You are here

Labor Motion - Hydrogen Strategy

25 September 2019
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Madam Speaker, I have a lot to say to this motion. We support the bulk of this motion. We support where it is coming from, which is looking ahead, planning for the future, thinking about renewable energy futures for Tasmania and jobs that will be needed, in this case in the north, because of the changing requirements we have in industry in Tasmania, particularly to phase out fossil fuels rapidly and altogether.

We agree in principle with the Government's amendment and what the minister was trying to do, which is to remove a certain amount of hyperbole and grandstanding the Labor Party has at the end of their motion, and we understand that. Unfortunately, the minister has done exactly the same himself. It is very disappointing to see that he is proposing an amendment that says, 'that the Tasmanian Government is well advanced in developing a Tasmanian Hydrogen Industry Strategy', when he has made it clear that the minister has not provided us with the evidence of where they are up to in the development of this strategy. How would we be able to investigate the truth of that statement? We have to take it on face value, on the minister's word, that the Government is well advanced in this area. I am sorry to say that, given the recent performance of this Government and ministers, we find it difficult to do that on the matter of energy and the relationship between this Tasmanian Liberal Government and federal Liberal Party colleagues.

This is a highly contested space. It is the most contested space on the planet. What we do with energy into the future is the most important decision we can make as a Tasmanian Parliament, as the federal parliament must make, because Australia is the greatest miner and exporter of coal on the planet. We play a huge role in the amount of coal-fired emissions produced planet-wide, which continues to increase the global greenhouse gas emissions and the heating of the planet year on year. It is incredibly important to understand exactly where state and federal governments are up to in negotiations toward a hydrogen industry strategy as well as the Battery of the Nation, which as far as we can tell from the Greens, is just one big puff PR announcement after another, wasting, we believe, $56 million on a feasibility study when we do not even know who are the major players in this race. Who has responsibility, who is taking carriage of the Battery of the Nation? Is it Hydro? Is it TasNetworks? Who is actually in charge here? You know, $56 million is a lot of money to throw at a state government to go off and do a feasibility study when we do not even know what stage of the project we are up to.

This is a multibillion-dollar project, $3 billion or possibly $5 billion, depending on how many interconnectors are part of the story. These are huge decisions for Tasmania to make. We have already had a federal report. Warwick Smith did not recommend a detailed business case be prepared for a second interconnector because, after his research, he concluded that there was no business case that suggested it was worth the money investigating. Nonetheless, in their wisdom, the federal and state Liberal governments decided to throw $56 million behind it. There is a lot of money at stake here but, more importantly, it is the future of the planet to get the settings right.

On the amendment, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am not inclined to support something which purports to be removing the hyperbole of the Labor Party but replacing it with their own. If the minister would like to remove the words 'well advanced', the Greens would be happy to support that amendment and I put that back to him for his consideration.

Moving to the motion, it is important that we investigate hydrogen as a future technology source. I note that the first hydrogen test station in Australia opened in December last year; I am not aware of another one opening. Evoenergy was opened in Fyshwick, a suburb of Canberra. It is interesting that this happened under the watch of a Greens energy minister. I am not surprised to see that these technologies, which ought to be based on renewable energy, are being developed early under a Greens government.

In relation to hydrogen, the point is that it is not just possible to be based on renewable energy. Hydrogen can also be developed from carbon capture storage technology, a technology which has never got beyond its infancy because it is very fraught. It purports to be the solution for having your cake and eating it on coal. It was peddled by the coal industry 20 years ago, when we were coming to an awareness as a country about the dire impacts of greenhouse gas emission increases. The coal industry could see the writing on the wall and was trying to find a way to secure the industry without having to change its practices. Carbon capture and storage was presented as a so-called 'green' alternative for the coal industry as a way of capturing the emissions from power stations and sinking them underground into storage wells situated in rock.

As you can imagine, that is a very fraught industry to establish, technically incredibly difficult. The problem with carbon capture and storage is it has hardly been achieved on a scale in any substantial amount, but it also has, more importantly from the planet's point of view, a large number of emissions that escape and these are called 'fugitive emissions'. It is the fugitive emissions around carbon capture and storage which makes it so dangerous to push as a future energy alternative. We cannot go down that path of using fossil fuels at all, in any form, in the future. The Greens do not support the use of carbon capturing storage techniques for the creation of hydrogen as a fuel, but we do support and encourage the development of renewable energy hydrogen fuels.

The motion before us acknowledges the work of Alan Finkel in chairing the National Hydrogen Strategy Group and their preliminary report proposal was in December last year. They are due to have the final report produced late this year. The report has a number of concerning elements to it, the main one being that Mr Finkel outlines a number of principles to underline a national hydrogen strategy. There are eight principles.

The first principle to underline the terms of reference in the development of the national hydrogen strategy is ambition, with other principles being to be a commercial focus and technology-neutral. The last principle is to be consistent with sustainable environmental management. Mr Finkel writes:

Policies and measures should include consideration of domestic and global environmental impacts and Australia's international obligation. There should be no substantial negative impact on Australia's greenhouse gas emissions or the environment.

