Jun 22, 2005

Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill 2005, Second Reading

Second Reading

22 June 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.15 p.m.)—When I began my speech prior to question time, I did not get through to the completion of my amendment, so I might start at the beginning again. I move:

That all words after “That” be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

‘whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House:

(1) notes that:

(a) the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Amendment Act 2003 received bi-partisan support as it built constructively on the Ozone Protection legislation of the Hawke and Keating Governments;

(b) the licensing process for the air conditioning and refrigerant industry being undertaken by an industry board (appointed by the Minister) is the keystone of the proposed ozone and synthetic greenhouse gas emission minimisation program;

(c) the licensing regime for 50,000 tradespeople commences on 1 July 2005; and

(2) is concerned that, as a result of unnecessary delays caused by the Minister for the Environment;

(a) the national industry board for the air-conditioning and refrigerant industry was belatedly appointed on 31 May 2005, six months after it was expected to be announced and only one month before the new licensing regime begins;

(b) there was widespread frustration and confusion in the industry because the reforms proposed by the Act were delayed; and

(c) the environmental improvements which are the rationale for the 2003 Act have not been achieved’.

I note that a very similar second reading amendment was passed by the Senate without any dissent being recorded. Clearly, there must be some concern amongst the minister’s own Senate colleagues over his handling of this issue; otherwise, the government would have argued against the minister being criticised for causing unnecessary delays in the appointment of the industry board. Also, you would have thought the government would have supported the minister against criticisms that he had not achieved the environmental improvements which are the rationale for the 2003 act. Clearly, the criticisms are well founded, and that is why the Senate voted as it did.

The Environment and Heritage Legislation Amendment Bill 2005 proposes amendments to two acts: the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 and the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001. The proposed amendments to the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act are relatively uncontroversial and are of a housekeeping nature. They ensure that a person importing or exporting used HCFC or methyl bromide has either a used substances licence or a controlled substances licence—not both, as could be the case under the existing act. It also applies the same controls and reporting requirements to anyone who sets up a synthetic greenhouse gas—SGG—manufacturing operation in Australia as those applying to SGG importers.

The amendments to the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust Act 2001 permit the sale of a disused scout hall in Mosman and a land swap to replace the lost public space. These are uncontroversial and have the support of the New South Wales government. The Sydney Harbour Federation Trust legislation is legislation that I spoke on when it was introduced. The harbour is the jewel in Sydney’s crown, and I, as someone who was born there and loves Sydney Harbour, certainly believe that Sydney is the jewel in Australia’s crown. Anything we can do to protect and enhance the Sydney Harbour National Park and the public space around the harbour is to the benefit of all Australians. On this side of the House, we support these minor changes to the act.

I want to confine my comments today primarily to the changes that are effected by the amendments to the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act. The main industries affected by the amendments to this act are the refrigeration and airconditioning industries and the fumigation industry. In Australia, the regulation of the fluorocarbon gases used in the refrigerant industry started when the Hawke Labor government introduced the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Management Act 1989 to phase out CFCs and implement the Montreal protocol. CFCs, as everyone came to know, were causing global ozone depletion or, to put it another way, a hole in the ozone layer. International action on this important issue was urgent, and the Hawke Labor government acted quickly and decisively to phase out the import and manufacture of CFCs by 1 January 1996.

Recently I had the pleasure, at an Australian-Israel Chamber of Commerce function in Sydney, to hear Dr David Suzuki talk about climate change and the challenge that it presented to us. He drew parallels with the issue of CFCs and their impact on the ozone layer and how, originally, it was thought that these revolutionary consumer items were going to bring great benefit to us. It took time for the danger that CFCs were causing to the ozone layer and the threat that they posed to the global environment to be recognised. There is a parallel with the current debate on climate change and the danger that greenhouse gases are causing to the climate and, therefore, not just to our environment but also to our potential economic future.

I am very pleased and proud to say that the Hawke Labor government’s decision to phase out CFCs by 1 January 1996 was achieved with strong community support and without significant disruption to industry. It is a great practical example of taking action that is necessary, rather than finding reasons not to take action as a global community. The Hawke Labor government’s actions are in stark contrast to the complacency of the Howard government when it comes to climate change. In 1995, the Keating Labor government continued this good work and introduced the Ozone Protection Amendment Act 1995, which included controls on HCFCs, reflecting their inclusion in the Montreal protocol. HCFCs are also an ozone-depleting gas, albeit considerably less so than CFCs. They will be phased out by 2020 at a rate considerably in advance of Australia’s international obligations. This great result was achieved because the Keating government worked with industry to do the best that it could, not merely just the minimum. Again, the Keating Labor government’s actions are in stark contrast to the abject complacency and incompetence of the Howard government when it comes to taking action on climate change.

The Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Amendment Act 2003 included controls on HFCs and was seen as a useful step by the industry. It received bipartisan support. The legislation will minimise emission of HFC gases which are controlled by the Kyoto protocol but previously uncontrolled in Australia. HFC gases are mainly used as refrigerants. These gases do not deplete the ozone layer but do have a significant greenhouse warming potential. End use controls—that is, minimising the emissions of these gases to atmosphere through sound industrial practices—are contained in the regulations dated 16 December 2004. The controls are put in place by improving training and other standards in the industry, certifying tradespersons and inspecting associated work. Without an appropriate licence a tradesperson will not be permitted to purchase refrigerants. Companies buying and selling refrigerants or using refrigerants in a manufacturing process will also have to be appropriately licensed, abide by agreed standards and be subject to inspection. This licensing process is a keystone of the act’s emission minimisation program and is to be undertaken by an industry board to be appointed by the minister. The board was to be directed by the Department of the Environment and Heritage. This approach received strong industry support and emerged from a consultation and review process held over a number of years. Somewhat scandalously, the minister did not appoint the industry board until three weeks ago—on 31 May 2005. With nobody to put the program in place until three weeks ago, the legislation passed way back in late 2003 has not, up to this point, produced a tangible environmental benefit.

According to ABC news reports in February, the appointment of a national industry board was derailed after lobbying from a small section of the industry in Western Australia. After achieving bipartisan support for such important legislation and also getting industry support for national regulation, the minister backflipped and wanted to rewrite the whole thing. This step was taken without consultation with industry, and the minister refused to meet with industry representatives. The minister stated that he wanted to take in ‘regional and sectoral’ considerations. I think everyone here knows what that is code for when this minister and other ministers in the Howard government speak about ‘sectoral’ considerations. The minister delayed the whole licensing regime for six months while he tried to find a way to accommodate these parochial interests. Not surprisingly, the minister’s approach was severely criticised by the industry.

Senior people in the refrigeration industry could not hold back their anger and frustration with the minister. The editorial in the April 2005 edition of Climate Control News stated:

The Minister’s decision—

not to proceed with a single national board— has left a broad cross section of the Aussie refrigeration industry in varying degrees of anger, frustration and confusion.

What an editorial—anger, frustration and confusion caused by government inaction. But the editorial had a bit more to say than that. It went on:

But the real loser in all this is the very thing the whole process was set up to save—the environment. … Despite being millions of dollars and four years down the track, not a single gram of carbon dioxide equivalent has been saved from entering the ether.

Like Nero all those centuries ago, the earth is burning while Campbell fiddles.

Ms Julie Bishop interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The Minister for Ageing laughs at the predicament that the minister finds himself in.

Ms Julie Bishop—I laughed at the Shakespearean overtones.

Mr ALBANESE—Minister, that was an editorial from the April 2005 edition of Climate Control News. It is not from the Labor Party and it is not from the trade union movement; it is from the main industry newsletter—people on the ground who know what the impact of this government’s inaction has been. Also quoted in the April edition of Climate Control News was Rod King, president of the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Equipment Manufacturers Association—note: the association, not the union; this is the industry. He said:

There have been press reports that the Minister is considering establishing multiple boards—but we can find no justification or rationale for this approach. We have just spent years getting to the point where we have comprehensive national regulation of refrigerants and now there seems to be a move to implement accreditation on a state basis.

But Mr King went on to say a bit more as well. He said:

This approach is completely inconsistent with other Federal Government reforms, such as the move towards a unitary industrial relations system.

But who could expect consistency from this government? They have been up at the International Whaling Commission arguing that secret ballots are a bad thing, and yet in industrial relations, when it comes to workers having control over their own environment, they are pro secret ballots.

So it is consistency that is needed when it comes to the environment, just as on the issue of the Kyoto protocol we have a different position from that which we had on the Montreal protocol. By our not being a part of the most significant global effort on the most important environmental challenge facing the global community, that of avoiding dangerous climate change, we are undermined when we talk to the international community about issues that everyone here would agree with—everyone except the parliamentary secretary for tourism—which is that whaling is a practice that should be consigned to the dustbin of history.

