May 23, 2006

Appropriations Bills (Climate Change and Nulcear Power)

Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2006-2007

Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2006-2007

Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2006-2007

Appropriation Bill (No. 5) 2005-2006

Appropriation Bill (No. 6) 2005-2006 Second Reading

23 May 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (7.26 p.m.)—I rise to speak on the appropriation bills. Climate change is the greatest environmental challenge facing the world. There is overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change caused by carbon pollution is making Australia hotter, the oceans warmer and the cities and towns drier. 2005 was the hottest year on record, and the five hottest years on record have been in the last seven years. Climate change directly threatens every city’s and town’s water supply, the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu. Science says that climate change increases the intensity of cyclones and hurricanes. Climate change means we will have more category 4 and category 5 cyclones. We have seen that just this year.

If climate change is unchecked, it will severely damage Australia’s agriculture and tourism industries while also affecting many Australians through severe weather events and further water restrictions. The Bureau of Meteorology says that this is because carbon pollution is changing our climate. There is no doubt that recent steep rises in temperature are due to human activity. To paraphrase respected naturalist Sir David Attenborough, humans have become a force of nature; we are changing the climate, and what happens next really is up to us.

However, there is still no national climate change strategy in Australia. In this budget the one department which will suffer staff cuts is the Department of the Environment and Heritage. Included as part of that are cuts to the Bureau of Meteorology—long-term climate forecasters. One would have thought that was the last area you would cut in the current circumstances. Because of the Howard government’s complacency, Australia is on track to increase its greenhouse pollution by 23 per cent. The Howard government’s complacency and politicking over climate change is placing our environment, economy and vital infrastructure at risk.

The Prime Minister is now playing catch-up politics. He is desperately promoting nuclear power for Australia to pretend he is doing something about climate change, an issue he has ignored for a decade. But the issue of climate change is catching up to John Howard. It is real and the scientific evidence is overwhelming, but, because John Howard is so far behind the game, so in denial and such a mean and tricky politician, his instinct is always to play politics and ignore the national interest. It is always the political interest that is put first by this Prime Minister, never the national interest. Time and time again, confronted with a political problem, the Prime Minister chooses division over leadership. By pushing nuclear energy, the Prime Minister is trying once again to divide Australia not unite it. A climate change strategy focused on clean energy and energy efficiency would unite Australia. Clean energy and energy efficiency are good for everyone—the community, business and, most importantly, our children’s future. Everyone is a winner with clean energy.

Quite frankly, I do not think the Prime Minister is serious about debating nuclear energy. The Prime Minister says he wants a debate but he just walks straight away from that debate and engages simply in insults and vindictiveness. If we are going to have a real nuclear debate in Australia, let us have a debate about climate change. Let us have a debate about why the government is failing to support its own renewable energy industry. Today the government’s environment minister said it was not a problem that Australian renewable energy companies had to move offshore to China in order to commercialise their products rather than produce them here. The company Roaring 40s recently announced they will not proceed with half a billion dollars worth of projects in Tasmania and South Australia. They—not Labor—say that it is because of the failure to increase the mandatory renewable energy target.

Just last month the same company, Roaring 40s, announced a $300 million deal to provide three wind farms to China. It got nowhere near the publicity that the uranium deal did. It was a $300 million deal that can be repeated over and over again, because we are talking about a sustainable renewable energy industry. It was a great achievement for Australia. Roaring 40s are welcome in China but they are not welcome in John Howard’s Australia. That is an absolute disgrace.

If you thought that the Howard government was somehow not to blame for that, over the last two months the minister for the environment has blocked a wind farm in Victoria because one parrot every 667 years would be threatened. Think about this: the same government that is promoting dangerous nuclear energy for Australia says it will block a wind farm because one parrot may be affected every 667 years. Then again, the minister tried to stymie a Western Australian wind farm which his own department has given the green light to. Instead of blocking clean energy projects, the Howard government should seize the economic opportunities of the worldwide push towards clean, renewable energy. Sadly, the approach is all about politics and not about Australian jobs, the Australian economy or the Australian environment. We had the potential for a stronger renewable energy industry, yet the government’s inaction has instead seen our jobs go overseas and our market isolated.

