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ANA Hotel, Gold Coast
15 June 1998

Senator the Hon Ian Macdonald
Parliamentary Secretary to the
Minister for the Environment

Thank you very much Professor Paul Greenfield and to you and the Associate Professor Victor Rudolph and the Ambassador to the Environment Ms Meg McDonald and ladies and gentlemen.

It's a great pleasure for me to see you here today to officially open this second Asia Pacific Conference on Sustainable Energy and Environmental Technology. I might say that this has been a great pleasure to be anywhere besides the political scene, just this morning and it is good to be with people who are making a major contribution to the world and the world's environment.

I particularly welcome the Conference Delegates from other countries apart from Australia as well as Australians but it's tremendous that there are so many delegates from the Asia Pacific region here. The Commonwealth Government is committed to the Asia Pacific region and regardless of some minor hiccups that happen within our democratic political system from time-to-time, the Federal Government's commitment to being part of the Asia Pacific region – having interaction with countries in the Asia Pacific will not in any way diminish. We are committed to this region and we are committed to helping wherever we can, not only in the economies of our neighbours in the Asia Pacific but particularly for this Conferences' agenda, helping countries attack their environmental problems. We have our own and we have to work together to make sure that we address those.

I want to also mention and congratulate the sponsors of this conference Aus Aid, Kyoto Corporation, the CRC for Black coal Utilisation, the CRC for Waste Management and Pollution Control, my own Department, Environment Australia and the Commonwealth Department of Employment Education Training and Youth Affairs. I must say though with your keynote speaker being Ms Meg McDonald and the person opening your conference being Senator Macdonald, I'm rather surprised that you didn't have a large fast food chain as one of major sponsors.

It is, ladies and gentlemen, hard to overstate the ongoing significance of environmental technology, both as a component of sustainable development in our region and to the world more generally. When you consider that the burgeoning international market in environmental technology is already worth some US$400 billion a year, it is pretty easy to see why the old paradigm of the environment or economic growth is becoming so obsolete and is no longer relevant.

The title of this conference includes a particular reference to sustainable energy technology, without tracking from the importance of technological applications addressing other urgent environmental problems, the focus on energy is, I think appropriate.

In Australia, for example, emissions from the energy sector (including transport) accounted for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in 1995. Accordingly, it's both important and timely that one of the focuses of this conference is greenhouse mitigation technology. The Federal Government has welcomed the Kyoto protocol as a significant step forward in the global response to climate change. For the first time developed countries have made legally binding commitments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and to address the threat of climate change.

On 29th of April this year the Environment Minister, Senator Hill, signed the Kyoto Protocol on behalf of the Australian Government.

This step was taken, not only to reinforce to the international community Australia's readiness to do its share of the global task, but also to leave the Australian community in no doubt that we're serious about implementing an effective greenhouse response.

The domestic response is spear-headed by a $180 million package of measures that address Australia's greenhouse gas emissions, which the Prime Minister announced prior to the Kyoto Conference.

Full and effective implementation of these measures, to be managed by the Australian Greenhouse Office, will require a concerted and collective effort over the next decade and beyond from all sectors of the Australian Society – all levels of government, industry and the wider community.

The Prime Minister's package provides an impetus for sustainable energy technologies,

In the terms of direct financial support the Prime Minister's package includes $61.4 million over five years for three new programs to assist the early commercialisation of renewable technologies these are: These programs are very close to being on line, with funding to commence from the 1st of July this year. Guidelines for the programs are currently being finalised. Once they are in place, the Government will be in a position to conduct the first competitive round.

Since their announcement by the Prime Minister, the renewable support programs have attracted a tremendous amount of interest. This confirms the demand for these programs, which will give an immediate boost to Australia's emerging renewable energy industry, with the economic and employment opportunities that that presents.

The second part of the Government's approach is to crate an environment for the continued development of sustainable energy technologies to 2010 and beyond.

