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How can we make Australia more self-reliant when it comes to energy?

By Lyn Allison - posted Monday, 9 August 2004

The Australian Democrats have long been active proponents of renewable energy backing and even enhancing clean fuels. The current Government's policy will not deliver reductions in current greenhouse gas emissions or facilitate a move away from diesel and petrol towards renewable and cleaner sources of energy.

We recognise that Australia is the world's highest per capita greenhouse emitter - in 1999 our total emissions rose to 17.4 per cent above 1990 levels. In 2002 the Democrats were successful with a motion in the Senate calling on the Government to ratify the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and commit to getting more energy from renewable sources, however despite our continued calls for the immediate and unconditional ratification of the Kyoto Protocol, the Howard Government has ploughed on with its black-and-brown policy citing economic health as its main motivating force.

In August 1999, five years ago, the Australian Democrats initiated a Senate inquiry into the adequacy of Australia's response to the challenges posed by climate change. The inquiry, chaired by me produced a detailed final report including 106 recommendations. The Government has failed to act on these recommendations despite that fact they are as relevant now as they were in 1999.


The Democrats believe that, with climate change looming dark on our horizon and devastating drought already on our doorstep, Australia needs strong leadership intent on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is particularly vulnerable to global warming. Coastal communities will face harsh storms and the impact of rising seas. Rural communities may experience rainfall decreases in excess of 30 per cent over most agricultural land resulting in the habitat of many threatened ecosystems and species further contracting.

But, despite this, neither Liberal nor Labor will commit to serious greenhouse gas emission abatement because of their antiquated views that this will hurt Australian industry. This decision is at odds with the experience of many Australian industries which, when faced with the challenge of reducing emissions, develop innovative and cost-effective solutions. Renewable energy and emerging low energy-intensive industries can also create more jobs, particularly in rural areas where they are needed.

By 2030, the Democrats envisage an Australian economy based predominantly on renewable energy. To achieve this, the Kyoto Protocol must be immediately ratified to cut emissions by at least 20 per cent by 2020. Beyond Kyoto, the Australian Democrats support a rolling timetable of reductions in our national and per capita greenhouse gas emissions levels and reliance on fossil fuels.

The Democrats support calls by the Federal Government's Chief Scientist Dr Robin Batterham who suggests that we must cut our emissions by 60 per cent by 2050 and by 80 per cent by the end of this century. Using nuclear technology, coal or sinks as ways of meeting the target are unacceptable. Problems surrounding nuclear waste generation and storage are still unsolved and unproven techniques such as geosequestration may sound interesting but we do not believe in the long term they have any real potential to address the escalating greenhouse emissions from transport and energy generation industries.

The Democrats are committed to expanding Australia's renewable energy sector by increasing the mandated percentage of electricity sourced renewables from 9500 GWh (or less than one per cent) to ten per cent by 2010 and to 50 per cent by 2030. We question the former Federal Environment Minister's claim that lifting MRET to a five per cent target would cost $11.5 billion in lost economic growth. The Government has yet to explain the basis on which this claim was made.

We support a national program to progressively decommission old coal-fired power stations and industry plans to help the Australian renewable energy industry capture ten per cent of the global renewable energy market by 2020. Within the renewable energy market, we support calls for an aggressive wind energy plan to facilitate national standards and streamline planning and approval processes.


During the development of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Democrats won government agreement for a legal clause to ensure greenhouse gas emissions triggered Commonwealth environmental assessment under the Act, subject to State and Territory agreement. Despite the drafting of a trigger by then Environment Minister Robert Hill, the Government has backflipped on this commitment.

The Democrats believe all Australian government departments should be required to set emission reduction targets to be monitored and annually reported. We are urging the Queensland Government to progress its plans to see the state's government cars run on ethanol, and we say 50 per cent of Government fleets should be running on alternative fuels by 2010.

The Democrats are committed to improving public transport to reduce vehicle emissions, and would remove the GST from public transport. Commonwealth road funding should be replaced with a common transport fund where those seeking a transport grant must compete for funds on the basis of greenhouse effects and other agreed criteria.

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About the Author

Lyn Allison is a patron of the Peace Organisation of Australia and was leader of the Australian Democrats from 2004 to 2008.

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