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Statutes Amendment (National Energy Laws) (Other Gases) Bill

16 November 2023

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (16:37): I rise to speak on the Statutes Amendment (National Energy Laws) (Other Gases) Bill 2023 in what will be my last speech during state parliament's gas week. This bill refers to the definition of gas in our legislative instruments, as has been noted by the Hon. Heidi Girolamo. Currently, the National Gas (South Australia) Act 2008 refers to natural gas throughout. I have talked a bit this week about greenwashing. That is no more evident than in the use of the term 'natural gas', because we know that natural gas is not really natural. It is a non-renewable fossil fuel. The word 'natural' has been coopted by the gas industry to buy a social licence for this polluting energy source, which mostly comprises methane.

Gas production and burning gas for energy produces greenhouse gases that are detrimental to our environment and our health and drive climate change. By clarifying the definition of gases, this bill will allow for gases such as green hydrogen to be subject to the same provisions as natural gas was previously. The Greens are supportive of green hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. I have indicated that during the various debates we have had this week.

According to the Climate Council, only green hydrogen—that is, hydrogen produced with renewable energy—belongs in a zero emissions future. South Australia has sufficient renewable energy to lead a green hydrogen industry. In fact, that was the promise of the Malinauskas government at the last election.

It was disappointing for us to see that what became a promise ended up being a non-core commitment when the legislation came before the parliament, and instead we saw the government being agnostic on the question of whether or not they should be using green or blue hydrogen. That certainly was not the proposition they took to the people of South Australia. I will be interested to know what the Premier's Delivery Unit says about that.

However, we would like to once again put on the record that we are opposed to blue hydrogen, in fact to any other colour in the hydrogen rainbow that is not green. Blue hydrogen produced from fossil fuel is not the way forward; it locks us into a non-renewable gas future. We do note, however, that this bill includes a reference to gas blends.

I should note that I am pretty cynical about gas blends, because they are talked about in the South Australian context as being pumped into homes through the existing gas infrastructure and being used for residential use, and the environmental benefits of that are negligible. I think, from memory, the best that you can hope for in terms of a gas blend is about 20 per cent hydrogen with so-called natural gas. That does not deliver demonstrable environmental benefits, I am advised.

There is concern about a lot of emphasis being put on that at a time when we should be focusing on transitioning households away from gas, looking at some of the approaches that have been taken in other states. Obviously, no other party supported the Greens' push to ban gas connections on new homes from 2025. There has not been support for the Greens' push to prevent developers from mandating new gas connections, but there are things the government could do in terms of putting money on the table, as has happened in the ACT and Victoria, to encourage home owners to move away from gas. That would reduce their energy bills and the environmental effect. That is the missing piece in the puzzle in terms of the government's approach.

We recognise there may be some need for gas blending in industrial settings, and therefore we will not oppose the inclusion of that in this bill, but we want to see much more work being done to support these industries to start to move away from methane gas, and we want to see fossil fuel being eliminated.

Changing the definitions for gas in the Gas Act will allow us to become a green hydrogen superpower, if this is the government's ambition, and I sincerely hope that it is. We are ready to support a green hydrogen plan if the Malinauskas government really wants us to be a leader in a zero emissions future. We, of course, welcome any moves away from methane gas, but we want to ensure that we are not just throwing another lifeline to the fossil fuel industry and prolonging the use of gas under another name.

We will continue to monitor this closely, and of course I will continue to ask questions in this place and give speeches outside of our energy week on this topic to ensure that we can keep the issue on the burner, so to speak. With that, I conclude my remarks.