Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport Committee; Report
I also rise in general agreement with this report, but I emphasise the issue outlined on page 131:
7.59 The committee does not consider that there is any point at this time in mandating a minimum percentage of ethanol in petrol.
I want to emphasise this. It was stated by the Prime Minister of this nation at the East Asia Summit, along with the other nations at the conference, that ethanol is not the panacea but a large part of the path forward in the non-fossil fuel world. And it has to be grasped with both hands. There were endorsements by China, India, Japan, Thailand, Australia and Indonesia. They all agreed in unison. It was one of the only things they actually got out of that conference. They all agreed that it is something that they should all move forward with. A lot of those countries are going to have to import ethanol, so there is no vested interest on their behalf. We also heard from Senator Nash that the President of the United States, in his State of the Union address, announced a biorenewable target of 132 billion litres.
In this nation about 60 per cent of our trade deficit is due to the importation of fuel. You just cannot do that. You cannot put on the credit card a fundamental of day-to-day life. It is costing us about $1 billion a month. You just cannot progress down that path. We have to be more decisive in how we move forward in rolling out ethanol. Or we can throw up our hands and say that we are completely and utterly unique in the world. We are the only part of the world that does not think it is important. It would be peculiar, since we could be one of the greatest beneficiaries of it.
What stands between the Australian citizen, the Australian farmer and Australian regional areas and the wealth that can be generated by a biorenewable fuel industry? Unfortunately, it is one thing: the major oil companies. The major oil companies are running the agenda. The agenda should be taken off them and put back in the hands of the Australian people. I make that statement quite clearly, because on their own targets, as pitiful as they are—350 million litres by 2010, or 0.7 per cent as opposed to 20 per cent in the United States—the oil companies have fallen tragically short. In fact, I think they have only achieved about half of what they should have.
So they are pulling our chain. We have got to wake up to this and send a clear signal that, if they want to do business in our nation, there are some requirements that they must meet. We have tried the voluntary ‘Let’s all have a love-in and agree on something’ approach and it has not worked. Now is the time to move forward with a mandate. A mandate on ethanol is a statement about the authority of this government and its ability to have its word listened to; a mandate on ethanol represents a target that is not the panacea but is part of a suite of measures that take us into this new territory of post peak oil production; a mandate is something that actually delivers wealth back to regional areas—and that is so vitally important.
There is nothing sadder than seeing people who took government grants to produce ethanol plants now handing them back—not because the product is unviable but because no-one will buy it. And who is the no-one? The oil companies. Why? There is an inherent oligopoly in the market and they are exercising their power, discriminating against not just farmers but Australian citizens in general.
I hope that this report is endorsed. It is great to see that within this chamber all senators can come to a common viewpoint, whether from the Greens, the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, the Democrats or the National Party. There is a point of agreement. Now that we have a point of agreement—a belief and an ethos—let us pursue that ethos. That ethos must include ethanol. It is the canary in the coalmine. If you cannot get anywhere with ethanol, do not get your hopes up for any other sort of renewable fuel. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.