Senate debates

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Bills

Landholders' Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013; Second Reading

11:11 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I also rise to support the Landholders’ Right to Refuse (Gas and Coal) Bill 2013. I am very proud of the leadership shown by Senator Waters in bringing this to the Senate, because this is exactly where this type of bill needs to be debated.

As a Tasmanian I have a really simple proposition to put to the Senate today. My colleagues have done a very good job of explaining the risks of coal seam gas to farming communities and to the environment. Tasmania is a bit different in the sense that we have not had any coal seam gas exploration. However, six months ago we had official applications put in, through the state government, for exploration for shale gas—which of course is a little bit different from coal seam gas but which nevertheless has also been dogged by significant problems and community division in countries like America and Canada where shale gas is more common.

I am not going to dwell on going through the risks; they have been very well covered today. The proposition I want to put here today is that Tasmania just does not need coal seam gas. It really does not need it. It is not that it just does not need the conflict or the threats to what is the best asset in my state—that is, some of the richest soils with some of the highest rainfall in the country. Our competitive advantage is around our agricultural industry, and this will cause division and fear in our communities. But Tasmania does not need it because 86 per cent of our power generated in Tasmania is renewable and because it is very achievable for us, in the next six years, to reach 100 per cent renewable.

Apart from Iceland this is a unique proposition for my state, and a proposition that we can take and develop around our brand—our clean, green and clever brand. We hear those terms used often but I would like to highlight for the Senate today that those words were first coined by the Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Christine Milne: clean, green and clever. Those words are often quoted, but they are absolutely critical to the brand of my state. Because we are an island on the bottom of Australia and close to the bottom of the world, we need advantages and we need to trade on those advantages. The fact that we are close to being 100 per cent renewable is pretty special and pretty unique.

The history of this comes from hydro-electric power. Of course, that hasn't been without its controversies in the past. I recognise here today that unintended consequences are something that we deal with in our society, and certainly something parliamentarians deal with.

We now have a situation where we have a state owned enterprise, Hydro Tasmania, that owns the assets and the generation of power from hydro. They have also invested significantly in other types of renewable energy generation, such as in very large wind farms—including potentially the biggest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere, on King Island, a $2 billion project that will generate a significant proportion of this country's renewable energy if it goes ahead. There is also research and development going into areas like tidal power in places like Flinders Island and the Tamar Valley, where I live. I know some of the PhD students at the Australian Maritime College who are working on these projects.

This is innovation around clean tech and clean energy. This is the future of Tasmania. Why are we even contemplating letting in exploration companies that, I must say, look like penny dreadfuls to me? I should be careful about that term, because I used to be a stockbroker. They do look like very small companies with very low share prices. I cannot help thinking about the opportunistic grab to try to find gas buried deep below the beautiful fields of Tasmania—a very isolated place a long way from gas markets.

This brings me to the next question I want to raise, and I would like to answer it too. Do we have gas already in Tasmania? It is a bit of a sordid history. Babcock & Brown built a gas fired power station, the Tamar Valley power station—sometimes referred to as the Bell Bay Power Station—over a decade ago. Because Babcock & Brown ran into financial troubles, that station was purchased by the Tasmanian government for around $100 million. It is not currently operational, and there have been rumours that it has not been operational for some time. Official statements I could find this morning, from Hydro Tasmania, were that it 'stands in operational readiness'. In other words it is a backup power station. But to get gas to that power station it cost $400 million to build a pipeline under the ocean, from Victoria into Tasmania. That $400 million pipeline was recently sold for half that price—$200 million.

In Tasmania we face a situation where we actually have the potential for a surplus of power. Because we still have one or two large users of hydro-electric power in Tasmania, like the Comalco operation in Bell Bay, we face a very significant risk that these types of operations are going to shut down, and it is only a matter of time before they do. They have done so recently in Victoria—in Geelong—and Comalco's refinery in Bell Bay is one of the oldest in the country. We will have a significant surplus of power.

So at this critical juncture my state faces the issue of what to do with the power. How do we sell it? How do we capitalise on this advantage? These are all big decisions that have been looked at strategically by the state government and no doubt by many senators in this chamber. So why are we even contemplating opening up access to a new source of energy and gas that we do not need? It will be very difficult to sell in Tasmania and overseas. The tyranny of distance just happens to be a geographical fact in my state. More importantly, we are very close to being 100 per cent renewable.

I would like to take the opportunity today to commend my state colleagues, in particular Cassy O'Connor, recently a minister in the Labor/Greens government. Under her four years as a minister in government she instituted what was called Climate Smart Tasmania: A 2020 Climate Change Strategy. It is the most comprehensive plan by any Australian government to reduce carbon emissions and help communities adapt to climate change and issues around climate change. It has been built on nearly a decade of careful research and consultation. It aims to eliminate the use of dirty fossil fuels, which includes gas from coal seam or shale. Our dirty fossil fuel usage is about 14 per cent of our energy.

In the last four years, Cassy's department has put up more than 80 strategies on public transport, new energy ratings for buildings, carbon farming initiatives and forest sequestration, including a lot of significant research into carbon farming through the University of Tasmania and other research institutions. So we are making real progress in Tasmania.

We have also invested around $18 million to provide energy efficiency upgrades to nearly 10,000 low-income homes in Tasmania. I am also proud to say we have rolled out a state initiative to help farmers have access to renewable energy projects, such as solar panels. It is remarkable how just a few simple energy-efficiency tweaks can make a major difference to a family or to a community's health and happiness. It also has the potential in the future to significantly reduce power costs and power bills.

But, once again, you need incentives in place for renewable energy. You need incentives in place to generate energy efficiency schemes. These incentives have to be provided by strong leadership to transition our economy into a low-emissions future and to reduce the impacts of climate change, not just in Tasmania but also nationally. We have discussed this in this chamber this week ad nauseam.

I am very proud that my party nationally and at state level—and it cannot be disputed—has been the party that has been pushing this transition in our economy. The Clean Energy Australia Report said that in Tasmania renewable energy or clean tech was estimated to produce 2,000 new jobs in my state, which desperately needs new jobs and new employment. This was also backed up by the Climate Institute, who said that the renewable energy sector would generate thousands of jobs.

Not only do we need strong signals like a price on carbon and all the schemes in the clean energy package that are bringing on the structural change that creates jobs, creates innovation and drives research into new areas but also we need to think about the environment, because the two go together. Trying to bring a dirty, divisive and totally unnecessary new industry into my state should not be contemplated. I am very grateful to Senator Waters for bringing this bill on today and giving me the chance to talk about a very optimistic view of Tasmania's clean energy future and why we do not need shale gas.

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