Well, ho, ho, ho. To hear those words put down at the end of a list of principles written by Mr Finkel for the Australian Government to consider, clearly he knows the political environment he is working within. Clearly he knows the constraints within which he must write a report, because no credible scientist could actually put last on the list of principles that we 'include consideration of' our global environmental impacts.

Hydrogen development must put first our commitment to Australia's international obligations, the most important one being the United Nations framework convention on climate change which seeks to have the whole planet keep our global emissions to below 1.5 degrees. We cannot have as a principle no substantial negative impact on greenhouse gas emissions. We must have as a principle no impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

In this report when Mr Finkel talks about governments he proposes the establishment of a working group that would have an advisory panel with senior representatives from a large number of areas of industry but no-one representing the environmental movement with responsibility for assessing the impacts of damage to the climate. It is all about gas pipelines, distributions, producers and export and safety. They are all worthy things but meaningless unless they are situated in the context of making sure that any export industry established by the Australian Government commits to keeping us within our greenhouse gas emission targets that we signed up to under the Paris Agreement.

The principles underlying the Finkel review show this move by the Australian Government for what it principally is, which is to throw a lifeline to the coal industry. The coal and gas industries, which both the Labor and Liberal parties still accept massive donations from and essentially are beholden to the interests of, are killing us because we have the highest emissions. We are the greatest exporter of coal on the planet and we are responsible, whether we like it or not, for the emissions that come from the coal that we export from our land. We can do something about that. We can stop doing it; and we have to. We do not have a choice about it.

There is another way. The other way, as the Australian Greens have detailed in yet another policy we have produced. I will let the Government know because I know they take an interest in the work we do in this area. It does look at a lot of the detail and it costs how we can move away from giant multi-national coal and gas companies that extract our resources for free, polluting the local environment, paying no tax to Australia and how instead we can replace those with clean energy exports which would include renewable energy transformed into hydrogen or ammonia and exported to Asia through underground cables.

This is a great opportunity for Australia. We are in great danger of ruining our reputation even more than we already have by continuing on with the madness of opening up the Adani Coal Mine. I am sure that people would be interested to know that the Bob Brown Foundation is having the inaugural launching of the film, The Adani Convoy, which will be shown at the State Theatre on Thursday week if people would like to look at the success of the convoy in raising people's awareness.

Mr O'Byrne - And getting a Senate seat in Queensland for the Greens and polarising Queenslanders and delivering a conservative government. Hooray and well done.

Dr WOODRUFF - I am raising people's attitudes in regional Australia, being a voice for people, being a voice for people in local communities in outback Australia who are in a wilderness of seats, like Barnaby Joyce's.

Mr O'Byrne - So you go and polarise that community. You poke them in the eye.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order.

Dr WOODRUFF - Do you call the global strike for climate polarising?

Mr O'BYRNE - No, I do not. Could you take that back? You are verballing me . A point of order, I take offence to that. I was not referring to the global climate strike. I am supportive of that action and for you to infer otherwise is offensive.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, I said would you call that polarising.

Mr O'Byrne - No, that is not what you said.

Dr WOODRUFF - My intention was to use the word 'would'. Would you call that polarising?

Mr O'Byrne - No.

Dr WOODRUFF - No, there you go.

Mr O'Byrne - But that is not what you did.

Dr WOODRUFF - Bob Brown and all the people who were involved in that convoy, all the people involved standing in communities -

Mr O'Byrne - Delivered you a Senate spot in Queensland. Well done, you got one senator in Queensland.

Dr WOODRUFF - It provided a voice just like the global strike for climate has provided a voice for young people who care about their future, provided a voice for regional communities in Queensland and New South Wales who were deeply concerned that they had people running for parliament who support the Adani Coal Mine. That is the bottom line. Someone has to speak for those people because it will not be the Labor Party and it will not be the Liberal Party. It is all the same issue. This is the point.

Mr O'Byrne - This superiority is obscene.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is not about superiority. It is facts. It is science and reality. There is no just transition on a dead planet.

Mr O'Byrne - No, we are talking about your political strategy, not the content.

Madam DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, Mr O'Byrne, you have made your contribution. I ask that you let the member make a contribution.

Dr WOODRUFF - It is an interesting lens that Mr O'Byrne looks through; a lens that looks through the pure politics of retaining a seat. How fascinating. How instructive. That is how the Labor Party thinks and that is why we are here where we are today. The Greens are interested in the future and looking at the impact of climate change, which is catastrophic. We are on the brink of a precipice.

It is clear that a fuel like hydrogen is a beneficial fuel for the future as long as it is based on renewable energy, as long as it is not based on carbon capture and storage emissions. The work that has been undertaken at the international level recognises what I have been talking about.

