Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee; Report
I rise to make just a few brief comments on the report. I echo some of the comments from my colleagues about this being a unanimous report. It was a very wide-ranging report. We covered a lot of areas. There was certainly some thought amongst colleagues that perhaps we could have gone further in some areas, as has been said, but I think we all recognise the importance of having a unanimous report. This is probably one of the most important issues that are going to face this nation over the coming decades. One of the things that we all agreed on in the committee was the importance of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels. No matter which way you look at it—and we talk about peak oil—fossil fuels are finite. So we now need to start looking at alternative fuels: where we are going to be in the future and how we are going to deliver fuel security to the nation.
Part of that of course—and this is an issue I have spoken about in this chamber a number of times—is renewable fuels, in particular ethanol. I noted with interest that US President George Bush, in his State of the Union address, put forward their target of 35 billion gallons of renewable and alternative fuels by 2017. That is five times their current target. In this nation at the moment, our target is 350 million litres by 2010. You just cannot compare that. The only thing I can compare is the dedication and importance that the President of the United States applies to ethanol and how important that is to their nation. Indeed, it does not seem that there is the same level of confidence and dedication in this nation regarding the contribution that biofuels—in particular, ethanol—can make. It is interesting. Obviously the US has a much greater population than we have—and I take into account the fact that the targets I have mentioned are 2017 for the US and 2010 for us—but the US target is around 447 litres per person and the Australian target is around 16 litres per person. To me, that is just not good enough. We had very intensive committee hearings and the report that we put forward really showed how important it is that we get alternative fuels right.
As has been said, it is a unanimous report, though there were some areas where senators would have liked to have gone further. I am certainly in that category. I have said in this place before that the annual biofuel targets are put in place for the fuel companies to meet so that Australia can meet its target of 350 million litres by 2010. I have very strongly held the view—and I will continue to pursue it; I will not step away from this—that, if the fuel companies do not meet those annual targets, then those annual targets should be mandated. The government has a requirement and an expectation that those oil companies will improve their practice in the area of ethanol. If they do not meet those targets, this government has a responsibility to this nation to find a way to ensure they do. If we do not, we are abrogating our responsibility. It has become all the more clear since the Senate committee brought down this report that we must embrace alternative fuels. We have this alternative fuel right here in front of us—ethanol—and we are not doing enough. We need to do much more to encourage the take-up of this alternative fuel.
As my colleague Senator Milne so rightly said, this is not only about the benefits of using an alternative fuel but also about benefits for rural and regional areas, jobs and opportunities, and health benefits right around the nation, not to mention the fact that it is a cheaper fuel. People right around the country can have the benefit of using a cheaper fuel. Yet here we are with a target of 16 litres per person by 2010.
I just wanted to make those few comments. As I have said, it is very important that it was a unanimous report, because this is one of the biggest issues that this nation is going to face. Having said that, I want to place on record my very strong belief that it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that we do better in utilising ethanol for the benefit of people right around Australia.