House debates

Wednesday, 2 August 2023


Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading

5:16 pm

Photo of Dan RepacholiDan Repacholi (Hunter, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise to contribute to the debate on the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. Our oceans are precious. They're a vital part of our ecosystem and home to a vast range of sea life. We are an island nation. Our oceans surrounding us are important to all of us. The sea around our home is so important that it gets a mention in our national anthem: 'girt by sea'. We look to look after our waters better, and it starts with this bill targeting the loading and dumping of waste at sea.

Our oceans are not a garbage dump, but, sadly, too often they look like one. We have seen those photos of turtles caught up in plastic or other animals who live in the sea being impacted by our waste which ends up in their home. But what can sometimes go unnoticed is that it is not only the animals impacted by this. It has real impact on us as humans as well.

I know that those opposite are not particularly skilled in the area of international relations. I don't need to go into the detail of certain events like the deterioration of our relationship with our Pacific neighbours or a certain deal that was handled in a way that offended our friends in France. But the adults are here now—we on this side of the House, anyway. We know that it is important to build strong relations with countries all over the world. Climate and the environment are high on the list of priorities for many countries around the world, and it's hard for Australia to be taken seriously if we are not taking the issues important to them seriously too.

This bill implements Australia's international obligations under the 1996 protocol to the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, otherwise known at the London convention, by ratifying both the 2009 and the 2013 amendments. It has taken a while, but we will pass this bill. We will finally be doing our bit to prevent marine pollution.

The objective of this bill is simple: we'll protect our oceans and live up to what is rightfully expected of us at an international level. We will do this by regulating the loading, dumping and incineration of waste at sea and the placement of artificial reefs in Australian waters. We will also prohibit the disposal of harmful materials in the ocean.

We adopt the 2009 amendment to the London convention. This amendment is to permit the export of carbon dioxide streams from a contracting state party to another country for the purpose of carbon sequestration in geological formations below the seabed. We also adopted the 2013 amendment. The amendment was to allow the placement of waste and other matter for marine geoengineering activity such as ocean fertilisation for the purpose of scientific research.

Research is important. Without research, we cannot find a better way of protecting our water. These amendments make it easy for research to take place, which will help us understand what methods will work in reducing atmospheric carbon dioxide.

There are a range of ways in which science can be used to reduce carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by conducting research at sea. This could include microbubbles. This involves injection of very tiny bubbles into the ocean or into the sea foam, which will increase how much sunlight reflects off the ocean. Another strategy is to conduct marine cloud brightening or seeding, which means injecting sea salt into clouds to reflect sunlight back into space. Activities such as ocean alkalinisation are also being explored. This means adding alkaline substance to the seawater to enhance the ocean's natural carbon sink. There is also the possibility of micro-algae cultivation, which is the large-scale growth of algae that converts dissolved carbon dioxide into organic carbon through photosynthesis.

Science is incredible, and it is amazing to think how advanced we are as humans. Science will only continue to become more advanced but only if we allow activities like these to be tested so that we know what works and what doesn't work so that we can make improvements. Climate change is the biggest threat facing us as humans, and science is right at the forefront of fighting against it. It is important to reduce the emissions that we create, but we will get so much further in our battle against climate change if we develop ways to take out even more of the carbon dioxide that is in the atmosphere at the same time as reducing how much we put into it. These activities at sea need to happen so we know how we can best do this. They may sound like they are massive projects and difficult to understand, but the permits can only be granted after they have gone through the significant application assessment and approval process which makes sure that these kinds of activities are in accordance with the London protocol and have minimal impact on the marine environment in the Australian waters. It is also important to note that we as a country are bound by the London protocol, as we are a contracting party. This isn't new. It is already referenced in the sea dumping act. This means that any potential projects must go through extensive environmental impact assessment in accordance with the 2012 specific guidelines and the London protocol's risk assessment management framework. This bill will mean that Australia will be able to start to develop a domestic framework which will allow the government to give permits so that these kinds of scientific activities, which are emerging, are able to take place with legal certainty.

