Senate debates

Tuesday, 20 June 2006


Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee; Reference

5:14 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That the following matter be referred to the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee for inquiry and report by 31 March 2007:

Australia’s future sustainable and secure energy supply, with particular reference to:

short-, medium- and long-term greenhouse gas abatement targets and energy emissions intensity goals;
relevant existing and emerging technologies that are likely to make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions following life-cycle analysis and benchmarked against biodiversity, safety and regional security considerations;
the mix of energy supply and energy use efficiency options that could feasibly meet Australia’s energy intensity requirements;
identification of preferred energy options taking into consideration factors including, but not limited to, cost, reliability, safety, security, regional development and sustainability;
identification of policy adjustments required to stimulate energy markets to develop the preferred options at least cost; and
any other related matters.

I move this motion in the hope that the Senate will support this. The reason I believe it essential that we look at this is that we are having the most piecemeal, ad hoc energy debate in Australia and it is not serving the best interests of the country. Last year I moved a motion in the Senate that we have a Senate inquiry into Australia’s future oil supply because, once again, the government had not developed a strategy relating to future energy supplies in terms of transport fuels. Now I am doing exactly the same with regard to the broader mix of energy because the government have somehow decided that they are going to run off down the nuclear path without looking at the broad energy mix in terms of what is available, achievable and relevant for Australia.

The first thing that we need to be looking at is having an energy plan for the country and finding the whole energy mix that might meet that plan. That would be for base load energy, peaking and the whole lot. We need to have a plan for what we need for energy and electricity generation, and we need to look at our whole industry mix. There is a range of policy matters that come into this. What we are seeing is the Prime Minister simply heading off, as I said, down the nuclear energy path.

One has to ask why we are suddenly having this debate on nuclear energy. I think I can put it in a fairly straightforward way by saying that President Bush wants a nuclear fuel supply centre based in Australia to complement others around the world and he spoke to the Prime Minister about it when the Prime Minister was in Washington. The Prime Minister has come back with an agenda of expanded uranium mining, which has always been on the coalition’s agenda; the enrichment of uranium; the supply of fuel rods and enriched uranium overseas; and taking back high-level waste. This inquiry has been dressed up as an inquiry about energy security but it is nothing of the sort. It is much more about enrichment, high-level waste dumping and a subtext of Defence strategy in cooperation, as deputy sheriff, with the US than it is about energy.

So let us talk about energy. Why do we need the energy inquiry: because, if you are serious about greenhouse gas reduction, you have fewer than 15 years to do something about it. You are not going to get that with a long-term debate about nuclear energy and nuclear reactors. We need this debate and we need support for a broad-scale energy inquiry right now because Australia has the potential to lead the world in renewable energy technologies.

I can give you a couple of examples. One is geothermal energy. Pacific Hydro is currently looking at geothermal energy from the Great Artesian Basin. That is not hot rocks technology; it is traditional geothermal energy. It is using hot water from beneath the Great Artesian Basin to generate energy. They say that, on their estimates, a geothermal operation based on that energy could supply 25 per cent of base load power for the eastern states for 100 years. That potential technology is already out there right now. We also have solar thermal. The CRC for coal sustainability, in its report, came out and said that, from an area of 35 square kilometres of Australia, it could produce enough base load power for the whole country. So we already have these technologies.

Also, we have a significant problem in Australia with our economy because it is based on resources that are just being dug up and shipped overseas. Our whole economy is dependent on ongoing profits from digging up and selling overseas. That is a very vulnerable position to put the country into. The government is bragging about being economic managers, but it has wiped out the manufacturing sector. The tertiary sector is tiny. We are now back to the equivalent of riding on the sheep’s back. We are now a quarry economy.

What we would do if we had a sensible look at energy across the country would be to look at the whole mix. We would be investing in new technologies which would address greenhouse gas reduction. These new energy-efficient renewable energy technologies would also lead to sophisticated job creation in Australia. That would lead, as I said, to greater research and development, commercialisation of those developments and jobs as a result of that. That is the way we should be going in Australia.

The Prime Minister says he is worried about Australia’s energy security. He is right to be worried about our energy security, but not in the context of the Europeans. We are blessed with energy in this country. The Europeans are worried about it because Russia can cut off the gas at any time. That is why they are terrified about energy security. Australia has lots of energy options. But our security is compromised by climate change. We cannot afford to use some of our energy options. For example, we cannot afford to continue to burn coal because of the ramifications for climate change unless a technology is developed that deals with coal emissions.

This is where solar thermal comes in. It is possible with solar thermal to use coal not as a substance that you would burn in a coal-fired power station but as a chemical substance combined with solar. You can turn it into a renewable energy option for Australia. So we have plenty of options. But the government does not seem very interested in pursuing them. I simply do not understand why that is the case. Furthermore, the government is not interested in pursuing the mandatory renewable energy target or extending the time frame and the percentage in relation to that. We know that we have to achieve at least a 60 per cent greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. How are we going to get there if we do not roll out these renewable energies?

In terms of transport fuels, the Prime Minister says that the price of petrol is going up and therefore we need nuclear energy. That shows how little the Prime Minister understands about this whole debate. The issue is that petrol is a transport fuel—a fossil fuel that generates greenhouse gas emissions. Nuclear energy has nothing to do with petrol, petrol prices or transport fuels. Unless you have nuclear-powered cars—and I have not seen that anywhere—then I cannot see why you would link petrol prices with nuclear energy. It makes no sense at all.

