Senate debates

Thursday, 9 November 2023


Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023; In Committee

12:32 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I simply want to note where we are in the debate. We're now on day 4 of debate, and we've had a number of opportunities to consider detailed questions about the operation of the bill during the Committee of the Whole. I simply want to indicate to the Senate that the government is aware that a number of amendments have been circulated in the chamber. We're keen for the committee to have the opportunity to consider those amendments, and we'd welcome it if those senators who have circulated amendments were ready to formally move them so that the committee may consider them.

12:33 pm

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

by leave—On that note, I move Australian Greens amendments (1) to (4) on sheet 2142 together:

(1) Schedule 1, page 4 (before line 4), before item 1, insert:

1A Subsection 4(1)


applicable risk framework and guidelines means the following:

(a) the Risk assessment and management framework for CO2 sequestration in sub-seabed geological structures, in Annex 3 to Resolution LC/SG-CO2 1/7 adopted on 3 November 2006 by the Contracting Parties to the Protocol;

(b) the Specific guidelines for the assessment of carbon dioxide for disposal into sub-seabed geological formations, in Annex 8 to Resolution LC 34/15 adopted on 2 November 2012 by the Contracting Parties to the Protocol.

Note: These documents could in 2023 be viewed on the International Maritime Organization's website (https://

(2) Schedule 1, item 3, page 5 (after line 15), after paragraph 19(7B)(d), insert:

(da) that there is an agreement or arrangement in force:

(i) between the Commonwealth and each entity that is proposing to export the controlled material; and

(ii) under which each of those entities agrees to comply with the applicable risk framework and guidelines; and

(db) that the other country to which the export relates has equal or better standards of environmental management, regulation and enforcement as compared to Australia;

(3) Schedule 1, page 5 (after line 16), after item 3, insert:

3A After section 21


22 Conditions imposed by this section in respect of permits for the export of controlled material

(1) This section applies for each permit for the export of controlled material from Australia to another country for dumping.

(2) A condition imposed in respect of the permit is that the holder of the permit must:

(a) monitor whether the export of controlled material for dumping, or any act or omission relating to the export, is likely to cause or result in any condition or damage of the kind set out in paragraph 16(1)(a), (b) or (c); and

(b) ensure that such a condition or such damage does not arise; and

(c) repair or remedy any such condition, or mitigate any such damage, as does arise.

(3) A condition imposed in respect of the permit is that the holder of the permit must, at all times after the permit has been granted, maintain financial assurance sufficient to give the holder the capacity to meet costs, expenses and liabilities arising in connection with, or as a result of complying (or failing to comply) with:

(a) the condition imposed by subsection (2); or

(b) any other requirement under this Act or a legislative instrument under this Act, in relation to the export.

(4) Without limiting subsection (3), the forms of financial assurance that may be maintained include one or more of the following:

(a) insurance;

(b) a bond;

(c) the deposit of an amount as security with a financial institution;

(d) an indemnity or other surety;

(e) a letter of credit from a financial institution;

(f) a mortgage.

(5) This section does not limit the conditions that may be imposed on the permit by the Minister under section 21. However, sections 21, 23 and 25 do not apply to a condition imposed by this section.

Note: Failure to comply with a condition imposed by this section, or by the Minister under section 21, is an offence (see section 36).

(6) The conditions imposed under this section in respect of the permit continue to apply in relation to the holder of the permit if the permit ceases to be in force.

(4) Schedule 1, item 4, page 5 (after line 28), at the end of the item, add:

(4) Section 22 of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, as inserted by this Part, applies in relation to permits granted on or after the commencement of this item.

It's interesting that over the few days that we have been debating this bill—while, yes, it is our fourth day now—government business time has been fairly restricted. It's not as if we've had a great length of time where we've been able to get into the detail. But, while these four days of debate have occurred, we've had some really important reports, both national and global, drop in relation to the content of the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill 2023. Yesterday I talked about the Code blue: our oceans in crisis report released by the Climate Council, which warned of the impending risks and catastrophe for our oceans if we don't really act on emissions.

