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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 73

Senator McLUCAS (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (7:49 PM) —I thank Senator Milne, Senator Johnston and Senator Xenophon for their comments. Can I say at the outset that I think Senator Johnston is correct in saying we are all trying to achieve an outcome that will ensure long-term security of geosequestered greenhouse gases. The question is how we achieve that. It is the government’s view that the amendment moved by the Greens is not necessary to achieve that agreed outcome.

The government has strong reservations as to the insertion of a second object clause within the bill, as described in the amendment that we are now debating. Firstly, the Offshore Petroleum Act will cover a wide array of matters dealing with both petroleum and greenhouse gas storage activities. There are many inherent objects within this act. To elevate one element—in this case liability for greenhouse gas related adverse impacts—to a specific object against which all other activities, both petroleum and greenhouse, were assessed would in essence diminish the numerous other inherent objects contained within this complex legislation.

There are also concerns as to the practical effect of the proposed wording of the object clause; namely, that full liability be borne by the greenhouse gas project proponent in perpetuity. This message at the highest level within the legislation would give pause to even the most confident investor in the greenhouse gas industry. It would be highly unlikely that you could convince an investor to underwrite an activity that had no time bounds, and thus limitations on potential liability, given the geological time frames that may need to be accommodated.

I differ slightly with Senator Johnston’s comment that one balances greater economic benefit with, in his words, some small environmental damage. This legislation does not facilitate that outcome. There are protections in the bill that will meet the Greens’ desire to ensure that geosequestered greenhouse gases stay where they are.

The legislation provides for the minister to have absolute confidence in the long-term security of a reservoir—in fact, he or she cannot give a closure certificate unless he or she is assured of the security of that geosequestered material. So there is protection there, and we think it is strong protection, in relation to this field, which is acknowledged as a new field. There is a legislative basis to ensure the protection of the environment, particularly to ensure the goal that sequestered carbon and related material stays where it is intended it stay. So the government will not be supporting the Greens amendment, but I do thank senators for their comments.