Thursday 10 November 2005

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Most of Tasmania has experienced a wet and changeable spring. During one week of it, from 22 October, I was at a venue in the South Pacific to attend the sixteenth Australian and Pacific Regional Seminar of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Ms Thorp - How was the food?

Mr FINCH - I'm not going to report on the food but I would like to report to the House on my representation of the Tasmanian branch of the association.

My presentation was on parliamentary privilege, and I will touch on that later. The paper that drew my attention was one of the few not associated with parliament or its role at all. It was entitled 'Alternative fuels, the future of petroleum and the viability of hydrogen'. That presentation was made by the Honourable Wayne Matthew, a South Australian member.

The almost perennial subject of alternative energy was a bit of a turn-off until the recent dramatic rise in petrol prices, but it is becoming painfully relevant in Tasmania, as elsewhere. Petrol prices have hit Tasmanians very hard, but until recently we Tasmanians have been somewhat insulated from other increases in the energy market, partly because of our benevolent climate and the efficiency of our hydro-power generating scheme, but here there are ominous signs.

Our water storages never seem to recover to much more than half capacity. Climate change, now scientifically indisputable, is having an effect in Tasmania. Although we are not likely to experience the expected summer brownouts in the warmer States when all the air conditioners are going to be turned on during the summer period, we are likely to be short of power at other times. While Basslink will change our power dynamic, it also opens opportunities already recognised by the Hydro but perhaps not much by the general public, but I will explain those opportunities shortly.

First, Mr President, I would like to summarise Wayne Matthew's presentation. He strongly makes the obvious point that the global supply of oil is rapidly shrinking and that the price is going up. Yes, we are all aware of that, but what are the immediate solutions? Wayne Matthews sees one possible solution in hydrogen fuel, and Tasmania has already demonstrated some initiative there. One would perhaps expect the Bush administration in the United States to be cynical about hydrogen fuel, but I quote from Wayne Matthew's paper on this:

'In his 2003 State of the Union Address, President Bush announced a US$1.2 billion Hydrogen Fuel Initiative to reverse America's growing dependence on foreign oil by developing the technology needed for commercially viable hydrogen-powered fuel cells - a way to power cars, trucks, homes, and businesses that produces no pollution and no greenhouse gases ... The initiative will dramatically improve America's energy security by significantly reducing the need for imported oil.'

That quote from Wayne Matthew's paper shows big backing for the potential of hydrogen technology, Mr President. It involves massively expensive and complicated research with many expected hurdles, which perhaps has to be left mainly to big governments and to big private sectors.

Tasmania can, of course, contribute to this research, but I would suggest our contribution to the world's energy crisis starts at home, and has more to do with Basslink than anything else. That is because Tasmania will have the opportunity to sell energy. Every single watt that can be saved in Tasmania is potential income for this State. Every kilowatt we do not use can be sent north by Basslink. Every Tasmanian power user, and that is all of us, has an opportunity to ensure that Basslink flows only one way, and that is northwards. Every Tasmanian household which can save on current energy use, or even create more for the grid through solar panels and so on, can generate income for this State. What an opportunity, Mr President.

So let us perhaps leave the development of hydrogen fuel technology to the big players and start our energy alternatives at the grass roots. There are thousands of opportunities. There are already some early initiatives in transport. For example, in my electorate of Rosevears there is a vision of a system of cycling and walking links connecting the main population centres of the West Tamar, so let us get out of our cars more. I suppose that is the message.

Mrs Rattray-Wagner - Legana to Launceston to work?

Mr FINCH - Just a short hop.

One idea from Andrew McGifford of the Bureau of Meteorology in Launceston is to encourage the use of smaller-engine motor scooters and mopeds by freeing them of registration charges and making city parking for them a lot easier. This has been happening in Europe for decades, and has saved an oilfield or two.

Mr President, I would also mention Tyco Tamar, in my electorate, that builds small hydro systems.

Mr PRESIDENT - Order. I would also mention that the honourable member's time has expired.

Mr FINCH - Mr President, thank you. Many and diverse things come out of these Commonwealth Parliamentary Association meetings. More on parliamentary privilege later.