Then last night we had the Production gap report 2023 dropped by the United Nations Environment Programme and other partners, and I do ask senators to read this report. The first page goes into all the significant contributions from around the world as to how we can actually meet our 1.5 per cent climate targets. While they say that the Glasgow get-together was very encouraging in terms of the level of global commitment, what this 2023 gap report has shown is that the exact opposite has happened to the pledges made—especially by the so-called 'petrostates', like Australia. In fact, we've seen a ramping-up of fossil fuel production and plans for new projects. The Guardian, internationally, had an article on this last night. It talked about the insanity we're facing currently, where countries commit to do one thing but are in fact doing the exact opposite and where we have fossil fuel companies running rampant, with no government holding them to account.

Interestingly, if you get into the detail of this report, there are significant sections on carbon capture and storage. That includes carbon capture and storage in our oceans. Perhaps I, like Senator McAllister, could just do a very quick summary of the last four days. The Australian Greens have laboured the point that this bill is clearly designed to help facilitate the Barossa Gas Project and, potentially, other new fossil fuel developments in. In the case of the Barossa project, it's arguably the dirtiest fossil fuel project in our nation's history in terms of its carbon footprint.

I'll bring to senators' attention references, for example, on page 8 of this significant international report. They talk a little about the pledges by countries to explore carbon capture and storage, which is what we're doing in this bill, and to provide a regulatory framework to allow that to happen. But they say:

However, there are large uncertainties in the technical, economic, and institutional feasibility of developing and deploying novel CDR and fossil-CCS technologies at the extensive scale envisioned in these scenarios. Around 80% of pilot CCS projects over the last 30 years have failed, with annual capacity from operational projects resulting in dedicated CO2 storage currently amounting to less than 0.01 GtCO2/yr …

And they provide details of that on the following page. They continue:

There are also widespread concerns around the potential negative impacts arising from extensive land-use for conventional or novel CDR, which could affect biodiversity, food security, and the rights of Indigenous peoples and traditional land users.

Another reference comes from page 13, for those senators who would like to read this very important report:

Finally, carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies — which can be coupled to fossil fuel combustion to reduce CO2 emissions, or coupled to bioenergy or direct air capture to remove CO2 from the atmosphere — could play a role in addressing residual emissions for hard-to-transition sectors.

This is a point that Senator Pocock made a couple of days ago—the hard-to-transition sectors. Developing new fossil fuel projects is not a hard-to-transition sector. They continue:

However, they are not a free pass to carry on with business as usual. Even if all CCS facilities planned and under development worldwide become operational, only around 0.25 GtCO2 would be captured in 2030 (IEA, 2023a), less than 1% of 2022 global CO2 emissions (Liu et cetera al., 2023). The track record for CCS deployment has been poor to date, with around 80% of pilot projects ending in failure over the past 30 years (Wang et al., 2021). Counting on these largely unproven and relatively costly technologies being rolled out at scale is thus a potentially risky and dangerous strategy.

But that's what we're doing here today. That's what the Australian Senate and the Australian parliament is doing: we're facilitating a piece of legislation which is facilitating the development of new fossil fuel projects. We have very clear evidence of that from the climate minister, Mr Bowen, in his public statements.

Even more detail is provided on page 28, in section 2.4, which is entirely on carbon capture and storage. It says,

As described in the previous section, under the median 1.5°C-consistent pathway, around 2.1 GtCO2/yr of fossil fuel-combustion emissions are captured and stored by 2050.

That's the best-case scenario.

However, the track record for CCS deployment has been very poor to date, with around 80% of pilot projects over the last 30 years ending in failure (Wang et al., 2021). The annual capacity from operational CCS projects that result in dedicated CO2 storage currently sum up to less than 0.01 GtCO2/yr (IEA, 2023a). There is concern that a range of institutional, technical, and financial barriers will constrain CCS deployment (Grant et al., 2022; Lane et cetera al., 2021), and rates of CCS deployment continue to fall below expectations and remain far below those modelled …

In the existing projects around the world—and in the ocean there are only a couple of them, and they were in Norway. There are no other undersea commercial CCS projects. We have talked about their problems in recent days. They are not problem free. They have failed in many areas. Of course, we've talk about Gorgon. But here it is in the United Nations report today.

