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Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2006

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 15 Jun 2006

ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL 2006Second Reading 15 June 2006 Senator Milne (Tasmania) (9.46 p.m.)-I rise tonight to support the amendment to the Energy Legislation Amendment Bill 2006 moved by Senator Allison for the establishment of a sustainable energy commission for Australia. The issue, as Senator Allison has outlined, is the completely ad hoc manner in which energy is addressed in Australia and indeed how industry is addressed in Australia. We have no industry policy and no energy policy. We have a policy that simply says: 'We don't pick winners of any kind. We just support everything and then something might emerge from the pack.' Whilst we say we do not support anything, we direct all the subsidies to the industries that we have known for a long time and that are traditional supporters of and donors to the conservative side of politics. We get the big end of town-the coal industry, the uranium industry and the mining industry generally-all supporting government policy and the government arguing there should be a level playing field when it comes to renewables but never acknowledging the extent of the subsidies that are already there for the mining industry and the oil and gas industry in particular. The Australian Greenhouse Office has been there in theory. As Senator Allison points out, it is now part of the Department of the Environment and Heritage. That was supposed to coordinate a whole-of-government approach in relation to energy policy, and that has not occurred. In the last few weeks we have seen total confusion. The government talks about energy security. That is a critical issue, even though it was not mentioned by the Treasurer, Peter Costello, in his budget. He did not mention energy security, climate change or oil depletion as challenges to the budget. The budget died on budget night. Is anyone talking about the budget? I do not think so. Since then, the whole debate in Australia has been focused on energy issues. The issue of energy security is seen by the government simply in terms of, 'Let's make sure we've got enough energy to support the Australian lifestyle, the Australian way of life.' The fact is you cannot deal with energy security without dealing with the ramifications of climate change and also the geopolitics. That brings in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, environment and all the sustainability issues. That is what is wrong with the Prime Minister's whole push on nuclear-it fails to recognise that energy security has national security ramifications. It was completely laughable to hear Senator Ellison talking about the fact that the government did not consider nuclear reactors as a terrorist threat. It was completely absurd. Given that every other government around the world looking at its energy strategies recognises terrorism as a concern with nuclear power stations, I find it extraordinary that the Australian government, with its supposed interest in national security and terrorism issues, failed to recognise reactors as a potential target. The other issue with climate change is that it is the biggest national security threat that we face. It is not a security threat in terms of an invasion as such but it has the potential to disrupt the entire region. Imagine if we had abrupt climate change and massive relocation of people. There would be all sorts of issues about water shortages and food scarcity. There would be internal dislocation and movement from the Pacific. New Zealand have made it clear that they will co-operate with a number of Pacific island countries and recognise climate refugees. Australia, of course, are saying not only will they not recognise climate refugees but they will not take even the most basic mitigation measure and ratify the Kyoto protocol. We need a whole-of-government approach to the issue of energy security, recognising that inherent in that are the issues of sustainability and dealing with climate change. If we actually had that focus, we would recognise that nuclear is a complete nonsense when it comes to energy in Australia because we do not need it, it is too slow, it is too expensive and it will not address the greenhouse gas issue in the time frame that is required. Plus, it is dangerous, which is why President Bush would like to set up a new alliance of nuclear energy supply centres around the world, and he is discussing with our Prime Minister the possibility of Australia becoming one of those nuclear fuel supply centres. That is what this debate is about, and it is about time we had some honesty about that. It was quite refreshing to hear Senator Minchin today be honest about it and recognise that, as an economic rationalist, as he says he is, there is no way known that nuclear is ever going to be economically viable in the next hundred years in this country, even with a carbon tax. That is getting closer to recognising what the real agenda here is, and that is that the Australian budget and Australian economy are essentially dependent on corporate profits from mining and that this is about the expansion of uranium mining and the export of uranium to China and India. It is as simple as that. I support the idea of setting up a sustainable energy commission. The UK has its Sustainable Development Commission, which looks at issues in the whole area of sustainability, and we should be doing exactly the same. We need some national coordination in energy policy and we need national coordination and prioritising in industry policy as well. We need stakeholders and the community to be involved in these discussions and we need to have a monitoring of progress on sustainable energy policies. In terms of renewable energy policy, Australia is so far behind it is embarrassing. If you look at the German experience, where they decided to move from nuclear to solar, you will see that they introduced a feed-in law. This excites many Australians when you talk to them about it. The Germans introduced a law which required energy wholesalers to purchase renewable energy from anyone who wanted to sell it to them for a fixed price and for a fixed period of time. The result of that was that people could go to their bank and borrow money in order to cover their roof with photovoltaic cells because the bank could be assured of a fixed return on the amount of energy that was sold into the grid. The result has been that Germany has made a massive shift out of nuclear and into renewable energy, solar in particular, and has created over 150,000 jobs in the process-more jobs than ever they had in the