What does make sense is looking at the transport needs of this country and saying, ‘We need to replace fossil fuels and we also need to reduce the amount of transport fuels that we use.’ That requires a mix of investment in public transport and in alternative fuels. That is not just ethanol. There is a range of alternative transport fuels, and natural gas comes into that as well as LPG as a transitional fuel. So we need to look at a whole range of things. As I said, we should not look at an ad hoc policy which has one committee running off and looking at nuclear and one committee focusing on ethanol. We need a whole industry and energy policy that is totally integrated. That is what this country requires and we have not got it.

We also need to start looking at having short-term, medium-term and long-term targets for greenhouse gas emissions and working out the energy mix that will get us to those targets. The government continues to refuse to put targets in place. Our greenhouse gas emissions are spiralling out of control. The constant claim that we are going to come in on our Kyoto target of 108 per cent (a) fails to recognise that that target was such a generous target in the first place and (b) fails to recognise that the only reason that we will come in on that target—that is, if we do come in on that target—is because of the one-off benefit of the avoided emissions as a result of stopping land clearance. It is not because we have actually done anything about our industrial or transport emissions.

We need energy efficiency: renewable energy generated from wind, solar and geothermal sources; renewable biofuels; natural gas—the whole range of technologies. I do not see where we are getting a push for that kind of comprehensive analysis of the greenhouse gas reduction target, breaking down that target into energy generation, fuel and transport emissions, and then looking at the whole mix that could meet targets in those particular sectors within a time frame and in an ecologically sustainable way.

The government’s ad hoc approach means that they will give a green tick to a biofuels factory in Darwin, but that will import palm oil from Malaysia. One of the issues with that is that palm oil plantations—and I am not saying that this is the case in relation to this particular factory—can essentially lead to deforestation in tropical areas. So you have that issue to consider. Look at what soya is doing to the Amazon: it is driving huge amounts of deforestation in the Amazon. Plus there is the issue of food security into the future. Farmers have a right to sell their crop to maximise whatever profit they can get. If it gets to the point where fuel companies are prepared to pay farmers a higher price than people are prepared to pay for food then that is what they will sell their crop for, and that will lead to displacement.

I am really dedicated to the view that what Australia needs is some strategic thinking in energy policy. That is where I would like to see this go, and that is why I am arguing strongly for government and opposition support for this motion. We need to have a good look at the whole range of energy options and not just go down ad hoc little side streets, whether it is on ethanol or nuclear. Let us look at the big picture, let us set the targets, let us work out the appropriate mix and then we will not find that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul in terms of the particular strategies that we might pursue.

5:27 pm

Photo of Kerry O'BrienKerry O'Brien (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

The opposition understood that this motion was going to proceed to a vote on formality rather than being the subject of debate, so we are a little surprised that this debate is taking place at this time. Therefore, I will be brief in confirming what we have advised the mover of the motion, Senator Milne—that is, the opposition will not be supporting this motion.

We are currently engaged in an inquiry, chaired by Senator Siewert through the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee, into aspects of the fuel chain. It is particularly inquiring into peak oil and alternative fuel sources. So, to an extent, we are already proceeding down paths that one feels would also be dealt with by the proposed inquiry.

An extensive inquiry is proposed. It would address a variety of energy issues: greenhouse gas abatement targets, existing and emerging technologies that might contribute to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the mix of energy supply, and energy use efficiency options that could feasibly meet Australia’s energy intensity requirements. Of course, some matters have been placed on the record in the inquiry before the Senate Rural and Regional Affairs and Transport References Committee which indicate that Australia is an energy rich nation. Australia is rich in coal and uranium, the solar and wind resources that are available to us are abundant and work is being done on developing technologies for carbon sequestration. That sort of evidence is already before the Senate inquiry and I expect that we will take more evidence.

Labor has of course been in the process of developing its policies in relation Australia’s energy sector and a number of contributions have been made which I would like to place on the record in the context of this debate. It is a fact that in our domestic economy both electricity and gas investor sentiment will be timid until some certainty is delivered on the question of greenhouse gas emissions, and that means signing up to Kyoto and implementing a national emissions trading system.

While it is often said that Australia’s per capita emissions of greenhouse gas are amongst the highest of all industrialised countries, we should not forget there are reasons for that. Australia’s relatively high energy intensity has to be considered in the context of the size of the country and its relatively low population density, its climate, its heavy reliance on coal for power generation and the presence of energy intensive industries which form the backbone of the nation’s productive capacity. For example, the country’s large size increases transport energy use, with the transport sector accounting for 40 per cent of the final energy consumption in Australia—and the last date I can refer to is 2003. Per unit of gross domestic product, our transport consumption is nearly 40 per cent higher than the average of the 26 International Energy Agency countries.

That does not mean there is no room for Australia to reduce its energy intensity and improve its energy efficiency. There is, and doing more to develop efficient public transport systems in urban areas and more to promote efficient vehicles and fuels is essential both economically and environmentally. Our high energy intensity does mean, however, that there are many issues to be resolved in designing a carbon allocation and trading system and particularly how to deal with our energy intensive export industries. But the need to resolve these issues is no reason to bury our heads in the sand and do nothing. The challenges ahead of us will not go away and they will be much higher than those facing us in meeting our first Kyoto target. We will simply have to be smarter about how we handle these challenges.

At the moment Mr Howard and Minister Macfarlane are doing what they do worst: they are picking technology winners. The potential cost to the economy of this approach far outweighs the ordered introduction of a market measure with policy makers setting the cost of carbon and the market participants deciding the best way to minimise it. The Kyoto protocol and the Asia-Pacific Partnership are not inconsistent strategies for dealing with global climate change. One involves binding targets for emissions coupled with the initiatives like the clean development mechanism and another involves encouraging the development and adoption of new environmentally friendly technologies and clean energy sources. They are complementary strategies. The last thing we want to do is disadvantage our energy intensive industries, many of which are already operating on a world’s best practice basis with respect to emissions. And to drive them offshore to countries with lower standards is not an end we would seek to achieve.