I ask senators to read it and understand that we are being asked today to back in legislation to essentially enact the London protocol for Australia. We know that the timing of this legislation and the intent is to develop new fossil fuel projects. The government certainly won't rule that out, and yesterday they wouldn't rule out providing subsidies for the development of these technologies which the UN is warning us about in this report.

It goes on to say:

Many of the scenarios modelling higher gas levels in the long-term … that do not impose sufficient constraints on CO2 storage potential and injection rates (Achakulwisut et al., 2023). If fossil-CCS fails to scale to the levels envisaged by these scenarios, reductions in fossil fuel production and use need to be even faster.

Remember that the report opens by saying that, regardless of the commitments made at Glasgow, including by countries such as Australia, the exact opposite is happening around the world. It's almost like the fossil fuel industry is fighting a rearguard action, knowing that its time is limited, and they are literally going hell for leather to lock in as many projects as possible before this climate emergency that we are seeing unfold around us finally creates penny-drop moments for governments, decision-makers and, of course, citizens around the world.

I have more detail on the Greens' amendments to go into shortly, but I understand Senator Pocock may wish to move his amendments in the spirit, perhaps, of what you have asked us to do, Minister. In particular, I would like to step through a bit more information about those Greens' amendments and why we think they're important.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Pocock can contribute to this debate, but we've already got an amendment or two out in front of us, so that's the one we'll deal with at the moment.

12:43 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you, Senator Whish-Wilson, for moving your amendment. We appreciate your willingness to allow the chamber to consider these issues. I will be brief. The government is not intending to support the amendments which have been moved by the Greens on sheet 2142. I am happy to step through the basis for this.

In relation to amendment (1), we don't oppose the principle of the amendments that are moved today, but we consider that they are not necessary. Amendment (1) would have the effect of requiring the London protocol's risk assessment and management framework and the 2012 specific guidelines for assessment to be considered in the granting of a sea dumping permit. This duplicates requirements that are already established by the act. Section 19 of the act already requires the minister to have regard to international protocols, including the London protocol requirements. That includes the guidance documents that are referenced in the amendment that's before us at the moment.

So our first point would be that it's redundant and not required. There is also a risk of unintended consequences, because, if the London protocol publishes further guidance and updates existing guidance, the bill before us, the way it is constructed at the moment, would allow those updates to be incorporated into the government's policy approach.

In relation to amendment (2), again we don't oppose the principle of the amendment. The amendment would have the effect of providing a requirement for an agreement between the Commonwealth and each entity proposing to export the controlled material and a series of other matters. Again, this amendment duplicates requirements that are already established by the act. Section 19 of the act requires that the London protocol requirements, including the requirement for bilateral agreement or arrangement, need to be considered before a permit may be granted.

Amendment (3) has the effect of specifying the content of some permit conditions regarding monitoring, repair and mitigation measures should there be an environmental impact, establishing a financial assurance requirement on permits. Again, can I indicate that we of course understand the importance of ensuring that permits are issued with robust conditions to support ongoing monitoring, management and mitigation of any environmental risks and potential impacts. But these requirements, such as monitoring and the ability to mitigate potential damage, are already part of the sea dumping act and are standard conditions on any sea dumping permit.

To get the long-term management right, we will need to ensure that there is alignment across the various regulatory regimes governing these activities. Officials are working through this, and the government would support organising briefings for interested senators on this process. Existing requirements for offshore CCS projects are captured by the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Act 1981, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 2006 and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The sea dumping act permits include a robust monitoring and compliance regime and long-term monitoring after sequestration activity has ceased. It's on that basis that we consider that it's not necessary to further amend the bill to secure this.

Finally, amendment (4) has the effect of advising that the proposed section 22 would apply to relevant permits granted on or after commencement. We oppose this, again, because it's not required. The provisions of the amendment act will apply regardless.

I thank Senator Whish-Wilson again for moving these amendments, but the government will not be supporting them.

12:47 pm

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

It's disappointing, Minister. Obviously, you want us to support taking the first step today towards facilitating new fossil fuel developments, which of course the Greens totally oppose in every strand of our DNA. The report from the UN that I've just highlighted is an example of the, at best, extreme cognitive dissonance of countries around the world, like Australia, that continue to ramp up fossil fuel production. At worst, it's a symptom of a completely broken machine where politics as usual has failed us. Carbon capture and storage is a unicorn technology that has been touted for decades as a potential solution to allow fossil fuel production and development to continue. In 2023, we're still talking about it without any guarantees, including at least supporting these basic amendments that the Greens have moved.