The latest Business Review Weekly Rich 200 list, published each year, has a new debutant. That debutant is the Chinese-Australian dual citizen Dr Zhengrong Shi. He debuted at fourth. He is now the fourth richest Australian, with a wealth of some $3 billion. How does this come about? How does someone go from being not on the list to being the fourth richest Australian at their first appearance? I will tell you how. Mr Zhengrong Shi did his postgraduate and his PhD work in solar energy at the University of New South Wales and at the Australian National University. His wealth comes from developing Australian solar energy technology in China—invented in Australia; made in China. Here we have Mr Zhengrong Shi worth $3 billion. It is an extraordinary achievement, which shows what Australia is missing out on. He is the personification of the government’s failure to invest in the future of Australia.

Less than two years ago the Howard government’s energy white paper stated:

The Australian Government is not contemplating the use of nuclear energy in Australia.

But the Prime Minister now says that it is inevitable. He says he has changed his view because of the increased price of oil. What an absurd argument. You do not put petrol in your light switch to turn on the lights or put yellow cake in your car to make it go. The truth is that oil plays no role in electricity generation in Australia. What an absurd proposition, a dishonest proposition; it is an attempt to distort the debate. There are no nuclear cars but there are nuclear reactors, and, when it comes to the nuclear debate, you cannot have a nuclear debate without stating where you think the nuclear reactors should go and where the nuclear waste should be sited. Will there be a nuclear reactor in Port Stephens, in the member for Paterson’s electorate?

Mr Baldwin interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—Will there be a nuclear reactor on the New South Wales Central Coast? Will it be in Robertson or in Dobell? Will the nuclear reactor be in Western Sydney? Where will it be in Western Sydney—in Penrith or Campbelltown? Where will it be on the North Coast of New South Wales? Where will it be in Queensland—in Brisbane, in North Queensland, in Far North Queensland? Will it be in Melbourne, in Launceston, in Hobart, in Perth, in Adelaide, in Darwin? Where will the nuclear reactors be and where will the waste be stored? That is part of the debate. People such as the defence minister and the Treasurer have said that it is not an issue. Well, once you light a match, you have to take some responsibility for the fire that results. If we are going to have a nuclear debate in this country, bring it on. Bring on a nuclear debate and we will have a debate about where nuclear reactors will be sited and where the waste should be sited, because that is the product that occurs from a domestic nuclear industry.

Until the Prime Minister says where he will site the reactors, he is actually not serious about a debate; he is ducking the debate. I am sure that, if nuclear reactors are so safe and so economical and will contribute positively to Australia, there will be members of the coalition party room putting their hands up saying, ‘Please can I have a nuclear reactor in my electorate.’ I look forward to the member for Paterson and other members putting their hands up and saying, ‘Yes, please, I will have a nuclear reactor,’ having a debate with the Australian people in the form of a federal election campaign and seeing how they go.

Mr Baldwin interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The member for Paterson clearly wants a nuclear reactor in his electorate, so we have our first volunteer! The simple fact is that there are outstanding problems with nuclear energy. According to recent comments by former US Vice President Al Gore, the problems are not limited to the long-term waste storage issue and the vulnerable-to-terrorist-attack issue. Al Gore noted:

For eight years in the White House, every weapons-proliferation problem we dealt with was connected to a civilian reactor program. And if we ever got to the point where we wanted to use nuclear reactors to back out a lot of coal—which is the real issue: coal—then we’d have to put them in so many places we’d run that proliferation risk right off the reasonability scale. And we’d run short of uranium, unless they went to a breeder cycle or something like it, which would increase the risk of weapons-grade material being available.

The increasing threat of terrorism means we should not be getting further into the nuclear fuel cycle. During the Cold War, we had to worry about states. Now we have to worry about states, organisations and individuals, and the threats they potentially represent. Let us not overlook this morning’s important revelation that an interdepartmental committee—comprising people from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Department of Industry, Tourism and Resources and possibly other departments as well—is looking at the issue of nuclear energy for Australia. The committee is called the ‘Global Nuclear Energy Partnership’, which is the same name given to the United States position that talks about nuclear leasing. Nuclear leasing is the concept of enriching uranium, building our own rods and sending them overseas—and then the waste comes back to the country of origin. Why are they doing this? Because even the nuclear industry’s greatest proponents know that the issues of proliferation and waste remain. I say we should not go down that road because there is no mandate to go down that road.