The reality is that to protect our own economic future we have to be part of the solution to the environmental impact of economic growth in our region dominated by China and India. It is here that the Asia-Pacific Partnership really comes into its own, offering Australia an opportunity for its own economic growth and an opportunity to be part of the solution to the environmental consequences of what is happening in our region—one of the most rapid expansions of economic activity that has occurred in world history. There are many impressive members of the partnership, including the United States and Japan and the world’s two fastest growing economies, China and India. By any measure the six countries in the Asia-Pacific Partnership—Australia, the US, Japan, China, India and South Korea—represent a regional partnership of great significance and even greater opportunity. Together they constitute 45 per cent of the world’s population, 49 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product and 48 per cent of the world’s energy consumption. By the same token, they are responsible for 48 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. As growth in energy use and related greenhouse emissions will be far steeper in China and India than anywhere else in the world for the foreseeable future, we need to bear that in mind.

This is a regional grouping of countries that, working in partnership, has within its gift the capacity to make a serious global impact on patterns of energy use and greenhouse emissions, and it is important that Australia is part of it. We are fortunate in having abundant and relatively cheap natural gas, coal seam methane and high-quality clean coal resources to meet domestic power needs today and for decades to come. Many other countries are not so fortunate. This gives Australia an enormous competitive advantage as a trading nation, providing energy resources, energy technology and energy services to the global community, in particular the Asia-Pacific region.

Let us not forget that at least 20 per cent of Australia’s exports come from energy resources, and that statistic is growing. We are already the world’s largest exporter of coal, accounting for 30 per cent of world coal trade; and we are a clean supplier, with Australian coal generally at the higher end of the quality spectrum. Around three-quarters of our coal exports go to countries within the Asia-Pacific Partnership. We supply six per cent of the world’s liquefied natural gas, currently around eight million tonnes, and this is expected to grow to more than 21 million tonnes by the end of the decade. Again, our key markets for LNG are those countries within the Asia-Pacific Partnership.

We supply almost a quarter of the world’s mined uranium and export to three countries within the partnership—Japan, the United States and South Korea. As senators will know, the government recently announced the commencement of negotiations with China towards a bilateral agreement to ensure that any Australian uranium supplied to China will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes. The federal Labor Party welcomes that announcement because if the government is serious in its desire to export uranium to China then a nuclear cooperation agreement is a critical first step. China is of course already a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is important for me to indicate that we are very keen to be involved in the debate about Australia’s future sustainable and secure energy needs. We are also keen to be involved in a debate which does not minimise Australia’s opportunities as a trading nation. We do not believe that this is the time for this inquiry. It is an inquiry which we expected would be the subject of a vote today, and we were not going to vote for it. I do wish that we had been given an indication that the matter would be debated, and so I simply seek to put those matters on the record to give some indication of Labor’s position generally on energy. We will not support this reference at this stage.

5:37 pm

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I very strongly support Senator Milne’s motion that the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee inquires into Australia’s future sustainable and secure energy supply. I am at a loss to understand Labor’s position on this. Senator O’Brien has pointed out that Australia is arguably the biggest polluter of the developed countries in terms of global heating gases, that in our region the amount of gases being put out is increasing enormously, that the Australian coal industry is the biggest supplier of coal burning in the region as well as domestically and that the post-Kyoto program is nowhere on the horizon. But the Labor Party is going to vote against an inquiry to try to move the decision makers of this country to an informed earlier decision about where we should be going, which is what Senator Milne’s motion proposes that we in the Senate do. I think that for the Labor Party, on the day it voted for uranium enrichment, to vote against an inquiry—

Photo of Kerry O'BrienKerry O'Brien (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Transport) Share this | | Hansard source

That is why we are debating it? Because we voted against it?

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I do not know whether Senator O’Brien is questioning or stating. The point I make is that on the same day the Labor Party has voted for uranium enrichment in the country it intends to vote against an inquiry into Australia’s future sustainable and secure energy supplies and the options. That is studied head-in-the-sand stuff. We are used to that from the government, but to hear that from the prospective alternative government is woeful politics. And it comes on the day we are notified that the government wants to bomb the Senate committee system—this bastion of inquiry on behalf of the public into the nation’s affairs so that we have informed democracy and review of government decisions—and remove everybody but government chairs and reduce the number of committees from 10 to six.

What an awful attack on the Senate committee system that is and what better reason could there be for voting for this inquiry while we can? Labor is saying that it will leave it for some future date. Let me tell you, the intention of the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, is to have the executive run the committee system. A future committee set up to look at this will have a government appointee effectively in charge, if Mr Howard has his way. The terms of reference will be determined by the government. And who comes and gives witness on behalf of the Australian people will also be determined by the government.

We have had a breach of trust by the Prime Minister, when he had said to Australian people: ‘This is an unexpected thing—we have control of the Senate. The government will be humble in its use of that control.’ Today he showed how rapidly he can forget commitments about humility to the Australian people with the announcement that, come August, the government will use its numbers to axe the Senate committee system as it has been working for so many years and to instead install a Clayton’s Senate committee system which the government runs from start to finish. The hubris and the arrogance of the government on this day is horrendous—it is thumbing its nose not just to democracy but to the Australian people’s support of the Senate and its great committee system, which is a model for democracy around the world. The Prime Minister is taking an axe to that and is going to use, hopefully, he would think, his numbers to get that through here in the next sitting week, which is in August. What a black day for democracy this is, with this axe wielding against the Senate because the Prime Minister got a windfall majority in here. No doubt the people of Australia will have something to say about that at the next election.

