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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 86

Senator MILNE (8:46 PM) —Again, I might say that there are plenty of environment ministers and resource ministers who have never been the guardian of the public interest.

Senator Johnston —That’s why they get voted out.

Senator MILNE —This is a very different issue from ones we normally deal with. Yes, as Senator Johnston says, ministers and governments can be voted out if they fail to take the public interest into account. The problem here, however, is that it is easier for a minister not to take the public interest into account because a problem may occur two generations hence and they will be long gone from the ministry. They may not even be alive when, some time in the future, the consequences of their actions in giving these certificates may come to bear on the community. My issue is that Australia, as a state party, will have binding targets in a post-2012 treaty. Senator Johnston rightly points out that we are talking about vast underground storages of liquefied CO2. If there is a substantial leak from one of these storages, from a failure of one of these plugs, or if the geological formation is unstable and leads to a massive release of CO2, there might be, as has happened in Africa, a significant localised impact.

The greater concern, however, is the impact on the liability. The country concerned will have to make good that CO2 emission. That may be in terms of offsets, or in terms of strengthening the cap, or whatever you may have in terms of your other obligatory framework, but the broader community will pay, one way or another. And they will pay in terms of greenhouse gas impacts if this fails around the world in a similar time frame. If you have pumped it in and, for 20 years, things are reasonably stable everywhere and then, for some reason, over time there is a deterioration and you lose a lot at any one time, you could potentially have a massive impact on the acceleration of global warming. So that is why I make the point that it is all very well to address the significant adverse risk to petroleum companies, and to sort out who takes precedence in terms of those injecting the CO2 and those who have exploration rights or oil and gas extraction rights, but it is the longer-term broader interest that, I think, should have been identified.