Tuesday, 27 February 2007
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Minchin. Given the Prime Minister’s statements that solar thermal technology cannot provide baseload power and, on the other hand, that the pre- and post-combustion carbon capture and storage of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power stations will provide baseload power and save jobs in the power stations in the Hunter Valley within 15 years, will the minister confirm that the Prime Minister or the government has research to underpin these statements? Will he make public the figures, plans or modelling that underpin where and how it is envisaged that pre and post carbon capture and storage will be implemented within 15 years in the Hunter Valley when no suitable geological storage structures exist?
The interest of the Greens in renewable energy is acknowledged. Indeed, I would ask the Greens to acknowledge the extent to which the government has poured considerable resources into the advance in research in renewable technologies in this country—and recently we applied a significant amount of money to a solar power station in Victoria. But it is quite clear, and I am sure the Greens would acknowledge this, that baseload power to run factories around the country and homes and to provide on tap the sort of electricity which Australians now require is really only possible, without greenhouse gas emissions, from nuclear and clean coal. That is the advice from the Chief Scientist to the government: that, in terms of the known technologies and what is capable of producing baseload power for this country, you only have available to you clean coal—and we welcome the fact that the Labor Party have now come on board in relation to clean coal and made it clear that they intend, if in government, to put more resources into clean-coal research. That has been the emphasis that we have placed on this for many years, that one of the keys to the control of greenhouse gas emissions has got to be clean coal research. The other is of course nuclear. There are many countries around the world relying on nuclear power and not producing any greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence. Again, the Greens are like the Labor Party and, while I am not allowed to use the ‘h’ word, can I say both parties—
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Milne’s question was specifically about solar thermal as a real option. If the minister does not understand, has no idea about it and has no knowledge about it at all, he should say so; otherwise he should answer the question.
Mr President, I am just reporting on the advice to the government—and I think it is widely accepted—that, of the known technologies available to a country like Australia to produce near zero or zero emissions power at baseload level, we are looking to clean coal and nuclear. We are happy to see research in relation to solar thermal, and I gather there is a fair bit of research going on. I think Senator Campbell was involved in ensuring that the Australian government supported research on that source of power, but the advice to me is that it is certainly not proven that solar thermal is capable at this stage of providing the sort of baseload power which Australia would require. As I was saying before being rudely interrupted, I am not allowed to use the ‘h’ word, but the Greens are as guilty as the Labor Party of being two-faced on this question in scaremongering on the issue of climate change but ruling out the most significant known source of baseload power with respect to nuclear power, being the only available alternative source of zero emissions power.
Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The point of order is that the minister was asked about whether the government had done any research to back up their ideological statements. So rather than have him continuing with his ideological statements and accepting there is no research done, I ask you, Mr President, to draw the minister’s attention to the question, which was about whether he has got any research to back up the claptrap he is trying to feed us.
Mr President, on that score the greatest claptrap has come from the Greens, who want to close down Australia’s coal industry and put thousands of Australians out of work. The most inane policy I have ever heard announced by any parliamentarian in this country was Senator Brown saying we should shut down Australia’s coal industry. What an extraordinary, unbelievable statement, and I hope the Greens pay the price for that at the next federal election.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for confirming that the government does not have any research or figures or modelling to underpin the claims about carbon capture and storage in the Hunter Valley. I ask the minister, and this probably goes to explaining why he does not understand the potential of solar thermal on baseload: why did the government suppress a research report from the CRC for Coal in Sustainable Development that said solar thermal could compete with coal-fired power on baseload by 2013? Why does the government continue to this day to suppress a report that demonstrates that the government’s much hoped for breakthrough with aqua-ammonia solvents in post carbon capture has been a complete failure? Will the government now produce a comprehensive list of research tasks and reports from that CRC so that the public can see what else the government is trying to hide about the promise of renewable energy and the problems with carbon capture and storage? Will you now release that list and the rest of the modelling?
There were lots of questions there and I will have a look at the Hansard and see what information I can supply to Senator Milne, particularly with respect to the CRC. For the record, I remind Senator Milne that a company, Solar Heat and Power—as she is pursuing the issue of solar thermal technology—was successful in gaining a Renewable Energy Development Initiative grant of $3,254,028 in December 2005. To date, the government has paid 64 per cent of that grant. The company stated will retain the intellectual property developed so far and continue with Australian management. We are supporting that, but it is not at the proven stage. We are supporting alternative sources of energy, but the clear facts which for ideological reasons the Greens are incapable of recognising are that, for Australia to retain high living standards and jobs, the two main sources of zero emission technology available to produce baseload power are clean coal and nuclear, and it is about time they woke up.