There are three important measures which will facilitate and drive this process:

  1. setting a mandatory target for electricity retailers to source an additional 2% of their electricity from renewable energy resources by the year 2010,
  2. implementing by the year 2000 efficiency standards for fossil fuel electricity generation and
  3. the acceleration of energy market reform.
The Government is keen to ensure stake-holder and broader community input into the implementation processes for these and other measures included in the Prime Minister's statement.

We are seeking public submissions on the implementation of the renewable energy targets and efficiency standards, and I encourage any of the delegates here who feel so inclined and have something to contribute to consider making a submission to the Australian Greenhouse Office by the closing date on 26 June, 1998.

Energy market reforms already put in place through cooperation between the Commonwealth and State Governments have the potential to deliver environmental benefits especially in the long term. Competition will discourage over investment in power generation and will allow alternative sources of energy to fairly compete with other generation sources. However, we in Australia recognise that we still have much to do.

In particular, we need to ensure that the market provides appropriate signals for location of load and generation, and for investment in energy efficiency as well as new generation capacity.

Developed countries around the world are finding it increasingly cost-effective to buy energy efficiency through investments in environmental technology, rather than in building more generating capacity.

In this regard I draw your attention to a little known initiative of the Queensland Government and the Far North Queensland Electricity Board, who established some power generating windmills on Thursday Island in the Torres Strait. These two windmills cost $2.5 million and they now provide 10% of Thursday Island's power source. They save 359,000 litres of diesel per annum and they save some $250,000 annually. It's that sort of investment in technology that I think is the coming age.

Another key element of the Government's approach to energy market reform, is to ensure that electricity and gas markets are fully integrated. Gas has a lot of potential as a fuel to reduce greenhouse emissions, and more efficient energy markets can facilitate greater penetration of gas both in electricity generation and direct combustion.

For example, gas-fired cogeneration, which utilises "waste" heat as well as electricity, is an especially promising technology, with generation efficiencies rising by some 20% or more when compared to large-scale power generation.

Ladies and gentlemen I focus so far on the measures included in the Prime Minister's Greenhouse statement which will provide sustainable energy technology at the domestic level within Australia. However, for sustainable energy technologies to maximise their contribution to greenhouse abatement, it's crucial that mechanisms be put in place which transfer technological advances to the international level.

But whilst today I won't dwell on this issue in detail, the Prime Minister's package did include an allocation of some $6 million for a new International Greenhouse Partnerships program. The aim of the Partnerships Program is to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by providing support for mutually beneficial abatement projects with other cooperating countries.

The International Greenhouse Partnerships Office is currently calling for applications for the first round of project proposals by Friday 26 June.

This mechanism, and others such as the Clean Development Mechanism established under the Kyoto Protocol, provide opportunities for businesses to pursue export markets, while also facilitating a sharing of international technology developments.

I focused my remarks today on greenhouse issues, but I note that the conference program covers several other key environmental issues including, air pollution, waste treatment, cleaner production and sustainable development more broadly.

To assist Australian industry market in its technology services in these areas, the Commonwealth Government has set up an Environment Industries Focus Unit within the Department of the Environment.

The Unit has been set up to encourage industry efforts to identify, develop and expand commercial opportunities for the Australian Environment Management expertise and technology both internationally and domestically. On the international front, the Unit's current activities include finalising a strategy for environmental cooperation with China.

As with greenhouse mitigation, if technology is to maximise its contribution to our environmental goals more generally, several elements are required.

By bringing together people like yourselves, representatives from industry, government and academia, by showcasing leading edge environmental technologies and by sharing information across nations and national boundaries, this conference plays an important part in doing all of these things.

Ladies and gentlemen I hope you enjoy your time in Surfers Paradise in Queensland, I know you'll get a lot out of this conference.

I do hope the organisers have allowed you just a little bit of time to go and have a look at the beach and perhaps for the more adventurous of you to get into the surf. It is a lovely area but I know the attractions outside won't stop you from devoting your mind and mental energies to the tasks before you at this conference.

Ladies and gentleman, I have a great deal of pleasure in declaring this conference officially open and I do again thank you for your participation, for your contribution to the goals of this conference.

Commonwealth of Australia