I will put in context our very strong views as a political party and explain why we are in the Senate talking to this legislation and why we have spent four days working with Senator Pocock and other senators to scrutinise this legislation. Marine heatwaves have increased by 50 per cent over the past decade, and they now last longer and are getting more severe. That was outlined in the Code blue report yesterday. The temperature of the waters around Australia is predicted to warm by one to two degrees Celsius by the 2030s and two to three degrees Celsius by the 2070s, with the greatest warming happening off south-east Australia and in the Tasman Sea.

Temporary Chair Bilyk, that's happening in our home state of Tasmania, which is already dealing with record marine heatwaves and the damage they're doing to commercial fisheries, to rec fishing values and to coastal communities, not to mention our precious marine life and biodiversity. More than 500 common species of fish, seaweed, coral and invertebrates that live on reefs around Australia have declined in the past decade. The study, which is led by Professor Graham Edgar who was scientist of the year in Tasmania only two years ago, was published last year. It mentioned 1,057 species and found 57 per cent of them had declined in their population numbers, and almost 300 were declining at a rate that could qualify them as a threatened species. Modelling predicts that some stocks in the southern and eastern scalefish and shark fisheries may decline by 20 per cent or more by 2040 due to climate impacts.

Rising ocean temperatures have caused six mass bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. Contrary to what Senator Hanson said yesterday, which was that mass coral bleaching events have been occurring throughout history, the first ever recorded on the Great Barrier Reef was in 1998. We then had events in 2002, 2016 and 2017—I initiated a Senate inquiry at that time into warming oceans where we explored the impacts these events were having on the Great Barrier Reef—and other events in 2020 and 2022. The most recent event was the first time ever in our history we have seen a mass coral bleaching event in a La Nina year. This year 91 per cent of reefs surveyed on the Great Barrier Reef were affected by coral bleaching. In the space of one human lifetime, 95 per cent of Tasmania's once widespread giant kelp forest have vanished due to climate change. We know that golden kelp, another previously abundant species of kelp habitat for fisheries and marine life, is also in severe decline. There is a current push to get it listed as a threatened habitat, as giant kelp was listed in 2012. We have seen similar things with seagrasses, mangroves in North Queensland and crayweed around New South Wales, which is critical habitat for the rock lobster industry. All this is happening because of changing ocean temperatures and currents linked to climate change.

But still we are in here passing legislation to facilitate new fossil fuel projects, which are throwing fuel on the fire. Over the summer of 2015, 40 million mangroves died of thirst. That was something the Senate looked at, and it was discovered by accident. Hundreds of kilometres of mangroves just died. A habitat that is adapted to be warmest possible waters vanished because of climate change. This vast die-off was the world's largest ever recorded, and it happened in Queensland, spanning more than a thousand kilometres of coastline on Australia's Gulf of Carpentaria. That is just what's happening in Australia; now let's talk about what is going on around the world. We have had 10 records broken this year globally that have been recognised by scientists—undisputable facts. In July 2023 the hottest month on earth ever in human history was recorded. This was the stark finding of the European Commission's Copernicus Climate Change Service, which also found we had an average temperature of 17 degrees Celsius in July. This is the highest level ever recorded in human history for that month. By the way, it has been reported in the media today that 2023 will almost certainly be the hottest year in human history. The second finding was in Greece, where there was a 17-day heatwave in July, and we saw the fires that went with that. According to the Athens Institute of Environmental Research, this was a record heatwave for Greece, where temperatures exceeded 45 degrees and forest fires multiplied, which led to the biggest evacuation operation ever carried out in Greece's history. Thirty thousand people on Rhodes and other islands, like Corfu, were evacuated in August.

These heatwaves are now officially a public health issue in the EU. According to the World Health Organization they caused more than 60,000 deaths in Europe.

