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Monday, 11 September 2017
Page: 6781


Senator RICE (Victoria) (13:11): In rising to speak on the Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017, I note that this is a welcome package of legislation and a package of legislation that's long overdue. Australia is one of the last developed countries to regulate the emissions, and the very poisonous emissions, that come from the small motors that are covered by this emissions standards bill, from lawnmowers, chainsaws, leaf blowers and the like. So it is important that we are seeing legislation to regulate these emissions.

The Australian Greens have long called for controls on air pollution. In fact, in 2013, we initiated a very far-reaching Senate inquiry looking at the impacts on health from air pollution, because this is a significant cause of death in our society and a significant cause of ill-health—that is, the impacts of pollution from a whole range of different motors and different technologies. This bill will provide a national framework to enable us to address the adverse impacts of air pollution on human and environmental health from certain products. In particular, we're looking at non-road spark ignition engines and equipment. We congratulate the government. This bill is good as far as it goes, but in this speech I want to cover that, unfortunately, 'as far as it goes' is only a very small way down the track. We are covering a very small proportion of the technologies and the things that cause air pollution in Australia, and I'm calling on the government to get some perspective. If you're really serious about air pollution, you can't afford to stop here. This is important as far as it goes. But then, if you look at the impact of air pollution from the very poorly regulated motor vehicles and then, in particular, the impact of air pollution from coal-fired power stations, you'll realise that what we're starting with today is just a very tiny baby step in terms of seriously addressing air pollution in Australia.

As I say, it's good as far as it goes. It's going to finally regulate emissions from lawnmowers, leaf blowers, chainsaws and the like. Indeed, when I think back to my father mowing the lawn, when I was growing up in Altona in the western suburbs of Melbourne in the sixties and the seventies, and think of the pollutants that came out of the Pace lawnmower that he was using, I think it's a good thing. I know we've moved a long way from those lawnmowers, but, still, the fact that they are unregulated is surprising.

One limitation with this bill and the products that it covers is that it only covers particulates and other pollutions. It doesn't cover carbon dioxide and other global warming gases. In particular, given that this bill only covers what's estimated to be 10 per cent of the air pollution in our cities, it's clear that it's only a tiny step that we are beginning to take.

The second area of this bill, which doesn't go far enough is that it fails to make a defence to modify a machine that changes its certified level of emissions. So this is clearly a way around even the limits that are being put in place with this legislation. There's no point having certified, cleaner engines imported if there are no restrictions on modifications. In fact, I'm led to understand that one existing manufacturer, as a matter of course, modifies every Honda engine that it uses in the products it manufactures. So, basically, if you don't put limitations on modifying engines, you've got a workaround and a back door to continue to have polluting products.

Given the limitations in this framework, another important issue is that this is just the beginning of other products that are going to be regulated. It's important to get this framework right in the beginning. Some stakeholders have legitimate concerns about how well these regulations are going to be enforced. Given that we've got 1.3 million small engines imported yearly, enforcing these restrictions is going to be a really critical thing that we do not believe this legislation covers effectively.

Finally, in terms of the limitations, even as far as these small engines go, there are exemptions in the bill that are also of concern. In fact, issues have been raised with us that the department may in fact allow any products that are sold in limited numbers in the US to be sold in unlimited numbers in Australia, even if they don't meet the regulations in this bill. So, essentially, that means that the US 2006 standards will be in place, which aren't exactly world's best practice.

They're our concerns with this bill as far as it goes. But I also want to focus on: if the government really wants to start tackling issues of air pollution, how about starting to tackle the really big sources of air pollution in this country? Our vehicle emissions standards are way behind other countries, so that is where we need to be having much stronger controls on our vehicle emission standards, because we know that a much greater source of particulates come from vehicles rather than these small engines. For example, small engines aren't even listed as a source of particle size 2.5 in the National Pollutant Inventory. Lawnmowers are listed in that inventory for nitrous oxide, but they're in 14th place. In terms of that nitrous oxide, a total of 390,000 kilograms will be regulated by this bill, compared with 360 million kilograms from power stations and 340 million kilograms from motor vehicles. That is, coal-fired power stations and motor vehicles each have more than a thousand times the emissions of these small engines. We have to get some perspective and actually start thinking. If we're serious about addressing air pollution, it's a good start. But let's really get to the nub of the problem, where the problems really arise. As I said, as far as motor vehicles go, we are lagging behind other countries in the world. We are lagging behind in both the particulates and air pollution such nitrous oxide, sulphur dioxide and other emissions. And clearly, the fact that we haven't got carbon dioxide standards in place, as we discussed earlier this morning, is a real area where we are falling behind the rest of the world.