On 28 February 2003 the then minister for the environment, David Kemp, said the government had ‘taken a firm national decision not to develop nuclear power’. In July 2004, less than two years ago, the government released its energy white paper. On page 135, under the heading ‘Climate Change and Energy’, it states:

Use of uranium reserves raises cost, safety and waste disposal issues in power generation … Australia is not contemplating the … use of nuclear power.

The government’s white paper was released in July 2004. Less than two years later, there is a secret interdepartmental committee to change that policy. The Prime Minister waited until he was on the other side of the world, in the safety of the Northern Hemisphere, to make his nuclear fantasy public. The Prime Minister’s nuclear fantasy is Australia’s nuclear nightmare. The government is now talking about the enrichment of uranium and nuclear leasing arrangements whereby Australia would become the world’s nuclear waste dump.

Labor do not believe we should go down that path. There will be no nuclear power in Australia under a Beazley government. The economics do not stack up. We have abundant sources of alternative energy, waste disposal issues are unresolved and there are important national security issues to be considered. For these reasons, we do not support nuclear power in Australia. We do have a plan to avoid dangerous climate change, as set out by Kim Beazley in the climate change blueprint in March this year.

With the challenge of climate change comes an opportunity to enhance our health, through cleaner air, and an opportunity to strengthen our competitiveness by transforming our economy to make it more efficient and more sustainable. Doing so means drawing on the ingenuity and innovation of all Australians. We need to be part of the global move to a carbon-constrained economy. The earlier we move, the more economic advantage we will get from that.

The government is deliberately frustrating the expansion of clean energy technologies that are already available, such as solar energy. Labor’s policy—which includes a national emissions trading system, the ratification of the Kyoto protocol and a climate change trigger in national environmental legislation—would promote the take-up of clean and renewable energy. Labor believe that, if we deliver the right price signals and provide the right incentives within a well-developed and supported regulatory framework, Australia can play a role in helping the world to avoid dangerous climate change.

When the mandatory renewable energy target program was first announced, the government’s stated intention was to increase the market share of renewable energy generation by two per cent. In his second reading speech on the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Bill 2000 on 14 August 2000, Senator Ian Campbell said:

Electricity retailers and other large electricity buyers will be legally required to source an additional 2% of their electricity from renewable or specified waste-product energy sources by 2010.

And what else does this mean for Australia? It means jobs, particularly in regional areas.

However, in its design, the MRET became a gigawatt-hour target rather than a percentage of market share. By making the target in gigawatt hours rather than a percentage of electricity generated, the target became a dead target. The result is that the market share of renewable energy in 2010 will be approximately 10.5 per cent—exactly the same as it was in 1997. The renewable energy industry is currently facing a significant downturn in project activity and investment. Without an increase in the MRET, Australia is at risk of ‘stranding’ industry capability, technology, skills and intellectual property. We saw that with the decision by Roaring 40s not to proceed with renewable energy projects in Tasmania and South Australia. By making the MRET target a dead target rather than a percentage of electricity generated, the government has ensured that the potentially huge and greenhouse-friendly renewable energy industry falls over. That is a loss for Australia.

All around the world, governments are putting in place policies to facilitate the growth of this industry. The future of United Kingdom wind power was brightened with the July 2003 approval of up to 6,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy by 2010. In Spain, Denmark and Germany alone, the expansion of the renewable energy sector has created about a quarter of a million new jobs in the last few years.

The Prime Minister’s refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol has meant Australian companies such as Macquarie Bank are investing in massive renewable energy projects in Europe and Britain. According to Business Review Weekly, Australia is missing out on $3 billion worth of investment due to the inertia of the Howard government. If we are to grow our renewable energy industry effectively and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, we need a regulatory framework that allows the market to operate with certainly. We need effective incentives to drive investment.

When our children look back, they will judge the Howard government very harshly for not taking stronger action to support clean energy and avoid dangerous climate change. The Howard government is fiddling while Australia burns. The Howard government continually shows it does not support renewable energy. The Howard government is taking Australia down the wrong path. A responsible government would have had initiatives in this budget to take stronger action to support clean energy and avoid dangerous climate change. The Howard government has once again shown that its own political interests are a far higher priority than providing a clean, healthy environment for our children, which would provide certainty in terms of Australia’s economic position as well as making sure that we have a sustainable environment.