ENVIRONMENT AND COMMUNICATIONS LEGISLATION COMMITTEE
MONDAY, 21 FEBRUARY 2011
Senator LUDLAM-Am I correct in believing that there was, at one stage, one Commonwealth FTE position that was coordinating the various state based TravelSmart projects, and I think I should correct you and say that the WA TravelSmart program was a lot more than a pilot project; it was quite extensive, and it has been adopted elsewhere. Is it the case that you did have someone in your employ who was coordinating that work and they have since been shuffled off and they are not doing that anymore?
CHAIR-I am sure that is not the technical term, shuffled off.
Senator LUDLAM-We have a trade union representative here; they were given the flick. I am just trying to work out if you could tell us who that was and why they are not there anymore?
Ms Thompson-My understanding is that the initiative to which you are referring was actually a project under the former Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program, and there was in fact a grant program that was offered to a number of the states for modification of travel behaviour, and it was particularly interested in looking at the impacts of what they call modal shifts. My understanding is that in fact it was quite hard to quantify the greenhouse gas emissions benefits from those projects. But as you say, it was something that did run for several years under that program.
Senator LUDLAM-Why was the decision made to get rid of that person, and who is doing that work now?
Ms Thompson-The Greenhouse Gas Abatement Program was actually one of the programs that was reviewed by Roger Wilkins through the Wilkins review. That review found that the GGAP program was not in fact complementary to a carbon price, so it was wound up. I believe that the existing project documents under the program were honoured, but the program eventually ran its course. With respect to what happened to the officer, I believe that they were found other duties, but we would probably need to check on that.
Senator LUDLAM-Complementary to a carbon price; because this person was doing travel behaviour programs, we are going to get a carbon price one day so we can get rid of them now, does that mean we can assume that a carbon price will apply to vehicle fuel?
Ms Thompson-I think I should perhaps clarify my earlier answer. The Wilkins review, with respect to the GGAP program, was actually for the program as a whole, and in fact it provided funds to essentially purchase abatement. It was on that basis that Mr Wilkins found that the program was non-complementary.
Senator LUDLAM-That the whole lot should go. That seems highly pre-emptive, but that is okay. At the moment, in the absence of this person, is anybody able to tell us if you are doing anything at all in the area of transport behaviour programs, or are we just leaving that to the states these days?
Mr Comley-We are not doing anything specific. We have typically left that to the states.
Senator LUDLAM-Because the state effort is extremely patchy. Could I propose, if it has not been done, a review of the quite extraordinary indicators that they were getting out of the TravelSmart program in Western Australia, which got a lot of people out of their cars and onto alternative transport. They were getting the mode shift. They were actually getting quite extraordinary results out of that. Then we put someone on at a Commonwealth level to try to coordinate that nationally, and we have gotten rid of them. Are you saying there were never any metrics about the actual abatement that they were achieving from getting people out of cars?
Mr Comley-I think there are two issues; you almost have to separate a program which you are putting out funding for and about how you do an estimate. Ms Thompson is right that, in terms of trying to estimate the abatement for the purposes of supporting a funding stream, you tend to have to have quite a high hurdle, and the GGAP hurdle was very significant and stringent. It was actually one of the reasons the GGAP program was wound down, because they could not spend all of the money, because they made the additionality test so tight, to ensure it was all additional. The issue of whether you can estimate how much abatement is a slightly different question when your threshold is what your abatement estimate is. I have seen estimates of abatement of TravelSmart behaviour. They are not zero, but they are not large. From memory, they are in the order of a megatonne or two that you can get from those sorts of activities. That in itself is not too bad because it is actually a pretty low cost program. So that is not a bad thing.
Senator LUDLAM-It does not cost anything. That is the benefit of it.
Mr Comley-It does not cost anything on the budget. Whether it has costs in terms of people's lifestyles, et cetera, depends on the nature of the intervention that people undertake. I suppose on the general point about the level of effort that the department is putting into issues related to transport modal choice, et cetera, I think it is a fair point that we have not devoted a lot of effort into that, partly because of the state and local government issues. It is something on which we would like to do more. There is obviously a resource constraint, but it is interesting that you raise it, because just before coming back to the table, a conversation I had with two of my colleagues was that we really need to think about having more of a dedicated resource looking at transport issues for exactly these reasons.
Senator LUDLAM-Maybe when we come back for budget estimates in May, there will be some better news. Thanks very much, Chair.
Senator LUDLAM-As to the state of reporting of facility by facility based greenhouse gas emissions-is this the appropriate place for that, while we are still in 1.1?
Senator LUDLAM-Has anything been referred to the commission by the government or the department for its early consideration, or is it purely working off its terms of reference and charting its own course?
Ms Sidhu-I think the latter, Senator. There has been no direction from the department to the commission to undertake any particular work. Of course, the secretariat function of the department has provided advice to the commission at its first meeting on ways it might wish to discharge its terms of reference, but that is by way of helping the commission with its deliberations rather than directing the commission in that sense.
Senator LUDLAM-With respect to how we report greenhouse gas emissions by facility by facility in Australia, recognising that if we do not know what we are emitting, we are going to struggle to reduce, it is my understanding that every facility, if it is a mine site or an industrial plant or whatever above a certain threshold is obligated to report annual emissions. What is the threshold?
Mr Carter-The facility threshold is 25 kilotonnes per 100 terajoules for reporting.
Senator LUDLAM-What happens to that data? Is that required to be reported annually or quarterly? Is there any verification as to what the proponent says is going on is actually what is going on?
Mr Carter-That is required to be reported annually. For each financial year, the reporting date is 31 October following the close of the financial year to which the reporting relates. The reporting goes through a number of steps with validation and verification. Initially, reporting goes through a straight validation against the statutory requirements which is, if you like more of an administrative check against the data. But then we do a series of analyses on that data looking at the scale of the enterprise, expected sorts of emissions for that kind of scale, and we take cross-sections of data from other data sources and look back at the information that is reported to see if there any differences or anomalies.
Senator LUDLAM-Do you spot check them, or do you do everybody?
Mr Carter-We do that across the data set broadly, but clearly with such a large data set, we need to look at that in both a risk based approach as well as by doing analyses in sectors and then across sectors. In any given year, we would not necessarily examine every facility, although we do have general trawls to pick up
anomalies and differences between reporting.
Senator LUDLAM-You are saying ‘we', so I can confirm that this is all handled by the department; this is not handled at a state and territory level?
Mr Carter-No, it is all handled by the department.
Senator LUDLAM-Are there separate reporting obligations to state climate or energy authorities?
Mr Carter-I understand that there are separate requirements in some jurisdictions for reporting for facilities, for example, under planning conditions and sometimes under environment protection licensing regimes.
Senator LUDLAM-In terms of publishing, we have struggled to find out on a facility by facility basis what emissions of various plants actually are? Is there a reason why that is not published, or is it published and we are just looking in the wrong place?
Mr Carter-The publishing information is set at the corporate threshold, not at the facility threshold, so the information that we place in a public publishing sense is provided for under the act, and it is at the corporation level, not at the facility level.
Senator LUDLAM-Why is that?
Mr Carter-That was part of the legislation.
Senator LUDLAM-So that was a policy decision, but if there is a big proponent that might be managing a multitude of different plants around the country, it makes it impossible to tell what any individual facility is emitting?
Mr Carter-Our data has the levels that we must publish set in the legislation. In terms of that data set providing broader public information on facilities, that is the case, but that data is certainly available within government agencies and within jurisdictions.
Senator LUDLAM-But not to the public. I still do not understand for what reason it is not published at a site by site resolution.
Mr Carter-That goes to the legislation that was passed, and the publishing requirements in the legislation.
