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Gas Industry Amendment Bill 2020

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Tags: Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I support the amendments in the Gas Industry Amendment Bill. These are a number of small changes that follow the changes to the Gas Act from late 2019. It separated that into the Gas Industry Act and the Gas Safety Act. It was not long after they proclaimed that the department identified a number of things needed to be corrected, particularly that the definition of gas retailer needed correcting. A further change was also proposed to allow the Gas Regulator to review codes approved by the minister. After a good and thorough briefing, thank you very much to the staff who provided that, I am comfortable that they are warranted and important amendments to the Gas Industry Act.

We cannot let this bill go past without making some comments about the situation of the federal Liberal government at the moment and its position on gas and the so-called gas-led COVID-19 recovery.

The Prime Minister's announcement that gas would be part of a COVID-19 recovery is disgraceful. It struck a lot of fear and anxiety into the hearts of people around Australia who have been campaigning for years about concrete action on climate change - concrete action to address the climate emergency.

There is no doubt that once in the 1980s and 1990s gas was considered to be an important move as a transition away from coal and oil. Those were the days where we had the luxury of thinking that we had an extensive amount of time to transition away from what we already knew - that the world was in trouble. We actually knew that in the 1950s but we knew it quite clearly in the 1980s and 1990s. We understood the greenhouse gas emissions were heating the planet. We could see where we were heading. The science was still at an early stage and at that point, when I was working as an epidemiologist on the health impacts of climate change modelling projections into the future, it seemed we had an opportunity to at least change the direction of Australian energy policy and finance, and divert it into gas.

We have since come to understand that the emissions from gas and the so-called fugitive emissions that are emitted during the drawing of gas from deep parts of the earth - those emissions are incredibly high greenhouse gas emissions. It puts gas into an extremely risky category, in terms of the quantity of emissions that are coming from a single joule of gas. It is quite clear the last thing we should be doing at this point in 2020 is shovelling public funds into fossil fuel corporations to expand gas. Even though this was spruiked by the Prime Minister as essential for COVID-19 recovery, in fact all of the projects that are lined up for gas under the federal Liberal Government are certainly not short-term. There will be no short-term jobs from the gas-led recovery.

It is a total lie that any jobs, any substantial industry is created when you put public money or even private money into gas fields and to gas transportation. It is a lie that it is a big job-creating industry. Simon Holmes á Court, who is well-known for his energy analysis and commentary and is considered as somewhat of an expert in the area, tweeted recently that one company in Australia that produces 400 megawatts employs just 13 full-time staff. That is by no means an industry that the federal government - or any government - should be focussing on in a COVID-19 recovery.

It is not surprising to see recommendations for a massive expansion of gas, when the federal government put gas industry executives to lead the COVID-19 economic recovery. No alternatives were recommended by that COVID-19 recovery committee; and what a surprise when we had someone like Andrew Liveris who was the Saudi Aramco and Worley[OK] board member. Saudi Aramco is the largest gas company in the world and he is also a member of the Worley Board.

When you have someone like Mr Liveris as the task force head, it is no surprise that the recommendation is we should put all of our finances into gas. The Liberal Party's energy policy represents the best interests not of Australian jobs, not the future for Australian children, not the future for environmental conservation; it represents Liberal Party donors. That is what federal Liberal energy policy represents. It represents the donors to the Liberal Party, the fossil fuel companies - Woodside, Santos, Origin Energy. Those are the companies that will benefit from the so-called gas led COVID-19 recovery. Stacking the COVID Economic Commission with gas cronies has made the gas-fired climate acceleration plan predictable, but it is still shocking.

Most Australians who understand the gravity of where we are in terms of climate heating are struggling to understand how somebody who calls himself the Prime Minister of Australia can put money into a gas led recovery, after having watched and listened to the heartbreaking stories of people all last summer in eastern Australia - towns burnt down around them; watching forests burn that have never burned in human history - rainforests in parts of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland; watching communities and brave firefighters who died valiantly trying to save their communities.