But now we have the opportunity to have a Senate inquiry, with terms of reference set by the Senate, into one of the most important issues facing the nation. Senator Milne is moving that the Environment, Communications, Information Technology and the Arts References Committee inquires into Australia’s future sustainable and secure energy supplies with particular reference to the range of important reasons why we should be doing that.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We do not have that opportunity, as you know. Regardless of what the opposition do, the government is voting against it. You know that as well as I do.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Faulkner says that regardless of what the opposition do the government has the numbers in here. Senator Faulkner, it ain’t necessarily so. There is a revolt in the government against the revolting refugee laws that the executive of the Prime Minister, the Right Hon. John Howard, has brought into this parliament, and that has come through vigorous public debate. The Labor Party needs to understand that we have to take it up to the government in this place. That is what the Senate is here for. We cannot sit back and say, ‘No, it is too hard; we will not have an inquiry into this,’ or ‘The government has the numbers in the Senate; why worry now?’ You cannot do that.

It is really important that we do use the Senate committee system not only to discover where the government is falling short but to get the information and engender the policy that is going to be right for this country into the future. The government might vote that down, because this is a very arrogant government, but now the opposition capitulate and say: ‘Why worry? Why should we bother?’ That is up to the opposition. The Greens are not doing that. That is why Senator Milne has brought forward this motion for an inquiry. She knows the work that is involved in that. She knows what an extraordinarily complex issue is being grasped here, but she also knows how vital this issue is to this nation.

We should be a world leader on this issue, not a quarry of the sort that Senator O’Brien was just talking about. We should stop talking about being a clean supplier of coal, when we know that coal, like oil, is the generator of global heating, which has enormous financial penalties and which has written into it enormous social dislocation not just for this country but for the whole planet and particularly our region. There is enormous environmental destruction already under way, but it is increasing as we go down the line. How do we hand that to our kids? How do we just say: ‘We can’t inquire into that. That’s a bit hard. That’s too difficult. The government is not going to take any notice. Whatever it might be, we will give up’? Not the Greens.

This country should be leading the world in environmental policy, in energy policy, because the two are interlinked—and so is economic policy. We should be the driving house, the cockpit, of environmental technology which exploits the solar potential of this nation that Senator Milne was talking about. We should be getting behind those fantastic technologists and scientists in this country who are already taking the lead. No; the Howard government has taken away their funding. What comes next? China will come in and buy that technology—or Germany will. It already has a stack of it. Now that the Merkel government has taken over in Germany—and I will be interested to see George Negus’s program on SBS tomorrow night about that—it appears that they are saying ditto to the Howard government proposal.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

She is a former environment minister, Angela Merkel.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, she is a former environment minister, but—

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I’m not saying anything else except that she is a former environment minister.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, but she is not of your quality when it comes to being an environment minister, I can tell you.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

We are on a unity ticket on that.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

So what happens over there? Big business says, ‘Let’s get into nuclear,’ even though in Germany it is more expensive than wind power in 2006. Germany, which has led the world in environmental technological innovation and the export of that technology in the last decade, is about to drop the baton. We should be picking it up. What a great opportunity for this wonderful nation of ours. How well placed we are to be the world leaders, to confront this monstrous spectre of global heating—which hangs across the future of our kids, our grandkids and their kids—and to make a profit out of it and be proud of it. That is what Senator Milne’s motion says: let us grasp this; let us get together the best information in Australia, and elsewhere if necessary, as a guide to where Australian governments should be in the next years, if not decades. Let us understand what is the best energy potential that Australia could be taking up at this time.

But the government is going to vote against it, and, guess what? The opposition says, ‘We are, too.’ I am flabbergasted by that. I find it incomprehensible, but there you go. I congratulate Senator Milne on bringing this motion forward. It is not only a good motion; it is an extremely important search for information, solutions, advantage and prosperity for this nation’s future. I appeal to the opposition to think again and I appeal to the government to think again as well.

5:49 pm

Photo of Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray (WA, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

I seek leave to incorporate Senator Allison’s speech.

Leave granted.

5:50 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

The incorporated speech read as follows—

Climate change and our energy future is a serious economic, social and environmental issue for Australia.

According to leading scientists, a 4°C rise could result in thousands of deaths in Australia each year from heat-related diseases, a 148% increase in bushfires, a rise in the frequency of natural disasters and the loss of our treasured natural icons, such as the great barrier reef, Kakadu wetlands and the upland forests in Australia’s Wet Tropics, as well as our alpine habitats. More than 16,000 species of animals and plants are at risk of disappearing, including one in four mammals and one in eight birds. There will be less rainfall, higher evaporation and increased drought, resulting in more strain on our rivers and dams, reduction in agriculture production and increased food prices.

While the Government have only recently admitted that climate change is happening and has serious consequences for Australia and the planet, the Australian Democrats have been campaigning on this issue for years.

In May 2001, the Senate tabled the Democrat chaired report The Heat is on: Australia’s Greenhouse Future, which reported on the progress and adequacy of Australia’s policies to reduce global warming. This report was critical of the lack of action to date, and made 106 recommendations in areas of transport, emissions trading, carbon and the land, energy use and supply, climate change and Kyoto.

Three years later the Government released its Energy White Paper (EWP) in 2004. The Energy White Paper set out the Government’s strategy for Australia’s future energy development. As with White Papers in general, it was a declaration of intent, or a blueprint, of how future energy goals will be met.

