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Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Page: 40

Senator ALLISON (2:58 PM) —My question is to the Minister for the Environment and Heritage and the Minister representing the Minister for Transport and Regional Services, Senator Ian Campbell. I refer to the speech last night of the Leader of The Nationals in the Senate, Senator Boswell, calling for the phasing-in of an MRET style renewable transport fuel scheme and I ask: when does the government propose to introduce it?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I thank Senator Allison for the question. The mandatory renewable energy target scheme is a world-leading scheme which has seen Australia maintain its leadership in moving to renewable energy. The government has backed up its world-leading mandatory renewable energy target scheme in the power sector with a multibillion-dollar investment in low emissions technology. The solar cities program maintains our world leadership in the use of solar energy in powering households and in powering tertiary institutions, secondary institutions and other community facilities.

We have also brought in a whole range of measures to improve air quality in Australia, for example through promoting ethanol. In fact today in the Senate Senator Allison would have seen the Australian Labor Party attacking an ethanol project in the Gunnedah region. The government have brought in a whole range of measures, including fuel standards measures and measures in relation to the use of ethanol that have encouraged the increasing quality of fuel standards in Australia, the use of alternative fuels, historic support for the biofuels industry and infrastructure grants to ensure that biofuels proponents around Australia can build world-leading facilities to recycle agricultural and other wastes to see the uptake of biofuels in Australia fast-tracked as a way of reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, creating a cleaner environment, improving our atmosphere and, very importantly, reducing the emission into the atmosphere of carbon and other greenhouse gases as a way of addressing climate change.

Climate change, as I have said, I believe is probably the single biggest environmental challenge facing Australia and the world. Climate change deserves the sort of attention that Senator Boswell gave to it in a most eloquent and elegantly crafted speech yesterday addressing this concern. It is very good to see that the Australian Liberal Party is well known internationally and throughout the towns and suburbs of Australia as having very robust and focused environmental policies—policies that address biodiversity, greenhouse gases and a whole range of leading-edge environmental challenges for Australia. But, sadly, the National Party have never quite had that reputation and I think it was fantastic timing for Senator Boswell to move to the forefront of the national and international environment debate with a well thought through speech showing that the National Party care deeply about the Australian environment. They do not care just about agriculture, fisheries, sustainable communities and the regions; they also care about ensuring that all of those important activities are sustainable and that they do their share to address climate change issues, air quality issues and the use of renewable fuels. So I am glad that the Democrats have got on board and that they support the coalition's focus on these issues. We look forward to that ongoing support.

Senator ALLISON —I have a supplementary question, Mr President. I was pleased to hear the minister say that Senator Boswell's eloquent speech last night deserved attention and I draw that to the minister's attention as being the focus of my question. As a supplementary question I ask: is the government on track to achieve the Prime Minister's target of 350 megalitres of ethanol by 2010? What have the government's ethanol confidence-boosting committee achieved so far? Have they met lately? Have they discovered that the ethanol warning labels are not helping to boost confidence in E10? Why was the $50 million in the renewable fuels capital grants program, promised by the government in 2001, cut back to $37 million, and how much of this money is still to be spent?

Senator IAN CAMPBELL (Minister for the Environment and Heritage) —I am very pleased to see that Senator Allison is supporting Senator Boswell on these ethanol issues. It has been a lonely fight for those of us who have supported biofuels and alternative fuels. You had the Labor Party, for most of the time under Mr Latham's leadership, bashing ethanol and bashing the government for supporting ethanol and a whole series of measures that Senator Allison has mentioned. I am happy to provide an update. I am not able to give a comprehensive answer in the few seconds remaining to me but Senator Allison has, in an eloquent way—matching Senator Boswell's eloquence—outlined a whole series of measures that this government has put in place to support alternative fuels, biofuels and, importantly, ethanol. We want to make sure that consumers are well aware of the benefits of ethanol; that has been part of our program. I will be very happy to provide a detailed response to Senator Allison's question because it is a very important one.

Senator Hill —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.