People do not understand how a Prime Minister - who knows that more than 1 billion native animals died last summer; that fires of a type never before been seen in Australia were witnessed and bravely fought by firefighters by helicopters, on the ground, foot by foot, month by month - can put money into a gas led recovery.

It is not only the Australian energy market operator that has made it clear that Australia does not need more gas generation. It is not just CSIRO scientists who made it clear that gas generation will mean a more expensive form of electricity than renewable energy. It is not the economists who know that gas extraction creates far fewer jobs. It is not the scientists who are telling us that gas is totally incompatible with Paris goals. It is not the investors themselves who understand and who do invest with an eye to the future - they understand that gas has bad returns. There is no money to be made in gas unless it is fundamentally underwritten by public taxpayer money. That is the disgusting thing that the federal Liberals are up to at the moment.

Tomorrow, there is a bill on the table for discussion in the federal parliament, seeking to change the public Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to allow it to fund fossil fuel projects. It was set up as a Clean Energy Finance Corporation to provide finance for renewable energy to bring down greenhouse gas emissions. This Liberal-National Government is gutting the CEFC, if they have their way in the House in Canberra tomorrow, to enable it to fund fossil fuel projects. Not only that, the bill would all the Clean Energy Finance Corporation to use the fund to support gas fired power.

In addition, the bill will exempt the CEFC from the requirement that every single project they fund must deliver a public benefit. It must be profitable. This is a complete attack on the CEFC and the functioning of the CEFC. Everything the CEFC has done has been incredibly beneficial to Australia. The money that has gone through the CEFC and has been handed out to renewable energy generation is why we have huge amounts of galloping expansion in battery technology, incredible forward leaps. Despite the troglodytes making energy policy in the Liberal Party and all of the failures to come up with a united plan with the states and territories to show leadership, the business community have been calling for this loudly for five years now.

Year on year they have been calling and pushing for energy policy clarity, but not like this, not energy policy clarity that is leading us back to the 1980s and is taking us away from the Paris targets that will ensure we resign our children to living in a world which is fundamentally uninhabitable. We have to resist and we will resist what the federal Liberals are doing to energy policy in this country. We cannot have a climate policy that supports more fossils fuels. Investing in the problem is not the solution.

One ray of hope I see on the horizon is the election of Joe Biden as the President of the United States. That party has made a really strong commitment to the United States reengaging with the international climate community and to upping the ante on the commitments not only within the United States - and let us face it, they have a long way to go - but sitting around the table with other countries. Prime Minister Morrison had better watch out because there is going to be a lot of pressure on this federal Liberal Government to change its approach.

We are the international pariah when it comes to our position on climate change and we are falling behind countries around the world at a time when we ought to be going into a leadership role. We have the smarts, we have the track record and we have incredible scientific expertise in Australia. Some of the best climate scientists in the world come from Australia and from Tasmania. Our marine and Antarctic scientists are the best in the world.

We have an opportunity to move on and skip gas and never go there. I certainly hope that the Greens and others on the crossbench tomorrow will be putting pressure on Labor not to support the bill and will be working to make sure it does not pass.

The minister talked before and I want to pick him up on some Orwellian doublespeak he used. The term 'blue gas' is not true; it is a lie. No such thing exists; it is black gas. You cannot put gas in a different category, you cannot colour reform gas. Gas is a fossil fuel as dangerous as coal and oil and as dangerous as burning native forest biomass. We cannot have those sources of fuel any longer. No greenwashing, bluewashing or any colour washing of fossil fuels will make any difference. People, especially young people, are smart, they are not stupid. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Energy in Tasmania can call these things what they like, but people understand that they are toxic to the planet and the sooner we can get rid of them as a form of energy generation the better.

We understand that here in Tasmania there are 12 000 gas connections and we do not understand that there is any expansion of the gas market being proposed. We do, of course, need to create a hydrogen alternative and we dispute the idea that the manufacturing industry is reliant on gas. There are alternatives and the sooner that we can create a hydrogen alternative the better it will be for Tasmanian manufacturing industries.