Thursday, 16 June 2011
Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011; Second Reading
I rise before the House to speak on the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Bill 2011 and cognate bills. The bill before the House is an attempt to provide incentives for farmers to establish carbon abatement processes. The coalition supports this aspiration in principle. However, typical of this government, there is a startling lack of detail in the bill before the House. Again, the coalition is attempting to have this oversight rectified through the amendment put forward by the member for Flinders. This government has proven it cannot be trusted with public finances, so no blank cheques. However, the Carbon Farming Initiative Bill is a piecemeal component of the government's overall carbon dioxide emissions reduction policy. The introduction of a carbon tax in July 2012 will be the centrepiece of the carbon reduction policy of this Labor-Greens government, a policy which will destroy jobs while at the same time compounding the already huge cost-of-living pressures faced by Australian families.
Carbon abatement measures, such as the Carbon Farming Initiative, mirror the direct action climate policy the coalition took to the 2010 election. A central component of the coalition's policy to help achieve a five per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from year 2000 levels by the year 2020 is to provide voluntary financial incentives for farmers to abate carbon dioxide emissions. Measures such as biosequestration—the capturing of carbon emissions in soils, trees and other biological matter—is part of this coalition policy objective. Dr Michael Battaglia of the CSIRO's Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, in the report titled Greenhouse gas mitigation: sources and sinks in agriculture and forestry, outlined the great potential for biosequestration to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In this report, Dr Battaglia also found that:
We can potentially increase these stores in our rural lands and perhaps store or mitigate enough greenhouse gases to offset up to 20% or more of Australia’s emissions during the next 40 years.
The findings in this report by the CSIRO not only support the climate abatement feasibility of the coalition's direct action climate policy but contrast greatly with outcomes this government is foolishly accepting from the Renewable Energy Target scheme.
I have previously raised in the House the issue of the proliferation of wind turbine construction in the electorate of Hume. There are two major issues of contention with respect to wind turbine construction that are worth incorporating into this debate. The first is the misguided funding this government is providing for the construction of wind turbines through the Renewable Energy Fund and the second is the choice farmers and rural landholders are being forced to make with respect to the imposition of wind turbines on their properties. The most recent Productivity Commission report, titled Carbon emission policies in key economies and released on 9 June this year, made this statement on page XIV under the heading 'Key points':
Emissions trading schemes were found to be relatively cost effective, while policies encouraging small-scale renewable generation and biofuels have generated little abatement for substantially higher cost.
This statement by the Productivity Commission comprehensively slams the farcical claims by wind turbine industry bodies such as the Clean Energy Council that wind turbines are a viable and reliable alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels.
Wind turbine technology has proven to be neither cheap nor efficient when compared with our baseload coal technology or, as now illustrated in the CSIRO report, when compared with the potential for biosequestration to abate up to 20 per cent of Australia's total emissions over the next 40 years. According to a report this year by the Victorian Auditor-General, the cost per megawatt hour for wind turbine technology was between 80c and $1.20. This compares with a cost for brown coal of 35c—so wind is more than three times as expensive. Wind turbine developers are saying that they are going to supply enough clean electricity to power up to 180,000 homes in the electorate of Hume, preventing up to a million tonnes of greenhouse gas pollution from entering the environment. That was in a 17 May 2011 press release from the wind farm at Rugby. What the developers and operators cannot and will not tell you is how they are going to produce that kind of energy when it has been proven that wind turbines operate at 30 per cent efficiency—and that is when the wind is blowing.
Biosequestration offers a serious carbon abatement alternative for the Australian government to pursue. That is why the coalition took this measure to the last election under our direct action policy and why we support this bill in principle. But a measure such as the Carbon Farming Initiative provides more than just another alternative for the Australian government; it provides landholders in the electorate of Hume with a real alternative to the construction of industrial wind turbines. I have been advocating on behalf of landholders and families in my electorate for an immediate moratorium on wind turbine construction throughout New South Wales. One of the aims of the moratorium is to give landholders in the sights of wind turbine developers a reprieve from disgraceful, predatory practices, such as orders of property acquisition and intimidation into signing confidentiality agreements, which some of these wind developers are subjecting landholders to.