The International Renewable Energy Agency - IRENA - produced a report in September 2018 called Hydrogen from Renewable Power, Technology Outlook for the Energy Transition. That report also makes the point that to achieve the targets in the Paris Agreement, the global energy system must undergo a profound transformation from one largely based on fossil fuels to an efficient and renewable low-carbon energy system. At the moment, the report says over 95 per cent of current hydrogen production is fossil-fuel based. Only around 4 per cent of global hydrogen supply is produced by electrolysis. We need to change that balance dramatically so that we are no longer reliant on fossil fuel-based hydrogen production but we look instead to renewable energy as the basis for that production.

One of the things we need to do in tandem with a national hydrogen strategy - and I have little faith that it is going to do the things that it needs to do, given the proposal that Alan Finkel has prepared - is to put more funds into the Australia Renewable Energy Agency which has been working in partnership between government and industry now since Christine Milne, the Leader of the Australian Greens at the time, established the agency as part of the conditions of our role when we were in the balance of power.

Although Tony Abbott, when he was the prime minister did his very best to kill IRENA and every good part of the renewable energy strategy that the Greens had successfully brought in, he could not do it because it is such a successful body. It has produced amazing outcomes, far outstripping the dreams of people in the early days about what could be achieved.

The Renewable Energy Agency has paid huge dividends to the amount of money that was invested into it. Unfortunately, it was cut. At the beginning of the last term of parliament, the Liberal and Labor parties teamed up and stripped half a billion dollars from IRENA's budget. Shame on them because that is money that has been so well invested for Australia's future.

Ms O'Connor - Parliamentary friends of coal, anyone?

Dr WOODRUFF - That is right, thank you for reminding me. Parliamentary friends of coal, another opportunity for the Labor and Liberal Party members to stand together and speak for a fossil-fuel future against the interests of young people who are striking for a climate action.

The Greens have a policy commitment to reinstating the IRENA funding and investing a further $500 million into it. We also have a commitment to a rolling $300 million annual budget and an allocation of an extra $10 million into funding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. It is that level of commitment that we need to make, that the Greens are prepared to make, to a renewable future that will provide the jobs that have been talked about by the fossil fuel industry. That is where the jobs of the future need to be. We need to talk about what a just transition means.

It does not mean keeping coal-fired stations open. It does not mean keeping thermal coal mining going after 2030. No, it means ending those things and finding renewable industries which are already there for workers to go to. Workers in Queensland, New South Wales and Tasmania, we need a plan. Like it or not, the end of fossil fuels is coming and bring it on.

We have an amendment we would like to propose to cement what I believe is underlying the intention of the Labor Party's motion. It is not stated clearly enough. The intention is to rule out the possibility that carbon capture and storage could be used to derive hydrogen in production in Tasmania. It is not likely but we want to make it very clear. A report was released by the Australian Government, Geoscience Australia has produced maps, and the minister may be aware of these, of prospective hydrogen production regions in Australia. It does include Tasmania as a place that has prospective potential for hydrogen production in all of these maps.

They have five scenarios and each of these scenarios provides different options for the production of hydrogen. The first scenario is renewable wind, solar and hydropower resource potential. The second is renewable hydrogen from future coastal production. The third scenario is renewable hydrogen, coastal or inland generation. The fourth is carbon capture and storage hydrogen, which is in an advanced development stage. The fifth is carbon capture storage hydrogen, greenfield areas. Three of these scenarios are based on renewable energy as the underlying resource for the production of hydrogen and two of them are based on carbon capture and storage, hydrogen as the underlying source. We have a motion here that would come after point 6, which is originally listed as -

Further notes that it is estimated that a hydrogen plant, converting renewable energy into hydrogen for export, would support the creation of 500 jobs in northern Tasmania.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the motion be amended by inserting after point 6 -

(a) Notes that Geoscience Australia mapping shows that Tasmania has a high potential for hydrogen production through electrolysis and supports the production of hydrogen through electrolysis in Tasmania.

(b) Calls on the Government to rule out production of hydrogen in Tasmania from fossil fuel-derived hydrogen coupled with carbon capture and storage as proposed in scenarios 4 and 5 in the Geoscience Australia Prospective hydrogen production regions of Australia report.

This cements what I believe is the basis for the probability of hydrogen production in Tasmania, which is that it would be based primarily from wind energy and possibly from hydro energy and solar. In all probability, it would not be based on fossil fuels coupled with carbon capture and storage. That is unlikely but, given the trajectory of where we are in making strong statements about the need for new industries to not be based on fossil fuels, we would be comfortable with this amendment because it makes that very clear. I am happy to circulate the maps from Geoscience Australia. The positioning of the different areas that are suitable is not really important. The relevant thing is that scenarios 4 and 5 in the Geoscience Australia report, which the amendment refers to, simply say that scenario 4 is carbon capture and storage hydrogen and scenario 5 is carbon capture and storage hydrogen, greenfield areas. Both scenarios refer to carbon capture and storage.

Tags: