energy providers. This legislation provides that after 20 years the risk will revert to the Commonwealth, to the taxpayer. What it seeks to do—and I think it does it reasonably well, acceptably well—is to balance the commerciality of the energy producers and their emissions with the future risk in geosequestration. With respect to some of the things that Senator Milne said—and I think she was right and I do not criticise her for any of those things—if you look at all the mines around the world and all the mines in Australia, the environmental problems we have are very small relative to the number of tonnes moved every day and the amount of product that we export. If this is done well it will do very much to preserve and enhance the environment. It will take a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere.