02 August 2023
When I was elected as the member for Indi, I was given a clear mandate by the community to take meaningful action on climate change. I take this mandate very seriously. It is my responsibility, as a legislator and as an Independent member of parliament, to scrutinise each piece of legislation that comes before me on its individual merits. I ask what problem the law is aiming to solve. I seek briefings on the detail and do my best to understand the evidence underpinning the proposed law from a range of perspectives. I ask whether it’s good for the nation, whether it’s ethical and whether it demonstrates good governance. And I try to determine whether the people of Indi would support or oppose such a law.
I have deep concerns about the Environment Protection (Sea Dumping) Amendment (Using New Technologies to Fight Climate Change) Bill in its current form. The short title of the bill is ‘Using new technologies to fight climate change’, but I have genuine concerns that these proposed new technologies will do more harm than good for our climate and our environment. This bill will establish a regulatory system to support carbon dioxide export, allowing countries to reduce their emissions. This export is for the purpose of carbon dioxide sequestration into the seabed, known as carbon capture and storage, or CCS. The bill also allows the government to create a regulatory system to place waste into the sea for scientific research purposes—for example, research into ocean fertilisation, which aims to remove carbon dioxide from the ocean.
The government says that this bill will allow Australia to meet its international law obligations under the London protocol. The London protocol is an international agreement about protecting and preserving our marine environment. It was amended in 2009 and again in 2013 to allow countries, including Australia, to regulate new technologies to tackle climate change, like CCS and ocean fertilisation. But essentially it allows exceptions to prohibitions on dumping carbon dioxide into the ocean by allowing certain technologies to be used, and I have serious concerns about these technologies.
CCS has thus far proven to be an unreliable method for reducing carbon dioxide. It’s already being used in Australia by fossil fuel companies that are seeking to sequester their carbon through the projects that generate it. But it has not been proven to actually work. For example, Chevron’s Gorgon CCS project on Barrow Island in Western Australia has faced consistent challenges, resulting in a failure to come even close to meeting sequestration targets for the carbon dioxide generated by that project. Indeed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—the United Nations body whose job it is to assess climate change related science—have said that CCS is expensive and there are risks of leaks from undersea storage of carbon. They emphasised that CCS must not be a substitute for decarbonisation.
I understand that the government have received advice that CCS will play a necessary role in reducing carbon emissions. I understand that this bill is about allowing CCS in a highly regulated environment so that it can be improved as technology and its risks are managed. I also understand that, despite what the minister for the environment might say, there are specific projects that will benefit from this bill. The Santos Barossa project off Darwin is very carbon intensive. Santos has stated that to comply with the Safeguard Mechanism it is developing the Bayu-Undan CCS project in East Timor’s waters. The bill will allow Santos to export its carbon dioxide to East Timor for carbon capture and storage in that country’s waters.
The Australia Institute says that there are just 30 operating CCS projects in the world, and 20 of those are dedicated to extracting more fossil fuels. But we need to be very careful about supporting a technology that is essentially unproven yet could allow fossil fuel mining and burning to continue. CCS doesn’t actually work as promised, and we should be asking ourselves why fossil fuel companies continue to propose such projects.
I will be voting against the bill at this stage. I support the amendments of my crossbench colleagues and I urge the government to support them too. I also urge the government to consider further amendments in the Senate in line with the Greens dissenting report on the Senate inquiry into the bill, because there are clear ways to improve this bill so that CCS happens only in the rarest of circumstances and doesn’t just allow fossil fuel projects to continue.
These amendments would (1) ensure there is no public funding of CCS projects, (2) require the country Australia is exporting carbon dioxide to, like Timor-Leste, to have environmental protections that are the same as or better than those in Australia, and (3) restrict the scope of ministerial discretion in deciding to issue a export permit. They would only allow export permits to be issued for negative emissions and they would require our environment laws to be strengthened before allowing export permits to be issued. I am talking in particular about the government’s long-promised reforms to the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act. These reforms are urgently needed to ensure future projects proceed only with the strongest environmental protections behind them.
I’ve met with the minister’s office and, in line with these conversations, I’ve put forward an amendment in addition to those proposed by my crossbench colleagues. My amendment would prevent CO2 export permits being granted to future fossil fuel facilities, ensuring that CCS and exporting carbon dioxide cannot be used as justification for new fossil fuel projects. The adoption of amendments proposed by me and my crossbench colleagues, as well as by me, and further amendments in the Senate would give me some assurance that under the bill we are allowing CCS to happen only in the strictest and rarest of circumstances. If these amendments were passed, that would allow me to reconsider my position on this bill.
Fossil fuel projects must end. They must not continue to be offered pathways for survival. We must decarbonise if we have any hope of staying below two degrees of warming. According to the United Nations Secretary-General, the era of global warming has ended and the era of global boiling has arrived, and we’ve just experienced the warmest July on record. The government cannot pass legislation that clearly does not reflect the real urgency of acting on climate change. I urge the government to work with the crossbench and improve this bill.