Wednesday, 2 August 2023
Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; Second Reading
For the first time in 10 years, Australia has a government prepared to make the necessary and sometimes difficult decisions to help combat climate change. There are many ways in which governments around the world can address climate change, and at last an Australian government has started to address it in serious, meaningful and many varied ways: legislating for emissions reduction targets, a safeguard mechanism with teeth, substantial investments across a swathe of renewable technologies and transmission as well as research and innovation. We are taking part in the COP meetings with pride again and, hopefully, will host COP in 2026. We've entered into many international agreements, such as the Global Methane Pledge and the Climate Club, and just a fortnight ago Minister Bowen visited India, Korea and Japan to collaborate on clean energy initiatives.
This amendment before the House is another step along the road to making Australia a leader on climate change. It needs to be understood in that context. It is one measure being adopted by a government that understands the need to take action on many fronts at the same time and one that understands its duty to enact evidence based policy. It's a refreshing situation. Will there be a growing international CCS market as a result of this legislation? Will there be much marine geoengineering as a result? We don't know. We are creating the necessary legislative environment. We are getting ahead of the game. We are taking the threat seriously and turning over every stone to ensure that we are in the best position we can be to regulate new technologies and industries.
What we are not doing is somehow waiting for the technology to be perfect or trying to point the finger at oil and gas companies that have supplied the energy that all of us use every day. It's okay to be critical, but it's also important to recognise that government and industry need to work together to overcome these challenges. Governments are bound to take heed of all emergent technologies that provide options for addressing climate change. Governments have a duty to form policy on the best available evidence.
Do Independents and minor parties need to do that? I would argue they should, even though they don't carry the same burden. The brave thing to do, for those opposing this legislation, would be to try to have the difficult conversation with their constituents and the supporters who are passionate and engaged on climate change and the environment—there are many in my own electorate and within the Labor Party membership—to have the difficult conversation that combating climate change is more than slogans. It's complex, nuanced and multifaceted. There are many stakeholders and interests, and the government is doing the work. In this instance, it requires us to create predictable legal frameworks that will be used to ensure a rigid and robust oversight over carbon capture, utilisation and storage technology that will certainly be part of the net zero mix.
The wrongheadedness of this opposition to the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023 is underscored by the fact that CCS is legally regulated for domestic operations. The amendment will allow the development of an international market. To oppose it is simply to say, 'Well, we acknowledge that CCS is happening in Australia, which Geoscience Australia, after 20 years of study, tells us has good geology for this in many places, both on- and offshore, but we don't want to inject carbon from other countries whose geology may be unsuitable.' It's the international version of 'Not in my backyard'. The provisions of the amendment refer to both carbon export and marine geoengineering. In both cases, a strict regime with cumulative provisions restricts the granting of a permit by the minister. Opposing this bill is opposing robust regulation and limiting the opportunities we have to address climate change.
It is worth reiterating that once the legislation before us has gone through the parliament it will operate in concert with the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act, the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the existing provisions of the sea dumping act and the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. With that in mind, it is also worth reiterating that offshore carbon capture, utilisation and storage can already occur under these existing laws. Should this bill not be introduced, there would be no ability for the government to implement a robust regulatory framework, leaving the door wide open for operators to look for loopholes to undertake unregulated activities.
As it has been established that CCUS will play an important role in our journey to net zero, there is great risk in taking an unregulated approach, to allowing operations to exist outside of the oversight of our existing environmental and conservation acts. As a responsible government we want to ensure that we have in place a comprehensive and robust regulatory framework, including stringent application, assessment and permitting systems with strong oversight, monitoring and compliance processes.
It's also opposition to leadership in this space internationally. In many areas, thanks mainly to the denialism and hopelessness of the coalition on climate change policy over more than 10 years and partly to the failure of the Greens during the Rudd prime ministership, Australia is really playing catch-up. We will be the beneficiaries of technologies developed overseas—sometimes developed overseas by Australian companies.
These changes, together with further support for the London protocol, will encourage support from other countries and ensure that the international regulatory environment is secure. A secure and robust regulatory framework supports research and development. In every area I mentioned at the outset—from solar and wind power generation to EVs and energy storage and transmission systems—ongoing research and development is part and parcel of the future of that particular technology having its greatest impact in the fight to keep the temperature rise down. We need every tool on the table here. It is disingenuous for the Greens and some Independents to pretend that we don't or that winning this war is just a matter of planting more trees.
A strictly regulated international CCS market will enable this technology its best chance of attracting further investment, research and development. It doesn't mandate the tech or direct investment by private firms or governments, rather it allows for the technology to prove itself. Members of this place always need to be prepared to accept the evidence, even if it makes them uncomfortable. At the end of the day we need to be able to return to the science. Sometimes that means forgoing some of the political mileage that might be made from playing up to one constituency or another.
Geoscience Australia describes carbon capture, utilisation and storage as one of the technologies that can help to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Further, CSIRO state in their recent report Australia's carbon sequestration potential that the sequestration potential with geological storage is high and offers a very long-term option. They note that CCS projects have reached the operational stage in many places around the world. They describe the technology as 'well developed'. They do note that there have been problems in practice. But that should not be an obstacle to pass legislation that seeks to create a robust regulatory regime. In their article entitled 'Developing best practice monitoring methods for offshore carbon sequestration' CSIRO described CCS as an 'exciting and rapidly expanding area of opportunity'.
The House Standing Committee on Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water considered that the evidence about the benefits of the import and export of CO2 was convincing. That committee was addressed by Geoscience Australia. I can think of no better source on this topic. Their evidence was that 'Australia is endowed richly with the right geology for the safe and secure underground storage of CO2' and 'CCS should be deployed in a reasonable manner alongside serious decarbonisation targets'. And in response to a direct query from the member for Warringah, Geoscience described CCS as a 'very mature technology'.
In submissions to the inquiry into Australia's transition to a green energy superpower by the Joint Standing Committee on Trade and Investment Growth, of which I am a member, many organisations have pushed us to be ambitious and to think beyond our shores.
The Clean Energy Council warned that current planning is centred on domestic needs rather than global opportunities. The University of Queensland suggested that it was increasingly important to think at the system level about enabling technologies and value chains. The University of Adelaide accentuated the importance of maintaining a technology-agnostic framework on the path to net zero. And the Heavy Industry Low-carbon Transition Cooperative Research Centre stated that one of the most important roles for government would be in the establishment of new regulatory frameworks. In a recent report the Climate Change Authority described sequestration as 'a necessary part of any rapid, urgent decarbonisation' and underlined the fact that global demand would present economic opportunities for Australia.
This legislation puts us in a position to progress these ambitions. As nations across the globe and particularly in our region look to drastically and rapidly decarbonise their economies, they are looking to Australia. They are looking to our vast capacity to produce cheap, reliable, green energy, and this government is here to ensure that we harness that opportunity to become the regional green energy superpower that we have the courage to imagine we can be. This amending bill is part of that picture. It foreshadows a way in which we might become a part of a partnership with our neighbours to decarbonise. The problem is global, and the solutions are global.
In Japan, Minister Bowen stated his view that the most important thing the government could do in the area of CCS would be to provide regulatory certainty. That's what this bill is directed to. We are no longer mere observers in this monumental shift. We are no longer a country stubbornly refusing to participate on accounts of vacuous, unscientific and outdated ideologies. We are at the table making investments, signing up to international efforts and making the legislative and regulatory amendments that are required to ensure a robust regulatory environment for all possible options to progress within. Not for the first time, I commend the Minister for the Environment and Water and the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and I am proud to support this bill.