The 31-day heatwave in Phoenix USA is another record. Phoenix USA has 1.6 million inhabitants. On oceans, we had a surface temperature record for the Atlantic Ocean. The United Nations Environment Programme said the ocean is the hottest it has ever been in recorded history. The water reached 38 degrees in the Mediterranean and an absolute record of 28.7 degrees in July in Florida. By the way, the corals in the Caribbean are pretty much kaput. Torrential rain in Beijing—more records. Morocco broke the 50-degree barrier for the first time in its history. The town of Lahaina in Hawaii was nearly wiped off the map because of record weather patterns never seen before and wildfire.

In Canada, a record number of mega fires and surface areas burned. Six hundred fires were out of control, and nearly 5,738 blazes burnt nearly 13.7 million hectares, more than one per cent of their country. The freezing point was registered at the record altitude of 5,298 metres in Switzerland, 115 metres higher than in 2022, which is much higher than Europe's highest peak, Mount Blanc. It is another blow for glaciers that have already suffered this year according to the Swiss glacier monitoring network. It was 41.8 degrees Celsius in the middle of winter in Brazil. The northern hemisphere is not the only one being affected, and we are about to feel it here in Australia; indeed, we already are.

There have been so many weather records broken that it is hard to keep track. It is literally happening every day. In Senate estimates, the Bureau of Meteorology confirmed records are falling every day around the world. And here we are again passing special legislation directly quoting the climate minister, whose job, you would imagine, is to act on climate change in line with our commitments at Glasgow and to the Paris agreement. Here we are bringing a special piece of legislation to facilitate carbon-and-capture storage projects to allow the development of new fossil fuel projects. They are not my words as a Greens senator or the words of my party; they are the words of Mr Chris Bowen, which I have read out many times in my contributions of recent days.

Minister, do you acknowledge these records around the world? How is it possible that your government is trying to facilitate new fossil fuel projects?

12:57 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Of course, these are questions we have canvassed through the course of this debate and questions we regularly canvas in other forms including here in the chamber and at estimates. As I have indicated many times, science is unequivocal. This is the critical decade, and the world needs to take important steps to reduce emissions so as to keep 1.5 degrees within reach in order to preserve a safe climate for ourselves and for future generations. This is a government that acknowledges the science. We came to government determined to rectify a long period where climate had been dismissed, ignored, downgraded by the previous government. We have legislated our climate targets and increased their ambition, notifying the UN that that is our intention. We are making substantial investments in our industrial capability so we can seize the opportunities that will arise in Australia as a consequence of a decarbonising global economy, combined with our very significant renewable resources. We have recommitted to playing a constructive role in multilateral forums, to working constructively with partners in our region and globally, and we look forward to contributing in substantive and constructive ways at the COP in Dubai.

All of these things are entirely consistent with the bill before us, which seeks to put in place the legislative arrangements that would allow us to ratify amendments that have been made to the London protocol. The government simply seeks to ensure that, should a project that involves the transport and movement of carbon dioxide be put before us, we would be in a position to properly regulate it. It is the first of the steps necessary to create that set of regulatory arrangements. There are many further steps to take, as we've indicated previously, including bilateral arrangements with any other country that sought to engage us in this way; a set of permitting arrangements; and, finally, an assessment of any project should one be brought forward. This is not the only technology that the government imagines will be part of our transition towards 2050. I have made it clear repeatedly in the debate that, nonetheless, we consider that we need to create the pathways for all of the options to make it to 2050—understanding the commercial and technical uncertainties around some of these technologies, including the one that we're discussing today.

I appreciate the willingness of senators to contribute to this debate. I appreciate the Australian Greens' decision to formally move their amendments today. I do consider that I have answered the broad questions about the bill in general and the specific reasons why we don't support the amendments that are before us. With that, I move:

That the question be now put.

Photo of Andrew McLachlanAndrew McLachlan (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The Greens have moved the amendments on sheet 2142. The minister moved that the question be put, and that is the question I'm putting to the committee now. The question is that the question on the amendments be put.

1:09 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

It's very telling, isn't it? There they all are, sitting over on the other side. We've got the Greens up in the back corner, we've got the opposition sitting there—all cozily lined up together. What should we understand about this? We have a group of people who have spent all week asking for the government to put the question—

Hon. Senators:

Honourable senators interjecting

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, run away. Run away.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

but, when actually provided the opportunity to bring this debate along, to have the Senate express a view about the options—

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, there's a point of order. Senator Henderson?

