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Labor’s nuclear furphies distract from real issues

Hansard: 2 May 2007 ASSEMBLY

Mr CLARK (Box Hill) — It is deplorable that the Bracks government is seeking to play political games with one of the most serious issues confronting humanity today, which is greenhouse gases and the threat of global warming. In some senses I have sympathy for the member for Seymour, because he gives every impression that he drew the short straw and was put forward to lead the government in the debate on this matter. He is a decent and well-meaning chap. It seemed to me that his heart was not in playing the political games that he was pushed to attempt to play.

It has to be asked: where are all the so-called big hitters of the government? Where is the Minister for Energy and Resources? Where is the Minister for Water, Environment and Climate Change? Why are they not in the chamber pushing this debate? I think it is because of the inherent contradictions in the government’s position on nuclear issues, which has credibility only if the government were to admit that its own research program is going to fail.

I am sure the government does not admit this and that causes its entire line of argument to fall into a heap.

There are three aspects to our response to global warming and greenhouse gases: the first is what we do about research; the second is the approach we take in regard to emission constraints; and the third is the extent to which governments try to impose particular technological solutions. Of those three aspects we, on this side of the house, are in agreement with the government on the broad thrust of trying to promote research into alternative ways of using brown coal, which we have in Victoria particularly, as well as research into other prospective forms of clean or much cleaner energy. However, we believe the government and the federal Labor Party have failed to do the hard work in relation to emissions policy and emissions constraints. We also think they have gone down the wrong path when trying to impose particular technological solutions on Victoria, like the ones we saw in the VRET (Victorian renewable energy target) scheme.

There has been a lot of scaremongering coming from the government, including the comments from the member for Seymour just a few minutes ago. This needs to be made clear. As far as we are aware, no-one is talking about imposing nuclear power plants on Victoria. Some government members have been absolutely hysterical about that point. They have been running around taking up petitions against nuclear power plants in electorates such as Forest Hill. The member for Seymour conceded in his remarks that that was a total impossibility given that nuclear plants need abundant water supplies — —

Mr Stensholt interjected.

Mr CLARK — Now the member for Burwood is getting passionate.

I look forward to seeing whether he will tell members how fearful he is about a nuclear power plant being built in Burwood — an area which is also well inland.

Let us look at the issue of research and let us try to take this subject seriously, because if we are not going to come up with serious solutions to greenhouse issues and we are not going to debate the issue constructively, then we are not doing any service to the people of Victoria, the nation or the world.

Part of the government’s strategy — and this is both a federal and state government strategy — is to put support and funding into programs that try to create clean coal. This point needs to be made for all those people who are trying to engage in scaremongering. The Prime Minister and the federal government have made it absolutely clear that they support clean coal research. It is obviously going to be the best solution for Victoria if it can be achieved.

The federal and state governments are putting their efforts into this, and the state opposition supports it. It is by far and away the best solution. If geosequestration, carbon capture and carbon storage can be shown to work, then we can harness the clean — what will become clean — abundant and cheap brown coal that we have in Victoria.

As I said earlier, I am surprised that government members are running with the line of argument that the member for Seymour has put forward, because if the research direction that the government is funding comes to pass in Victoria, then we will be able to go forward with the use of abundant and cheap brown coal. That is going to be the best available solution and one we should all be working towards.

You only need look at the literature that has been issued by a whole range of parties to see the extent of the commitment, both state and federal, towards this goal and how all these different efforts are seeking to intermesh with one another. I refer in particular to a media release of 30 October last year put out by the Cooperative Research Centre for Greenhouse Gas Technologies, otherwise known as CO2CRC, in which it speaks about the research and development advice it has given to assist three companies in developing carbon capture and geological storage projects that are to receive federal low-emission technology development funds and state government grants totalling $205 million.

It then goes on to talk about the projects around Australia, including CS Energy’s oxyfuels, the Fairview coal-bed methane power generation project and the Hazelwood 2030 project of International Power.

It is a dispassionate and independent body, and it makes it clear that its work is being supported both by the commonwealth government and by state governments in various parts of Australia.