A senate committee examined the budgetary and environmental implications of the Government’s Energy White Paper. Tabled in 2005 the Democrat chaired report Lurching Forward, Looking Back, found that the plan outlined in the Energy White Paper did not go far enough and lacks a viable time-frame for success.

The report found that the Energy White Paper did not contain effective planning for the future needs of the Australian community in energy supply, greenhouse gas emission reductions or alternative renewable energy development.

Specifically the report argued that energy related emissions are increasing at an alarming rate, yet there are no expressed policies in the Energy White Paper that will address this issue and rein in emissions.

The report made a small number of achievable recommendations, none of which have been implemented.

Now fast forward to 4 June 2006.

The Prime Minister proclaims that he will shortly announce a review on nuclear energy. He states and I quote “Concerns about climate change and greenhouse gas emissions, the rising costs of energy and the possible availability of a cheaper source of fuel, will form the basis of our arguments for this debate.”

Nuclear energy was not a consideration in the Government’s energy white paper tabled two years earlier.

Now suddenly after a visit with US President George Bush the Prime Minister is talking about nuclear power.

Now some may say I am being cynical, but it is hard not to be cynical.

Because once we saw the terms of reference for the nuclear inquiry it became obvious that the Prime Minister was not so interested in nuclear power or greenhouse gas abatement. No. Rather the terms of references suggest that the Prime Minister is more interested in making money, and dirty money at that.

This inquiry is about convincing Australians that we should expand uranium mining and enrich uranium.

The Prime Minister told media that and I quote “Australia holds up to 40 of the world’s known low-cost, recoverable uranium reserves and there is significant potential for Australia to increase and add value to our uranium extraction and exports”, and “I’ve always maintained that holding the reserve of uranium that we do, it is foolish to see ourselves as simply an exporter of uranium.”

We also read last Friday that the Government’s Uranium Industry Framework had expanded its terms of reference.

It is clear that expanding uranium mines, enriching the uranium, sending the enriched uranium to China and India for leasing, and then bringing back the waste is the first part of Prime Minister Howard’s plan.

The crucial factor the Prime Minister has conveniently ignored is that uranium mining and enrichment generates significant greenhouse emissions. Uranium enrichment in the US alone (where 20% of electricity is generated from nuclear power) releases 14 million tonnes of CO2 pa.

Uranium enrichment also produces a massive amount of chemical waste. For every tonne of natural uranium mined and enriched for use in a nuclear reactor, gives about 130 kg of enriched fuel, leaving 870 kg of waste. The bulk (96%) of the byproduct from enrichment is depleted uranium (DU), for which there are few applications; the United States Department of Energy alone has 470,000 tonnes in store. There is about 1.2 million tonnes of DU now stored around the world.

The Prime Minister’s plan also includes taking back high-level nuclear waste, possibly including US nuclear weapons waste, and making Australia the nuclear waste dump of the world. So not only will we end up with millions of tonnes of chemical waste from enrichment, but we will have high-level long-lived waste from nuclear power plants around the world. The Government can’t even safely store Australia’s current production of waste from Lucas Heights and from medical uses.

The PM’s suggestion that exporting non-enriched uranium is analogous to exporting wool as a raw product is outrageous to say the least.

Turning wool into knitted garments doesn’t leave a pile of intractable waste behind. In any case, the Government, in ten years has been unable to stem the loss of a textile industry here, or to build markets for wool in the face of synthetics.

The Democrats are not opposed to having the nuclear power debate, primarily because we know that empirical evidence shows that nuclear power is not economically, socially and environmentally acceptable as a means to address climate change.

However, we are opposed to a nuclear power debate in the absence of looking at other energy sources.

The Democrats believe that the Prime Minister is misleading people with his narrow ‘debate’ on nuclear power.

Ignoring other energy sources assumes nuclear power is the only option to address climate change.

The Prime Minister claims that he is interested in a mature debate and not to have and I quote “such a stupidly emotional debate about it”.

Besides the fact that I object to the Prime Minister referring to anyone who puts up facts and figures that opposes his views as “stupidly emotional”, I would argue that the Prime Minister himself has failed to provide the Australian public with a “mature debate”.

The Democrats and others believe that the debate on nuclear power must be within the broader energy debate, or real issue of finding the cleanest and safest way to massively reduce greenhouse gas emissions will be lost.

This is why we support the Greens motion to examine Australia’s future sustainability and secure energy supply.

As outlined in the terms of reference, the Government needs to consider the short, medium, and long-term greenhouse gas abatements targets and goals.

While the Government has finally started recognising that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Australia by 60% levels by 2050, rather than act now, this Government seems to be deliberately delaying action in the hope that nuclear and or so called clean coal will be our saviour.

It is not possible for a nuclear power industry or clean coal technology to be developed in time to combat climate change.

It would take 10 to 15 years for nuclear power to be generated. US reactors commissioned in the 1970’s took 20 years with ongoing delays.

And it would take equally similar time to establish operational and economically viable clean coal technology.

What are the Government’s plans in the short-term?

The joint ACF and business roundtable for climate change report The Business Case for Early Action showed that if action on climate change is delayed it becomes more expensive for business and the wider Australian economy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The report concluded that you need long-term inspirational goals coupled with short-term binding targets as a milestone. That we need to accelerate efforts to manage energy and reduce emissions – not stall them.

The joint WWF and gas industry report Options for Moving Towards a Lower Emissions Future showed that costs can be minimised by immediately setting an emissions target, that results can be achieved with today’s electricity generation technology and knowledge about energy efficiency, and that the cost would be between $0.43 - $2 week per person each year to 2030. The report again emphasised the importance of setting targets.

We also need to look at the mix of energy supply that could feasibly meet Australia’s energy intensity requirements. As I mentioned before nuclear power and clean coal technology would not be viable for another 15 – 20 years.