But let's look at coal-fired power stations. Coal-fired power stations are a huge and major source of air pollution throughout the country. And if we're serious about getting cleaner cities, if we're serious about wanting to do something to ensure that the air in our cities isn't impacting on people's health, then we need to deal with coal-fired power stations. A major new report was released by Environmental Justice Australia just two years ago which shows that Australian power stations are allowed to emit far more pollution than those in the US and Europe and that many operators are actually failing to adopt even available pollution-reduction technologies—and, in one case, falsifying pollution reports. That report states that nearly 900,000 Australians—in Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria—live dangerously close to coal-fired power stations, with the impact of that being reflected in increasing rates of asthma, increasing rates of respiratory illness and an increased likelihood of stroke and heart attack.

This is where we need to be getting serious. This is where we have a choice. With the same enthusiasm for regulating the emissions from leaf blowers and lawnmowers, we could be saying: 'Okay, we've actually got a much bigger problem here with coal-fired power stations. Let us plan to be shifting away from them and shifting to clean, renewable, reliable, affordable power from renewable sources.' But, no, we are finding instead that we've got a government that is in the pockets of the fossil fuel lobby—a government that is talking about extending the life of the Liddell power station, a polluting power station that is one of the dirtiest in the country and yet there are negotiations going on to extend its life, rather than saying, 'That power station, as well as contributing to global warming, is having a major impact on the health of the people that live nearby' or 'We have the opportunity here to be improving people's wellbeing, improving people's health, as well as tackling global warming, by accelerating the closure of that power station.' And at the same time as the government could be accelerating the closure of that power station, or at least allowing it to close down in five years time, it could be planning to have power coming from clean, renewable sources—solar, wind, hydro, geothermal—and to increase battery storage and to make the changes to the grid that are required so that we can be shifting our energy sources to clean power. Those are the sorts of measures and the direction that we need to be heading in, rather than tinkering at the edges and—good as far as it goes—regulating emissions from leaf blowers and lawnmowers. Let's get serious. Let's tackle the major sources of pollution in Australia.

Let's look at some of the other impacts of pollution from coal-fired power stations. Australian coal-fired power stations are allowed to be much more polluting than coal-fired power stations in China. Mercury limits in some New South Wales power stations are 666 times higher than in the United States. And the Environmental Justice report that I mentioned before found that pollution reduction technologies that have been available for many years and are used overseas could significantly reduce power station emissions—but they're not in use in Australia. This is where we need to be focusing our efforts. If we are serious about air pollution, if we are serious about reducing premature deaths from air pollution, we need to be tackling these emissions. For example, the Environmental Justice report found that fine-particle pollution exposure is responsible for 1,590 premature deaths each year in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth; that people who live within 50km of coal-fired stations are three to four times more likely to die prematurely than people who live further away; and that 87 per cent of the sulphur dioxide pollution recorded in Sydney can be traced to have come from power stations in the Hunter Valley, more than 100 kilometres away. Let's get serious. Let's get our perspective right. Let's start working on the things that we need to be working on—the things that should have priority when it comes to creating a cleaner future for us all.

You would think that, faced with this evidence, as well as moving on leaf blowers and lawnmowers, we could be moving on much more stringent vehicle emissions so that the people living in my neighbourhood in Yarraville and Footscray don't have to be putting up with particulate pollution from heavy vehicles, which have got much more lax emission controls than heavy vehicles in other parts of the world. In particular, though, what we need to be doing is saying that coal is in the past. We need to be shifting to cleaner vehicles, we need to be shifting to cleaner energy and we need to be cutting our ties with coal. We need to be saying that coal served a good purpose in the past but that it's not serving a good purpose now. We can be shifting out of it, transitioning the jobs into clean energy and transitioning our energy sources into clean energy. That's the direction that the country needs to be heading in. That's the direction that other countries around the world are heading in. That is where we need to be going.

But we are not getting any leadership from this government. We also see that the Labor Party are standing side by side with this government when it comes to the Adani coal-fired power station and have not yet said what they're going to be doing about the Liddell power station. We need the Labor Party to be joining the Greens and saying: 'That power station has reached the end of its life. It has served a purpose up until now but it is not going to be required post-2022.' Then we need to be moving forward. That's the direction that we should be going. If we are serious about air pollution, we've got to get serious about coal. So, with that, I move a second reading amendment:

At the end of the motion, add:

"but the Senate calls upon the Government to regulate toxic emissions from coal-fired power stations."

I congratulate the government on finally bringing the Product Emissions Standards Bill 2017 to the chamber. It's good as far as it goes, but, to be serious about air pollution, to be serious about creating a clean, healthy future for us all, we need to get serious and to be moving out of coal.