Next you can look at the executive summary of the discussion paper put out by the National Emissions Trading Taskforce in August last year. This is the task force that was set up by all the various state and territory governments. I may have a bit more to say about another aspect of its report later on, but in relation to clean coal technologies it says:

An effective research, development and demonstration (RD&D) program is necessary to support the early stages of innovation and help develop and demonstrate clean coal technologies.

Queensland has now committed over $300 million and Victoria around $80 million to technology-related RD&D. Both these programs dovetail with the commonwealth government’s $500 million low emissions technology demonstration fund (LETDF).
Even this state body is saying the commonwealth government and state governments are working together on research into clean coal.

Then we had the media release of April this year from the Minister for Energy and Resources, in which he talked about the potential for Victoria to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. He said geosequestration could enable Victoria to substantially reduce CO2 emissions into the atmosphere for more than 100 years and that it is estimated that in the Gippsland basin there is the capacity to store the emissions from the Latrobe Valley power stations for 120 years.

We also have the Energy Technology Innovation Strategy of the current government. That has committed funds alongside those from the commonwealth government into various clean coal technologies. There is general agreement on that approach. The Liberal Party in its policy of last year made clear its support for a range of measures to tackle greenhouse gas problems, including a research fund to build on the existing commonwealth and state government funding, additional specific funding for an energy efficiency program, funding for demand management programs, support for geothermal energy, support for solar energy, and a sensible policy on wind farms that would allow them to go ahead in appropriate places where they had community support while avoiding imposing them in inappropriate locations against the wishes of the local community and creating as much angst as the current government has created.
We should be in agreement on proceeding down a path of seeking to promote sensible research and the development of a whole range of clean technology for the production of energy.

As I said, that has the support of both sides of Parliament. However, there are other aspects about what the current government is doing and what the federal Labor Party is doing with which we would take great issue.

While there has been a lot of talk about emissions trading — a lot of hot air on the subject and a lot of big numbers put up as targets — the Labor side of politics has failed to do the hard work on how an emissions trading scheme would actually work and what its implications would be not only for the national economy but also for the standard of living of Australians and how carbon constraints should be best implemented in a way that minimises the adverse economic impact.

It is a case of the Labor Party giving you a lot of talk, but if you want a job done properly and practicably, you need the Liberal side of politics to do it.

That is the lead that the Prime Minister has been setting, instead of just rushing in without having done his homework in the same way the federal opposition leader, Mr Rudd, has done. Instead of huffing and puffing and looking for media grabs the way the state Labor governments have done, the Prime Minister has very sensibly said that we need to look at what is involved before we commit to a carbon trading scheme, and we need to look at the best way of doing it.

His approach is to be contrasted with the National Emissions Trading Taskforce, which is the body that was set up by the various state governments. It ended up last year with a discussion paper that in effect had a conceptual model for a carbon trading scheme, and it did a little bit of work on some of the implementation aspects, but it either ducked or did not address the crucial questions of where the burden would fall if a carbon trading scheme were implemented and assessing what the overall carbon emission reductions should be.

That has been the trouble all along. The burden of pollution control, including emissions control, in our federal system falls primarily on the states, but they have ducked that responsibility, and yet again the burden has fallen on the commonwealth to take the lead and get the job done.

What the Labor Party has failed to explain to the populace is the potentially very dramatic effect of emissions reductions on standards of living, if they are not handled appropriately. The possible range of impacts will vary drastically, depending on exactly what system of carbon constraints are imposed. I note that one of the aspects of the communique issued by the premiers and territory leaders back in February this year was to call for the auction of permits for carbon trading, with revenues to be divided amongst the states and territories in a way that produces equitable outcomes.

So we can see that behind all the grand appeals, the states are very much focused on how they are going to get a flow of revenue into state coffers as a result of the carbon trading schemes they want to see introduced.

Let me just say that all the expert evidence makes it clear that the best way of efficiently achieving emissions reductions is not to try to impose particular technological solutions, particularly at a state level, as the Victorian renewable energy target scheme has done, but for the government to set the policy parameters and then let the market find the best technological solutions within the policy parameters that the government has set. That has been borne out by studies undertaken by the National Generators Forum and others. Again that is a point which shows our side of politics is in sharp contrast with the other side. Overall we should be focusing on the reality of this debate and how to achieve the best solutions rather than scoring — —

The DEPUTY SPEAKER — Order! The member’s time has expired.