We need to be looking now at mix of energy options.

Renewable energy already supplies 19% of the world’s electricity, compared to nuclear’s 16%.

Around the world the rate of increase in renewables is nearly 30 percent for wind, 20 percent for solar, and only 0.6 percent for nuclear.

The UN Governmental Panel on Climate change have stated the renewable energy could meet most of the of the world’s energy demand by 2100.

AGL, Frontier Economics and WWF-Australia undertook a pragmatic economic evaluation of how to using low and zero greenhouse gas emission electricity generating technology to achieve a realistic target by 2030 consistent with the greenhouse gas reductions advocated by climate scientists.

Australia has the perfect climate and geography to support a big increase in renewable energy, and combined with gas, could better meet our energy needs in the future than expensive nuclear power with all its serious waste, security and de-commissioning problems.

Cost is another key component of the energy renewable debate. Evidence, including the recent report commissioned by ANSTO, shows that a nuclear power industry is expensive, and is not viable without Government subsidies.

We already know nuclear power can be as cheap as coal if the cost of storing the waste or decommissioning the reactor is not taken into account. We also know that coal is currently cheaper than wind and solar but only because the cost of CO2 emissions is ignored.

Research shows that every dollar spent on nuclear power is diverting private and public investment from cheaper and cleaner markets such as renewable sources. A proper inquiry must take into account all the costs.

Issues such as reliability, safety and security must also be taken into account.

Waste storage is still a huge headache for the big nuclear power generators and cannot be said to be either safe or acceptable to the public.

Annually about 12,000 to 14,000 tonnes of spent fuel are produced by power reactors worldwide.

Not a single depository exists anywhere in the world for the disposal of high level waste from nuclear power. This is waste that is radioactive for hundreds and thousands of years.

The recent leaks at Lucas Heights demonstrated the risks of dealing with any part of the nuclear cycle. No worksite or workplace is free from accidents and accidents do happen.

Let’s not forget Chernobyl and its estimated 270,000 cancer and 93,000 fatal cancer cases or the 200,000 deaths in Russia, the Ukraine and Belarus or the billion dollar costs of relocating people and abandoning farmland.

And more modern nuclear power stations are not accident free either.

In the past 6 years nuclear reactor accidents have led to life threatening radioactive exposure in the Tokai-mura facility and Onagawa facility in Japan, and Dounreay and Sellafield in the UK.

This is not scaremonger, these are facts.

The Government also needs to seriously identify policy adjustments required to stimulate clean energy markets.

For example while renewable energy markets are increasing around the rest of the developed world Australia currently gets only 8 percent of its electricity from renewable energy down from 10 percent in 1999 due to increases in coal fired power. This is much lower than the 12 percent promised by the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets. Investment in renewable energy will now stall from 2007 because the Government refuses to expand the Mandatory Renewable Energy Targets.

In refusing to sign Kyoto Australia has also missed out on being part of a global emissions trading scheme. The Australian Greenhouse Office developed an emission trading system years ago which sat gathering dust while our emissions soared.

Action is needed now. There are immediate solutions in existing renewable technology, gas and energy efficiency. The Democrats believe that renewable energy technologies are more efficient than nuclear, are clean, abundant, generate no toxic waste, no terrorist potential, and are a much more realistic and economic proposition for greenhouse reduction.

If the Prime Minister wants a mature debate then let’s have all the cards on the table, including alternatives to nuclear power. Let’s have a broad energy inquiry so Australians can judge for themselves whether nuclear is the way to go or the debate is yet another Government excuse for failing to tackle greenhouse emissions.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise, very briefly, to address some of the issues that have been canvassed in this debate. I hear what Senator Brown has said. As a backbench Labor senator I am not involved in the key decision-making processes which lead the opposition to determine how it might approach the many and varied committee references that come before the chamber. I can assure the Senate that these issues are thoroughly considered and examined. I know that from my previous experience, having been involved in that sort of consideration over very many years.

What I do know is that no committee reference will succeed in this place, will be agreed to in this place, if the government does not support it. What I also know is that no select committee will be established in this place to inquire into a matter of importance unless the government agrees to such a proposal. That is a fact of life. That has been a fact of life since 1 July 2005. It has been the situation in this chamber now for almost one long, hard year that these references, these proposals, whatever their merits, are not going to be agreed to unless the government decides that it approves of such proposals.

We also understand, from what has been said, that changes to the committee system of this place have been flagged by the government. I do not have the detail of that proposal. I think Senator Bob Brown knows a little more about this than I do, but I will find out about it because I know that the current paired committee system of legislation and references committees was agreed to by this chamber as a result of a proposal that I put—a motion that I moved—and, I would like to think, is strongly supported in this chamber. Of course it was also supported by the opposition of the day. I will examine those issues in greater detail when I am aware of the proposal that Senator Brown has flagged to this committee. Of course, Senator Brown, if what you say is correct and proposals have been flagged to change the committee system and they are as wide-ranging as you are suggesting—

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Bob Brown interjecting

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I accept what you are saying. You are not in the habit of misleading the Senate. I do not always agree with what you say, but you are not in the habit of deliberately misleading the Senate. But if what you say is the case, the committee that Senator Brown and Senator Milne propose for this reference to go to may not even exist in a few weeks. These are important issues for us to give detailed consideration to in the chamber. I am hoping the information that Senator Brown has reported to us is wrong.

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

They are reducing them.

