News | 16th Jun, 2011

Pall in the air during Garnaut’s talk

Thursday, 16 June 2011
Ian Munro, The Age 

AS LIONS' dens go, Professor Ross Garnaut's visit to the Latrobe Valley last night was as pleasant as he could have hoped – if you put aside the pall that hung in the air between the belching stacks of Loy Yang and Hazelwood power stations

The still evening allowed the sky-borne smudge to hang undisturbed, as if a reminder of the climate economist's view that the valley – with its highly polluting brown-coal power stations – was likely to be the country's hardest-hit region in a lower-emissions future.

It was Professor Garnaut's first ''community consultation'' at Monash University's Churchill campus since his final climate change report. Perhaps it was the request of the master of ceremonies that the 250 locals display their best ''country manners'', but it was not until midway through question time that the meeting generated any heat of its own.

It came from a demand that some regard be given to those scientists who dispute the thesis of human-induced global warming.

Cue scattered applause. But it was a fraction of that which greeted Professor Garnaut's response.

''Unfortunately, every academy of science [worldwide] accepts the views of its specialist scientific members that warming is happening, that human activity is a major cause of it – and if we don't take strong and urgent action we will suffer from it.''

In the valley, concerns include scepticism about the much-vaunted (but commercially unproven) carbon sequestration method as a clean alternative for the future, and fears that a carbon price will drive jobs overseas.

Others hear an echo of the 1990s privitisation that cut power industry jobs by thousands; a process that culminated in the valley being declared the state's most disadvantaged region in 2001.

Professor Garnaut argued that a carbon price would generate revenue for compensation and for support for technological innovation.

He dismissed suggestions Australia would be putting itself ahead of the rest of the world if it adopted carbon pricing. In contrast to the bipartisan aim of reducing emissions by 5 per cent by 2020, Australia was on target for a 24 per cent increase in emissions by then.

''There is no substance in the claims … we would be getting out in front of the world. We are just so far behind that getting in front is not a risk,'' Professor Garnaut said.

Local union chief John Parker said existing power stations had a limited life and the future rested with gas-power generation until sequestration was a reality.

Hazelwood, he told The Age, was the power industry's equivalent of a mistreated, paddock-bashing, 1950s Holden – and the Yallourn station was little better. The valley had to move on to find its future, he said.

On the evidence of last night, most agree with him. That, or country manners determined appearances.


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