Mr Comley-My recollection, going back to when that was done, is that it was seen to be a little bit different from other environmental regulation where your proximity to the particular facility was of a concern to the public. That was a significant consideration. The principal purpose here was to report the total amount of emissions that went into the atmosphere. There were certainly concerns at the time from stakeholders about facility by facility level considerations. That was the consideration that was taken into account when it was landed at the corporate level.
Senator LUDLAM-It does not sound like it was taken into account. It was disregarded or set aside.
Mr Comley-Sorry. What I am saying is that some stakeholders would like facility by facility reporting; other stakeholders were not in favour of that, and pointed out that there were not local implications of greenhouse gases in the same way that there were for other environmental factors. So the case for facility by facility reporting was not seen to be as strong at the time as it would be for other local polluters, if you like.
Senator LUDLAM-Was it being done for reasons of commercial sensitivity; were those the counter arguments that were put?
Mr Comley-That was the element of commercial sensitivity that was put forward as well.
Senator LUDLAM-That was seen as outweighing the public interest in knowing the emissions of any particular site?
Mr Comley-Yes, that is right. That was the consideration at the time that led to the legislation as it is now.
Senator LUDLAM-Is that material subject to a freedom of information request?
Mr Comley-All material is subject to freedom of information requests. The policy considerations we are talking about now would go back before the NGER Act, the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007, was passed, which would go back until 2006.
Mr Carter-The act was passed in 2007.
Mr Comley-It was passed in 2007, but those consultations would have taken place probably in 2006 or before.
Senator LUDLAM-I might come back to some of this stuff a bit later if there is time. I will leave it there.
CHAIR-In relation to the greenhouse gas emissions, the farming sector, long term, are going to be very important. It seems to me that there are lots of voices out there in the farming community who are opposed to a price on carbon. What is the latest debate that is taking place amongst progressive forces within the farming community in terms of moving to accept that it is in the farmers' best interest to deal with carbon pollution?
Mr Comley-I think Ms Thompson is bolting to the table. I will let Ms Thompson answer it. I think the clear sensitivity within the farming community is any form of pricing of carbon that leads to a financial liability on farming for emissions that occur from farming. That is motivated by two things: first is obviously a straight financial concern about the impact on competitiveness, particularly in the context of international competition; second is because of a concern that the way emissions in the agricultural sector are accounted for may not give appropriate credit for sequestration that would occur. That concern about liability is one of the reasons why the government has announced the Carbon Farming Initiative, because the Carbon Farming Initiative is an opt in scheme. It is only an opt in if you, in a sense, can get a benefit from the scheme. But it is intended to both develop measurement with methodologies and incentivise absorbing carbon or reducing carbon from the land sector.
I think there are elements of the farming community that see something like the Carbon Farming Initiative as a potential stream of income, something that could reduce the emissions of carbon, and so contribute to reduce emissions in Australia. They have been quite engaged with the department in trying to design the Carbon Farming Initiative. There are still parts of the farming community that are concerned about either a future liability or they do not fully understand the nature of the current proposal and therefore are concerned it might lead to a liability, even though that is not the way the scheme is designed. That would be my general comment, but Ms Thompson can add to that.
Ms Thompson-A number of the agricultural stakeholders are particularly interested in carbon farming's ability to provide incentives for action to improve soil carbon sequestration on their land. I think they see that as one of the very strong attributes of carbon farming. From our perspective, we see it as an approach that will allow people to road test a number of approaches to reduce emissions, including soil carbon, but also moving into areas like livestock and methane emissions. There are actually a number of abatement approaches that people, including from CSIRO, have been looking at for a little while. One of the difficulties is that, although the government has provided significant support in terms of research and development, carbon farming will go the next step by providing an incentive for farmers to actually apply these approaches in terms of managing heir stock and managing their land. As I say, it will provide some really strong learnings for the future in terms of mitigation efforts for the agricultural sector.