Howard’s Green Way

I don’t have a problem per se with John Howard’s announcement yesterday of a $500 million program to subsidise the development of currently non-commercial “low carbon emission” technologies. It’s fairly clearly aimed mostly at development of so-called “carbon sequestration” technologies to collect CO2 emitted by coal-fired power stations and pump it undergound in liquefied form, but there doesn’t seem any reason why other low emission (or non-emission) technologies like hydrogen fuel might not also qualify (although I confess I haven’t read the fine print).

Even if only the coal industry were to benefit, however, that’s no reason in itself to object. The most optimistic boosters of renewable energy technologies (primarily solar and wind power) don’t assert that it could meet any more than 20% of Australia’s energy needs in the foreseeable future. Thus 80% or more will necessarily continue to be generated by burning coal (Australia’s reserves of which are good for several hundred years), so it manifestly makes sense (both in environmental and economic terms) to expend effort and money on trying to develop ways in which coal can be burned without releasing CO2 to the atmosphere. Greenie objections to this part of the Howard package smack more than a little of hypocrisy and wilfully blind double standards.

The real problems with Howard’s ‘environment’ package lie in its other initiatives:

  • An enforceable target of at least 5% should have been set for renewable energy sources (rather than sticking with the current 2% target), to further Australia’s world-leading performance in solar panel technology by ensuring an ongoing local market. About half of the $134 million promised for renewable energy (over a long period of time) is in any event funding previously announced; this is a derisory commitment by comparison with the rest of the package;

  • Providing cuts to excise on diesel fuel to miners and farmers amounting to $1.5 billion (albeit over a long period) appears to be just plain irresponsible. This is the precise opposite of environmental responsibility. The trouble is, it may just help to shore up Coalition votes in country Australia, where many Coalition marginal seats are located. That, of course, is why the initiative was included. I assume Howard is hoping that most voters won’t notice this disgracefully irresponsible measure. So far he’d be more than happy with public and media responses, because the diesel fuel initiative has received next to no coverage. The $500 million for “low emission” technologies has received most of the media attention, even though, as I observed above, most people other than greenie zealots will rightly regard it as a perfectly sensible policy.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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Richard O
Richard O
2022 years ago


“Providing cuts to excise on diesel fuel to miners and farmers amounting to $1.5 billion (albeit over a long period) appears to be just plain irresponsible”.

Why? Do you want dearer meat and veggies? Plus most mines run on diesel fuel and would add up to approx 5-10% extra in operating costs. Natural gas is not an option in most cases. Where else do you get the power from?


2022 years ago

The question of excise has long been a bone of contention with the people now getting a reprieve; albeit over a fairly extended period – full rebate about 2012 it seems. For the some time now the ridiculous situation has existed whereby what was effectively a road tax came to apply mainly to off road vehicles. Farmers, miners and civil contractors presently pay considerably more for fuel for off road use than the trucking industry pays for on road use. The implication of vote buying from the users of manufactured goods is less than obscure. The aforementioned primary industries are already fiercely competitive so returning some equity to fuel pricing is unlikely to translate into increased usage.

2022 years ago

I thought the excise cut was dependant on the users implementing pollution reducing technology. A sort of carrot and stick approach. Um actually, just the carrot.

If not, Im not sure what its doing in the environment package.

2022 years ago

My problem with the $500 million is that it does not start until 2006/7 and in only seems to be $50 million a year. It will take until 2016/17 to spend it all!!!

Solar and wind may be limited by the ability of the grid to handle >20% intermittent generation, but geosequestration is heavily limited by a lack of suitable storage locations in NSW – where most of the power stations and electricity demand happen to be doh!

We have a CRC that researches this stuff:

If you read no further than the abstract of this paper from their website, you will see that geosequestration is only going to handle about 25% of our net annual emissions. This is because the sink locations are often far away from the source of emissions (ie no sinks in NSW). Damn, that isn’t much better than what renewables offers.

Geosequestration also can’t be applied to existing coal power stations. It gets applied to new power stations. So it isn’t going to be significantly reducing emissions in the short term, or even that much in the medium term.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

Here’s a paper by Passey and MacGill which is pretty cautious about the impact of geosequestration on greenhouse, which is very different from a sad piece of boosterism at CSIRO. Googling reveals a heap more.

Ken himself puts the green argument very well. I can also appreciate why some parts of the movement would get upset about an approach which says:
– we won’t sign Kyoto.
– we won’t focus on significant energy usage reduction techniques
– we will run a CRC for just about every part of the issue except renewable energy as a coherent approach.
– we will focus on a not completely proven technology to sequester carbon which is useful but limited
– we will accept standards that say we will still be putting out half our 2004 levels in 2100..
– we will cut existing research into wind and solar power while funding CSIRO to investigate really speculative stuff like deep ocean sequestration.
Etc. They don’t get the point. We have to change our use of energy and any other position just begs the issue.

I too have to take a deep breath to remain calm about this.