Photo of Sarah HendersonSarah Henderson (Victoria, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Education) Share this | | Hansard source

It's inappropriate for Senator Watt to reflect on senators leaving the chamber. I would ask you to direct him not to do that. Thank you.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: I think there was lots of chatter across the chamber. I appreciate your commentary, Senator Henderson. Senators—

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Watt!—please let's refrain from banter across the chamber, which is disorderly. The minister was on her feet.

Honourable senators interjecting

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Senator Ruston?

Photo of Anne RustonAnne Ruston (SA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I would ask you to ask Senator Ayres if he would please retract his statement.

Photo of Tim AyresTim Ayres (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I cheerfully withdraw, in the spirit of the day.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Thank you, Senator Ayres. I give the call to the minister.

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

Thanks, Chair. It's pretty clear, though, isn't it, that any pretence the opposition has to being a party of government is quickly heading for the door. We don't reflect on senators heading for the door, but I think we can make some observations about the credibility, can't we? The bill that we're debating now is on its fourth day of debate. The government of course has been willing to provide time for the legitimate concerns of senators to be examined and aired and for amendments to be moved, but the truth is that in their second reading contributions the opposition indicated a desire for this bill to be progressed.

I'm not surprised that parts of the crossbench—the Greens political party and other senators—don't support this, but I am surprised that the opposition don't understand the significance of the bill before us. It is a bill that seeks to establish a predictable, certain approach to regulatory arrangements for certain projects, certain kinds of interventions in the Australian economy. What I don't understand is the why those opposite, who say that they're for a certain regulatory environment and they'd like to see orderly policy making, don't understand that on day 4 of a debate it is time for amendments to be considered and dealt with. It was on that basis that we moved that the question be put. We heard Senator Whish-Wilson's contributions about why he'd moved the Greens amendments. I provided a response about the technical reasons that the amendment before us is not necessary, because it simply replicates features of the bill that are already in place and creates, as a consequence, uncertainties and potentially unintended consequences by replicating aspects of the London protocol in the legislation itself. It is on that basis that we oppose the amendments moved by Senator Whish-Wilson. You know that. You understand that. You should also understand the significance of concluding debate on this one amendment so that we can proceed to the other amendments which, I understand, Senator Pocock would like to move.

Again, I invite the chamber to make progress on this bill. It's a bill that simply seeks to establish a regulatory architecture. It is part of the ordinary business of government, and a party that aspires to being in government ought to support it.

1:14 pm

Photo of Gerard RennickGerard Rennick (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I have a question for you, Minister. I note that I've previously asked the CSIRO in estimates why phytoplankton isn't counted as part of CO2 offsets.

The reply from the CSIRO was, 'Well, that's not a land based CO2 use.' I'll refer to an article from 16 September 2021 on the ABC. It noted that there was a phytoplankton bloom in the Southern Ocean after the recent bushfires. That makes me think that this whole bill is totally redundant. We're going to set up a whole new regulatory system or environment in order to store carbon dioxide in the ocean, or however you're going to do it, rather than actually use Mother Nature itself.

My question to you is: why don't you use the natural levers in the environment that we already have? This lever is well known; phytoplankton absorb 70 per cent of the world's CO2. A lot of that CO2 is created on land, then blown off to sea above the atmosphere and then sinks into the ocean as it cools overnight. Could you please explain to me the whole point of this when we already have Mother Nature doing this job without any cost, red tape or green tape and so on?

1:15 pm

Photo of Jenny McAllisterJenny McAllister (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Assistant Minister for Climate Change and Energy) Share this | | Hansard source

I suppose there are two points to make. I don't think that it's accurate to say that the earth's natural systems are capable of coping with the amount of carbon dioxide that's presently being emitted as a consequence of human activities. I recognise that's a point of disagreement between you and the global scientific community, but that is simply not a matter we can agree on. However, in relation to the specific technology that you point to, which I think relates to changing the balance of nutrients in the ocean so as to increase phytoplankton: the bill before us actually seeks to create a regulatory framework that would enable scientific research into this and other kinds of interventions that seek to harness marine resources.