After being subjected to 10 desperate years of drought, it is understandable that farmers in electorates such as mine are looking for a reliable source of income with the added benefit of contributing to the abatement of greenhouse gas emissions. This bill seeks to create incentives for farmers and landholders to undertake voluntary land sector abatement projects. The government will provide saleable Australian carbon credit units in return for eligible carbon offset projects. Carbon farming would have additional environmental benefits such as reducing salinity and erosion, protecting biodiversity, regenerating landscapes, improving water quality and improving agricultural soil productivity. It may come as a surprise to many latte- sipping inner city bureaucrats on the left of the political spectrum that farmers in Australia have been managing and implementing sustainable soil measures for decades.
A biosequestration carbon farming initiative is in principle a sensible way for farmers and landholders to derive income from carbon abatement measures such as capturing and destroying methane emissions from landfill or livestock manure, or removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in soil or trees—for example, by growing a forest. Sensible and sustainable abatement measures such as these have the potential to abate 20 per cent of Australia's total greenhouse gas emissions over the next 40 years and mean farmers do not have to go down the destructive path of allowing the construction of industrial wind turbines on prime agricultural land. As a consequence of the misguided implementation of the Renewable Energy Fund, there has been an explosion of wind turbine applications in electorates such as mine. This would not be a problem except for the fact that government planning regulations in states such as New South Wales have failed to keep pace with the blitz of development applications. This failure to adequately regulate the implementation of green schemes effectively is the coalition's primary concern in supporting the government on this bill. Furthermore, this is why the member for Flinders has sought to amend this bill by requesting that the detail of the Carbon Farming Initiative bill be included in the legislation, rather than by regulation after the bill has been enacted.
Throughout my 23 years in both state and federal parliaments, I have adhered to a very simple principle: don't listen to what Labor say; look at what they do. Before the last election we had the Prime Minister declare, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead,' only to trash this commitment for political expediency and survival. The Treasurer claimed that the members of the coalition were making wildly hysterical claims in warning the Australian people that the Labor Party could not be trusted and that a carbon tax would be high on the government's agenda if re-elected; yet, aside from the untruths and deceit contained within the opaque words of this illegitimate government, it is their actions that cause the greatest consternation. This abject lack of policy detail is why Labor's carbon tax is being totally rejected by mainstream Australians. Without policy detail, why would the opposition even consider supporting this huge impost on Australian families already struggling with increasing cost-of-living pressures? The government's carbon tax will hit every Australian household. A carbon tax will unnecessarily lift electricity, grocery and petrol prices, and attack jobs in our key industries. According to recently released Treasury calculations, if the government decides to impose a $30 per tonne carbon price, the cost impact on households without petrol tax concessions would be $863 a year.
The Wollondilly region in the north of my electorate relies heavily on the jobs created by the coalmining sector. The chief executive of Australia's second largest metallurgical coal exporter, Anglo American Metallurgical Coal, has warned that a $25 per tonne carbon tax could put at risk 3,000 regional jobs in Queensland and New South Wales, as well as put at risk up to $2 billion in planned investment. A carbon tax of $26 a tonne would mean that 16 coalmines—some of which are in my electorate—would close, 23,000 mining jobs would be lost and 45,000 jobs would be lost in industries like steel, aluminium, cement, glass, chemicals and motor cars. To add further insult to Australian families, Labor's 2011-12 budget fails to give any details on the impact the carbon tax would have on cost-of-living pressures on families. The budget does, however, contain a $13.7 million taxpayer funded pro-carbon advertising blitz. The only details we have of the financial impact of the government's carbon tax is not the price per tonne nor the impacts on the costs of living but how much the government believes it needs to spend to ensure the carbon tax does not destroy its re-election chances.
The Gillard government's unilateral step to tax carbon dioxide emissions will send jobs offshore and hurt Australia's economy without improving the world's environment. By contrast, the coalition's Direct Action climate change policy will reduce emissions in a way that is economically responsible and that will not cost Australian jobs. The coalition's Direct Action plan will reduce emissions by five per cent by 2020 through creating a fund to buy back greenhouse emissions, through planting more trees and through better soils and smarter technology—principles that we support in this bill. However, the disastrous record of policy construction and implementation by the Rudd-Gillard governments is astounding. This is why, in good conscience and for the sake of good governance, the coalition could not allow this bill to go forward without the proposed amendment.
The Carbon Farming Initiative bill contains very little substantive policy detail, relying instead on regulation that will be outlined after the bill has been enacted. This is simply not good enough. The coalition will not be handing the most incompetent government in Australia's history a blank cheque to pay for another disastrous Home Insulation Program or to fund rorts such as those allowed under the Prime Minister's own school halls debacle. For these reasons, the coalition's amendment declines to give the bill a second reading until the regulations giving effect to the provisions of the bill are laid before the House.