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am hoping that the information you have reported to us is wrong, because if it is right it is a scandalous proposition that will have a massive impact on scrutiny and accountability of federal government in this nation. It will have a massive impact on the capacity of the Senate to scrutinise the actions of government. Frankly, that is what this Senate ought to be all about. That is the core business of the Senate: review, scrutiny, accountability. So I hope what Senator Brown said is wrong—and we will find out about that in due course.

But I cannot let go the suggestion that this matter, like any committee reference, is in the hands of the opposition. It is not. It is in the hands of the government. Every reference proposed here, every inquiry proposed here and every order of the Senate proposed here is in the hands of the government. It is not in the hands of the opposition. We do not like having to say this, but our votes on these sorts of issues actually do not matter. There are 39 votes on the other side of the chamber and they are the ones that are going to deliver or not deliver this particular proposal, like every other that comes before the chair.

5:56 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I regret that the government has not even had the courtesy to indicate why it intends to vote against this reference. I regard this as a strategically critical issue for Australia. Those senators who have been aware of my involvement in putting the oil inquiry to the Senate and getting the government to agree to it and then in the conduct of that inquiry will know that the inquiry has been extremely strategic in what it is doing. It attracted more than 150 submissions. Out of that inquiry we will start to get some real understanding of Australia’s future oil supply needs. Even today we have had figures come out that show the appalling shift in Australia’s importing of oil and our failure to have a strategy to move rapidly toward the reduction in transport fuels, the reduction of imported oils and the expansion of biofuels, alternative energies and so on.

My thinking here is not party political; it is strategic. I am trying to say that we have to stop ad hoc policies and we have to start having integrated policies that look at an industry policy, an employment policy, an energy policy and an environment policy that come together. Climate change is the most critical security issue. It is the biggest threat to our way of life. I said on budget night that the government has completely missed the main game in refusing to address either climate change or oil depletion in its budget. They are the two biggest issues facing Australia, and the government completely avoided them—they were not even noted in the budget. It is interesting that the budget has disappeared without a trace and the issues that are on the agenda right now are energy and oil. Pick up any newspaper, and you will see issues of energy security, climate change, sustainable energy sources into the future, oil depletion and associated costs, city planning, congestion and the need for investment in public transport.

We are getting a knee-jerk reaction to all of those issues. This country needs to ask itself this fundamental question: what does Australia consider to be dangerous, anthropogenic climate change? That is first question this country has to answer. If the answer to that is 1½ or two degrees, which is what the scientists are telling us that we are facing, then we have to put in place the strategies that not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions but, hopefully, generate jobs and a better quality of life for people in Australia. That requires extensive planning and thinking about the way our cities operate. It requires moving people onto public transport. It requires energy efficiency targets. We need to improve people’s health through increased access to bicycle ways, walkways et cetera in cities. We need all of those kinds of things.

We also need to look at the fact that we are losing jobs overseas. We have had Roaring 40s say that they are going to have to invest in China and other overseas places. Why? Because China has a 15 per cent renewable energy target and Australia does not have one. Roaring 40s have gone to China and will do no further development in Australia. Let me take another example: Novera Energy, which does waste to energy and landfill gas, moved to the UK. Seapower Pacific, which was looking at tidal power, has gone overseas. Let me give you another example: Dr Shi, Australia’s solar billionaire, is investing in China and making money and jobs in China, not in Australia.

Then we go to ANU sliver cell technology. They have a technology that reduces the cost of solar by 75 per cent. That is a mega breakthrough. We should be commercialising that and running it out all over Australia. We do not need nuclear power. The point of setting up a committee with these terms of reference was to look at sustainable and secure energy supplies. There is nothing more sustainable than the sun. It is the sustainable energy supply for this planet, and Australia is blessed with the nature of its solar resource. We have a secure and sustainable energy option for this country if we were to go with renewables, but we need a much more comprehensive energy policy.

Senator O’Brien said a moment ago that Labor would not tolerate energy intensive industries being driven offshore to places with lower standards. What he may not realise is that there are very few places with lower standards. We are getting to the point of having some of the lowest standards in the world. China, for example, has now set fuel efficiency standards for its vehicles that Australian cars would not meet. So it is no use signing an Australia-China trade agreement and expecting that we might be able to export cars to China because our fuel efficiency standards are not as high as theirs. They are moving rapidly, as are most other countries in the world. What we have to do is set high standards and expect our industries to meet them.

That is why I have moved this motion. We need to not only require Australia’s energy intensive industries to have a mandatory audit of energy efficiency opportunities but require them to implement the findings of that audit provided there is a payback period of one to two years. That is not very great—that is a very easy step for them to take. I put that point of view with regard to accelerated depreciation.

That is why I am saying that there needs to be an integrated industry, energy, employment and environment strategy. We need to look at all those things and ask: what is the energy mix that will be sustainable into the longer term, that will give us energy security, that will create the most jobs in Australia and that will be ecologically sustainable? If you ask those questions, you will start to get a reasonable mix. By setting higher standards, you get innovation and technology improvement, and then you will get greater opportunities in the manufacturing sector and more high-range jobs in the R&D sector and in universities. The whole thing breeds of itself.

That is why I have said previously that we should regard our coal and uranium resources as competitive disadvantages: because they blind us to the opportunities that could be generated by setting a strategic industry policy and asking, ‘Where will Australia’s competitive advantage be in the 21st century in a carbon constrained world?’ Let us develop an energy and transport policy mix—an industry mix—that addresses all of those things. That is what I was seeking to do with this inquiry.