1:16 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to respond to some of the points that Senator McAllister made in reflecting on the vote that this chamber took before. It is true to say that the coalition is supportive of this legislation. We're also supportive of the Senate crossbench being able to interrogate all of the issues that they have with this legislation. To that end, that is why, along with Senator Pocock and the Australian Greens, we voted against a gagging of the debate—because there are questions they have, and I'm willing to allow them to continue to ask them until they have the answers that they are satisfied with. That is where we're at.

I'm happy to have discussions around how best to progress this legislation at some point, but good chamber management is a hallmark of good government. Here we are, four days in—as you said yourself, Senator McAllister—and we've not passed a single piece of government legislation. That is the government's fault. If they had done their job properly and worked with the opposition, perhaps we wouldn't be in this situation, but here we are.

Another hallmark of good government is, of course, having a policy agenda lined up properly. The environment portfolio is an absolute shambles. I tell you what, not only are we struggling to pass one of the most straightforward pieces of legislation of all time, which the majority of this chamber supports, but where are the EPBC Act reforms, which were something that we could not delay and that we actually had to get happening straightaway? There wasn't a day to lose, because we needed to stop new extinctions, and this government will save the environment by reforming the laws. Well, colleagues, where are those reforms? They're not here. They're 18 months behind! They had a consultation period on 30 and 31 October. No-one knows what went on, except that it was written about recently and, to no surprise on my part, I suppose, but perhaps to great disappointment in the community, there are a few pages of principles. After 18 months, all this government has managed to muster together in one of their signature pieces of policy from the last election are a few pages of principles to replace over a thousand pages of legislation to protect our natural environment. It's appalling.

The Nature Repair Market Bill 2023 is off in the never-never now because they haven't been able to do their work properly—it's another example of failure in this portfolio. And this bill is stalled in the Senate because the government can't get its act together. Four days in, the only legislation that has passed this place is what was originally government legislation that they refused to bring on to do with the Australian workplace—to protect workers and improve rights. They wouldn't bring it on. The Australian Labor Party, the so-called friend of the worker, wouldn't bring it on. We're still here debating this sea-dumping bill, and Senator David Pocock and Senator Jacqui Lambie brought their bills on for them—and passed them, the only legislation that has passed the parliament this week.

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie Network) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank God for the crossbench!

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Environment, Fisheries and Forestry) Share this | | Hansard source

I'll take that interjection. On this occasion, thank God for crossbenchers. I do agree with that on this occasion because it's because of them that we got those laws through. The Australian community got something out of the parliament this week not courtesy of the government but because of everyone else. Four days in, we're the only chamber of this parliament sitting, and not a blasted thing has been done to help the Australian public. Where are the cost-of-living measures? There is nothing. It's all on this government and their inability to manage their agenda. It's a shame. We will allow the crossbench to continue to ask their questions till they're satisfied.

1:20 pm

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

Minister, I would like to raise a concern with this bill and what it means for our national security. In the lead-up to the last election, national security was something that got a lot of air time, and a lot of that hinged on our relationship with the Pacific island nations. The Prime Minister is currently in the Cook Islands, talking to Pacific island nations' leaders, and we know that one of their calls is for Australia to sign the Port Vila call for a just transition to a fossil-fuel-free Pacific. On the same day that Prime Minister Albanese is meeting Pacific island nations who face an existential threat in the form of climate change, the Labor Party is intent on passing a bill that would allow the expansion of the fossil fuel industry.

I find it appalling and deeply troubling that we hear all the talk about national security, about the way that we treat our Pacific family, and, on the exact same day that Prime Minister Albanese is meeting in the Cook Islands, the Labor government is putting through a bill that does a range of things. One of them is facilitate an expansion of the fossil fuel industry. We'll hear arguments against that—'That's not really what it's about; it's about all these other things'—but you won't vote for amendments that ensure that this isn't used to expand the fossil fuel industry.

I really think that Australia's inability to actually put our actions where our talk is on the issue of climate when it comes to the Pacific is a very real risk, because who's going to trust an Australian government that says to Pacific island neighbours, 'You're our family. We care for you. We're with you. We're working alongside you,' when at the same time we are undermining their ability to live on their Pacific islands?