We need consistency when it comes to the environment if we are going to be able to achieve real gains. Alan Woodhouse, the CEO of the Australian Refrigeration Council, another industry body, stated:

We are all very disappointed. The Government called for tenders to fulfil a single national industry board. We responded with a very thorough tender that complied with all the specifications. Now, nearly 12 months later the Department of Environment and Heritage is abandoning the original tender and the structure and outcome from work put in over the last three years. Why?

Alan Woodhouse then noted he was ‘understandably bewildered and upset’ by the minister’s actions. In attempting to overturn the national approach and protect parochial interests at the expense of a consistent national approach, the minister has threatened the underlying philosophy behind this important legislation, which enjoyed bipartisan support in this House. The delays in appointing the industry board exposed the airconditioning and refrigeration industry to severe consequences as the industry board issues the licences which will be required by law for 50,000 tradespeople after 1 July 2005.

So you have got a system that is going to apply to 50,000 people in 10 days time being debated in this House now, when the board was appointed at the end of last month, on 31 May. This is an extraordinary performance even by the minister’s own standards when it comes to taking decisive action on issues of environment and heritage. And that is why Labor is moving the second reading amendment today. It is also possibly why the Senate carried the second reading amendment yesterday without the government members even calling for a vote or expressing opposition to our amendment.

Ms George—Amazing. Embarrassed, were they?

Mr ALBANESE—As the member for Throsby, the parliamentary secretary for environment and heritage for the Labor Party, says, I think they were embarrassed by this performance, because the whole purpose of the licensing regime is to minimise ozone-damaging gases and other greenhouse gas emissions. There has been widespread frustration and confusion in the airconditioning and refrigeration industry because the reforms proposed by the act have been delayed by the minister. More than 50,000 tradespeople in the airconditioning and refrigeration industry have been frustrated and confused as to what the industry’s licensing regime is. It is a scandal that the environmental improvements which are the rationale for the bipartisan 2003 act have not been achieved. Once again this shows the minister and the Howard government are just not serious about taking practical steps to avoid dangerous climate change. The Howard government is slow, it is reluctant and it is complacent when it comes to tackling the issue of climate change. National leadership is needed to avoid dangerous climate change, but instead Australia has a lethargic, tired approach.

Climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels and greenhouse gases is changing Australia’s climate right now. Australia is at one of the most important crossroads in its history. What we do in the next 10 years about these issues will determine the fate of our economy and our environment for the rest of this century and beyond. The extended four-year drought gripping Australia is the most dramatic example of climate change to hit our continent. Experts predict Australia is going to get progressively drier over the coming century because of changes to our climate caused by greenhouse pollution. According to the CSIRO, climate change will only worsen drought conditions.

The Prime Minister’s decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol—having had the former Minister for the Environment and Heritage, Senator Hill, sign the Kyoto protocol in 1997 and declare it a win for the environment and a win for jobs—is an outrage.

Mr Lloyd interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The member for Robertson, sitting opposite, proclaims confusion about jobs and the Kyoto protocol. But I was quoting the Prime Minister from 1997—that is what he said. He was right then but he is wrong now when it comes to taking decisive action, because the decision not to ratify the Kyoto protocol is stopping new investment in technology which would reduce greenhouse gases, create jobs and move Australia to a cleaner, more secure energy future.

The Kyoto protocol is not perfect, but it is an essential first step and shows what can be done when the international community works together. It is a global solution to a global problem. Not ratifying Kyoto means Australia cannot contribute to how the world is dealing with the climate crisis. One hundred and forty other nations are having a say, but we are not. We have no credibility in the discussions over emission reductions in future international agreements, which will take effect after 2012. Quite clearly much deeper cuts will be necessary. In a passionate speech in Britain recently, the international Chairman of Shell, Lord Oxburgh, stated:

We have roughly 45 years. And if we start NOW, not in 10 or 15 years’ time, we have a chance of hitting those greenhouse gas reduction targets. But we’ve got to start now. We have no time to lose … The boat is sinking, and we have to use everything that we possibly can.

It is extraordinary that companies such as Shell and BP are so far ahead of the position taken by someone like the Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources who thinks that climate change is not really happening. People in industry, including those industries which have contributed greatly to climate change, understand very well that the world has to change. Certainly the frustration of the refrigeration industry is another example of the overwhelming frustration felt by those who recognise the dangers of climate change and want to do something about it. That is what the second reading amendment that we have moved today is about. My colleague the member for Throsby will second it. It is a fair and balanced amendment, and I ask members to join with the Senate in supporting it.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—Is the amendment seconded?

Ms George—I second the amendment and reserve my right to speak.