coal industry. What is more, they are generating a whole new industry sector for Germany. The Chinese are doing the same. They have set a 15 per cent renewable energy target, making Australia's two per cent look absolutely pitiful and ridiculous. Dr Shi has become Australia's first solar billionaire as a result of rolling out photovoltaic technology in China-not in Australia, but in China. He has made $1 billion and given money back to Professor Martin Green at the University of New South Wales for his work there because the government does not fund the research work that is required. What an embarrassment. What a shame for this nation. Down here at the ANU we have sliver cell technology, which is reducing the cost of photovoltaics by 75 per cent. That also is a technology that is now being chased by the Germans, the Japanese and the Chinese. If we are not very careful, that technology will head overseas as well. There is example after example of the government just turning its back. What about solar thermal? That is a fantastic technology. The CRC for coal research, in its recent paper on solar thermal, said that, for an area of 35 square kilometres of Australia, solar thermal could meet all of Australia's base-load electricity. That is amazing. They say that it can be cost-effective with coal in seven years. Why are we talking about nuclear even for a minute when we have the potential to roll out solar thermal? It is not a pie in the sky. The US already has a 250-megawatt solar thermal station operating as we speak. The advantage of solar thermal is that it can be used in conjunction with coal as a transition strategy that removes the problems of burning coal in power stations and treats coal as a chemical to be used in association with the solar technology so that you get the base-load power. It is extraordinary to me that we have a government that is so wedded to the dollars from coal and uranium exports and the big end of town, the whole mineral industry, that they are not looking at the clever end. In terms of the low emissions technology fund, it is going to technologies, as Senator Allison said, like carbon capture and storage, that have not been proven. By adopting that strategy, you end up with business as usual: ongoing coal mining and ongoing construction of coal-fired power stations. We have heard a lot from the government, including from the science minister, Minister Bishop, about how nuclear is supposedly cleaner and greener because it is greenhouse friendly. I want anyone in the government-I do not mind who it is-to tell me: what is the carbon footprint of the Roxby Downs expansion at Olympic Dam? What is not being said is that currently that mine uses about 30 million litres of water a day out of the Great Artesian Basin. The expansion will see it going to about 150 million litres a day. Where are they going to get it from? They cannot get it out of the Murray River and they cannot get it out of the Great Artesian Basin. They are going to have to build a desalination plant in South Australia to desalinate water to send it up to the Olympic Dam site. How are they going to fire the desalination plant? They will either have to go with a coal-fired power station or a gas-fired power station-either way, it is a fossil fuel solution. So much for saying that uranium out of Olympic Dam is somehow going to contribute positively in relation to greenhouse. It is going to make a mega negative contribution to greenhouse-and add to that the costs of the energy involved in processing the uranium and the mining emissions that are going to come from transport fuels. Then, of course, at the end of the day, if you look at the whole nuclear fuel cycle, you have the decommissioning of the plants. The government could not even put a dollar figure on what it is going to cost to decommission Lucas Heights. If they cannot even do that, why are they having an inquiry into this whole issue? Let us put a dollar value on that before we start, so that we get some real figures out there in this whole energy and policy discussion mix instead of misleading the Australian people into thinking this is something to do with energy security or greenhouse. It is to do with neither. It is simply to do with the government's relationship with BHP Billiton, the export contract with China and the potential export contract with India, which of course would undermine the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. What is incredibly ironic is that the two wind farms that were signed onto by Roaring Forties in the last week are going to return, on their own, more than half of the dollar value that was expected from the estimated return on the deal from China on the uranium exports. So let's get real here about the kind of dollars we are talking about, the mess we are going to create for future generations, and the real prospects in terms of which energy sources Australia could employ that would be sustainable, create jobs, strengthen the economy and contribute to our global responsibility on greenhouse gas emissions. That is why I support Senator Allison's initiative here in trying to set up a sustainable energy commission that goes across government and stops this ad hoc approach-where the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade does not realise that climate change is a national security issue, where the industry groups do not have any sense of the potential of these new industries to create jobs and where you have the environment department giving one set of advice in relation to wind farms. We all know full well that the wind farm decisions were based on a promise during the election campaign in a marginal seat that if the people voted for the Liberal Party the minister would stop the wind farm, and that is what happened. Then in Western Australia it is Senator Campbell's bid to change from the upper house to the lower house and get preselection in that seat that has led to the decision on the West Australian wind farm. Senator Ian Macdonald-What a fantasy! Senator Milne-I am glad that Senator Macdonald thinks it is a fantasy. It is certainly what people think may occur in terms of the member for that particular seat, Wilson Tuckey, and the future preselection to the lower house-but we will see in the course of events what does happen in relation to that. But that is the kind of idiocy that we are getting in climate policy across Australia and the lack of consistency and the lack of actual real concern about sustainability and commitment to it. That is why setting up a sustainable energy commission would be a very good idea, and I commend Senator Allison on this initiative. The Greens will be supporting it.

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