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Summer 2001 cover

National Observer Home > No. 47 - Summer 2001 > Editorial Comment

The Kyoto Controversy and Senator Hill

The Kyoto Protocol, if it came into force, would have alarming consequences for the Australian economy and for Australians' standard of living.  It would in effect require Australia to reduce, by the period 2008-2012, net greenhouse gas emissions (predominantly emissions of carbon dioxide) to no more than 108 per cent of their 1990 levels.

Therefore, since in the ordinary course greenhouse emissions in Australia are estimated to increase at 1.6 per cent per annum, by 2100 emissions will be 133 per cent of their 1990 level, and a reduction from 133 per cent to 108 per cent would be required.

A reduction from 133 per cent to 108 per cent would be expected to have quite devastating consequences.  Australia has many energy-intensive industries (for example, for aluminium, steel, zinc, magnesium and fertilisers), and the production and use of oil and gas for industrial purposes must be added to their use for domestic purposes, for cars and other transport and for heating and general home use.

The seriousness of the Kyoto proposal was emphasised by Mr. Ray Evans in a paper given in Sydney to the Samuel Griffith Society on 11 November 2000:

"The difference between Kyoto and every other international treaty is this.  If Kyoto is brought into effect the economic dislocation which must follow its implementation will be unprecedented in modern times."

Further, the Kyoto push represents only part of a general Greens-originated campaign intended to have the effect of closing down or curtailing important sources of energy.  Mr. Evans presented by way of example:

"There are now two Bills before the Senate, fortunately held up by Democrat intransigence, the Renewable Energy (Electricity) Bill and the Renewable Energy (Electricity) (Charge) Bill 2000.  These Bills, if enacted and upheld by the High Court would impose an extra cost of some $800 million on electricity consumers, by requiring wholesalers of electricity to source a stipulated quantity of electricity from the high-priced but so-called renewable generators, at the expense of the coal-based generators which can provide electricity at a much lower cost. Our black and brown coal-based generators can produce for about $25 to $30 per MW hour. The most economical so-called renewable generators are based on burning wood chips, and their costs of producation are about $90 per MW hour.The $800 million translate into a carbon tax of more than $200 per tonne of coal that is supplanted by wood chips."

What is unfortunately clear is that the Kyoto Protocol proponents and the anti-carbon fuels  Greens lobby are not explaining sufficiently the expected costs of their proposals. If Australia became bound by the Kyoto Protocol, and carbon emissions were reduced by some twenty per cent accordingly, what would be the consequent reductions in G.D.P. growth?  What would be the consequent increases in unemployment?  What consequent reductions in living standards would take place?  In what ways would Australians suffer detriment and inconvenience in their daily lives?

The seriousness of this position is added to by the fact that far-reaching compliance provisions are proposed in association with the Kyoto Protocol. If Australia became bound by the Protocol, it would incur a significant restriction of its sovereignty and would not necessarily be able to protect its people adequately against unanticipated burdens.

Therefore at the very least considerable circumspection is in order before Australia committed itself to the Kyoto Protocol or any similar treaty. There is no call for haste in such important matters.  Ample time should be allowed to consider the pros and cons of what is proposed.  In view of the magnitude of the emerging risks, full public discussion and debate should precede any government action.

Unfortunately, here as in other areas1  a group of public servants, some of whom have apparently ambiguous loyalties to Australia, has acted to encourage Australia to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and the Greenhouse Office is energetically preparing for a carbon tax regime.  These difficulties have been added to by Senator Hill's involvement.

Senator Robert Hill, the Minister for the Environment and Heritage since 1998, is one of the leaders of the "politically correct" group within the Federal Coalition.  Although this group describe themselves as "moderates", they are also referred to dyslogistically as "wets". Their common attribute has unfortunately been to adopt "politically correct" causes, apparently with an intention of gaining support and approval amongst like-minded members of the media. In many cases their causes have run counter to the views of more responsible members of the Coalition, including the Prime Minister, Mr. John Howard.

Senator Hill's "wets" group correspond generally in many of their views with those of the Australian Democrats. Although at a general level these views would be shared by left-of-centre members of the Australian Labor Party, Labor Party members generally temper to a greater degree their doctrinaire views by a measure of practicality.

Doubts in regard to Senator Hill's sympathies have arisen, and are added to by his recent controversial proposal that development projects emitting more than a specified amount of greenhouse gasses should be subject to federal veto2 and by such comments as:3

"The most interesting thing that's happening in the United States is not what government's doing, it's what  industry's doing. A lot of the big industry has now changed its attitude and not only accepts the importance of the United States being part of the global solution to greenhouse, but the fact they've got to play their part as well. That will ultimately flow into the political side in the United States."

Senator Hill was recently described as surprising his colleagues when he released draft "greenhouse trigger" regulations immediately before leaving for The Hague to discuss the Kyoto Protocol. Mr. Andrew Thomson, the Chairman of the Treaties Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade, and an important and influential member of the Coalition, is reported to have said the regulations were "strongly against the national interest", and asked, "Who can fathom the mind of Senator Hill?"4

Although the November 2000 Summit at The Hague failed to agree on implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, the matter is to be addressed further in the future. Clearly additional scientific evidence is needed as to the effects of greenhouse emissions, and meanwhile it has become very doubtful whether Senator Hill is the most appropriate person to represent Australia on environmental issues or whether he is acting appropriately in the national interest.

National Observer No. 47 - Summer 2001