I would like to read something from Vanuatu's climate change minister, Ralph Regenvanu:

The Pacific Islands Forum next week will bring together nations who share what we call the Blue Pacific Continent, stretching from the hundreds of islands and atolls of Micronesia in the North all the way down to the Alpine like conditions of New Zealand's Southern tip.

Together, we are custodians of almost a fifth of the earth's surface, and at the great crossroads of strategic interest for many nations. We are also some of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change and have contributed the least.

One issue looms large and demands our attention. Our neighbour Australia is bidding to preside over Cop31, a crucial meeting of the world's climate negotiators in 2026 in partnership with the Pacific.

As part of the United Nations group known as Western Europe and Others, it will be primarily European countries that decide whether that bid goes ahead. I urge that these countries consider not just Australia's words, but its actions as it plans some of the largest fossil gas expansion in the world in the run up to 2050.

Mr Regenvanu continues:

This year's 'global stock take' of decades of climate action will tell us what none of us wants to hear. That we have not, collectively, brought emissions under control—indeed the world's CO2 emissions are set to rise by about 1% to new record in 2023—when they need to fall very rapidly. It is beyond time that we did the one thing that we've not yet tried—keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Australia has claimed it is "back in the tent" in international climate circles. Indeed, Pacific nations welcomed Australia's renewed commitment to climate action after the 2022 election, where the government won on a platform of greater environmental responsibility. Yet after a year, Australia's commitment to reduce emissions still falls short of what they promised by signing the Paris Agreement.

Pacific Island nations, including my home country, Vanuatu, sit on the front lines of the climate crisis. We face rising sea levels that threaten to swallow our homes and increasingly frequent and increasingly destructive weather events.

Our ability to adapt will be made impossible by Australia's hypocritical gas expansion plans. Vanuatu has been at the forefront of climate action—we led a coalition of countries to secure an advisory opinion on climate change from the United Nations International Court of Justice, and we are working towards a fossil fuel free Pacific.

At great cost, we are decarbonising our shipping register. We understand that climate action may require short term adjustments and we are willing to do that. I'm not confident that all countries share our resolve.

The Pacific Island nations are in desperate need of genuine allies who will stand with us in our fight for survival. Australia, with its financial resources and international influence, should be such an ally. However, for Australia to be seen as a credible leader of climate talks, it must first resolve glaring inconsistencies in its climate policies.

The fact is that Australia remains the world’s third-largest fossil fuel exporter, with 116 new coal and gas projects in the pipeline, some of which are slated to operate until at least 2070. This persistence in fossil fuel expansion is fundamentally at odds with the spirit of the Paris Agreement and poses a direct threat to the climate goals set by the international community.

Australia's bid to lead Cop31 is a momentous opportunity for the nation to prove its dedication to addressing the global climate crisis. The world is watching, and the Pacific Island nations are looking for unwavering support, not empty promises.

And part of that must be conditionality attached to approving its Cop bid. We cannot afford another climate summit brought to you by the fossil fuel industry. The time has come to demonstrate that commitment to climate action is more than just rhetoric. It's time to do the right thing, securing a climate safe future for all our countries.

It is pretty devastating to read that statement from a Pacific Island leader, given the rhetoric we hear from the Albanese government about the Pacific family, about climate action and leadership. It is clearly ringing very hollow in the Pacific.

Photo of Raff CicconeRaff Ciccone (Victoria, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Did the other mob do a good job? Did they?

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I will take that interjection from Senator Ciccone about the other mob doing a good job. It's the lowest of bars. Why are the Albanese government holding themselves up to the coalition's bar when it comes to climate action? Stop talking up such a big game and not delivering. To Mr Regenvanu I say: Australians want to support the Pacific. The majority of Australians want bolder climate action, yet what we have standing in the way is this kind of nonsense from major parties, this level of vested interest. Minister, how can we possibly be asking Pacific Island neighbours to trust us when we won't sign the Port Vila call for a just transition to a fossil fuel-free Pacific and when, in Mr Regenvanu's words, our actions don't line up with our rhetoric?

Photo of Dorinda CoxDorinda Cox (WA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Was that a question to the minister, Senator Pocock?

Photo of David PocockDavid Pocock (ACT, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

It was clear there was a question at the end there.

The TEMPORARY CHAIR: Sorry, it is now 1.30. The committee will now report to the Senate.

Progress reported.