We need to have the debate first about what we consider to be dangerous anthropogenic climate change. When we answer that question, we must ask how we are going to pay for the changes that are necessary and set up the relevant regulatory frameworks and incentives to make that happen. Then we have to ask how we are going to address that challenge locally, regionally, nationally and globally in terms of Asia-Pacific and overseas trade. That is the kind of strategic thinking that we need to be doing. It is no use for the minister to stand up time and time again and say, ‘By 2050, we need a 60 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases,’ when there is no strategy for achieving that. Yes, there are various initiatives. There is the Solar Cities program, for example. But at the same time the rebate for solar hot water has been taken away. There is no comprehensive, integrated strategy.

The government, in observing the work that I and Senator Siewert—who chaired that committee—have done with the oil inquiry, would recognise that we have been dedicated to the task of trying, without politicking, to get some strategic thinking and planning happening with regard to the issues of transport fuels, sustainability, jobs growth and innovation in Australia. That is what I was asking for from the government with this proposal: a Senate inquiry looking at energy efficiency and the capacity for demand side reduction in Australia, along with how we can meet our energy needs into the future—the supply side. It would also look at what the costs are and what the target is that we are trying to meet. We are going to end up at next year’s Australian federal election with the Australian people not knowing what the challenge ahead of us is in terms of greenhouse gas reductions—they are simply not going to know.

The tragedy is that some scientists are saying that it is already too late and that we cannot mitigate dangerous climate change but are now going to have to adapt to it. Others are saying that we have 15 years. That is why I have no patience with the nuclear debate. Nuclear, if used for electricity—which only represents 39 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions anyway—would not come on stream for 10 to 15 years, and that is too late. We need action tomorrow, but there is no point in taking action unless you have a strategic plan and an integrated mix of policies. Climate change should have made every legislator—every parliamentarian—recognise that the environment is not just a side issue; it is an everyday issue.

It is about the quality of life of Australians. It is about Australia’s coastal regions potentially being flooded through extreme storm events or sea level rise. We have extreme droughts. We have all sorts of problems coming down the line in the aquaculture industry because of warming waters and with the natural fisheries industry because of overfishing and changed patterns in where fish are because of changed ocean currents. We have a slowing down of the global ocean conveyor. We have acidification of the Southern Ocean. We already have disease in Australia, with more people dying because of heat related stress. We have the potential for alien invasive species changing their habitat range because of climate change.

In Orange last year, we had for 10 days temperatures of over 45 degrees and they had to evacuate the nursing home. We have infrastructure that cannot cope in the changed circumstances. We have huge challenges. We have Queensland assessing its schools to see if they all need airconditioning because it is too hot now for students to be at school and that means a huge energy requirement. If you are going to put airconditioning in those schools, you need to link it with an energy source. In South Australia we have the Roxby Downs uranium mine, which needs a desalination plant. How are they going to fuel that? There is the potential to use geothermal, but they could just use gas or coal.

These are the kinds of strategic issues Australia has to face. I am really sorry that the government has, once again, failed to grasp the opportunity to have the Senate work as it should—that is, to come together, cross-party, to look at the strategic issues facing Australia and to try to come up with ways of addressing them. Let me tell you that out there in the community people are prepared to make changes because of climate change. The community is way ahead of the government on this whole issue of energy, climate, innovation, environment, and future strategy and policy. That is why I think Australia needs an integrated industry and energy policy that will take us into the 21st century in a sustainable way and in a way that allows for human potential in Australia to be adequately achieved, instead of a way that sees people leaving the country because innovation is occurring offshore. Germany and Japan have built a solar industry. China is moving rapidly towards renewables. We are seeing it all over the world, except here in Australia.

I recognise that the government is going to vote this motion down. I still do not understand why the opposition is going to vote against this inquiry. I understand that at the whips meeting yesterday it was made clear that we were going to debate this today, so I cannot understand how that message did not get to Senator O’Brien but apparently it did not. However, this is an attempt to deal with greenhouse gas emissions in a logical and strategic way. It is an attempt to ask the big picture questions and then start to address the integrated mix of employment, industry, ecology and energy into the future. That is not something that we are currently seeing. It is regrettable that the government will not even stand up and explain itself. The government has no industry policy and no energy policy for Australia. It has no employment policy for Australia, and it most certainly does not have a climate change or integrated environment policy for Australia which recognises the great threat of climate change.

We have Al Gore with his film An Inconvenient Truth making a huge impact in the United States and, hopefully, around the world. We are seeing big business shifting. Australian business is begging the government for a carbon signal—to put a price on carbon, to go with an emissions trading system, to look at a carbon tax for transport fuels, in particular, and to look at the mix you might get with those regulatory frameworks and incentives. But the government is turning its back. It seems only interested in digging holes in the ground—that is the industry sector that the government seems intent on staying with. It is a 1788 policy. It is sheep’s back, holes in the ground, quarry policy.

We need a sophisticated energy, industry, environment and employment policy, and that is what the Greens are asking for with this inquiry. It is tragic to see that we are not going to get the support for it, and there is no alternative in place. Neither the government nor the opposition have any propositions in place to have this issue addressed. When people look back on this period of government, they are going to see Australia’s failure to recognise that the world had shifted to carbon constraint and that that offered threats and opportunities for Australia. But Australia has completely neglected the opportunities. It has said that it was too hard and that it would do its old industry friends at the big end of town out of business.

The response was not to challenge that, which is a false assumption, but to go with it and leave Australia vulnerable, leave our economy vulnerable and not resilient, and leave our community extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. We have to accept the fact that, when we were asked to rise to the occasion in terms of global responsibility for dealing with the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, Australia did not have a government in power that was intelligent enough to absorb the extent of the challenge that faces this country right now. I regret the responses from the other parties. I appreciate the fact that the Democrats are supporting this inquiry, and I would ask people to reconsider as the vote is taken.

Question put:

That the motion (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.