Page 1975 - Week 06 - Wednesday, 25 June 2008

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I look forward to holding a competition on how to put all those words into one sentence.

Inherent in those statements is an assumption that markets have at their heart the best interests of society, whether in a social context or in an environmental context. Of course, markets have no heart and markets do not seek the best interests of society; markets are made up of those people with the most economic power. It would seem to me that we are not doing the best we can if we have an efficient and competitive economic system which pays no heed to the environmental consequences of a fossil fuel and which pays no real regard to the social consequences of regulating an essential community fuel, because gas is not just about economics.

This solely economically focused objective will prevent the new regulators from taking social and environmental goals into account when considering investments in the gas industry. By comparison, the United Kingdom, which has a similar energy system, has environmental and social measures in its energy legislation. Since this is a national framework, the Greens think that more work should be done in examining the social and environmental impacts, not less. The Business Council for Sustainable Energy has commented:

Most states have had strong environmental objectives in their energy legislation and all governments now agree that we need to dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions. At a time of heightened community concern with climate change it is bizarre to think that future energy market developments occur in a manner that does not also support emission reductions.

On a positive note, this bill has been applauded by the Consumer Action Law Centre in Melbourne, as it does make companies reveal lots of detail that they would not otherwise choose to.

Gas has both a positive and a negative impact in relation to tackling climate change. Australia produces the cleanest natural gas in the world and it is an essential transitional fuel to reduce carbon emissions, as it produces half as many greenhouse gas emissions as coal. But it is not as good a fuel as true renewable energy, whether it be solar or wind. When carbon trading starts up, gas will get the advantage over coal, its biggest competitor, but the ones that will get the real advantage are solar, wind and other such alternatives. Energy efficiency is, of course, the best policy of all.

One thing we need to be very careful about is that we do not allow gas to become the end point in terms of energy policy. We need to allow some technology in industries to leapfrog from the dirtiest—that is, brown coal burning power stations—straight to the cleanest renewable energy without going through transitional fuels such as gas.

It is very important that we take environmental considerations into account in relation to gas to ensure that it fulfils its role as an essential community service on the one hand and a transitional fuel on the other in relation to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions—but that we not stop there, as it alone will not solve our greenhouse emission problems.

I understand that the Ministerial Council on Energy will be working closely with COAG’s high-level group on greenhouse to address greenhouse gas emissions from

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