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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 86

Senator MILNE (8:53 PM) —There are a couple of matters I want to raise. Senator McLucas made the point that the minister must be satisfied in terms of adverse significant impact to human health and the environment and so on. What is the definition of ‘significant adverse impact’ in this legislation in relation to human health and environment? Is it a subjective analysis, or does the government have a definition of what a significant adverse impact is? We know what a significant adverse impact on a company is in relation to the petroleum rights and/or the storage and injection rights, but we only have ‘must take into account significant adverse impact’ to human health and the environment. I would like to know what a significant adverse impact is.

While Senator McLucas is considering that definition, I would point out to Senator Johnston that there is no-one in this place more passionate about reducing greenhouse gasses than I am, but the 21st century demands more than a 21st century landfill strategy. This legislation is a 21st century landfill strategy, following on from landfill strategies for the last 200 years that have landed us with shocking waste issues. The most informed and enlightened environmental thinking says that we ought not to be generating waste and that we should reuse and recycle. We should regard what we now see as waste as an underutilised resource. I do not need to tell you all those things. But pumping waste into holes in the ground is no different from people digging holes and dumping things in it for landfill.

Whilst we know that the earth is a finite planet, there was a view that it had an infinite capacity to provide resources and an infinite capacity to absorb waste. Interestingly, people speculated for a long time that the ecosystems would collapse because we would not be able to keep on supplying resources. In fact, our ecosystems are collapsing because we do not have an infinite capacity to absorb waste. That is what the greenhouse effect is. That is what the impact of greenhouse gasses is. The ecosystems of the planet do not have an infinite ability to absorb waste. We have said that we cannot put this waste into the atmosphere—we know that now—and we are going to pump it into holes in the ground indefinitely. That is our strategy. Let me tell you that that is a very ‘last century’ strategy.

Our aim ought to be not to produce the waste in the first place and not to dump it into landfill post the event. That is why I have an incredible scepticism about this legislation being a holding strategy for the coal industry. It is a holding strategy to legitimatise ongoing burning of coal and ongoing export of coal. It is not a strategy for reducing greenhouse gasses. If you were serious about this and if you took the IPCC report seriously, you would understand that global emissions have to peak by 2015 and come down. Carbon capture and storage is not going to be commercialised by 2020—probably not even by 2025, which is long after the imperative to reduce greenhouse emissions. We have the technologies now to roll out renewable energy and to be energy efficient. Why would we want to take liability to the taxpayer for this strategy? Why would we want to spend public dollars now on a landfill strategy and take liability for that for the companies which continue to profit from it? Why wouldn’t we want to use our public investment money in a zero-waste, zero-emissions strategy? It is a fundamental difference of opinion about how quickly we can move from a landfill strategy to a prevention strategy—that is, not generating the waste in the first place.

However, I am interested in Senator McLucas’s answer to my question about the definition of ‘significant adverse impact’ in terms of human health and the environment.