We won't know how far we can go when it comes to taking carbon out of the atmosphere if we don't have any way which allows us to regulate and allow these kinds of activities to happen. Both the 2009 and 2013 amendments to the London Convention were subject to a recent enquiry undertaken by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water. As a member of this standing committee, we recommended that these amendments be enacted in the Australian law for both environmental and regional foreign-policy reasons. It was also recommended in an independent policy insight paper from the Climate Change Authority in April 2023 that these amendments be introduced. That is what this bill is doing. This bill is good for the environment, and it is very good for our international reputation. It's a win all around.

Of course, this is not the only piece of legislation which looks at activities at sea. These laws would work alongside the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the existing provisions under the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme as well as various state and territory laws. It's all about strengthening our current laws as well. It's important to point out that domestic offshore carbon capture utilisation and storage can currently occur under existing laws. No project has reached a final investment decision just yet, but it is likely that any offshore project would occur through these domestic mechanisms long before any transboundary project. The consequences of this bill not going through are concerning.

Researchers are very keen to do what they do best: conduct research. Some may look at the loopholes and create their own initiatives to undertake unregulated activities. This is no fantasy story because it's already happening with marine geo-engineering activities. More oversight will be beneficial when these activities increase in scale. Without the regulation that this bill will provide, we risk great harm to the marine environment from these activities. I want to see us move forward and make these amazing scientific and technological advances and I want to see this create an answer to climate change, but I don't want to see our attempts to fix one issue create a new issue. That is why this bill needs to pass.

We need an application, assessment and permitting system with monitoring and compliance processes. Carbon capture projects are only a small part of our efforts to reduce carbon emissions, but it is an important part. All of the advice says that carbon capture and storage will play a role in the path to net zero. This is the advice of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, the International Energy Agency, Australia's independent Climate Change Authority and the CSIRO. And it fits in perfectly alongside what our government has already done in decarbonising our economy responsibly and in line with our international obligations. This bill is about ensuring that it's done in the most rigorous regulatory framework.

What we are not doing is what the former government did. Those opposite provided wasteful public subsidies for the commercial development of carbon capture and storage. What we have done is cut the $250 million of government subsidies for carbon capture programs. Our large resource companies have more than enough capital and expertise to accelerate commercial deployment of carbon capture and storage. These projects must stack up economically for the industry, without any government subsidies, and meet all domestic and international environment approvals.

But it is important to note before the House that carbon capture projects are, and should only be, a small part of our emissions reduction plan. Our government hasn't wasted any time in getting on with the job of decarbonising our economy responsibly and in line with international obligations—and it's a tough job. We are catching up on a wasted decade of climate inaction, but since the Labor government was elected we have legislated our emissions reduction target of 43 per cent by 2030, with a key path to net zero by 2050 set out in law. We have passed the safeguards mechanism to ensure that our heavy emitters fit within the pathway to net zero, but we have consulted far and wide and have done this with industry input.

We have doubled the rate of renewable energy approvals and we are just getting started. We have started the process of rewriting our environmental laws to put our environment on a nature-positive trajectory. We are investing $2 billion into green hydrogen, as part of the budget. We have committed $1.6 billion for homes and small businesses to electrify. We are supporting more EVs. We have committed $20 billion for Rewiring the Nation. We have started establishing new offshore wind projects around the country, including off the coast of the Hunter. We have now committed $3 billion to the National Reconstruction Fund for renewables and low-emission technology—something that those opposite voted against.

My electorate is home to the biggest saltwater lake in the southern hemisphere, which leads straight out to sea. This is the beautiful Lake Macquarie. Protecting our waters is important to many people in my electorate, especially those who call the towns and suburbs around the lake home. It's also something that's important to me. The Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 is a crucial step on our journey towards a more sustainable and resilient planet. Together, we can make a difference and safeguard the beauty and diversity of our oceans for generations to come. I commend this bill to the House.


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